Whenever I travel to a new place, I like to steep myself deep in their culture, of which food is an extremely integral part. Cambodia was no different, especially since I had heard great things about the food here. So, it seemed but natural to enrol for a cooking class while I was in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. Khmer food includes a lot of fish, fish sauce (which I fund a bit too strong fro my liking), chicken and pork. They also feast on many insects, which we were not adventurous enough to try.After referring to trip advisor about various cooking schools, we chose Veasna's Cooking class (Veasnainthekitchen.com) as we could customise the menu and have a private class for ourselves. Veasna came at 8:30 am to our Hotel on Sisowath Quay and off we were to shop for our ingredients.Just after a few minutes' walk, we reached the market where every fish, meat and vegetable imaginable were being sold. The sights were very fascinating; women filleting fish with the same skill of a starred chef, milk being extracted from coconuts with specialised equipment, mounds of the famous kampot pepper filling the sir with their aroma, fresh lemongrass and kafir lime leaves made into a ready-to-use paste and new vegetables that I had never encountered amongst others. WE spent a goof 45 minutes walking around and buying produce for our meal. On our way to the cooking class, we picked up a huge tender coconut inside which we were to cook fish amok - Cambodia's most popular dish (and my favourite).
Day 16 Da Lat – Cat Tien National Park (BL) Am: Have breakfast at hotel. Leave Dalat for Cat Tien National Park at 7.30 am. On the way you stop to see Chicken village and Pongour falls for more admiration of beautiful landscapes. On arrival, cross through Dong Nai River to enter the Cat Tien National Park for beginning your wildlife experience. Arrive at the Nam Cat Tien National Park, check in and follow by lunch. Pm: In the afternoon you start walking 8km along the ecologic route: sites of Lagerstroemia Ovalfolia (BangLang), Tetrameles nudiflora (Tung), Cycas rumphii (Thien Tue), Ancistrolandus Tectorius (Trung quan), Afzelia cyclocarpa (Go). After that you are back to the center for having dinner. Overnight at the park. (Optional: You can take a night safari to see the diversity of wild animals and their lives at night) Day 17 Cat Tien NP - Ho Chi Minh (BL) Am: Have breakfast at hotel. This morning you will continue your journey on 9km transfer by jeep inside the park to a junction. Then you go on trekking 5km to the Crocodile lake station. You have a short break at the lake before trekking to the main road again. Jeep picks up and transfers back to the park center. Check out the room. Have lunch at the park Pm: In the afternoon you leave the park, take the ferry across the river, then head back to Ho Chi Minh City. On arrival, check in hotel. Free to have your own dinner. In the evening you are free to walk around the city and explore. Overnight at hotel.
Can Tho is a place where traditional Vietnamese food and street foods are available in plenty and with English language meagerly seen or heard in these parts, experience the ecstatic adventure of trying to figure out the food on the menu, enjoy playing volleyball and conversing in English with the students at Can Tho University and simply wandering around the streets and market place relaxed.
Chau Doc, on the Cambodian border is a hodgepodge of markets, boats and shacks lining the Bassac River. We jumped at the chance to stay in a funky room right on the shore. From our windows above we watched the beehive of activity and listened to the variety of motors powering boats along the river. We even put up with the occasional speed boats, making so much noise that we had to pause our conversation.
About Ho Chi Minh City
The city of Ho Chi Minh offers an array of food to its locals and tourists. They use fresh, simple ingredients to create complex flavours. A food trip to the city of Saigon ( as many people refer to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam) can turn into one of the most memorable ones if you know what to have and where to have it. Here are some of the most popular Vietnamese food that must try:
Best Time To Visit Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City
Book Ho Chi Minh City Tour Package
Cu Chi Tunnels
We took a tour through a section of the Cu Chi Tunnels and learnt how the brave men and women of Cu Chi built underground hospitals, kitchens and meeting rooms during their struggle.We spent the last afternoon in Vietnam shopping in the city’s main business district, and took a cyclo ride through the busy city streets to Ho Chi Minh’s Chinatown district, Cholon
Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral
With them we visited Notre Dam Cathedral, Central Post Office, Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum, Jade Emperor Pagoda, City Hall and Opera House. All located in downtown in District 1. We first took a cab to Notre Dam Cathedral , a km away from our hotel. It was built in 19th century by French colonialists. The interiors of the basilica do look a bit similar to its namesake in Paris but is not as ornate. In front of the cathedral there is a Virgin Mary statue which is said to have shed tears in 2005 causing thousands of people to stop at the basilica. As per our guides, later it was discovered that there is a small hole on the top of the statue, and some rain water must have passed down coming out through the eyes. Across the street from the cathedral lies the Central Post Office, the largest PO in Vietnam. The building looks beautiful from outside. Its architect is the famous Gustav Eiffel who also designed Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty.The cathedral - post office area seemed to be popular for taking wedding photos. We saw at least four wedding couples getting their photos professionally clicked over there. The boulevard outside the cathedral is quiet picturesque and a popular walking street. We decided to come back there later in evening.Walking distance from post office is the Opera House, another city landmark built by the French. It is open to the public during events/shows. Next our guides took us to a road-side kiosk to try Vietnamese milk tea. They had a wide variety of flavours, mostly fruit based, served both hot and cold. All four of us tried different flavours and they all tasted amazing. We then took a cab to War Remnants Museum. Few museums drive home the brutality of war so effectively. There are disturbing photographs of US war atrociwties. The are photos and news clipping showing how widely the war was opposed within US and by the world. It is unbelievable that this war continued for more than 20 years, under four different US Presidents. A section displays pictures of children horribly effected by Agent Orange, a bio-chemical used by US during the war. You will also see some of these effected Vietnamese in person, selling handmade souvenirs inside the museum. The museum closes by 12 noon, so reach there early enough to be able to go through most of the exhibits. Entry fee is 15,000 VND.
Notre Dame Cathedral Nhà Thờ Đức Bà
2. Gaze at the marvellous architectures of the Notre Dame Cathedral and Central Post Office. Built by Gustave Eiffel of the Eiffel tower fame, Saigon’s Central Post Office is one of the most acclaimed buildings of the country. Once you enter you are greeted by groups of other tourist praising the Gothic style architecture, French colonial maps and a portrait of Ho Chi Minh. Right across the post office stands the Notre Dame Cathedral basking the beauty of Romanesque architecture, apart from the usual tourist buses I was lucky enough to spot a number of newlyweds having a photo shoot outside the Cathedral.
Ben Thanh Market
If you are a Harry Potter fan, you will thoroughly understand me when I compare Ben Thanh Market with the Room of Requirement inside the Hogwarts Castle. Right from spices, desserts, alcohol, medicines, fruits and vegetables to clothing, bags, shoes, watches, perfumes, cheap cosmetics and jewellery, you only have to think of something in order to find it in this central market. The shopkeepers are the most excited bunch I have ever seen and love bargaining while playfully pulling your leg for no reason at all. For those who find shopping boring, visit the confusing and crowded lanes and bylanes of Ben Thanh in order to see how it can be a whole lot of fun. Getting there: Taking a metered taxi from a reputed company is a good idea with 'Mai Linh' being the most popular and you could be charged around 15,000 VND for the first kilometre. Flagging taxis is easy because Ben Thanh is extremely popular but you could also ask your hotel staff to call you one.
Jade Emperor Hall
Next we took a cab to Jade Emperor Pagoda or Phuoc Hai Tu Pagoda. It is a Taoist Pagoda built by the Cantonese Chinese community in 1909. The temple is dedicated to many Buddhist and Taoist Gods, most important being Jade Emperor, the Supreme of Taoist God. If you are going without a guide, do read up on it before visiting. There are multiple sections signifying various aspects of Chinese beliefs and rituals. There is a small hall with statue of Chief of Hell. Another room contains 12 women figures , each figure representing a year in Chinese astrological calendar. There is another hall containing statue of goddess of Mercy. As part of the tour, we had the option of visiting local markets with our guides but we decided to do those on our own. We finished the tour at 2pm. After resting for some time we went to Benh Than Market located right next to our hotel. It is a huge covered market where you can find anything -clothes , footwear, food , souvenirs , handicrafts, electronics etc. You need to use your bargaining skills to the fullest. There is a small section with fixed priced shops, which I much preferred. Around 6pm, the shops closes down, and stalls get set up on the surrounding streets. We then visited an Indian friend's house in District 3. District 3 is the expat colony in HCM with beautiful villas and modern high-rise residential buildings. From there we headed to Opera house to catch the 8pm AO show. It is a one hour performance with a mix of acrobatic acts and theatrics. There are no vocals, only music and dance acts presenting Vietnamese culture in a contemporary manner. The cheapest ticket was for 500,000 VND. You can book online or buy on spot. Better to book online in advance to get better seats.After the show, we again went back to the Ben Thanh Market, this time to see the night version of it as a street market.Day 10: Mekong Delta Tour
Ho Chi Minh City Hall
Then we passed by to the magnificient City Hall~ yes City hall and it’s really beautiful.We also went to the Chu-Chi Tunnel, where we booked for a tour where it's a 1 hour ride in going there, then we went back the city, went to the opera house and up to the Saigon Sky Tower where we saw the full view of Ho Chi Minh City.
3:30 pm; From Wikipedia: It was formerly known as Independence Palace and was built on the site of the former Norodom Palace. It was the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It was also the site of the end of Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon on 1975 when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gates. We were not allowed to enter the palace during our visit because of a rumored bomb or something. We actually saw from afar the guards scanning the whole area to rule out the said rumor. Because of that we just made funny poses with the cyclos parked outside of the palace.
Tan Son Nhat International Airport
Took Jetstar 3K551 to Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN), Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, from home in Singapore. This is a placement flight for my long haul flight on ANA and UA. *TRAVEL TIP: Flying out of SGN compared to SIN saves up to SGD$1000 at times!* SGN is also a modern and cosy airport to stop for a while in, and it has a pretty nice lounge with good food for star alliance gold members!
Cu Chi Tunnels
I knew a bit of history of Indochina War and the Cold War, but I really didn't understand the true human cost until I went there. There are some experiences which leave deep impact and make you think about human powers. Well, for me this was one of those :)We booked one day trip from our hotel and our tour guide was quite knowledgeable. I highly recommend to take tour guide instead of getting there alone.Short history of Cu Chi TunnelThe Cu Chi Tunnels are an absolutely enormous network of interconnecting tunnels underground in the Cu Chi region of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and a well-known historic vestige of the Vietnamese revolution.The tunnels were used by the Vietnamese soldiers in the 1960s as communication and supply routes, as well as hiding spots for surprise attacks against the American and living quarters.The Cu Chi Tunnel represented the will, intelligence and pride of the people of Cu Chi and symbolized the revolutionary heroism of Vietnam.
Saigon Post Office
Just across the Notre Dame Cathedral is the Central Post Office. The design was said to be a mixture of Gothic, Renaissance and French Influences. Telephone booths and ATMs are housed in red/orange maple-toned wood enclosures that added elegance to the place. Souvenir items are available here and for me rightly priced. It was here that I bought my fridge magnets which I discovered were cheaper than the market price without the need to haggle.
The Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater
This was on the top of our HCMC agenda. So all of us were excited about this unique water puppet show, especially the kids. However, the reviews were mixed. What better way than review it yourself? So we headed to Golden Dragon Water Puppet Show with high expectations.The performance commenced with melodious Vietnamese music, drums and a medley of instruments , performed live by artists on stage. The commentary though in Vietnamese, you can understand it, thanks to the accompanying leaflet shared. Ever watched fireworks in a puppet show, leave alone one inside water? The Golden Dragon had it all. What a spectacular show it was! Spellbound, we walked out with our lasting memory of Vietnam.Day 3:
Quán bia Pub Tip Top
Our second stop was Tip Top island. It was amazing- we were able to see the entire Halong Bay from above! We had to climb 600 steps, but it was totally worth it! The view from the top was breathtaking. In the summertime, tourists can enjoy sunbathing, kayaking or swimming in the sea. It was very cold in Ha Long Bay during our stay, so we were just walking around the island.TIP: Wear comfortable clothes and shoes on Halong Bay cruise. Climbing may be very tiring. It is not recommended for elderly and people with heart problems to go upon the hill.After few hours of walking around, we were very happy to come back on the ship. It was time for a lunch! We were surprised by the variety of food to choose from. Buffet included Vietnamese, Japanese and American food. It was so delicious! We didn’t manage to try everything but, as big fans of Asian food, we only ate Japanese and Vietnamese food.Desserts were delicious as well! Puddings, cakes and fruits were extremely tasty. Food on Halong Bay cruise looked great. It was a pleasure to take photos of these amazing dishes. It is great when the food both look and taste well.The thing we absolutely loved about Halong Bay cruise was live music! An awesome Philippinian band was singing songs in English, Vietnamese and Chinese languages. The people were dancing and singing with them. It was just awesome! Halong Bay cruise ended at three p.m., so we still had some time to work and sightseeing.Halong- general informationThere is a difference between Halong and Halong Bay. Halong is basically a town. There is really not much you can do in Halong.Halong Bay is mainly inhabited. There are only a few fisherman villages in the bay. The only way is to get there is to take Halong Bay cruise or hire a small boat to take you anywhere you want.We were planning to stay 1-5 week in Halong, but we came back to Hanoi earlier. Halong was too boring for us and also the weather was very bad.Halong Bay tips1. Mind the weather.It may be VERY cold in Halong Bay, especially during winter (November- March). We were pretty disappointed by the rain and cold. Most hotels are not prepared for the winter, so we were freezing all the time.We wouldn’t come back to Halong Bay in winter. It was difficult to take good photos because there was no sun during our weekly stay. We were lucky enough that two days before we left when we were on the cruise, the weather was better. The sun wasn’t shinning, but it wasn’t that cloudy either.The best time to visit Halong Bay is summer (April-October). You can enjoy swimming in the sea, sunbathing or taking awesome pictures.2. Rent a motorbike.Driving in Halong is quite easy. Streets are not crowded, and the topography is very nice. When you travel on a motorbike, you can fully explore the place. Halong is quite big, so you won’t be able just to walk around and expect to see everything.TIP: Halong is separated into two lands that are connected by the big bridge. It is worth to see both sides of Halong.3. One or two day trip is OK.All you should see in Halong Bay is… Halong Bay.There is no point in staying there longer than two days. We wish we could know it before because we were very bored during our week-long stay in Halong.We think that the best way of traveling to Halong Bay is to book 1 or 2-days trip from Hanoi. Most hotels have Halong Bay cruise and Halong Bay trips on offer. You can also use one of the local agencies to organise your travel. There are plenty of them in Hanoi’s Old Quarter area.4. Find out the names of the islands.There are hundreds of small islands in Halong Bay. Some of them have funny shapes and names. For example, there is a Thumb Island because it looks similar to human’s thumb.The most famous are ‘The kissing islands’ (some call them ‘The Fighting Cock islands’). They are small and situated very close to each other which is quite unusual in Halong Bay.Halong Bay in numbersThere are 1969 islands in Halong Bay.HaLong Bay is 500 million years old.Halong Bay has an area of around 1553 square meters.There are only 7 fishing villages in Halong Bay (sadly, fishermen and their families are extremely poor, so the government sends them on the mainland; Halong Bay fishermen villages are slowly getting extinct)Halong Bay is home to 14 endemic floral species.Ha Long Bay was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1994.Halong Bay is home to 60 endemic faunal species.Halong is situated about 180 kilometres east of Hanoi.More than 220,000 people live in Halong.There are only three places like Halong Bay in the world (El Nido in the Philippines, Krabi in Thailand, Guilin in China).This trip was originally published on karolinapatryk's website
Emperor Jade Pagoda - Chùa Phước Hải (Điện Ngọc Hoàng)
Emperor Jade is one of the most impressive pagodas in Vietnam. The place is full of intricate carvings and depictions of deities including the Emperor Jade himself. The most popularly touted tourist attraction are the Cu Chi Tunnels which makes for a good day trip from Saigon.
Ho Chi Minh Post Office
A few steps from the Cathedral is their post office, designed by Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower. We then decided to have the Vietnam fried pancakes, locally known as Banh Xeo. We didn’t know that it would be in such huge servings that most of us failed to finish what we ordered. But, all the same, it was delicious!
Cục Gạch Quán
Cuc Gach Quan + Sax N ArtBrad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s visit to Cuc Gach Quan in 2010 put this restaurant on the world map. Set in an old French Colonial house, it prides itself on fresh, countrysidestyle cooking (cucgachquan.com.vn). Post dinner, head to the best jazz club in town, Sax N Art, where you canenjoy contemporary jazzwith Vietnamese influences(saxnart.com).Temple Club
Enjoy Mediterranean food at its finest at Saffron where they greet you with a glass of sparkling wine and they won’t charge you for it! Saffron takes its cooking inspiration from Middle Eastern, Northern Africa, Greek, Italian, French and Spanish cuisine. What you will notice first off is the amazing decor – make sure to look up at the ceiling as soon as you enter inside. This Mediterranean Bistro offers signature dishes whose portions are huge size for a single person. If you like the classics try their cheese plate or crostinis to start, Escargot with mushrooms for your main meal and Chocolate bread pudding for dessert. Best in Show: Twice Cooked Lamb – the lamb is braised and pressed with mashed potato puree. For dessert enjoy the walnut and honey baklava served with pistachio ice cream.
The Long at Times Square – 57-69F Dong Khoi Street, District 1 This restaurant gets its name from its very long design. Their inspiration comes from the sidewalk cafes fond in France and Italy. Best in Show: The Bubble Promotion – Buy a bottle of sparkling wine and get four bar snacks for free. Bar snacks to try include: Classic Tomato Bruschetta and Pandan Chicken. Then order yourself a freshly made Margarita Pizza and finish off the feast with one of their gelato. You might have a problem to choose which gelato, as their collection is huge.
Enjoy a sunset drink at the Chill Sky Bar, a rooftop bar offering phenomenal views of the city (chillsaigon.com). A little away is Lemongrass, in a narrow shophouse in District 1. Listen to live music and enjoy a candle light dinner through your Vietnamese dinner that has a French touch (lemongrasssaigon.com).
Argentinian Steakhouse El Gaucho Restaurant
This is a steak lover’s haven, you can choose the type of steak you want, the serving size and the type of sauce you want. They have three types of breeds to choose from: USDA Prime, Back Angus and Certified Angus Beef. You can also choose your portion size – the Filet Steak and Rib Eye Steak are available in 250/350/500/1000 grams serving sizes; while the New York Striploin is available in 300/500 grams serving sizes. Steak is not the only thing on the menu – try a noteworthy salad like the Warm Goat Cheese on Toast served with grilled vegetables on top of mixed greens or a Nicoise salad. Or start your meal off with the El Gaucho Sampler Platter (Salchicha, Chorizo, Chicken, Mushroom) and Beef Empanadas. Best in show: USDA Prime Filet Steak with grilled Asparagus and Red Wine sauce with a glass of Merlot wine. If you think you still have room after the feast try out the Dulce de leche for dessert.
Hoa Tuc Restaurant
Get ready for a romantic night out at Hoa Tuc. This contemporary Vietnamese cuisine restaurant is located at Hai Ba Trung which houses several other restaurants. The good thing about this restaurant is they offer some great vegetarian choices also. They have a cooking class as well. Best in show: Hoa Tuc Starter Platter (fresh spring rolls, fried spring rolls, fish cakes, and Hoa Tuc Salad). The fish cakes are out of this world! Make your main dish the Seafood fried rice with grilled eggplant on the side. For desert order the sticky rice fritters stuffed with black sesame seeds, red bean paste and coconut cream.
Ho Chi Minh Museum
The Ho Chi Minh Museum is strange – The displays made for the museum are very elaborate and very modern art inspired, which just confused me. I was hoping to learn more about the man who’s face is everywhere in Vietnam, but unfortunately a vast majority of the displays are in Vietnamese and not translated to English.