After years of stepping onto the tarmac at Noi Bai International, I’ve learnt a thing or two about the land of the Ascending Dragon. Vietnam continues to surprise me. Five things I didn’t know about Vietnam until last month.
1. Who would have thought how much I would have loved staying at a homestay?
I don’t like to let go of my creature comforts when travelling in South East Asia, so when a homestay was mentioned for my latest Vietnam travel adventure, I was like” no way”. But I was pleasantly surprised by my first homestay experience. It was so damn good I never wanted to leave!
The lodge is tucked away in a deep valley, about 150 km South east of Hanoi somewhere between Mai Chau and Cuc Phuong national park. It is set between two mountains sculpted by terraced rice fields and covered in jungle. By the lodge, is a stream of clear water that flows into endless cascading pools. The lodge consists of a main building, a traditional wooden house on stilts. Large wooden posts overhung by a thick roof of palm tree leaves. The interior is beautifully decorated with a blend of French meets Vietnam inspirations. If this is what every homestay is about then I have been converted. I do believe what I experienced was special. Our host family offered the most genuine Myong ethnic hospitality you could ever wish for. You are in for gastronomic pleasure, it is a family affair in the kitchen and the food blew my mind. I didn’t do a lot of talking that night – I was too busy eating my way around the table. Every single dish was delicious.
What I didn’t know is the idea behind this homestay experience is to make the pace yours. Avid trekkers or adrenaline seekers, you may want to look at another destination. This stay is a place for epicureanism and a good life. Tread lightly across the valley, enjoy spontaneous meetings with locals, get your hands on trying some seasonal farming work, read a book in your private Sala overlooking the river, take a swim in the natural swimming pools shaped by the stream, take part in cooking the meals and soak up some real genuine Myong ethnic culture. My first homestay experience was really like taking a step out of time and simply enjoying a very good slice of life in Vietnam and adding to what is possibly the best time to visit Vietnam.
2. The Galaxy caves in Son Ha Commune, Ninh Binh is home to thousands of bats and large dragon flies.
If I had known this beforehand, I probably would have decided not to enter and would have missed out on these three impressive dry and water caves. Archaeologists have found traces of ancient Vietnamese mollusk shell, rare pottery pieces, animal bones and tortoise shells. These caves are such a little gem of a find. It is such a quiet area and may not be on everyone’s must do list while in Vietnam. We had to wait until someone turned on the lights before we entered! You will be overwhelmed by the illuminated, enchanting world of stalactites. We glided by boat winding our way through the ‘Galaxy’, with endless layers and layers of stalactites and shimmering colours, lost in a Fairy like realm.
3. During any Vietnam travel, from the south’s frenetic Ho Chi Minh City to the urban maze of Hanoi in the north, the streets of Vietnam are paved with snacks.
Ordered by locals across Vietnam, I didn’t know street food revealed the breadth of the country’s culinary ingenuity so well. Trying different street vendors is what we are passionate about. Pho is the most famous dish travellers know about but that is merely a drop in the country’s noodle-soup ocean. For a bowl crammed with colours you must try bun rieu. Bun means noodles, while rieu refers to a crab-based broth blended with tomatoes. Add pork, deep-fried tofu cakes, a spoon of chilli paste, slices of pickled garlic and you have your self-one delicious meal. Another love of mine is searching for the best Banh Mi in Vietnam. I am pleased to say my search is over. BINH BA 25 is the place you should go if you find yourself hungry for street food in Hanoi whilst on one of your Vietnam holidays. Sitting down with your Banh Mi goes hand and hand with watching the world go by in the Old Quarter of Hanoi.
4. From street vendors to finding the best mouth-watering array of world class gastronomic experience in Vietnam.
When the wine list is bigger than the menu, you know you are in for a treat. When it comes to things to do in Vietnam, discovering Green Tangerine is certainly a wow moment. The perfect blend of the climax of French haute cuisine with the gentle touches of distinctive Vietnamese tastes. With a peaceful ambiance and enchanting décor this French-colonial villa dates back to 1928. Listening to a smooth melody of Jazz and sipping a prestige wine, while savouring mouth- watering dishes, my soul was pampered. Dining at Green Tangerine is truly a unique culinary experience. I didn’t know I would find my all-time favourite restaurant on one of my Vietnam holidays.
5. Egg coffee might not sound like the most palatable caffeinated drink but approach it with an open mind.
The thick, sweet and impressively strong beverage is a staple found through Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. If you’re a curious coffee drinker looking to broaden your palate with more exotic variations than what we get at home, then ordering an egg coffee is the fastest way to get there. A must-have when you’re on one of our Vietnam tours, let me know when you are going so I can tell you where to go to have your shot of happiness.