Today, we are going to head north and stop in Hoi An. This beautiful village is located on the central coast of Vietnam and has retained pieces of its past trading days. It is also one of the prettiest spots in Vietnam. You can visit local vendors and markets and find everything from flowers, authentic lanterns, tailors, shoemakers and local artisans with souvenir stands. The Old Quarter has been well preserved and you can experience the old tile roofed shops and shady pagodas.
Another fabulous option while in Hoi An is to visit the markets and taste the fresh local flavors while joining a Culinary expert. The Culinary specialist will take you to savor street food and you will finish at a local restaurant to taste Vietnam”s traditional dishes.
A visit to the Tra Nhieu village will give you a sample of the farming and fishing in the region. The best way to see it is by bicycle, where you can pedal your way through the area, visit with local families and learn from them on how they support themselves and their families by making rice wine, noodles and rice paper. You can also try your hand at rowing a traditional bamboo basket boat.
Continuing on north to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. This city is becoming well known for its contemporary art scene. Hanoi is still pretty traditional especially when compared with Ho Chi Min city. The political history in Hanoi is huge and this makes it one of the most fascinating cities to explore.
The Old Quarter is becoming pretty congested, but is also a very fun spot to hang out. The outdoor mall is located in the Old Quarter as well as the Bach Ma Pagoda which is the areas oldest place of worship.
While wandering Hanoi, stop at 49 Bat Dan St. for the best Pho in town. Pho is a traditional Vietnamese dish that is made with a rich meat broth, filled with noodles, meat or poultry along with chopped scallions, freshly grated ginger, herbs and spices. Hanoi residents believe their Pho is the best and they also believe 49 Bat Dan St. is the top stall in the city.
If you can possibly spare a few extra days while in the north, head to Halong Bay. You will want at least 2 days and 1 night on the bay. The best way to experience the area is on a deluxe junk. Halong Bay has 3,000 plus strangely sculpted limestone islands with caves.
Your 2 day journey may take you to the mysterious Tien Ong Cave, one full of stalactites. The cave is a bit unknown, but is becoming quite popular. Tien Ong Cave opened to tourists in 2010 and is spectacular. Be sure to go with a well known guide to learn the history of the cave and what has been found here. You will probably have the opportunity to visit a local fishing village on the bay to see how families support themselves through fishing.
Many cultures have influenced the food of Vietnam, countries such as France, Italy and other European nations. The best way to sample traditional foods is to eat at the street stalls. Just be very cautious with any raw foods.
Besides Pho, you must try Nem Nuong Cuon ~ Spring Rolls. These rolls are filled with grilled pork sausage that is wrapped in rice paper with lettuce, cucumber, carrot, daikon with mint and a secret sauce. Chao Tom Cuon is basically the same type of spring roll, but these are filled with shrimp instead of pork.
The locals prefer to drink tea and local Asian beers. Give the French coffee a try. You will find it typically served in water glasses with a heavy dose of sweetened condensed milk in place of cream and sugar.
If you are visiting during the Lunar New Year festivities, you will find some special dishes for the celebrations. Cha Gio, is a fried spring roll. Banh Trung, is a banana leaf wrapped around a glutinous, sometimes sweet rice cake that is filled with beans and meat. Mut is candied fruits. Another great sweet bite is Vietnam’s candied young coconut. I can tell you it is almost addictive, these wonderful strips of young coconut with a sugar coating will melt in your mouth.
A few other helpful tips for visiting Vietnam:
It doesn’t cost much more to hire a private car and driver, it is well worth it. When planning your trip, always use reputable companies for touring or cruising to insure you have a safe journey. Talk to your travel consultant and let them share their knowledge and expertise in planning you a very memorable trip.
I will see you next week where we will visit Cambodia.