Tag Archives: food

Good night Vietnam.

Well hello from Ho Chi Minh City!

That’s a mouthful isn’t it? HCMC is also known as Saigon. I’m scrabbling to stay on top of the blog. We’ve made it this far! So I thought I’d bring you up to date with recent happenings in a more summary kinda way with the help of lots of photos so that it doesn’t drag on too much. We’re heading to Cambodia on the bus tomorrow, and I must admit I’m totally KNACKERED. Over tea this evening, Tom and I decided to calculate how much travel we’ve done in Vietnam…. Drum roll please… Over 24 days we have spent 70 hours on public transport, which is over 11% our time here (that’s including time spent asleep) so I’ve given myself full permission to be exhausted haha. Onwards!

Hoi An
After Hue, we headed to Hoi An, (not to be confused with Hanoi!) which is a beautiful coastal town set upon the river. It’s an ancient trading port and UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old town is really atmospheric and the influence from the trading with China and Japan is still apparent today. It really whisks you back in time, and it ended up being one of my favourite places in Vietnam.

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We had a cycle to the beach one day, then the heavens opened and we sheltered in a restaurant (shame.) We explored the old town by day and by night, which I loved. Hoi An is also famous for tailoring and shoe making. Many people get suits made and sent home. Tom and I decided to treat ourselves to a pair of shoes each. Tom got a beautiful pair of leather and suede brown brogues made, and I went for a pair of sandals. What a luxury to have shoes made to measure for my narrow and high-instepped feet, my toes are singing! (They cost £17 which is much less than I’d normally pay for good shoes) Unfortunately I can’t share a pic of Tom’s shoes as he’s posted them home.

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(They’re dirty already, fingers crossed that they make it home in one piece! Travelling is mighty hard on the old footwear!)

Other highlights of Hoi An were a wonderful musical performance including six musicians playing traditional instruments including a bamboo flute. This then ended up being a game of bingo (I’m not sure why) but we didn’t win…. Also I got a manicure and pedicure. What luxury!

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I was then struck down with some diabolical food poisoning. (From a cheese sandwich, no less) I was very very sicky, so we had to spend an extra night there… Tom eating out in restaurants on his own, bless him. The staff at our homestay were so lovely to me, and kept popping to our room to check on me whilst Tom was out and about. Fast forward a week later and I’m FINALLY back to normal. Oh well…

Nha Trang
We had a lovely ten hour train journey through the day to Nha Trang, which is further down the coast. The train was a nightmare for me, still ill, but I made it!
Nha Trang is a kind of beach resort-like town that is really popular amongst Russian people. This makes it quite surreal because a lot of the writing you see is in Russian, and you have a lot of Russian menus thrust in your face, which makes life even more confusing than normal.

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I spent the day in bed recovering whilst Tom took himself to a brew house he found on the beach (I don’t feel too sorry for him, whilst he sent me photos of his pints haha)
The next day I made it to the beach and drank a coconut at the beach bar. Progress! In all honesty, I didn’t see much of Nha Trang, but I did like what I saw. (Apart from when I saw someone spit-roasting an entire crocodile in the street, which didn’t help my disposition.)

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Da Lat
Next on the agenda was Da Lat, a town up in the mountains that is cool in climate and popular amongst the Vietnamese as a honeymoon destination. Our hostel was a real gem as they gave us free breakfast and dinner, we met some lovely people and the staff were really nice.
On our first day we walked to the Crazy House, a piece of bonkers architecture designed by a female local architect.

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(Above photos are courtesy of google images, as I was still being dopey and forgot to take my phone or camera with me.)

The Crazy House has been a work in progress since 1990, and was really interesting to visit, although it didn’t feel very safe at some points (e.g. When we walked over the roof with a hand rail at knee height) I loved it though. The lonely planet describe it as “imagine Gaudi and Tolkein meeting up and dropping acid together.” Haha.
That evening we went the 100 roofs cafe, a bar by the same architect. This was literally like a maze and it took us a while to find the bar.

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(The best bar I’ve ever been to!)

The next day we took a cable car across the valley to visit a monastery, which was wonderful to get a bit of peace, then we just chilled with people from our hostel and Ruby the three week old kitten who I had to try really hard not to kidnap.

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We were up early for the bus the next day. I dubiously had my eye on the street butcher across from the hostel whilst I ate my breakfast. I then saw him pick up an entire cow’s head, snap the jaw bone open and then cut the tongue out. My new found vegetarianism is being reinforced by the day at the moment haha!

Ho Chi Minh City
Our final stop in Vietnam is HCMC. After yet another long-ass bus we arrived and found our hostel.

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What followed was an interesting night’s sleep with rats running around the floor of our room. GRIM.

The following day we visited the infamous Cu Chi tunnels. These were used in the Vietnam war by the Vietcong so that they could hide from and attack the Americans.

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We saw all sorts of horrifically tortuous booby traps created by the Vietnamese. We were then led to a shooting range where you could pay to fire a variety of guns. I wish I’m joking, but I’m not. Seriously. I was just thinking “why the fuck would you want to shoot a gun, here of all places?!” I’ve never heard gunshots before, and they were absolutely deafening and terrifying, and I didn’t like it at all. Then we were shown an American tank, which lots of members of our tour group posed by, smiling for photos and taking selfies.

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I just find this whole mentality disturbing, and I was quite upset that people don’t seem to have a concept that they’re posing for a photo with a weapon of war, in a place where thousands died. Anyway. Rant over.
We then got to the entrance of the tunnels. We were told that it was a stretch of 100 metres, and we could get out at intervals of 20m. I’d been warned that they were small, but I wasn’t ready for how small the tunnels actually were! You literally had to shuffle along in a crouch. There were people in front and behind, and it was hot and so small. Panic started to rise in my throat, my breath quickened  and my chest tightened and I said “sorry, I need to come out!” And had to go back and get out. I just couldn’t do it. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but I didn’t even go into the tunnels. I could feel a panic attack coming on and I didn’t want to cause a scene. I’ve realised that I hate small spaces with people in them. I could have managed if it was just me and Tom, but the thought of there being people ahead and behind without being able to get out just…ARGH. The Cu Chi tunnels were an amazing place to visit, and I recommend them to anyone visiting Vietnam.

For the sake of the blog, here’s a description from Tom’s point of view of his trip down the tunnels:

“Claustrophobic, sweaty, dusty and back breaking.”

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(Ho chi Minh city from the view of our rat hotel)

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(My new flutey tute)

On waking in the second morning in the rat hotel I went to the toilet, got locked inside the toilet having made a horrific smell (thanks Vietnamese food) and then had to be broken out by the hotel staff. Mortifying!! To be honest, the hotel wasn’t exactly the best, hence the rodent problem.

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(At least there was a gap above the door so I didn’t get Cu Chi tunnel claustrophobic a whilst waiting to be broken out)

I decided we deserved a fancy hotel with a bed that’s comfortable and no rats…. So spent 17 quid for a night in the Dragon Palace. Yay!

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Our final day was spent in the war remnants museum, which was filled with some really harrowing images. I had a massive lump in my throat throughout. It’s crazy that the Vietnam war was one of the first that was documented by the media.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed our time in Vietnam. I feel most homesick when I’m poorly, so I did struggle with being ill twice. The country is a true mixed bag of crazy hustle bustle in the cities and beautiful countryside. I’m glad we came here.

Things that have surprised me in Vietnam

1) The bananas are green.
2) The oranges are also green.
3) People like crouching. On the streets of Vietnam, you’ll often see people crouched, smoking a cigarette, or chatting. They do it with their feet flat on the floor. I tried this in our hotel room and fell flat on my arse.
4) No one walks really. Scooters are the given mode of transport with locals driving from shop to shop, parking their bike on the pavement outside. This makes it a pretty tricky place to be a pedestrian.
5) Vietnam is home to possibly the world’s cheapest beer. 9p a glass makes a happy Thomas.
6) The gaps between the cities make for a lot of travel time. It’s easy to see why lots of backpackers choose to travel by motorbike. Having seen so many people covered in bandages however, I decided it’s not for me.
7) Families live together. Many generations of one family live under one roof in Vietnam, which is lovely. The Vietnamese are very social and many choose to spend the evenings sat on stools in the street. This makes me want to strive to spend less time in front of the TV when we get home!

8) There are over 54 ethnic groups living in Vietnam today. I really enjoyed meeting some of the Black Hmong tribe whilst we were in Sapa. It was a lovely experience.

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Lumpy Koalas

Well hello from Kuala Lumpur.

In all honesty, KL is not somewhere I’d ever really thought about going before this trip. In fact, I just liked the name of the place. I didn’t even know it’s in Malaysia, or that the Petronas Towers call Kuala Lumpur their home. There we go, ignorance admitted! We knew we wanted to go to Bali, and then to Hong Kong, but the flight between the two was pretty long (about 8 hours) so we looked for somewhere to stop en route, and in stepped Kuala Lumpur!

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Our flight from Bali was delayed by an hour, so we arrived KL at 10pm instead of 9pm. We got some cash out of the machine in the airport (organised as ever) and wandered around until we could find the correct bus. The coach was playing loud orchestral/Asian music which is really hard to describe other than it was like something you’d expect to hear at Disneyland.

This wore thin after half an hour of trying to stay awake so we got off at the right place. We stumbled off the bus in the city centre and headed for the monorail. Up the stairs. Down the stairs. Up an escalator. Down an escalator. We finally found the ticket machines which were all out of order (helpful) and just decided to hop on the monorail. (We didn’t have to pay in the end) Sometimes I fantasise about just getting a taxi but alas, we’re on a budget. Besides, the monorail was pretty cool.

We got off in what felt like New York’s time square, but a very grotty version. We knew our hostel was next to the Macdonalds. We could see the Macdonalds but there were roadworks everywhere and the roads were so busy it took us forever to get across. When we arrived, I was in a foul mood. Hot, knees and back knackered from all the stairs with my backpack on, and I hadn’t eaten since lunchtime. It was gone midnight, and those of you who know what I’m like when I’m hungry will know we were in very dangerous territory. I could barely speak I was so over it all, but the hostel staff were so kind and funny that they actually cheered me up. We had a Macdonalds and then went to bed. (Not exactly Malaysian but I was in no state to find somewhere more local!)

After a big sleep, I was more human the next day and ready for some exploring. We walked around a few huge shopping malls which were really high end and full of shops like Gucci etc. We then went to the cheap mall by our hostel because we knew there was a post office there. I collected a box and then we went back to fill it up.

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I decided to send home my camera (God knows why I thought packing two cameras was a good idea, it’s literally just been taking up room in my backpack for six months) I also sent home the clothes I’d bought, and bits of paper and my Hawaiian solar powered hula girl. I won’t be needing her until I get home. It cost about thirty quid to post but I really don’t care haha!

Walking around I had the weird sensation that everyone was staring at me. At first I thought it was just paranoia, but they really were staring…. It took me a little while to realise that my shorts (not teeny tiny, but because I’m tall, all shorts provide a lot of leg action for me.) were actually a bit of a cultural faux pas. Like Morocco, Malaysia is quite an Islamic country and its wise to dress modestly. I put some trousers on and felt a lot hotter, but less like I was offending anyone. Phew.

We then went to a food court for lunch and after a bit of deliberation and mind boggling (raw fish porridge anyone, or perhaps a salty egg porridge, or a fried trotter?) we went for some safe ish Thai noodles. They came to about £1.20 a bowl. I’m still really enjoying cheap food. It’s insane. The hostels don’t really seem to have kitchens in Asia and eating out is actually cheaper than our New Zealand favourite of crisps for lunch.

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That evening we headed on the walkway to the park under the Petronas Towers. It was really cool to see them light up at night. I’d always thought that the towers were the biggest in the world (I remember learning about it at school) but in fact they’re just the tallest twin towers. That big spire thing in Dubai is almost twice the height. I hope to see it one day. It must be bloody massive. I hurt my neck looking at the Petronas towers!

 

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We headed back and out to the famous “food street” for dinner. Basically it’s a load of restaurants whose tables and chairs are out in the street. The waiters really scrabble to get you to come into their restaurant so it can get a bit hectic. After one trip down the road and briefly considering a frog porridge (I’m not joking) we settled for a safe Chinese restaurant and had very safe sweet and sour chicken with spring rolls. I didn’t take the chopsticks offered… I was also offered a Guiness which was considerate, but hilarious.

There was one moment when my inappropriate laughter got the better of me once again…A busker was walking around the restaurant singing to people down a microphone. The speaker was held by his friend who he pushed around in his wheelchair. So bad to laugh but I nearly choked because it was getting a bit Little Britain… I’m going to hell.

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The following day we went on the hunt for the “Times Square” shopping mall because we’d heard it was so huge that there’s a roller coaster inside. We saw the roller coaster. We didn’t buy anything…. Tom was delighted to discover that Krispy Kreme donuts work out at less than 50p. I had a smoothie because I felt in dire need of some nutrients. Then we had lunch…

Here in Kuala Lumpur, lots of the restaurants have plastic models of the dishes (which fascinate me!) so you can see what you’re ordering. This makes it a lot easier for foreigners. We found a nice looking model of some noodles, pointed to it and paid then sat down. Then our food was plonked in front of us and it was nothing like the example. It was basically a thick black soup with an inch of oil on top of it and a few noodles floating about. Oh, and a raw egg. Luckily it came to about a quid each so we saw the funny side and politely poked a bit of it down then left. I needed the toilet but there were no western toilets… Just the hole in the ground job popular with French service stations. No toilet roll either. Arghh. Too much info dear reader? Well I didn’t want you getting the impression that travel is all glitz and glammer!

We scurried back and used I the toilet at the hostel then headed out for our pre-booked trip up the Petronas towers. We were packed like sardines into a lift with about forty other people. Small spaces with people I don’t know really make me panic, so I did some deep breathing until we arrived on the viewing floor. It was really cool! Not much to say other than it was an ace view and a really beautiful building.

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Good to see the towers up close.
We then headed to a bar at the top of one of the hotels called the “Sky Bar” where the folk from our hostel were heading for a night out. It was probably one of the poshest bars I’ve ever been in and I felt like a total frump in my elephant trousers and saggy vest. I basically looked like I was in my pajamas.

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The bar had a pool in it? And free cocktails…. Despite it seeming like a recipe for disaster, we both managed to enjoy the night without any accidental swimming.

Our final day in KL was spent avoiding the rain and trying to sort out Japan next week. Our usual approach of winging it may get us incredibly lost and confused in Japan, so we are trying to plan more thoroughly. I’m so excited to see Japan, it’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. I’m especially excited to have my mind blown by Tokyo, sleep in a capsule hotel in Osaka and to stay in a temple in Koyosan.

Anyway, we’re off to Hong Kong tomorrow. Time to start researching what to do. So far on the list: see the giant Buddha and go to Disneyland!
Observations:

– it’s mainly shopping malls, food, and the Petronas towers.
– in the west we’re obsessed with having a tan. I’m guilty of this – I’m feeling so pleased with myself for being a bit brown. Here in Asia however, most of the beauty products contain ingredients that whiten the skin. In fact, the other day I needed a new deodorant stick and had to hunt for a while to find one that wasn’t “whitening.” (I didn’t really fancy glowing pits…) you also see a lot of people with arms and legs completely covered up, wearing hats, sunglasses and carrying sun umbrellas. Probably wise because the sun is so strong here, but it’s definitely also an image thing.

– we’ve struggled to find Malaysian food! We’ve eaten Macdonalds (hehee) Thai, Chinese, Portuguese (!) and middle eastern.

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Until next time…

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New things 7) Try caviar

Before I turn 25 I’ve given myself 25 challenges.

One was to try something I’ve always wanted to try: caviar.

So off to Waitrose (of course) I popped, and got all the proper ingredients.

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(mini pancakes)

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(Lumpfish caviar. I’d never heard of lumpfish before, but it was a damn sight cheaper than salmon caviar)

DSC_0319(I read online that soured cream is what should be served with caviar.)

Drrrrumroll pleaaaaase

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I didn’t like it.

What did I learn?

  • Fewer things will make you feel more like a pretentious idiot than buying caviar in Waitrose darling.
  • You shouldn’t let stainless steel touch caviar, i.e. use a wooden or ceramic spoon. (apparently it ruins the taste.)
  • One should keep one’s caviar chilled. It should be served on ice during a dinner party situation.
  • Caviar tastes like fishy fish. Salty and with a small explosion in the mouth. Also it’s quite unsettling when you find a little egg nestling amongst your teeth afterwards. Shudder.
  • It allows you to take incredibly poncy photos like the one below.

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(La dee dah! Love the blue colour of the eggs though, amazing!)

Did I enjoy eating caviar?

Nope

Would I try it again?

Nope.

My other food challenges before I turn 25 are lobster and plantain. I have the feeling I might enjoy those more.

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