Diary of an Adventure

Vietnam Adventures

Hoi An

The airports a pleasure. VietJet, organised and to schedule. Our hotel in Hoi An, a bit like a boarding house room, with a fabulous outdoor courtyard under the colourful lanterns that are synonymous with Hoi An. 

We opted to stay at the hotel restaurant for a selection from their speciality menu. Everywhere has their own version of spring-rolls. These had ginger, garlic and some sort of seafood in a lacy rice roll. Mango, cucumbers, green mint, pork and steamed shrimp (tom cuon xoai dua leo) rolled together was delicious. A dish of sautéed chicken with lemon-grass and chili.

The 15th century old town looks like it belongs at Epcot. A mix of architectural styles, it’s quaint, with its winding river between worlds. None of the city freneticism, well maintained and as many bicycles as scooters. They do like their hooters!

Stopped at a studio to see the abstract works in acrylic, with a couple of woodcuts on silk before taking refuge in the quiet Reaching Out Tea House. Still not convinced about tea as the drink of choice.

Mrs. Thuy at the bustling central market our lunch stop. Stuffed squid with pork, mushrooms and bean thread noodles (Muc Nhoi Thit). Not an automatic choice for me, but it was splendid. Refreshing vegetable spring rolls before dashing out to stay ahead of the rain.
 

Advertisements
Diary of an Adventure

Vietnam Adventures

Ha Long Bay

Four hours bus ride hurtling through towns and villages, with construction going on everywhere. ‘Tube’ houses with an architectural style that seemingly borrows from French colonial, festooned with the capitals, gilding, arches, and spires of Buddhist temples. 

This UNESCO World Heritage site is amazing. Ignore the mass commercial exploitation with a gazillion boats all headed for the same spot, and the schedule that has you rushing through your meal to meet the deadline of the next attraction. Look past the obvious signs of maintenance flaws on the boat, and lift your eyes to the outcrops of rock. 

Thankful that there are still small commercial fishing boats to provide scale and character. Smiling that there are places in the world where the captain spins the spokes of his wheel using his toes! And thankful for fishermen’s shrines between the rock face and high-tide mark, to keep us safe and their fishing abundant. 

Amongst the hooters, sirens and the noise of diesel engines, birds soar between the limestone spires. Magical. 

And hidden in the limestone is Hang Sung Sot – the surprise cave. It’s ceiling shaped by the motion of the waves, and the floor by the underground lake. When the earth shifted these two halves opened up to each other. Beautifully maintained. A single path walkway stretching the hundreds of tourists into a quieter format. If I had my way, I’d have a shrine to the silent tour guide. 

Magnificent turquoise waters and the gentle colours of a tropical sunset.

Floating city with the lights of the boats creating shadows of the rock outcrops that could easily be part of the dragon that legend has formed Ho Long Bay.

The boat was comfortable and our cabin well appointed with a bed that you disappeared into. Thankful for the air conditioning on a stuffy, windless night. Good food that did its best to cater for my sugarless needs.

Sunrise Thai-Chi amongst the towering shadows, a bit beyond my co-ordination.

Messing About with Paint

Vietnam Adventures

‘Cards’, and the companion painting, ‘Another hand’

Acrylic on linen 40cmx50cm 

Hanoi, Vietnam. 

From Terry’s photo, ladies playing cards next to Westlake. 

Frenetic, expressive smearing of paint onto the linen canvas. Craziness after a heart-beat walking through the traffic? 

Raw Sienna, and Alizarin Crimson for the face, with a darker mixture of Ultramarine Blue and Cadmium Red. Naples Yellow for the background. Quinacridone Rose and Cobalt Blue for the clothing.

‘Another Hand’

Acrylic on Linen 40cmx50cm 

Diary of an Adventure

Vietnam – Terry’s street food and the accidental traveller 

It’s a wonder that Jan and I travel so well together. I love street food while he is is cautious, suspicious and resistant – until we can find a restaurant that has adult size chairs and tables and recognizable food, even if it’s served in a bowl of soup. 

For two consecutive mornings we have gone out for breakfast of Pho Ga – a bowl of noodle soup with chicken. There is also a beef option. Fragrant with lime leaves, fresh coriander, mint and spring onions, this clear chicken broth is typical of the one-dish street food available, lest it be said, on the street.  

On the whole, we don’t eat the noodles (too carb rich), but the Pho is nutritious and filling. The protein content is nominal though – less than half a chicken breast between the two of us. No wonder these people are so slim! Extras can be ordered and added to the soup – such as a poached egg yolk, which is poached in a soup ladle lowered into the huge pot of broth simmering on the edge of the pavement. There are other delicacies such as egg embryos that can also be poached and added to your bowl of Pho. And as adventurous as I am, I haven’t braved the extras. Visually, they aren’t attractive (to me). A squeeze of fresh lime juice over the Pho is the only condiment we add, although there is garlic, fresh chili, fish sauce, and commercial sweet-chili sauce on the tray on the table. 

Birds in their bamboo cages sing and chirp in the eaves above us, and business men, breakfasting women, children and families and waiting-staff all chatter around us, a background noise to the traffic at our elbows.

We’ve learned the art of holding our spoons in our left hands and negotiating food (including the slippery and elusive noodles) onto the spoon using our chopsticks, then popping the spoonful into our mouths. Although etiquette allows us to lift the bowls to our chins so that we don’t mess, it is not considered polite to sip the soup directly from the bowl. The very small tissue-serviettes are inadequate for our eating skills. 

My street food tour was a taste sensation – from the Pho we went into the old quarter to enjoy the rolled rice pancake – Banh Cuon. Made from rice batter, a thin thin layer is spread across a fine cloth stretched drum-tight over a steaming pot of water. This ‘pancake’ cooks ultra quickly, is lifted off with a pair of chopsticks, and rolled up with either a filling of minced pork and mushroom, or whole eggs steamed on the drum and rolled into the pancake. Served with fresh coriander or garnished with crisp deep-fried shallots and shrimp, and a dipping sauce – this breakfast is also fragrant, fresh, light – but filling. The dipping sauce is a broth flavored with fish sauce. 

The French introduced baguettes to Vietnam (plus their pasties and cakes). The Vietnamese version of the baguette is more like a large bread roll, made with a mixture of wheat and rice flour. Various pavement vendors sell rolls -banh – filled with salads, and various options of omelette, chicken, and BBQ pork. I declined sampling this as I’d already eaten too much breakfast and there were still two more stops on the tour of food tasting !!!

I’d been dying to try the street BBQ – the aroma of grilled pork from almost every street corner seems impossible to resist, a bit like the smell of boerewors braaing at a market or sports field event. Mouthwatering. And despite all our pavement beers and the BBQ happening two paving stones away, Jan still wasn’t convinced. 

But I had my way. My guide Y took me to a pavement BBQ stop, innocuous between two scooter repair shops near the stone gates into the old city. Caught between a major highway and an ancient wall, we sat on tiny plastic stools, and ate pork patties in betel leaves, grilled over a tiny charcoal brazier balanced in the gutter. An old woman under her conical hat cooked the meat, her son served us the BBQ pieces in a bowl of broth, with rice noodles on the side and a bowl of fresh salad to share. Tender, moist, smoky and a slight sweetness from the broth. And his son, a student of ‘banking’, served us ice water and practiced his English. This family (the mother in the back ground preparing the food), another son working on the scooters next door, live in a space smaller than a single garage that opens onto the pavement: they operate their food business on the street.

The people of Hanoi (or Vietnam), live on the streets – mostly their homes are too small, so they move their kettles and braziers onto the streets. They play cards and catch up on the pavements, and even if they aren’t selling their food, they still eat it on the streets. Apparently, eating alone is painful, so being on the streets, or sharing a table at a street food outlet, is preferable to eating alone. Even we have found sipping our coffee – ca phe – or drinking our ‘fresh beer’ – bia hoi – companionable, our tables pushed up close to our Vietnamese neighbors. We nod and smile a lot. 

My morning ended with a really decadent egg coffee! The egg , whipped to a frenzy rather like the Italian zablione, is served over a cup of espresso! The sugar content scary, the coffee was to die for! 

In Jan’s defense, he has succumbed to a BBQ outlet at the market, where the turnover is quick and the pork patties freshly grilled. We bring them back to our apartment and eat them with fresh tomatoes, relaxed in comfortable chairs with the street noise five floors below us.

Diary of an Adventure

Vietnam Adventures

Hanoi

Pho, at the upmarket Huyen on Cau Long Street, clean with regular size tables and chairs. Chicken amongst the noodles (which I skipped) and broth. Tastes of lemon-grass, garlic, ginger and lime hidden within the depths of crystal clear broth, delicate enough to make a French Chef envious. Translucent onion moving between the noodle strands like exotic sea creatures.

A tad squeaky and weary of the noise after five hours of weaving through the old town searching out Thuy at Lily’s Travel to pay for the air tickets and booking to Ha Long Bay. All without getting lost! Located the hotel we will stay at on or return and finalized the arrangements after getting dates all muddled. Helpful and patient with my concerns and questions. 

Hoan Kiem Lake with a stop for coffee at the trendy Cong Caphe across the road from St Joseph’s cathedral. The temple of the Jade Mountain, Ngoc Son Temple, was crowded with tourists. The best feature (even without reflections), the scarlet bridge. Surprisingly, it’s the first time I have sent the small table flying trying to get out of the chair. Broken bottles across the pavement.

Escaped to the apartment for a spot of quiet and to mess about with paint after a stop at the market. Excellent pork spring rolls, with tomato and their small patties.

Small painting of lotus flowers working better. Frenetic, expressive smearing of paint onto the linen canvas and paper. Craziness after a heart-beat walking through the traffic? Terry’s photo of a lady playing cards gave me the opportunity to do a couple of paintings of the same subject simultaneously. 

Diary of an Adventure

Vietnam Adventures

Hanoi

Too early for the market to be functioning, which was my planned breakfast stop as Terry was heading out for her Street Food tour, while I messed about with paint. That my stomach has decided at this point to rebel, a coincidence.

Hopefully the eggs from market shopping don’t have chicks in them! We whizzed through the list that Terry had with the various stall holders patient with what we were looking for. A gazillion too many prawns, and enough pineapple for a year. The banana flower, pork and bamboo salad with rice paper, omelette, lettuce and prawn spring rolls were works of art and delicious. Missed a good bottle of wine!

Frustrated with my painting that didn’t have the lightness and vibrancy I had in my head. Perhaps an ‘out-of-sorts’ shot of day, with an unfamiliar painting medium and challenging subject? The ‘engineered’ scooter ended up being the bit of the painting I was most happy about! An old lady playing cards to be tackles after the small sketch of lotus flowers.

Almost sorted the next bit of our trip to Ha Long Bay, which have become complicated with unpredictable travel times, unknown conditions, luggage and the onward flights to Hoi Ann. A few ‘Lost in Translation’ moments.

Diary of an Adventure

Vietnam Adventures

Maison de Tet, the micro batch craft coffee delicious. In a renovated villa along West Lake, we could have been in any upmarket restaurant on the planet. A good selection of jazz with our brunch.

A walk out along West Lake, dodging garbage, building sites, bicycles, scooters and joggers. While this is not a pedestrian friendly city for the most part, the traffic is courteous.

My painting ‘Cool Kids’ sorted, the composition too far to the left of the canvas for my liking throwing out the balance. The scooter, an engineering drawing rather than an impressionist painting needed to be ‘pushed back’ into the canvas. Might need to tighten the roses and add a shadow to them.

Days settling into a routine with coffee at Cafe Linh, the morning spent walking about the city before the traffic gets crazy and the heat powers through the streets. Afternoon in the air conditioned apartment messing about with paint, and an early evening homemade beer ‘Bia Hoi’ in their greenish glasses, at our local crazy spot before settling in to the city winding down at the end of the day. Kids out playing in the streets, people sitting alongside the road chatting, with the random stopping of scooters or purchase from street vendor carts.

Diary of an Adventure

Vietnam Adventures

Hanoi

A tad vacant from messed up body-clock. Rocket fuel coffee start

Demanding, rapid strokes of my fingers before the acrylic dries. Conscious I am of the criticism leveled at artists who depict Vietnam as the ‘cutesy’ worker in a conical hat and the village with rice fields. For my painting of the modern Hanoi, scooters, attitude, cell phones. On 50cmx40cm, 335gram linen from Amsterdam, that sultry Vettriano look in my head. Her curves flowing into those of the scooter. Roses added for women’s day and that hint of red for the Vietnamese national colour. White of the Lotus flower.

Terry went to the Hanoi Cooking Centre, and I enjoyed the scrumptious result.

‘Today I went to the Hanoi Cooking Centre to try and orientate ourselves to the food we see – or at least to try and understand the ingredients. A fascinating three hours that left me exhausted and with a stiff neck from listening like a budgie – my head cocked to one side trying to unravel the English from the accent. The cooking processes are much the same. Garlic is garlic and slicing, chopping, frying and marinating are the same in any language. Chili, garlic, ginger, coriander, lime, sugar, fish sauce and salt and pepper are the main ingredients. Rice noodles and rice paper were new to work with – thin and fragile to moisture. 

Meat (in this case chicken thigh) is coarsely butchered with bone splinters lurking. Prawns are halved to go a long way. Pork is sliced very thinly for the same reason. And salads make up the bulk of the meal – lettuce and bamboo shoots and banana-flower slivers marinated in lime water. And of course, rice and noodles to fill one up. And for our carb conscious or diabetics, a roast peanut and sesame seed dry dip (crushed in a pestle and mortar) adds flavour in place of the sweet chili dipping sauce.’

Music on the Beats Pill, with the French Doors of the apartment open to the sounds, and smells, of the street.

Diary of an Adventure

Vietnam Adventures

Hanoi

Manzi, an artist-lead art space, cafe and gallery located amongst a leafy garden in an old villa near the apartment. The main exhibition by a young Vietnamese artist was a tad scary, with a diverse gallery wall upstairs. With night falling, we enjoyed the cozy atmosphere away from the frenetic streets. Alice, a disconnect.

Women’s day in Vietnam. Flower sellers brilliant spots of colour, with women in brilliant coloured Ao-Dai’s posing for photographs. Roses from the market 10,000 per stem.

Market shopping excursion. Even a smile from the bustling stall holders. Tomatoes, cabbage and spring onions (30,000), with a pork fillet at 50,000 and meat patties cooked on the grill in front of us, for 80,000. All weighed amidst the chatter, and pricing indicated with cash.

Escaped from the frenetic to the wide, tree lined (dracontomelon duperreanums) heritage walk along Phan Dinh Phung. Cafe Villa, lunch stop to rest weary feet. Ginger, garlic and lemon grass soup with a heap of bamboo shoots and strips of delicately flavored pork. Nothing crazy. Subtle flavours waiting to be uncovered. 


Illustration, acrylic and marker pen on paper, of the cafe along the lakeshore with its ‘biker gang’. The first of the planned heap I hope to pant during the next month.

Diary of an Adventure

Vietnam Adventures

Hanoi

The train arrived on schedule at 03h30, leaving us 4 hours before we could drop our bags. Lemon tea, a car park disco. Small taxis with impressive hooters and sound systems.

Polite taxi driver, whose meter seemed to be of the ‘non-rip-off variety’. Defined as: a meter that turns faster than your heart beats!, brought us to the AirB&B at 60 Nguyen Truong To, Ba Dinh. The Circle K shop our reference point.

Cafe Linh, the first one to open near our apartment, for a rocket fuel coffee start to the day. Random art on the walls, ‘Art studio’ sign on the door of our apartment block. Smoking, never my best, an issue, with cafes filled with smoke. I did manage to get a portrait photo to use as a painting reference.

Ten hours of pavement pounding, a bit like ‘Gulliver in Lilliput Land’, through the Old Town of Hanoi. Senses assaulted by noise, dirt and uncontrolled chaos. A stop to orientate the map, before heading off at a tangent that didn’t end where expected. No worries, another dozen wrong turns and a helpful cyclo (three wheeled bicycle taxi) driver had us pointed in the right direction. Glad for the calmness of a brunch at Pan Pacific hotel. Total wimp that I am. There is absolutely nowhere to walk, other than the street as parked scooters take up every inch of space on the sidewalk. Perhaps 6am is the best time to be out walking in the city? Cool, quiet and somewhat magical. 

Saigon cafe along Truc Bach bustling with a bunch of scooter riders that seemingly fell out of the musical ‘Grease’. Leather jackets, studs, slicked back hair and attitude. The trendy women on Vespa’s, designer brand clothing, red lipstick and even more attitude.

Chopstick skills scrutinized Not sure what level proficiency was assessed. Chopstick Grade B?