The Vietnam Coracle Map

An interactive map of Vietnam with all my guides, posts, articles, reviews, and videos marked on it, including direct links from the map to all my content. The Vietnam Coracle Map will help readers navigate the content on my website, in order to get to the information they are looking for…. Continue reading

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Elegant Suites Westlake, Hanoi


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Comfy, smart & luxurious but unpretentious, Elegant Suites is a great alternative to staying in the cramped streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Located in the well-to-do district of West Lake, it’s a chance to see a different, albeit more affluent, side of the capital. The facilities are fantastic & it’s perfect for families, couples, or business travellers…. Continue reading

2 Comments

Ba Be Lake Homestays

At Ba Be Lake, limestone cliffs meet the placid water at right angles, creating a spectacular backdrop to Vietnam’s largest natural lake. On its southern shores, where the terrain is slightly less vertical, several dozen homestays offer cheap, atmospheric accommodation & excellent home-cooked food…. Continue reading

4 Comments

Hoi An Waterway Resort

Sitting on the palm-studded banks of a narrow channel, Hoi An Waterway Resort boasts river views, superbly designed rooms, a low-key ambience, lush gardens & a good swimming pool. Low rates make Hoi An Waterway excellent value for money…. Continue reading

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Villa Hue Hotel

This gem of a hotel is located on a quiet yet central street in Hue, walking distance from the Perfume River & Royal Citadel. Drawing on modern, French colonial & Imperial Vietnamese decor & design, Villa Hue is superb value for money… Continue reading

2 Comments

Coconut Ice Cream in Saigon

In the heart of one of Saigon’s best street food neighbourhoods, Nguyen Huong offers up a colourful, textural, tasty, Thai-style coconut ice cream. This sweet treat is a fun way to end a night of street food exploration along the buzzing sidewalks of District 10… Continue reading

6 Comments

Local BBQ in Phong Nha

Just north of Phong Nha town, Quán Bình Hoa serves up an excellent BBQ in a local atmosphere. Roast pork, whole roasted duck, ox tail, grilled quail stuffed with lemongrass, hot & spicy baby clams and much more await you at this smokey roadside eatery…. Continue reading

2 Comments

The Juice Lady, Saigon

I’ve only recently started to visit my local juice lady in Saigon. Now, however, I go there every day for fresh fruit juices & smoothies. In Vietnam, fruit juices are often served with added sugar, and smoothies with condensed milk, but it’s pretty easy to order them without… Continue reading

11 Comments

Aira Boutique Sapa Hotel & Spa

On the edge of Sapa town, Aira Boutique is a brightly-painted, alpine-style lodge affording spectacular vistas across the plunging, mist-filled valley, with the jagged peak of Mount Fansipan casting a long shadow over the scene. Aira is one of Sapa’s best higher-end accommodations… Continue reading

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Núi Dinh Mountain & Springs

Some 90 minutes from Saigon, Núi Dinh Mountain is an unexpected swell of high ground rising above flat floodplains. The mountain offers a peaceful retreat into trees & streams on its rocky slopes, upon which perch dozens of temples & pagodas…. Continue reading

2 Comments

Eating Bánh Khọt in Vũng Tàu

Bánh Khọt are delicious gems: crispy discs of rice flour batter & coconut milk, fried until they’re crunchy on the outside but moist on the inside, then wrapped in herbs & dipped in a sweet-spicy sauce. Here are 7 places to eat bánh khọt in Vũng Tàu… Continue reading

4 Comments

Lasenta Boutique Hotel, Hoi An

A comfortable & aesthetically pleasing synthesis of the exotic & the familiar, the modern & the traditional, and Asian & European elements, Lasenta Boutique Hotel is yet another addition to Hoi An’s list of excellent value, mid-range accommodation… Continue reading

4 Comments

Saigon to Hanoi: A Food Diary

On a recent road trip between Saigon & Hanoi I made a record of some of the meals I ate along the way, to try and illustrate the variety of food available, and what a delight it is to eat your way from one end of the country to the other… Continue reading

2 Comments

Liberty Central Hotel, Nha Trang

Liberty Central Nha Trang is a contemporary, stylish, high-rise hotel just a block from the beach. Featuring elegant, minimalist decor, extraordinary sea views, rooftop bar & its own section of beach, Liberty Central is a solid place to stay in Nha Trang…. Continue reading

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The Boat Cafe, Saigon

Two wooden junks floating on the milk tea-coloured waters of the Kenh Te Canal in District 7, The Boat Cafe is one of those special places in Saigon that offer respite from the noise & chaos of the city without actually leaving it… Continue reading

10 Comments

Quán Ốc Cẩm: Shell Feast

Dining out on snails, shellfish & beer is a national pastime in Vietnam. Everyone has their favourite quán ốc (snail restaurant) for a night of shells, booze, banter & fun: Quán Ốc Cẩm, in Saigon’s District 10, is one of mine… Continue reading

2 Comments

Saigon to Vung Tau by Ferry Boat

Taking the boat between Saigon & Vung Tau is one of Vietnam’s most underrated journeys. It’s a fascinating voyage from downtown Saigon, along several rivers, and across open sea to Vung Tau. New, comfortable & more reliable boats now ply this route… Continue reading

38 Comments

The Myst Dong Khoi, Saigon

The Myst is a new, quirky, stylish & elegant boutique hotel in the heart of downtown Saigon. From its enigmatic exterior to its eccentric interiors, The Myst is a bold & unique addition to the high-end hotel scene in Ho Chi Minh City… Continue reading

4 Comments

Two Saigon Soup Houses

There are thousands of soup houses in Saigon: these are just two of them, but they are good ones, and they both offer three different kinds of soups. One of them is a longtime favourite of mine; the other was a recent ‘random encounter’… Continue reading

4 Comments

The Cafe by the Banyan Tree

Named after a grand old tree by the roadside, this cafe is located on the scenic road between Phan Thiet & Di Linh, in the Central Highlands. With good views & strong local coffee, it makes a pleasant pit-stop on a motorbike road trip… Continue reading

8 Comments

Vung Bau Beach: Go Now

Vung Bau beach is one of the last vestiges of ‘old’ Phu Quoc. Located in the northwest of the island, the largely undeveloped sands are lapped by a sapphire-coloured sea, a reminder of what Phu Quoc’s western shore was once like… Continue reading

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Hotel Nikko, Saigon

Ever since it opened a few years ago, Hotel Nikko has set the standard for modern, sleek, chic, high-end accommodation in Saigon. Its success has spawned many decent imitators in the city, but Nikko still has the edge over its competitors… Continue reading

2 Comments

Silk Path Hotel, Hanoi

Walking distance from Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake, the Silk Path Hotel offers clean, crisp, modern and comfortable rooms in the capital. Stylish yet restrained, Silk Path is a good, solid mid-range hotel for couples or families visiting Hanoi… Continue reading

4 Comments

Vinh Hy Bay Resort

Vinh Hy is a gorgeous natural harbour between Phan Rang and Nha Trang. At the centre of the pretty bay and fishing village, there’s an excellent-value place to stay. Vinh Hy Resort is perfect if you’re on a road trip along the coast… Continue reading

5 Comments

Ho Tram & Ho Coc Beaches

Just 120km from the city, Ho Tram & Ho Coc are by far the best beaches within easy reach of Saigon. Forget Vung Tau, Long Hai & Can Gio, this is where you should head for sun, sea & sand when you don’t have time to go to Mui Ne or Phu Quoc. Continue reading

10 Comments

Dim Sum in Saigon

Dim sum is increasingly popular in Saigon. But my favourite dumpling joint is an old-timer in Chinatown. Boasting a 10 page bible of dim sum dishes, this unassuming place offers great variety, quality and value for money… Continue reading

4 Comments

Ocean Dunes Resort, Phan Thiet

On the beach in Phan Thiet City, the Ocean Dunes Resort is excellent value for money. Offering high-end amenities at mid-range prices, the Ocean Dunes is a great option for budget travellers looking for a slice of luxury and, because of its wide greens spaces, for families… Continue reading

10 Comments

Mountains in the Mekong: Motorbike Loop

Most of the Mekong Delta is as flat as a sheet of rice paper. But my favourite corner of the region, the western edge along the Cambodian border, is blessed with some high ground, in the form of a mini mountain range, which rises from the plains of An Giang Province. These mountains are connected by beautiful back-roads, perfect for a road trip… Continue reading

25 Comments

Mango Bay Resort, Phu Quoc Island

By now, most travellers & expats know about Mango Bay Resort on Phu Quoc Island. It’s been around for over a decade & withstood the massive changes the island has gone through. But, despite increasing competition, Mango Bay is still the best place to go if you want to live the tropical island fantasy for a few days… Continue reading

9 Comments

VIDEO: Saigon, My Saigon

My Saigon is not the high-rises or attractions of downtown. My Saigon is the local neighbourhood where I live – the alleyways, the market, and the people who inhabit it. In this film I’ve tried to capture the rhythm of daily life over 24 hours on a rainy season day in the area I live in… Continue reading

13 Comments

Goat Noodle Soup in Chinatown

Deep in Saigon’s Chinatown, there’s a bowl of goat noodles that’s meaty, rich, silky and smooth. This soup is full of farmyard flavours: it’s a barn in a bowl. Make no mistake, this is a heavy breakfast, but it’ll keep you going till the evening… Continue reading

4 Comments

Saigon Midnight Motorbike Loop

At night, Saigon is at its best: temperatures are cool, humidity is low, and traffic is light – it’s the perfect time to see the city. The Midnight Loop is an urban motorbike route designed specifically for riding after dark: a night out on two wheels… Continue reading

18 Comments

Saigon’s Street Food ‘Ghettos’

Throughout Saigon, there are clusters of crumbling old apartment complexes, all of which are on the verge of either collapse or demolition. Living conditions appear cramped and grim but, outside on the sidewalks, the street life and street food is among the best and most vibrant in the city… Continue reading

9 Comments

My GIVI Bike Box

This is the story of my GIVI bike box, bearer of my baggage on all my road trips. Convenient, secure, durable and stylish, my bike box has allowed me the freedom to go anywhere and see everything, which is what motorbiking is all about…. Continue reading

21 Comments

River Road: The Cai Valley

A silver seam of glistening water, the Cai River meanders through a beautiful valley between Dalat & Phan Rang. A new road follows the course of the river, from its source in the high, forested hills to its mouth on the eastern seaboard…. Continue reading

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The Pine Tree Road

An enticing road leads north from Dalat and into the remote forests and mountains of deepest Lam Dong Province. Coniferous forests stretch to the horizon, making this route great for camping or picnicking…. Continue reading

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The Golden Loop: Central Vietnam by Motorbike

Many people choose to travel by motorbike between Hoi An and Hue, via the scenic Hai Van Pass. The popularity of this route is largely thanks to the 2008 Top Gear Vietnam Special episode. But there is an extension of this road trip which takes the ride, quite literally, to another level. I call it The Golden Loop… Continue reading

61 Comments

The Saigon River: A Guide

Many cities are closely associated with a major waterway that runs through them: Saigon has the Saigon River. Currently, the city is in the process rediscovering and redeveloping its river. This is my personal reflection & guide to the Saigon River… Continue reading

14 Comments

Grilled Chicken Corner, Saigon

At night, a scented fog hangs over a busy intersection in Saigon. The aromatic haze is the ‘Chicken Mist’ resulting from a dozen roadside barbecues hissing, smoking and grilling hundreds of fresh chicken carcasses. This is Chicken Corner, and this is where you come to get your poultry fix of crispy, tasty, delicious, grilled chicken in Saigon… Continue reading

12 Comments

The Food Triangle, Saigon

Everyone knows Saigon is full of great food. But there’s one corner in District 1, where you can eat three excellent meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – in three excellent establishments, all within a few metres of each other: I call it the Food Triangle…. Continue reading

7 Comments

Desert, Sea, Sky: The Ninh Thuan Loop

Located between the two most popular beach towns in Vietnam – Mui Ne and Nha Trang – Ninh Thuan Province boasts coastal scenery to rival its famous neighbours. One of the most sparsely populated, least developed, and driest regions in southern Vietnam, ambitious new roads have opened up access to Ninh Thuan’s captivating scenery… Continue reading

8 Comments

Weather in Vietnam: When & Where to Go

Many people assume that Vietnam is bathed in tropical sunshine year-round. But Vietnam’s climate is complex, variable, and very local. Having travelled to all of Vietnam’s 63 provinces, I’ve put together this personal guide to where in Vietnam I would most want to be at different times of the year… Continue reading

89 Comments

Sweet Saigon: Where to Eat Chè

A kaleidoscopic world of luminous colours, shifting shapes, unfamiliar textures, esoteric ingredients & rich flavours, chè is a fascinating sub-category of Vietnamese cuisine. Commonly translated as ‘dessert’, in reality chè is so filling & nutritious that it’s a meal in itself…. Continue reading

22 Comments

Southern Islands: Con Dao or Phu Quoc?

Con Dao and Phu Quoc islands are the two most alluring beach destinations in Vietnam. But these two southern islands are very different in character, and therefore appeal to different types of travellers. As most visitors or expats only have time to go to one, which island should you choose? Continue reading

54 Comments

Victoria Beach Resort, Mui Ne

One of the first luxury resorts to grace the sands of Mui Ne, Victoria Resort & Spa is still one of the best places to stay on this popular beach on Vietnam’s southeast coast. With lush tropical gardens & a long stretch of beach, Victoria is far more spacious than its competitors… Continue reading

5 Comments

Ban Gioc Waterfall: A Guide

Ban Gioc Waterfall is one of Vietnam’s most impressive natural sights, yet very few foreign travellers make it here. Located right on the Chinese border in a beautiful pastoral landscape, Ban Gioc is the widest & most scenic waterfall in the country… Continue reading

63 Comments

Ha Giang Extreme North Motorbike Loop

Ha Giang, Vietnam’s northern-most province, is home to a mythical landscape of conical limestone peaks & craterous valleys. Over the years, it has gained an almost legendary status among travellers. This motorbike loop is perhaps the most thrilling road trip in the country… Continue reading

359 Comments

Two Months on a Motorbike

In 2014, I embarked on a 9,000km, two-month motorbike road trip through Vietnam. During my time on the road, I kept a full and illustrated diary of my travels, an annotated map of my route, and made a short film of the journey… Continue reading

46 Comments

Phở Gia Hân, Saigon

I was first drawn to Phở Gia Hân by the enticing aroma that wafted over the narrow street on humid evenings. A family-run soup house in a local neighbourhood, this is one of my favourite places for phở in Saigon… Continue reading

6 Comments

Local Guest Houses: Nhà Nghỉ

Essential knowledge for the adventurous or budget traveller in Vietnam, ‘nhà nghỉ’ means ‘guest house’ in Vietnamese. However, this form of cheap accommodation often goes unnoticed by foreign travellers & suffers from a bad reputation among local people… Continue reading

41 Comments

Hotel Du Parc, Dalat

The Hotel Du Parc offers excellent value mid-range accommodation in the Central Highlands’ city of Dalat. Housed in a French building from the 1930s, this hotel has colonial ambience with modern amenities at very reasonable prices… Continue reading

12 Comments

Vung Ro Bay

A drop-dead gorgeous bay on the south-central coast, Vung Ro has been slated for development for several years now, but none has arrived. So, for the time being, this beautiful area remains virtually empty and perfect for exploration…. Continue reading

36 Comments

Phu Quoc Island by Boat

Taking the boat between the Mekong Delta & Phu Quoc Island is fun, cheap, convenient & relatively hassle-free. A huge increase in fast boats & car ferries operating on several routes, means it’s now easier than ever to reach Phu Quoc Island by sea…. Continue reading

56 Comments

Ana Mandara Villas, Dalat

17 beautifully restored French colonial villas on a pine-studded hillside, Ana Mandara Resort & Spa keeps the romance of Dalat alive. Luxury accommodation in the Central Highlands doesn’t get more atmospheric than this… Continue reading

3 Comments

Con Dao Islands on a Budget

Despite several high-profile luxury developments, travel to the Con Dao Islands needn’t be too expensive. Budget travellers & backpackers can still enjoy this beautiful archipelago by taking certain steps. This is my guide to how to keep the cost of visiting one of Vietnam’s most enchanting destinations to a minimum. Continue reading

45 Comments

Juliet’s Villa Resort

Surrounded by coffee farms, tea plantations, rice paddies & fruit trees, Juliet’s Villa Resort is a family-run, quiet, secluded & peaceful place to stay near Di Linh, a part of the Central Highlands most travellers overlook…. Continue reading

6 Comments

Camping in Dalat

Watch the sun set over purple mountains cloaked in pine forests stretching into the misty distance, with the smell of wood smoke & coffee blossom scenting the cool highland air, as you camp in the hills north of Dalat… Continue reading

25 Comments

7 of the Best Beaches in Southern Vietnam

Vietnam has a coastline of over 3,000km, but the best beaches are found in the south. Blue bays, white sands, swaying palms: Vietnam has it all. Yet travellers and expats often complain that the beaches aren’t as good as those in Thailand and Malaysia. I disagree: Here are my 7 best beaches in southern Vietnam…. Continue reading

32 Comments

Rat Meat

Each morning for the last couple months I’ve opened my front gate in Saigon to greet the new day, only to find a fresh mound of rat droppings on my door step. By way of ‘revenge’ I decided to pay a visit to one of Saigon’s rat meat restaurants… Continue reading

4 Comments

Ho Chi Minh Road: Motorbike Guide

Stretching almost 2,000km along the mountainous spine of Vietnam, the Ho Chi Minh Road is fast becoming famous as one of the finest motorbike rides in Asia. Now fully paved from Saigon all the way to Hanoi, this is my updated and extended guide to the entire Ho Chi Minh Road…. Continue reading

221 Comments

Hon Gom Sandbar

Stretching 30km out to sea, like a giant causeway to a sunken castle, Hon Gom Sandbar is a beguiling peninsular on the south-central coast. A road leads along most of its length, offering access to deserted beaches, sheltered coves & isolated fishing hamlets… Continue reading

24 Comments

Dai Lanh Beach

A broad sweep of sand between two dramatic headlands, Dai Lanh Beach is a strikingly beautiful spot. Long blighted by the traffic & noise of Highway 1, Dai Lanh is on the cusp of great things, with the imminent opening of a new tunnel… Continue reading

18 Comments

One of the Best Soups in Vietnam

Nho Quan is a small, industrial town in Ninh Bình Province, 90km south of Hanoi. The bare concrete buildings and dusty streets are a far cry from the natural beauty of the surrounding area. However, hidden amongst the unappealing sprawl is one of the best soups in Vietnam… Continue reading

12 Comments

The Limestone Loop: Motorbike Guide

Thanh Hoa is a province of limestone pinnacles, rivers & rice paddies. Quiet roads meander through steep valleys cloaked in bamboo forests, & mountain passes twist skyward toward remote Lao border crossings. This motorbike loop is easily accessible from Hanoi, but travels through remote & beautiful landscapes…. Continue reading

95 Comments

Snails & Shellfish: A Guide

Snail eating is incredibly popular in Vietnam. A night of shells & beer is a very local experience. Young & old feast late into the night. The snails come in all shapes and sizes and they’re delicious. ‘Shell tapas’ is a fun night out that everyone should try Continue reading

22 Comments

The Con Dao Islands: A Guide

With its wild and beautiful beaches, rugged, jungle-covered interior, and fascinating but tragic history, the Con Dao Islands is a remarkable place. Once a brutal penal colony, established by the French colonial administration, today the Con Dao Islands is one of Vietnam’s most beguiling destinations….. Continue reading

71 Comments

The Hai Van Pass: Motorbike Guide


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One of the most famous roads in Vietnam, the Hai Van Pass weaves around a mountainous stretch of coastline in Central Vietnam. Combined with several other scenic coast roads, the Hai Van Pass forms a fun, easy & pretty ride between Hoi An, Danang & Hue…. Continue reading

69 Comments

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Thùng Xe Máy GIVI của tôi


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Đăng lần đầu May 2016 | Nội dung và hình ảnh được thực hiện bởi Vietnam Coracle     [English]


Đây là câu chuyện về thùng xe máy GIVI, phụ trách mang vác hành lý cho tất cả những chuyến du lịch xe máy của tôi::

My GIVI Bike Box, Tom, Vietnam CoracleThùng gắn sau xe máy GIVI luôn đồng hành cùng tôi trên mỗi chuyến đi ngay từ những ngày đầu mới đi phượt


NỘI DUNG:

Giới thiệu về thùng xe máy GIVI của tôi:

Trong gần 10 năm chạy xe máy ở Việt Nam, có hai món đồ luôn cùng tôi trong những chuyến đi: chiếc xe máy của tôi, Stavros, và thùng gắn sau xe GIVI. Chinh phục hơn 130,000km đường bộ qua 63 tỉnh thành, chúng đã trở thành một đôi bạn tri kỷ không thể tách rời: Stavros ở đâu là cái thùng xe máy của tôi ở đó. Tôi đã dành không ít lời khen và niềm tự hào cho Stavros trong một bài viết trước đó, nên tôi nghĩ giờ là lúc nên dành sự tán thưởng xứng đáng cho cái thùng xe máy của tôi.

My GIVI Bike Box, Tom, Vietnam CoracleChiếc xe máy của tôi, Stavros, và thùng đựng đồ GIVI luôn đi cùng nhau trong tất cả những chuyến du lịch xe máy của tôi

Không giống như chiếc xe máy, tôi chưa bao giờ đặt một cái tên chính thức cho thùng đựng đồ của mình: Tôi chỉ đơn giản gọi nó là ‘Thùng xe máy của tôi’. Được mua không lâu sau chiếc Stavros, thùng xe máy GIVI đã trở thành người đảm nhận trọng trách mang vác hành lý của tôi trong gần 10 năm du lịch bụi. Nó đã vượt qua cái nóng và độ ẩm cao, trong những mùa khô của miền Nam, những cơn bão của miền Trung và những đợt mưa miền Bắc; những con đường miền núi Tây Nguyên sình lầy, trơn trượt, và những đoạn đường đầy ổ gà, nhấp nhô đang trong quá trình nâng cấp, sửa chữa; thậm chí còn trải qua một hay hai vụ tai nạn xe máy không quá nghiêm trọng. Bất kể là trong hoàn cảnh nào, hành lý của tôi luôn được đảm bảo an toàn, khô ráo và nguyên vẹn nhờ có thùng đựng đồ GIVI.

My GIVI Bike Box, Tom, Vietnam CoracleChiếc thùng xe máy của tôi đang nghỉ ngơi trên một đường băng cũ của Mỹ gần Đăk Tô, đường Hồ Chí Minh

Tuy có một vài vết cắt nhỏ và bị trầy xướt, chiếc thùng xe máy của tôi vẫn chưa có một dấu hiệu cho thấy sự nứt vỡ hay hư hỏng. Thậm chí có vài lần tôi phải ký gửi cái thùng theo hành lý ký gửi tại sân bay – dưới sự bắt buộc của nhân viên kiểm soát hành lý, kèm theo một cái nhãn ghi ‘Hàng dễ vỡ’ dán trên đó – nó vẫn tới tay tôi ở điểm đến một cách an toàn và nguyên vẹn. Tôi vẫn có những món đồ cần thiết khác trong các chuyến du lịch xe máy (chẳng hạn như máy ảnh, laptop), tuy nhiên theo thời gian tất cả chúng đều được thay thế vì những lý do như bị hao mòn hoặc bị hư hỏng do sử dụng nhiều. Riêng thùng đựng đồ của tôi thì vẫn tồn tại nguyên vẹn cho đến hôm nay, chẳng cần phải bảo trì hay sửa chữa gì hết.

My GIVI Bike Box, Tom, Vietnam CoracleNgười mang vác hành lý cho tôi gần 10 năm – chiếc thùng xe máy của tôi dừng chân trên một đoạn đường núi phía Bắc

[Quay lại Nội Dung]


Sự ra đời của thùng xe máy GIVI của tôi:

Sau khi mua chiếc xe máy ở khu phố người Hoa ở Sài Gòn, tôi nghĩ mình cần phải tìm cách nào đó để mang hành lý trong những chuyến du lịch xe máy. Trong mắt người nước ngoài, người Việt nổi tiếng là có thể chở bất kỳ thứ gì phía sau xe máy – từ đồ nhỏ đến đồ lớn, từ hàng dễ với đến chắc chắn, từ vật sống đến vật chết. Những chú lợn kêu eng éc, những khung cửa sổ, những bó cỏ khô và có khi là cả một gia đình; tất cả dường như đều được giữ thăng bằng trên xe máy với độ an toàn và sự thoải mái khác nhau. Tôi không thể nào tưởng tượng nổi việc mình sẽ làm một điều tương tự như thế. Mặt khác, tôi cũng không muốn gồng theo một chiếc ba lô sau lưng: với tôi, nó sẽ làm mất đi sự tự do của việc lái xe máy, và hơn nữa ở một đất nước có độ ẩm cao gần 90% và nhiệt độ trung bình trong ngày khoảng 35°C, thì việc đeo một chiếc ba lô nặng vài kí lô sau lưng sẽ mang lại cảm giác nóng và khó chịu. Ngoài ra, tôi cũng muốn một thứ gì đó không thấm nước để có thể bảo vệ hành lý của mình khi đi du lịch vào mùa mưa.

My GIVI Bike Box, Tom, Vietnam CoracleDưới cái nóng khủng khiếp và những trận mưa xối xả, cái thùng GIVI của tôi chưa bao giờ cần phải đem đi bảo dưỡng hay sửa chữa

Dân du lịch bụi ở Việt Nam thường có xu hướng gắn cố định một cái baga đơn giản phía sau xe máy và dùng dây ràng để buộc hành lý của họ lên trên đó (túi hành lý thường được bọc lại bằng bao ni lông để tránh bị ướt mưa). Bạn có thể làm thế nếu chỉ để phục vụ một chuyến đi thẳng tới một điểm nào đó, tuy nhiên cho những chuyến đi dài ngày với nhiều điểm đến khác nhau thì sẽ không ổn cho lắm. Tôi muốn một thứ gì đó an toàn, tiện lợi, dễ sử dụng mà cũng phải bền và đẹp nữa. Thêm một điều nữa là tôi không muốn hy sinh chỗ ngồi phía sau để chở hành lý: Tôi muốn có đủ chỗ để chở thêm một người và tất cả đồ đạc của tôi.

Tôi đã từng nhìn thấy một số người gắn thùng đựng đồ GIVI phía sau xe máy của họ ở Sài Gòn, vì vậy mà tôi tìm đến một cửa hàng sản phẩm GIVI để tậu cho mình một cái (tình cờ là cửa hàng này chỉ cách chỗ tôi mua chiếc Stavros có vài căn). Tôi chọn mẫu có kích cỡ lớn thứ hai mà họ đang có ở cửa hàng khi đó: một cái thùng 35L, đi kèm theo một ổ khóa và một miếng phản quang dán phía sau thùng. Tôi cũng chọn một cái khung thiết kế để chuyên chở đồ nặng để làm giá đỡ cho cái thùng xe máy của tôi, như vậy tôi có thể yên tâm chất đầy đồ vào trong trong cái thùng mà không phải lo lắng về sự cân bằng của chiếc xe và sức chịu đựng của cái khung đỡ. Với 50$ cho chiếc thùng đựng đồ này khi đó, theo tôi là một mức giá hợp lý, tuy nhiên cho đến bây giờ sau gần chục năm sử dụng, đi không biết bao nhiêu là cây số và chở không biết bao nhiêu thứ mà cái thùng vẫn không hề hấn gì, với tôi đó là một cái giá quá hời so với giá trị thực sự mà nó mang đến.

My GIVI Bike Box, Tom, Vietnam CoracleTôi mua thùng xe máy của tôi ở một cửa hàng GIVI gần khu phố người Hoa, từ đó đến nay nó đã cùng tôi đến thăm tất cả các tỉnh thành trên khắp Việt Nam

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Cuộc đời chiếc thùng xe máy GIVI của tôi:

Không lâu sau khi mua thùng đựng đồ GIVI, tôi bắt đầu thực hiện những chuyến đi du lịch bằng xe máy khởi hành từ Sài Gòn. Đầu tiên, tôi chỉ làm một vài chuyến đi ngắn ngày theo những cung đường chính xuống miền Tây, cung đường biển phía đông nam, hoặc đường núi Tây Nguyên. Nhưng ngay sau đó tôi bắt đầu nhận ra rằng mình hoàn toàn có khả năng thực hiện những chuyến đi dài ngày hơn và khám phá những con đường mới hoặc ít người biết đến, một phần vì tôi có thể dễ dàng mang theo hành lý và bảo quản chúng một cách an toàn trong thùng đựng đồ GIVI.

My GIVI Bike Box, Tom, Vietnam CoracleNhờ có thùng xe máy GIVI, tôi tự do đi đến bất kỳ nơi nào tôi thích – đó là điều mà du lịch xe máy mang lại

Đối với tôi, những chuyến đi phượt bằng xe máy luôn là những cơ hội khám phá tuyệt vời, đem lại cảm giác tự do, độc lập và tràn đầy hứng khởi khi trải nghiệm một cung đường mới, đi qua bao nhiêu là thắng cảnh đẹp tôi chưa từng nhìn thấy trước đó, thử những món ăn lạ và gặp gỡ nhiều người thú vị. Vì nắp thùng được trang bị một khóa an toàn, và toàn bộ thùng được gắn chặt vào chiếc xe máy của tôi, nên tôi luôn cảm thấy yên tâm khi để chiếc xe ở đâu đó bên đường và làm những việc như: dừng lại tắm ở một dòng sông hay một bãi biển vắng nào đó, leo lên những con thác, tới thăm những đài tưởng niệm lịch sử trên những đỉnh đồi, đi bộ lên những con đường đất trơn trượt dẫn vào những bản làng dân tộc thiểu số để làm vài chén trà hay điếu thuốc. Có thể hiểu như thế này, vì cái thùng đã được gắn chặt vào chiếc xe máy nên tôi không cần phải ở bên cạnh chiếc xe để trông đồ.

Relaxing under a tree, Ban Gioc Waterfall, VietnamVì cái thùng được khóa an toàn, tôi có thể yên tâm để đồ đạc lại trên xe và đi khám phá xung quanh

Với điều kiện khí hậu phức tạp của Việt Nam, hằng năm đón nhận hai đợt gió mùa: bất kỳ ai đi xe máy cũng sẽ ít nhiều đương đầu với những cơn bão lớn hoặc những trận mưa nặng hạt. Tuy nhiên, với tôi, điều đó không có gì là đáng ngại miễn là hành lý của tôi được giữ khô ráo trong những điều kiện thời tiết kể trên: Thùng xe máy của tôi chống thấm nước 100% – Tôi đã từng lái xe xuyên qua những trận mưa lớn kèm lốc xoáy, và thậm chí là gặp phải một vài cơn bão, mà không có một giọt nước nào xuyên qua được thùng xe máy của tôi.

Cái thùng còn giúp tôi rất nhiều trong những lần cắm trại. Tôi nghĩ cắm trại là một trong những trải nghiệm tuyệt vời nhất mang lại cảm giác tự do khi đi du lịch, có điều bạn phải mang thêm khá nhiều dụng cụ. Tuy nhiên, ngoài cái lều cắm trại ra, thì toàn bộ đồ nghề cắm trại của tôi đều nằm gọn trong chiếc thùng xe máy GIVI – túi ngủ, dụng cụ nấu ăn, đồ ăn dự trữ. Đêm đến, khi tôi chui vào chiếc lều được đặt dưới tán cây, trên bãi biển hay bên bờ sông, tôi có thể yên tâm nghỉ ngơi khi chiếc Stavros đã được khóa cẩn thận bên ngoài lều và phía sau nó là cái thùng đựng đồ cũng đã được khóa an toàn. Chiếc thùng xe máy hoàn toàn mang đến cho tôi sự tự do trong tất cả các chuyến đi: bây giờ, khi tôi nhìn cái xe chất đầy đồ sẵn sàng cho một chuyến đi mới, tôi có thể nhìn thấy phương tiện di chuyển, đồ đạc và cả ngôi nhà của tôi, tất cả đều được bảo vệ an toàn. Tôi đã có những đêm cắm trại đáng nhớ trong những chuyến du lịch xe máy của mình.

Camping with my GIVI Bike Box, Vietnam CoracleVới khả năng chứa được nhiều đồ, chiếc thùng xe máy khiến việc mang theo dụng cụ cắm trại trở nên dễ dàng hơn

Thường thì tôi hay đi du lịch xe máy một mình, nhưng những chuyến đi mà tôi thích nhất luôn là những lần tôi đi cùng người khác. Trong những năm qua, bố mẹ tôi, những người bạn nước ngoài và Việt Nam, những bạn bè ở Anh tới Việt Nam để thăm tôi, và cả bạn gái của tôi, đều đã từng đi du lịch xe máy cùng với tôi. Vì cái thùng đựng đồ được gắn ở baga phía sau xe, tôi vẫn có thể thoải mái chở thêm một người đồng hành, và điều đó làm cho những chuyến đi của tôi trở nên trọn vẹn hơn.

Ngoài ra, cái thùng xe máy của tôi nhìn cũng khá bắt mắt: nó có độ cong mượt; láng bóng và nhìn rất năng động, giống như là nó được thiết kế trong một hầm thử áp lực gió. Dưới con mắt của tôi, cái thùng đựng đồ GIVI và Stavros là một sự kết hợp ăn ý; đến mức tôi nghĩ rằng Stavros trông sẽ rất trần trụi nếu không có cái thùng. Cho đến giờ, tôi vẫn nghĩ chúng không thể tách rời nhau: chúng luôn đồng hành cùng nhau trong tất cả các chuyến đi xa của tôi, và khi tôi trở về lại Sài Gòn, nếu tôi không cần chiếc thùng, tôi có thể dễ dàng tháo nó ra khỏi baga xe.

Room for Mum & I, GIVI Bike Box, Vietnam CoracleNhờ có cái thùng xe máy này, tôi có thể thoải mái chở theo hành lý và một hành khách; chẳng hạn như mẹ tôi!

Tiện lợi, an toàn, bền và có phong cách, những chuyến du lịch xe máy của tôi sẽ không thể tốt hơn nếu như không có cái thùng xe máy. Một thiết bị hoàn toàn cần thiết, nhưng với tôi nó không đơn giản là một món phụ kiện đi kèm mà là một phần của chiếc xe máy của tôi. Tất cả những gì tôi mong muốn trong những chuyến du lịch xe máy của tôi ở Việt Nam – sự khám phá, độc lập, sự tự do đi đến bất cứ nơi đâu và ngắm nhìn mọi thứ – cùng nhau, chiếc Stavros và thùng xe máy GIVI đã giúp tôi dễ dàng đạt được những điều trên. Giống như hai trụ cột của tôi trong mọi hành trình, chúng đã luôn bên tôi từ những ngày đầu trải nghiệm du lịch xe máy ở Việt Nam, và tôi mong rằng chúng sẽ vẫn tiếp tục đồng hành cùng tôi trong thời gian tới.

My GIVI Box & I, Saigon, Vietnam CoracleStavros, thùng xe máy GIVI và tôi đã trở về nhà an toàn sau 2 tháng du lịch xe máy

  • Người dịch: Phan Thị Phương Thảo (Translated by: Phan Thi Phuong Thao)

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CÁC BÀI VIẾT LIÊN QUAN:

        • My Motorbike, Stavros: the story of my Yamaha Nouvo motorbike

        • Saigon to Hanoi: Suggested Routes: five fantastic routes from south to north

        • Weather in Vietnam: when & where to go according to Vietnam’s climate

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The Northern Hotel, Saigon


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First published January 2016 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | REVIEW | MAP | RELATED POSTS

In the shadow of downtown Saigon’s high-rises, the Northern Hotel sits on a quiet street in the affluent yet quirky enclave known as the Japanese district. Literally a 5 minute walk from such major landmarks as the Opera House and the Saigon River, the Northern Hotel offers very comfortable accommodation without the pretensions of a boutique hotel and without the price-tag of a luxury hotel. Cosy rooms, courteous staff, and a central location make the Northern Hotel a good choice for travellers or business people on a mid-range budget. [To check current rates, availability and make a reservation for The Northern Hotel please BOOK HERE]

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: I never write a review for money: all my content is free & independent. You can support the work I do by searching & booking your hotels via the Agoda links & search boxes on my site, like the ones on this page. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Any money I make goes straight back into this site. Thank you.

The Northern Hotel, Saigon, VietnamGuest room at the Northern Hotel: a good mid-range option in the centre of town

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REVIEW: NORTHERN HOTEL, SAIGON

Address: 11A Thi Sach Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City [MAP| Price: $60-110 per night 

Phone: (84 8) 38 251 751) | Website: www.saigon.northernhotel.com

Check Rates & Availability:


MAP:


View in a LARGER MAP


Towards the south end of Thi Sach Street, the Northern Hotel used to have the immediate vicinity pretty much to itself. However, over the last few years, the glut of mid-range hotels at the north end of Thi Sach has pushed development further down the street. The Northern Hotel is now flanked by another (almost identical) hotel and the foundations of yet another one are under construction. However, it’s strangely quiet and calm at this end of the street, especially considering how close it is to downtown’s major thoroughfares.

Thi Sach Street, Saigon, VietnamThe Northern Hotel vicinity: hotel construction on Thi Sach Street has taken off in recent years

Like many parts of Saigon, this street is a mishmash of development and decay: tamarind and copperpod trees line the cracked pavements; plush Korean and Japanese restaurants vie for space with seedy massage parlours and beer dens, where old men drink away the remains of the day. Meanwhile, Saigon’s most famous (and worse) club, Apocalypse Now, is located at the very end of the street (don’t worry, you’d never know it once you’re in your hotel room). The Northern Hotel itself, is a generic twelve storey tower with square windows that certainly isn’t going to win any architectural prizes.

The Northern Hotel, Saigon, VietnamThe exterior of the Northern Hotel: it’s no architectural masterpiece

Inside, the lobby tries very hard to make up for the blandness of the exterior: leather sofas, shiny concierge desk, marble and glass surfaces, and attempts at grandeur in the form of sparkling chandeliers and a grand piano. The Lobby Bar, to the right of the entrance, is a nice place for a coffee or a nightcap: decent quality cocktails cost around 100,000vnđ ($5). Staff, who are predominantly male, are very calm, courteous and well-trained.

The Lobby Bar, Northern Hotel, Saigon, VietnamThe Lobby Bar at the Northern Hotel: a nice, bright place for a drink

There are 99 guest rooms, on twelve floors, served by two elevators at the Northern Hotel. All rooms have large windows, but ask for a high floor so that you’ll get a better view. Also, consider upgrading (or asking upon arrival for a free upgrade if they don’t appear to be busy) from Superior to Deluxe: the latter are corner rooms with wraparound windows so they are full of natural light and have the best views.

Deluxe guest room, Northern Hotel, Saigon, VietnamDeluxe rooms, like this one, have plenty of natural light thanks to wraparound windows

The city views from guest rooms are very interesting if not especially beautiful. What you see from your room is an absorbing mixture of old and new buildings, construction and demolition, greenery and concrete, order and chaos. It’s a perfect cross-section of a rapidly developing Asian megalopolis.

View from a guest room, Northern Hotel, Saigon, VietnamThe view from a guest room on a high floor of the Northern Hotel

However, the biggest mistake at the Northern Hotel is not utilizing their rooftop. By now, most good hotels in Saigon have realized the potential of this space: rooftop bars, pools, restaurants, gardens, Jacuzzis – all with panoramic views of the city and, most importantly in a city as busy and humid as Saigon, lots of space and air – have sprung up all over town. A quick walk up to the twelfth floor reveals the kind of prospect you’d get from a rooftop bar at the Northern Hotel, if it existed.

View from the top of the Northern Hotel, Saigon, VietnamMissed oportunity: view from the top floor of the Northern Hotel, where the rooftop bar should be

The rooms at the Northern Hotel are its greatest strength: they are excellent. Large, bright, cosy, well-equipped, immaculately clean – they are more like the master bedroom in a plush condo than a hotel guest room. The furniture is plain but tasteful and comfortable. There’s no excess, no pretension, no glitter. It’s spare but snug.

Guest room at the Northern Hotel, Saigon, VietnamSpare but snug: the rooms at the Northern Hotel are its greatest strength

Amenities include tea and coffee making facilities, flat-screen TV, sofa, large bathtub and all the other conveniences you’d expect from an international standard 3 star hotel. These are the kind of guest rooms that you look forward to returning to after a day of sightseeing or a night out: it’s a very nice place to be.

Guest room at the Northern Hotel, Saigon, VietnamGuest rooms at the Northern Hotel are large, bright, comfy and cosy

Apart from being very close to popular tourist haunts, such as the Opera House and Dong Khoi Street, the Northern Hotel is part of an intriguing area known as the Japanese district. The web of alleyways between the corner of Thai Van Lung and Le Thanh Ton are a 5 minute walk from the hotel. These narrow streets are hung with lanterns and lined with quirky shops, restaurants and bars. Popular with the city’s Japanese and Korean expat community, there’s a boutiquey collection of ramen noodle houses, saké bars, cafes, street art, and cutesy trinket shops: it really does feel like being in the backstreets of a Japanese city. Needless to say, this is a great place to sample some relatively inexpensive Northeast Asian cuisine.

Alleys in the Japanese district, Saigon, VietnamTake a stroll down the affluent alleyways of the ‘Japanese district’ close to the Northern Hotel

A buffet breakfast is included in the price at the Northern Hotel. Served in the restaurant on the mezzanine floor overlooking the lobby, it’s a satisfying selection of Western and Asian fare that will set you up nicely for the day. Hotel guests are a mixture of Asian business people and European travellers. The Northern Hotel is similar in price and style to Edenstar Hotel. The rooms are better at the Northern and the location is more central, but it lacks the rooftop bar and pool of Edenstar. There is also a new Northern Hotel in Danang which is cut above its older sister in Saigon. [To check current rates, availability and make a reservation for The Northern Hotel please BOOK HERE]

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: I never write a review for money: all my content is free & independent. You can support the work I do by searching & booking your hotels via the Agoda links & search boxes on my site, like the ones on this page. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Any money I make goes straight back into this site. Thank you.


Disclosure: I’ve written this review because I want to: I like this hotel and I want my readers to know about it. My content is always free and independent: I never receive payment for anything I write. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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6 Reasons to Slurp Your Noodles


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First published November 2015 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle


Why you Should Adopt the Slurp ‘n’ Suck Technique & Leave your Preconceived Table Manners at Home:

In many Western countries, table manners encourage restraint and self-control. Sadly, these rules often have the effect of suppressing all the pleasures of eating. In Asia, which is surely the ‘foodiest’ continent on Earth, things are very different. While at university in London, I went on a date with a student from Hong Kong. She took me to a Chinese restaurant: “When eating Chinese food”, she said, “you must let all your inhibitions go.” This, of course, made me retreat right back into my shell. But, when I moved to Vietnam after graduating, I began to understand what she was trying to teach me. 
*Special thanks to my slurp model, Carl

Slurping your noodles is good in VietnamSlurp! Letting go of your inhibitions isn’t easy, but there are good reasons why you should

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6 REASONS TO SLURP YOUR NOODLES

One of the most important ‘table manners’ in Vietnam is slurping. The Vietnamese call it húp, but I prefer to call it húp hút – literally ‘slurp ‘n’ suck’ – which, when you think about it, is more accurate. Contrary to Western standards, there’s nothing rude, disgusting or inelegant about slurping. In fact, it’s joyful, respectful, and practical too. So the next time you sit down to enjoy a bowl of one of Vietnam’s famous noodle soups, remember these 6 Reasons to Slurp ‘n’ Suck:

Click a reason below to read more about it:Why slurping your noodles is good in Vietnam

        1. WHEN IN ROME….

        2. CAUTION: HOT CONTENTS!

        3. DIONYSUS

        4. LOOSE JUICE

        5. AERATION

         6. NOSE DIVE!

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1. WHEN IN ROME….

In the same way that you wouldn’t ask for a knife and fork when everyone else is using chopsticks, slurping is part of the process of cultural assimilation. It’s a way of getting involved, diving in, going native, trying new things. This is what travelling abroad or living in another culture is supposed to be all about: new experiences. When in Vietnam, do as the Vietnamese do: slurp ‘n’ suck those noodles.  

Why slurping noodles is good in VietnamWhat are you waiting for? Slurp that thing, y’all! Everyone else does it

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2. CAUTION: HOT CONTENTS!

Like most things that foreigners find strange about Vietnam, there are practical reasons behind slurping. Noodles and the broth they’re served in are hot, and food tastes better when it’s hot. The problem is that you don’t want to scorch your tongue. In Western countries, you might blow on your forkful of food or wait for your meal to cool down. But this doesn’t work in Vietnam: anyone who sits in front of a bowl of noodles for more than a minute without eating them, will be ordered by the proprietor to ‘ăn nóng cho ngon đi!‘ – eat it while it’s hot, yo! Slurping is the most efficient way to do this. The quick intake of air serves the function of cooling the noodles on their way from bowl to mouth, rather than stopping and blowing on them. This means you can eat hot food more quickly so that the noodles, and everything else in the bowl, will stay nice and crisp, rather than getting all soft and soggy while you wait for it all to cool down.

Why slurping noodles is good in VietnamEat it while it’s hot: slurping allows you to cool your noodles and eat them at the same time

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3. DIONYSUS

Vietnamese people love food. When it’s time to eat, it’s all about the meal and the moment: nothing else matters, nothing else exists. I call this ‘Total Dining’ – complete absorption in food and drink. You see it everyday in Vietnam; people abandoning themselves to the joys of eating. Slurping is a big part of this. It’s playtime, it’s pleasure time: who cares about the splashes of broth on your white shirt, the sounds you’re making, the mess you’re making. It’s about relishing the food. Quite simply, to slurp noodles is to enjoy noodles. There’s a time and a place for Apollonian reason and restraint, but it ain’t mealtime, not in Vietnam: mealtime belongs to Dionysus.

Why slurping noodles is good in VietnamMessy? Hell yeah! Eating noodles is all about pleasure and indulgence: to slurp is to enjoy

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4. LOOSE JUICE

A good noodle soup is all about the juice. Vietnamese broths are among the best in world: magic potions full of mysterious ingredients; cauldrons of nectar in which strange and delicious alchemical processes take place. Noodles are essentially a vehicle for broth; they’re naked without juice. The problem is that noodles are slippery and smooth: if you don’t use the correct technique, all the juice will trickle off the noodles on their journey from bowl to mouth. Don’t loose that juice! Get your head close to the bowl and suck ‘n’ slurp on those noodles as much as you can.

Why it's good to slurp your noodles in Vietnam The broth is everything: slurping is a way of making sure you don’t lose the juice

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5. AERATION

The intake of air (through the slurp ‘n’ suck technique) exposes the noodles and broth to oxygen. This has the effect of bringing out more flavours through the process of aeration. It all sounds very scientific, but people who are supposed to know about these things (chefs, scientists…..food bloggers), tend to agree that the process leads to a fuller, richer, smoother taste. Wine tasters follow a similar practice: allowing air into their glass, mouth and nasal passages in order to get a full spectrum and spread of flavours. Interestingly, the same argument could be made for the benefits of eating with your mouth open (there goes another established Western ‘table manner’).

Why it's good to slurp your noodles in Vietnam Give it some air: slurping exposes the noodles and broth to oxygen, thus releasing more flavour

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6. NOSE DIVE! 

When you slurp ‘n’ suck you need to get your head close to your bowl. So close, in fact, that your nose is practically in the broth. An estimated 60-80% of taste is actually smell, so the closer your nose is to the bowl of noodle soup, the better it will taste. Sounds like dodgy science? Well, it’s easy enough to test this hypothesis by conducting your own experiment: I’ve been doing so once a day for the last 10 years in Vietnam and it works for me!

Why it's good to slurp your noodles in Vietnam Be nosy: taste is mostly smell; when you slurp, your nose is closer to the bowl

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Saigon to Phan Thiet by Train: Passengers & Motorbikes


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Last updated July 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Over the years, I’ve travelled many, many times between Saigon and Phan Thiet/Mui Ne: by bus, bicycle, car, minivan, coach, but most of the time, by motorbike. I love the ride along the Ocean Road from Vietnam’s biggest city to one of its most popular beach retreats. But there is another way: put your motorbike on the train and let the rails carry your wheels. It’s cheap, easy, fun, fast, efficient and relaxing. Even if you’re not taking your motorbike with you, the train is a much better option than taking one of the buses along Highway 1. Below is my guide to taking the Saigon-Phan Thiet Express train, for passengers and motorbikes.

Motorbike on the train: Saigon to Phan ThietLoad your motorbike onto the train, and let the rails carry your wheels

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GUIDE: SAIGONPHAN THIET EXPRESS


This is a full guide to the daily Saigon-Phan Thiet Express, for passengers and motorbikes. Note that this is one of only a few rail routes in Vietnam that allows passengers to travel on the same train as their motorbike (another being the Hanoi-Lao Cai Express). Below, I’ve organized all the information into separate sections, and plotted the stations, relevant towns, rail and road routes on my map*Please note: you can support this website by booking train tickets directly from this page: see below for details.

Click an item to read more about it:


MAP:

Saigon to Phan Thiet Rail & Road Routes

  • Black Line: train route
  • Red Line: road route (via Highway 1)
  • Blue Line: road route (via the Ocean Road)

View in a LARGER MAP

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SEARCH & BOOK TICKETS:

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search train times, prices, and make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

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Train Operators & Contacts:

The Saigon-Phan Thiet express service is part of the state-run Vietnam Railways (VNR) network. Vietnam Railways have a decent English-language version of their website (www.vr.com.vn/en) where you can find up to date information. Or go in person directly to Saigon or Phan Thiet train stations, where some staff speak some English. Alternatively, check current train schedules, prices, information, and make reservations through Baolau.com.

Take the train from Saigon to Phan ThietThe Saigon-Phan Thiet express train, about to depart from Saigon station

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Train Times & Schedules:

There is one non-stop direct service in each direction every day. Although times are subject to minor changes, the general schedule has been the same for years. Journey time is roughly 4 hours. I’ve taken this train many times and never experienced any significant delays. For current schedules, prices, and bookings check Baolau.com and Vietnam Railways:

SAIGON→PHAN THIET:

  • Train SPT2: Depart: 6.40amArrive: 10.28am (non-stop, daily)

PHAN THIETSAGION:

  • Train SPT1: Depart: 1.05pmArrive: 5.03pm (non-stop, daily)

Put your motorbike on the train from Saigon to Phan ThietVietnam Railways staff roll Stavros off the train at Phan Thiet station

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Ticket Prices & Booking:

Although ticket prices vary a little depending on whom and where you book, the discrepancies are fairly minimal, and the price list below is accurate at the time of writing (May 2018). Check current ticket prices and make bookings online at Baolau.com and  Viet Nam Railways. It’s a simple process, and you will be issued an e-ticket by email. Tickets can also be purchased in person at Saigon or Phan Thiet stations, or through many hotels and travel agents across Vietnam. However, tickets for motorbikes must be purchased in person at the station (or, in some cases, through hotels and travel agencies) – see below for details. If travelling on a weekend or public holiday, it’s advisable to book tickets at least a day in advance, as trains can be full at these times. During the week, you should be able to get a ticket on the day of departure, although it’s still best to book in advance to avoid disappointment. All the following prices are one-way:

  • Soft seat: 145,000vnd
  • Soft seat premium: 160,00,000vnd (a more modern coach) 
  • Soft sleeper (a bunk in 4-berth compartment): 210,000vnd (top or bottom bunk)
  • Motorbike: 170,000vnd (possible extra charge for motorbikes over 125cc)

Carriage interior on Saigon to Phan Thiet trainSoft, reclinable seats, air-con and decent bathrooms in all carriages

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Sending your Motorbike:

Unlike most other train journeys in Vietnam (read more about that here), the Saigon-Phan Thiet express service allows passengers and their motorbikes to travel on the same train. Buy your motorbike ticket directly at Saigon or Phan Thiet train stations; either a day or two prior to departure (advisable) or on the day of travel. This should be a fairly simple and painless process for most travellers, although in Saigon it may require a bit of queuing and patience. (If booking your train tickets through a hotel or travel agency, it’s worth asking if they can also book your motorbike ticket.) Passengers with motorbikes are required to be at the station 30-40 minutes before departure. In order to put your motorbike on the train, you must drive through the station gates and onto the platform. At Saigon station, the entrance is to the left of the main station building, signposted in Vietnamese as cửa đi – đón khách tàu Phan Thiết. At Phan Thiết station, the entrance is also on the left of the station building. Ride your motorbike along the platform (which is great fun, although station staff are starting to clamp down on this practice) to the back end of the train. Here you’ll find a few other motorbikes waiting to be loaded onto the freight car. Show your ticket to the handling staff (there’s sometimes a 10,000vnđ ‘handling’ fee) and they will give you a paper receipt for your motorbike: do not lose this. After leaving your motorbike with the staff, make your way to the passenger carriages and find your seat on the train; when you arrive at your destination, stroll along the platform to the freight car, show your receipt, and drive off.

Put your motorbike on the train from Saigon to Phan ThietMy motorbike, Stavros, waiting to be loaded onto the freight car

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Departure & Arrival Stations:

The Saigon-Phan Thiet train is an express service: there are no station stops between the the departure and destination stations. However, some trains occasionally make brief stops at Bien Hoa (45 minutes from Saigon) and Binh Thuan (10 minutes from Phan Thiet). Saigon and Phan Thiet stations could hardly be more different: the former is the busy terminus for all southbound trains; whereas the latter is a quiet, almost rural, station at the end of a spur line.

SAIGON TRAIN STATION: (Ga Sài Gòn); Address: 01 Nguyen Thong Street, District 3 [MAP]: In the busy back-streets of District 3, Saigon Station is a boring-looking terminus (although the old steam train at the entrance is impressive), but it functions pretty well. Passengers can enter the main building via several entrances; show your ticket at the gate in the waiting hall, and board the train. (See above for motorbike boarding). There are several cafes, shops, and fast food outlets inside the station building. A steady flow of taxis wait outside the front entrance.

PHAN THIET TRAIN STATION: (Ga Phan Thiết); Address: Phong Nam, Phan Thiet City [MAP]: A few kilometres northwest of the centre of town, Phan Thiet Station has a pleasantly provincial feel to it. It’s rarely chaotic and very easy to navigate. There’s generally only one train in the station, so there’s no chance of boarding the wrong one. Some light snacks are available from the shop. Taxis meet the trains when they arrive.

Motorbike on the train, Saigon to Phan Thiet, VietnamMy motorbike outside Phan Thiet train station, a quiet, almost rural terminus

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The Trains:

In the last couple of years, most of the carriages on the Saigon-Phan Thiet Express have been upgraded or, in some cases, are essentially brand new. All carriages are air-conditioned (in fact, it’s a good idea to bring a sweater) and all seats and sleeping berths are soft and comfy (chairs have reclinable backs). There are perfectly adequate toilets and wash basins in every carriage, and the general standard of cleanliness is pretty good. Passengers used to receive a complimentary snack bag containing a bottle of water and rice crackers, the best part of which was the design of the packaging – a good souvenir from Vietnam Railways. However, that endearing little tradition seems to have faded; instead, passengers are presented with a miniature bottle of water. Other endearing traditions, however, endure. For example, about midway through the journey, a steaming trolley of fresh, piping hot sweet corn is wheeled up and down the aisles; so too are freshly boiled chicken and duck eggs. Wonderful. Can you imagine that on a European train?

The train from Saigon to Phan Thiet, VietnamIn the last couple of years, most of the carriages have been upgraded on the Saigon-Phan Thiet train

A dining car, towards the rear of the train, sports wooden chairs, large windows, and a surprisingly decent selection of Vietnamese noodles, stir-fries, soups and drinks, all of which are reasonably priced and pretty tasty. Regardless of quality, there’s always something romantic about sitting in the dining carriage of a train, with a bite to eat, a coffee, a book, and watching the scenery pass by. And another Vietnamese train tradition: the second half of the journey often sees Vietnam Railways staff relax with a crate of beer and a pile of freshly cooked seafood (from the fish markets of Phan Thiet, no doubt). As the beer flows and the food is consumed, the volume rises and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in a raucous Saigon eatery on a Friday night.

Food and drink of the train from Saigon to Phan ThietThe dining car serves pretty good food and drink

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The Journey:

After rolling out of Saigon station, the train rattles through the city. The driver leans on the horn as the train passes through crowded local neighbourhoods, across busy intersections – the traffic piled up either side of the junction – over the Saigon River and out into the dusty suburbs. Life continues just metres from the tracks, offering a fascinating cross-section of the city: markets, cafes, offices, temples, homes, schools. I used to live in a house near the railway, and each time I heard the horn and rattling carriages, I longed to be on the train.

Beyond the industrial armpit of Bien Hoa City, the train makes its way east through an extremely lush landscape of crop fields, fruit orchards, and plantations: banana, coffee, jackfruit, cassava, cashew, mango, rubber, sugar cane, corn and rice all grow within a few feet of the train. Deeper into the journey, green hills begin to rise from the folds of the rolling fields. It’s tropical, exotic, exciting – everything a good train journey should be.

View from the train: Saigon to Phan ThietView from the train: lush scenery rolls by the window between Saigon and Phan Thiet

The first time I took this train, I was surprised at how lush and scenic the journey is. Usually, when I travel between Saigon and Phan Thiet, I choose to ride my motorbike along the quiet and scenic Ocean Road. The other alternative, which I do my best to avoid, is to take Highway 1; a horrible, truck-choked ride through an arid landscape, obscured by dust and scarred by concrete dwellings lining the road. The train line follows a similar course to the highway, so I was expecting similar scenery. But, because there is only minimal development surrounding the railway, the landscape is green, fairly clean, and sparsely populated. Never have I approached Phan Thiet from Saigon in such a serene, gentle and relaxed manner as by train. Seasons also determine what the landscape will look like out of your window: the late dry season months of April and May are often arid and parched.

There is a brief stop at Binh Thuan station, from where the train travels along a spur line to Phan Thiet. From here, it’s a short taxi ride to Phan Thiet city – an interesting coastal settlement with some great seafood – or the resort-studded coast of Mui Ne. Or, if you have your motorbike with you, you can hit the scenic Coast Road or head straight up to the Central Highlands on Road QL28 towards Juliet’s Villa and on to Dalat.

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search train times, prices, and make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I like this train route and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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Edenstar Hotel: Saigon Mid-Range


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Introduction | Review | Map | Related Content

First published August 2015 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

Centrally located with a rooftop pool and sleek modern rooms, Edenstar is a solid Saigon mid-range hotel. Catering to all types of visitors, Edenstar is on a narrow street lined with tall trees, and within walking distance of most of Saigon’s major attractions. It may lack any distinctive Saigon character, but it more than makes up for it in excellent quality, service and facilities.

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Edenstar Hotel, SaigonSleek, modern, cosy: guest room at Edenstar Hotel, Saigon

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EDENSTAR HOTEL, SAIGON

Address: 38 Bui Thi Xuan Street, Distrcit 1, Ho Chi Minh City [MAP]

Price Range: $70-$100 per night | Phone: (84-08) 6298 8388 | Website: www.edensaigonhotel.com

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Bui Thi Xuan is a small, elegant street, lined with large tropical trees dating to French colonial times. Although some French villas still remain standing on this road, it’s mostly given over to modern, 10 storey blocks, many of which are mid-range hotels. Angular, brutal and functional from the outside, these hotels are warm and cosy on the inside. Edenstar is the best of them.

Edenstar Hotel, SaigonEdenstar Hotel: functional exterior; cosy interior

Bui Thi Xuan Street is near the edge of District 1 and District 3: a short stroll to Tao Dan Park, and 5 minutes from Ben Thanh Market. The location is not as cheap, youth-oriented or seedy as Pham Ngu Lao, but nor is it as pricey, posh and exclusive as Dong Khoi. In the hotel’s immediate vicinity there are wine bars, fancy restaurants and boutique shops, but there are also local food joints, shops and offices: you get the best of both worlds.

View from Edenstar Hotel rooftop, SaigonIn the thick of it: Edenstar is centrally located

Edenstar’s lavish lobby is elaborately decorated with marble surfaces, chandeliers, floor to ceiling glass windows, and fresh orchids. There’s a cosy lounge café and bar here which is full of natural light and serves excellent coffee and drinks. Staff are young – they always are in Saigon – and gregarious: many of them venture to practice their English language skills by trying a joke or two.

Lobby at Edenstar Hotel, SaigonLavish: the lobby at Edenstar Hotel sports an impressive chandelier

Guest rooms are modern, sleek and well-equipped, but lacking any specific Saigon character: decor is rather ‘international’ – what you might expect to find in an airline’s first class airport lounge. Straight lines and right angles, venetian blinds and writing desks make the rooms feel like a cross between a condominium and an office cubicle. But they are clean, very bright, and comfortable. The shower is excellent and there’s a large bathtub with plenty of hot water in all rooms. Ask for a high floor or pay a little extra for an upgrade, because the views over Saigon are superb.

Guest room, Edenstar Hotel, SaigonNeat, modern, comfortable: guest room at Edenstar Hotel

Happy Hour at the rooftop bar is from 5-7pm. Cocktails are good and, during Happy Hour (buy one get one free), they are great value at $5 each. Dinner can also be taken on the rooftop, where the views over the city are marvelous. However, dance music is played at a terrifying volume – who makes these decisions?

Rooftop restaurant/bar, Edenstar Hotel, SaigonSunset Happy Hour on the rooftop is a good deal

Also on the rooftop is the swimming pool. A great place to relax, take in the views, and have a refreshing dip, the pool is a perfect size for kids, but too small for a proper swim. Utilizing rooftop space is increasingly common in Saigon, where the streets are busy and traffic incessant: the rooftop at Edenstar is an ideal retreat after a day at ground-level. From up here you get the kind of perspective and space which is necessary to fully appreciate Saigon.

Rooftop pool, Edenstar Hotel, SaigonRooftop pool: a great place to relax and get another perspective of Saigon

A buffet breakfast is included in the room price. There’s a large spread of Asian and Western dishes, including stewed cinnamon pork belly, Vietnamese noodle soups and, of course, bacon, eggs et al. Quantity trumps quality, but overall it’s a satisfying way to start the day. For a more local meal, head across the street and try the excellent chicken noodle soup (miếng gà) at Sơn Nga, 23 Bui Thi Xuan, for 35,000vnđ ($1.50).

Noodle soup (mieng ga) opposite Edenstar Hotel, SaigonHead across the street for a great bowl of Vietnamese chicken noodle soup

Edenstar works well for all travellers on a mid-range budget: young couples, families, business travellers will all find the rooms, service, facilities and location of this hotel good value for money. Comfortable, centrally located – with access to both tourist sights and local life – Edenstar holds its own in the extremely competitive mid-range price category in Saigon.

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RELATED CONTENT:

Go to ReviewMa Maison Boutique Hotel, SaigonHidden deep within a network of alleyways, Ma Maison is a warm, bright boutique hotel in a typical, local Saigon neighbourhood. Decorated in French Provençal fashion and located away from the city centre, Ma Maison plugs travellers straight into genuine local life…..read more

 

Go to ReviewHanoi Impressive HotelIn the quiet, shaded alleyways, behind the neo-Gothic façade of St Joseph’s Cathedral, the Hanoi Impressive Hotel is my go-to place to stay when visiting the capital. At $40 a night, it’s fantastic mid-range value. Rooms are small but very well-equipped with great views over the cathedral…..read more

 

Go to ReviewHotel Du Parc, DalatThe Hotel Du Parc offers excellent value mid-range accommodation in the Central Highlands city of Dalat. Housed in a French building from the 1930s, this hotel has colonial ambience with modern amenities at reasonable prices. Atmospheric but very affordable, Du Parc is a superb Dalat hotel…..read more

 

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Edenstar Hotel, Saigon:

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The Deep South: Riding the Dragon’s Tail


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Introduction | Motorbike Guide | Map | Related Content

First published August 2015 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

The first provinces I ever travelled to in Vietnam were in the Mekong Delta. Since then, however, I have tended to favour coastal and mountainous provinces for my motorbike road trips. This is why, after 9 years in the country, the last four provinces that I have yet to visit are all in the Mekong Delta. More specifically, these are the southernmost provinces in Vietnam: the Deep South or, as I like to call it, the Dragon’s Tail. I thought it was about time I made it to all Vietnam’s 63 provinces, so I finally set out to travel as far south as roads go. Below, I’ve written about this road trip in diary format, but I still include places to stay and eat along the way and a map, so that anyone who wants to follow my route can use this article as a guide.

The Deep South: Riding the Dragon's TailDeep south: riding to the Mekong’s southern tip

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MOTORBIKE GUIDE:

[Route Map]

  • Route: the deep south: Saigon to Ca Mau loop
  • Terrain & Scenery: Mekong Delta, flat, rivers, fruit plantations
  • Road Quality: paved highways & rural back-roads
  • Total Distance: 840km

Click on a day below to read more about it:

  • DAY 1: Saigon to Bac Lieu
  • DAY 2: Bac Lieu to Ca Mau (via Nam Can)
  • DAY 3: Ca Mau to Vi Thanh
  • DAY 4: Vi Thanh to Ben Tre
  • DAY 5: Ben Tre to Saigon

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DAY 1:

Saigon to Bac Lieu: 250km [MAP]

As I live in Bình Thạnh District, I have to cross Saigon from east to west before reaching the highway to the Mekong Delta. Even at 5:30 in the morning this is a busy, noisy, dusty 45 minute drive – Saigon wakes up earlier than any city I’ve visited: even in Bombay the markets and the streets didn’t start to throb until way past 7:30am.

The long crawl along Highway 1, from the western edge of Saigon to Mỹ Tho, is still an arduous drive, even after a new expressway opened a few years ago, taking the bulk of large vehicles. This area is one of Saigon’s many industrial armpits: choked with traffic, trucks, smog, dust, and chemicals from the factories which line the route. Still, there are glimpses of beauty here and there, all the more potent for their ugly surroundings: the smell of fresh baked bread from bánh mì stalls; lotus ponds in-between truck depots; the sweep of a river; and, of course, life and food; there’s always life and food in Vietnam, no matter where you are.

Mekong Delta, My ThoFirst glimpses of the Mekong tributaries, near My Tho

Beyond Mỹ Tho, two new bridges over the first two ‘arms’ of the Mekong River have really opened up Bến Tre to tourism and trade. The new highway is roaring with coaches and trucks. The bridges – built high above the water, so that large ships can pass beneath them – are great places to gaze at the river. It’s an immense waterway: with no highlands to contain it, the brown Mekong simply sprawls out over the vast, flat plain of the delta region, like a cup of coffee spilled over a tabletop.

Mekong River, My ThoLight and space; sky and water: the Mekong River near My Tho

Between Bến Tre and Trà Vinh, yet another brand new Mekong bridge has been constructed. A functional, no-frills piece of infrastructure, it takes me to my fifth province of the day. Landing on Trà Vinh Province, the landscape has changed: Mỹ Tho and Bến Tre are covered in lush fruit trees – coconut, banana, mango, jackfruit, durian, longan – but Trà Vinh is a network rice fields, interrupted by clumps of tall trees. Religion and ethnicity change too: this part of the Mekong has a large Khmer population, most of whom practice Theravada Buddhism, a more conservative branch than Mahayana, which is more commonly practiced in Vietnam. Facial features and, to my eye, skin tone are noticeably different here. The landscape is dotted with temples, wats, pagodas, and monasteries, all of which are surrounded by decorative walls and tall trees, shimmering with birdsong and cicadas.

Khmer temple, Tra Vinh, Mekong DeltaMekong gold: a Khmer temple near Tra Vinh

Before reaching Sóc Trăng – the first of the four ‘new’ provinces I intend to visit on this trip – I’m reminded of just how ‘useful’ all the new bridges are when, at the next Mekong crossing, I have to take a ferry. Now 200km from Saigon, I have crossed the many arms of the Mekong River on five separate occasions, but this is my first ferry. In fact, I take two ferries, each one separated by a 2km wide island. With a head wind, the two crossings take nearly three quarters of an hour. This is what travelling in the Mekong Delta used to be like: a series of short straight stretches of road, broken at regular intervals by ferry crossings. The slow progress used to make Mekong towns, like Trà Vinh, feel very isolated and remote: now they are just a few hours from Saigon.

Bridges over the Mekong RiverBridges over the Mekong River have dramatically reduced travel time

Sóc Trăng is a busy, concrete town. I choose to plough on south to Bạc Liêu for the night. As I rejoin Highway 1, a thunderhead rears up from the south. In the Mekong Delta, because the land is so flat, you can see weather rolling in from all directions for miles and miles. The huge skies and swathes of open space are both invigorating and threatening; inducing a kind of primordial agoraphobia in me. The torrent lasts half an hour, during which I shelter under a corrugated iron roof with a canine companion that barks for the duration. However, the storm saves my skin from sunburn, and by the time I roll into Bạc Liêu it’s dry and bright again.

250km from Saigon, Bạc Liêu is a typically fascinating Mekong town. Busy, tree-lined boulevards end at a riverfront promenade, lined with French colonial villas and old shophouses – some of them fading; some restored. Prosperous and lively but still rough around the edges, Bạc Liêu has a familiar Mekong ambience. I immediately warm to it: I want to stroll along the riverside, delve into the market, eat at the multitude of street food stalls, sip coffee and write at the street front cafes. So this is exactly what I do. I bag a clean simple room at Thành Đạt Hotel (145/2 Trân Phú Street, 0781 3540 999, 250,000vnđ) and fill up with good, cheap snacks at the thriving night market on Hai Bà Trưng Street.

Bac Lieu, Mekong DeltaMekong ambience: Bac Lieu has a distinctive southern charm

‘Southern charm’ might seem like a meaningless catchphrase, but in Vietnam I think it’s safe to say that southern people – especially those in the Mekong – are the most open, warm, and sincere people you’ll meet. Each and every interaction today – from gas station attendants to roadside snack vendors, from ferry ticket inspectors to kids in the park – has been full of unguarded smiles and good-natured giggles. At dusk the sun glows bright against another southern thundercloud, bathing this rivertown in a sharp low light.

Bac Lieu, Mekong DeltaRivertown: Bac Lieu bathed in southern twilight

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DAY 2:

Bac Lieu to Ca Mau (via Nam Can): 175km [MAP]

I wake early for a run around Bạc Liêu at dawn, but just as I’m leaving my room, I see a long black wave of cloud breaking across the city. The rain sets in. Bạc Liêu is cold and damp, but there’s still enough life and food on the streets for it not to feel grim and grey.

I join Highway 1 for the 70km stretch of straight road along a canal to Cà Mau City, the most southerly in Vietnam. Cà Mau Province is a vast area of flat swampland and mangrove forest. The arrow-shaped ‘tail’ of Vietnam, Cà Mau has the lowest population density in the Mekong Delta. But it doesn’t feel that way on Highway 1, which is as busy, relentless, and fume-choked as any other stretch of this massively overused north-south artery. I would never have guessed that I was on the way to Vietnam’s remote, southern frontier. Grey skies and drizzle do nothing for the flat, featureless, semi-rural, semi-industrial landscape along the highway: the Mekong Delta really is much better seen by boat than bike; on waterways than roadways.

Junk barge on the Mekong RiverBetter seen by boat: a Mekong barge ploughs the muddy waters

Feeling surprisingly cold, I wear my full rain gear, even though the sky is only spitting dusty drops of water. When I enter Cà Mau City, I head straight for one of the central bridges for a view of the town. The brown sluggish river – thick with trash and excrement – is lined with fragile corrugated iron homes, which look perilously close to caving in on themselves and joining the rest of the garbage floating downstream. It looks like a set from the movie, Waterworld. The miserable weather only adds to the depressing scene.

Ca Mau, Mekong DeltaBleak: Ca Mau is the most southerly city in Vietnam

However, even in the dull light and rain, it’s obvious that this far-flung city is, in fact, as booming as any other large Mekong town. Wide, tree-lined streets channel hundreds of motorbikes past busy shophouses, and there’s a fair amount of activity at the bleak-looking central market. Even so, Cà Mau does look supremely grim under today’s granite sky, and the musty hotel rooms that I’m shown make it an easy decision to leave after lunch, and head even further south.

Highway 1 reaches its southern limit at Năm Căn, 50km south of Cà Mau. At last some of the traffic fades away, but it certainly isn’t a scenic ride. Năm Căn, the southernmost settlement of size in Vietnam, is a suitably rough and forgotten-looking frontier town. Highway 1 ends in dust after passing over a new bridge, from which there’s another forlorn view of riverside tin can housing on water, viscous from raw sewage. For the moment, Năm Căn is a town undergoing renovation: much of it is a building site, and it really does feel like the end of the line. But soon, the ‘line’ will be extended to the very tip of the country which, it is hoped, will bring tourism to the area.

Nam Can, Mekong DeltaRenovation: Nam Can, Vietnam’s southernmost habitation, is currently a building site

In the far distance is a very strange sight: a hill. The only high ground for hundreds of kilometres, this is Khoai Island. And this is what the new road is really all about. An ambitious plan to build a port on the island that, after a canal is constructed through the Malay Peninsular in southern Thailand – linking the Andaman Sea with the Gulf of Thailand – will handle container ships on what is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

Năm Căn is too sad a place to stay the night. I head back to Cà Mau and find a room without too much damp on the walls at Song Hùng Hotel (28 Phan Ngọc Hiển Street, 0780 3822 822, 250,000vnđ). I finally get to take a run: around the many parks, boulevards and government buildings in Cà Mau. After some good food at the waterfront night market on Quang Trung Street, I sit by the river at night with a milk tea from a cosy café run by a typically enterprising young Vietnamese man (TAKB Cafe, 85 Phạm Văn Ký Street). As we sit talking, a man from a riverfront shophouse steps into the river to wash some heavy-duty bags. When he disturbs the water, the smell of sewage is so powerful that I have to leave.

Nam Can, Mekong DeltaEnd of the line: Nam Can earns its reputation as a frontier town

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DAY 3:

Ca Mau to Vi Thanh (via U Minh Forest): 160km [MAP]

It’s a bright morning in Cà Mau. I have coffee at a wonderful cafe in an old two storey shophouse full of birdsong, in the backstreets behind the market (Thanh Hùng Quán, corner of Nguyễn Hữu Lễ and Phan Đình Phùng streets). But even the sharp early light can’t quite make this city look appealing. During my less than 24 hours here, I’ve realized that it’s one of the poorest cities I can remember visiting in Vietnam. I’ve seen dozens of people sleeping very rough indeed, many with babies. In every café or eatery that I’ve sat down at, there have been several people making rounds of the tables, approaching diners with their hands out for money. This morning I remember that Cà Mau is where the current prime minister of Vietnam is from. Although the people have been welcoming, I’m not sad to leave Cà Mau as I hit the long, straight, flat Mekong roads towards Hậu Giang, the last province in Vietnam that I have yet to visit.

Ducks for market, Mekong DeltaDucks for market, Ca Mau City

Initially, the weather stays good, and the scenery is pretty: quiet villages with squat houses hiding behind neat hibiscus hedges; the canal on one side, the road on the other. However, the larger villages I pass through are appallingly dirty – both on land and in the waterways – and the people appear to treat me with suspicion. The rains come again. This time sweeping over what is left of the U Minh Forest, which is still supposedly the largest mangrove forest in the world, outside of the Amazon basin. I had intended to stop here to have a look around, but the weather is bad and I simply don’t have enough time to explore the forests, which would require organizing a boat.

Hau Giang, Mekong DeltaThe rains: weather changes fast in the Mekong Delta in August

The weather clears and I make good progress: yet more new roads have shortened the journey, one particularly scenic stretch cutting through a bountiful plantation of coconuts and pineapples. But it doesn’t last. The road is reduced to mud and rubble where construction is ongoing. It rains again, making the mud slippery and treacherous. Progress is extremely slow and there’s very little to get excited about as I reach Hậu Giang, thus completing all 63 provinces, a journey which started when I was 17 years old, visiting Vietnam for the first time with my parents. God celebrates by sending down a particularly vicious rain storm as I approach my night stop, Vị Thanh. The capital of Hậu Giang Province, Vị Thanh is a likable place with a long promenade along a canal, where large Mekong freight ships glide by. But the weather is awful so there’s nothing to do but sit in a café all afternoon. I find a decent room for the night at Thanh Xuân Guesthouse (34 Nguyễn Công Trứ Street, 0984 514 799, 180,000vnđ). An excellent noodle house is located on Hải Thượng Lãn Ông Street, opposite Nhà Khách Hậu Giang (government guesthouse).

After the rain, Mekong DeltaStavros drying out, after completing all 63 of Vietnam’s provinces

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DAY 4:

Vi Thanh to Ben Tre: 150km [MAP]

Vị Thanh is surprisingly quiet in the morning. I have a classic southern breakfast – baguettes and coffee – and head off towards Bến Tre. Thankfully, the roads are good and traffic is relatively light. I stop at Cần Thơ – by far the largest city in the Mekong Delta – for a drink. It’s a sprawling, concrete city, busy with motorbikes (there’s a noticeable absence of cars on the streets compared to Saigon), and buzzing with commerce, both on the roadways and waterways. I’ve always found it hard to have any particularly attachment to Cần Thơ: it has all the bustle of a large Vietnamese city, but not much charm; even the riverfront leaves me cold. It’s here that I see the first foreign travellers since leaving Saigon. The bridge over the Mekong River, just beyond Cần Thơ, is a particularly intimidating concrete structure that is neither beautiful nor ugly, but definitely impressive.

Can Tho Bridge, Mekong DeltaImpressive: Can Tho Bridge is nearly 3km long

In order to avoid the awful stretch of Highway 1 between Vĩnh Long and Mỹ Thơ, I try a new route. From Vĩnh Long I take a ferry, ride across an island in the Mekong then catch another ferry, before riding through acres of coconut, banana and rambutan plantations to Bến Tre. It works perfectly, cutting out the dust and trucks of the highway by threading through rural back-roads. I decide that, from now on, I’ll always take a ferry crossing over a bridge crossing if it keeps me off the busy highways.

Ben Tre ferry, Mekong DeltaSlow and aging, but the ferry is a great way to avoid busy highways

Bến Tre was the first place I ever travelled to in Vietnam. When I was 17, my parents and I stayed by the lake here. Our hotel no longer exists, and the town has been beautified with wide streets and a riverfront promenade. Despite growing much larger, Bến Tre is still surprisingly quiet and laid-back. I still wouldn’t call it an attractive town, but it’s a relaxing stop by the river, and the rooftop cocktails at Hàm Luông Hotel (200C Hùng Vương Street) are good and cheap. There’s good street food around the market, including the beef rolled in betel leaf (bò lá lốt) at 9/5 Nguyễn Trung Trực Street (view map). It seems fitting that my last stop, after visiting all 63 of Vietnam’s provinces, should be the first province I ever stepped foot in.

Ben Tre, Mekong DeltaThe riverfront at Ben Tre, where I first visited aged 17

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DAY 5:

Ben Tre to Saigon: 110km [MAP]

I run along Bến Tre’s newly laid riverfront promenade before breakfast. The light is warm and tropical, and the coconut palms lining the river are lush and green. After yesterday’s successful attempt at a back route from Vĩnh Long to Bến Tre, I decide to try another today: from Mỹ Tho back to Saigon. I want to avoid the miserable stretch of Highway 1 back into the city – there’s no more depressing way to re-enter Saigon than the steady, slow, clogged, polluted crawl through the industrial suburbs.

Breakfast bread, Ben Tre, Mekong DeltaFreshly baked: breakfast in Ben Tre

I cut east from Mỹ Tho along a good road with little traffic. Turning due north at Gò Công, the good conditions continue until I’m just 15km from Saigon. Then, suddenly, the road narrows, the air thickens, traffic swells, noise level rises, and progress grinds to a halt. It only takes about 20 minutes, but it’s still a sorry introduction to Saigon. Nonetheless, it’s better than Highway 1, so I’m in a good mood as I glide along the Bến Nghé Creek Expressway, skirting downtown, and sliding back home for lunch.

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Saigon-Mui Ne-Dalat road tripThe Southeast LoopIf you’re looking for a road trip within reach of Saigon that takes you to beaches and mountains but stays off busy main roads; this is it. Saigon, Mui Ne, and Dalat are all connected by quiet scenic back-roads. Perfect for a Saigon getaway, this motorbike guide shows you how to do it. …..read more

 

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The Deep South Road Trip:


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Cơm Tấm, Saigon: 7 of my Favourites


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Introduction | Cơm Tấm in Saigon | Map | Related Content

First published August 2015 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

Some of my happiest moments in Saigon have been sitting down with a good plate of cơm tấm and watching the city go by. Cơm tấm is pure gastronomic pleasure: barbecued pork on broken rice, topped with a fried egg and other accoutrements. Saigon and cơm tấm are inseparable: the two most distinctive smells in this city are exhaust fumes and grilled pork. This dish is as much an icon of Saigon as motorbikes or the Bitexco Tower are. There’s a cơm tấm eatery on practically every street in the city, and Saigon does it better than anywhere else. Cơm tấm is one of the most accessible and delicious dishes in Vietnamese cuisine. Everyone loves it: Vietnamese, foreigners; kids, adults; rich, poor. But it doesn’t just taste great: there’s an atmosphere surrounding the cooking and consumption of this dish which is intoxicating and compelling. For me, cơm tấm is the quintessential Saigon experience. Below are 7 of my favourite places to eat cơm tấm. (For more about what cơm tấm is and how to order it, see this previous article.)

Cơm tấm (broken rice) in SaigonBarbecued pork on broken rice: cơm tấm is the quintessential Saigon experience

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CƠM TẤM: 7 OF THE BEST IN SAIGON

Click on any name from the list below to read more about it. There are hundreds of cơm tấm eateries in Sagion: Of course I haven’t eaten at them all, but these are my personal favourites. Note that, for me, a good cơm tấm is about food and ambience: by which I mean a flaming roadside grill, jostling diners, and filthy floors – I love all of the above. Prices quoted are for a ‘full’ cơm tấm (for more about how and what to order see this previous article.)

[View my cơm tấm map of Saigon HERE]

  1. CƠM TẤM 352: 352 Chu Văn An, Bình Thạnh District
  2. CƠM TẤM AN DƯƠNG VƯƠNG: 500-502 An Dương Vương, District 5
  3. CƠM TẤM 236: 236 Xô Viết Nghệ Tĩnh, Bình Thanh District
  4. CƠM TẤM BA GHIỀN: 84 Đặng Văn Ngữ, Phú Nhuận District
  5. CƠM TẤM THÀNH RÂU: 119 Phùng Văn Cung, Phú Nhuận District
  6. CƠM TẤM TỨ QUÝ: Tân Định Market, District 1
  7. CƠM TẤM THANH NIÊN: 570 Trường Sa, Phú Nhuận District

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1. CƠM TẤM 352:

Address: 352 Chu Văn An Street, Bình Thạnh District [MAPOpening hours: 5am-6pm Price: 25,000vnđ ($1) | In business for: 20 years

A haphazard amalgamation of red-brick walls, chicken wire meshing, corrugated iron sheets, concrete floors, and metallic poles, this sun-soaked, smoke-stained house-kitchen-eatery is everything a Saigon cơm tấm establishment should be. It might look temporary and fragile – like a Jenga puzzle that will tumble with the extraction of one small piece – but Cơm Tấm 352 has been operating for around 20 years. Friendly, informal, local, bright, fresh, crisp, colourful, cheap and delicious; the food and people here make me very happy indeed. Known as bình dân, this kind of dining atmosphere is one of the greatest joys of living and eating in Vietnam.

Cơm tam 352, SaigonCrisp, bright, cheap & delicious: Cơm Tấm 352

Cơm tam 352, SaigonRice, pork, and people: the essential components of good cơm tấm

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2. CƠM TẤM AN DƯƠNG VƯƠNG:

Address: 500-502 An Dương Vương Street, District 5 [MAPOpening hours: 6.30am-9pm Price: 60,000vnđ ($3) | In business for: 15 years

On the cusp of Saigon’s Chinatown, this place has an irrepressible energy and vigour, which drew me in when I worked nearby. Back then, I had only recently moved to Vietnam, and the bustle, chaos, and commotion coming from this large, two-storey corner kitchen, both intrigued and intimidated me. There seemed to be something compulsive about the diners: they sat down, shouted orders, ate quickly, smacked their lips, paid and left. I wanted to be a part of that; had to get involved in it. So I did. So much so that, when Tet New Year comes around, the management gives me a gift of a clock with their name on it. Cơm Tấm An Dương Vương has been operating for 15 years; I’ve been eating there for nine. The cơm tấm is excellent and there are dozens of other delicious, classic Vietnamese dishes to choose from. In a way, this is where I learned to love Vietnamese food and the atmosphere surrounding it. Yes, prices go up while portions go down, and yes, there are irritating hidden expenses for things that should be free – wet tissues, iced tea, insignificant side dishes – but I couldn’t care less about that: food and atmosphere is what it’s all about, and this place has it in spades.

Cơm tấm An Dương Vương, SaigonCompulsive dining: pork on the BBQ at Cơm Tấm An Dương Vương

Cơm tấm An Dương Vương, SaigonA plate of the good stuff: I’ve been eating here 9 years

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3. CƠM TẤM 236:

Address: 236 Xô Viết Nghệ Tĩnh Street, Bình Thanh District [MAPOpening hours: 10am-9pm Price: 60,000vnđ ($3) | In business for17 years

This place may be on one of the Saigon’s busiest roads, but the sight and aroma of pork ribs rotating on spits over a coal-fired grill, literally stops traffic. Get here between 11am and 12.30pm and witness rack after rack of ribs turn slowly over the flame: smoking, hissing, flaring; fat searing, bones charring, juices dripping; meat cooking. The aroma is to passers-by what the Sirens’ song was to Odysseus and his crew: enchanting, maddening; irresistible. Order sườn non (ribs) and abandon yourself on this island of pork. It’s a beautiful thing.

Cơm tấm 236, SaigonSiren song: the smell of barbecued pork is simply irresistible

Cơm tấm 236, SaigonJuxtaposition: monk & meat at Cơm Tấm 236

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4. CƠM TẤM BA GHIỀN:

Address: 84 Đặng Văn Ngữ Street, Phú Nhuận District [MAPOpening hours: 8am-9.30pm Price: 70,000vnđ ($3) | In business for: 20 years

No list of cơm tấm eateries in Saigon would be complete without singing the praises of Ba Ghiền, perhaps the most famous of them all. To its credit, despite the level of fame and the burgeoning turnover of customers, Ba Ghiền has resisted the urge to revamp the decor. From the outside, it looks like a remote antarctic whaling station: a dilapidated jumble of metal grilles, corrugated iron sheets, and tarpaulins, with two large chimneys churning smoke into the sky from a giant metallic grill. Inside, the light is diffused by smoke; the walls stained black; the plaster peeling off like wet paper; the floor strewn with tissues and bones. And this is a good thing, because at Ba Ghiền it’s all about the food. Each day, hundreds of diners come here to enjoy the enormous slabs of marinated pork chop, served on a plate of heaped broken rice. This is more than a meal: it’s the quintessential Saigon experience.

Cơm Tấm Ba Ghiền, SaigonProbably the most famous cơm tấm in Saigon: Ba Ghiền

Cơm Tấm Ba Ghiền, SaigonBig pig: Ba Ghiền is famous for its large chunks of grilled meat

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5. CƠM TẤM THÀNH RÂU:

Address: 119 Phùng Văn Cung Street, Phú Nhuận District [MAPOpening hours: 10.30am–2pm & 4pm–12pm Price: 45,000vnđ ($2) | In business for: 10 years

This place is a real grease house. The outside walls are stained from 10 years of pork smoke; a huge sack of coal stands in the road, next to the perpetually flaming barbecue grill on the sidewalk; even the paving stones are slick from years of oily smoke. But inside it’s bright and clean enough. Customers roar through here at all times of the day, but I like to visit in the early evenings, when the fluorescent strip-lights flicker on and the place glows like a forge in the night. The cơm tấm is good and greasy.

Cơm  Tấm Thành Rau, SaigonGlowing: Cơm Tấm Thành Rau in the early evening

Cơm  Tấm Thành Rau, SaigonGood & greasy: a full plate of cơm tấm at Thành Rau

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6. CƠM TẤM TỨ QUÝ:

Address: Tân Định Market, corner of Ha Ba Trưng & Nguyễn Hữu Cầu streets, District 1 [MAPOpening hours: 4pm–3am Price: 50,000vnđ ($2) | In business for: 8 years

This place is what’s known as cơm tấm đêm, which means it serves into the early hours of dawn. In other words, it’s great ‘drunk junk food’ – think of it as Vietnam’s answer to the kebab, consumed at the end of a night out drinking. Surrounded by a string of other late night snack stalls, the cơm tấm here is crisp, fresh, and nicely presented. Perhaps the quality isn’t quite as good as others in this list, but trust me, at 2am after a night out in Saigon, this place really hits the spot. A great way to wind down with friends and soak up the booze.

Cơm Tấm Tứ Qúy, Saigon‘Drunk junk food’: Cơm Tấm Tứ Qúy is a favourite place after a night out

Cơm Tấm Tứ Qúy, SaigonHole in the wall: Cơm Tấm Tứ Qúy is open until 3am

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7. CƠM TẤM THANH NIÊN:

Address: 570 Trường Sa Street, Phú Nhuận District [MAPOpening hours: 11am-3pm Price: 45,000vnđ ($2) | In business for: 20 years

A small, impromptu place with a few tables and chairs on the banks of the newly regenerated Thị Nghè Channel, this cơm tấm eatery has been quietly serving customers for around 20 years. There’s an attractive amber glow to the light here – making the food look fantastic – and the meat has a tangy sweetness to it. Order the sườn non (ribs), which are slowly barbecued on a tiny coal stove on the sidewalk. It’s simple, unpretentious food, beautifully presented, in a leafy location. Get here early, while the ribs are still hot and the grill is still smoking.

Cơm Tấm Thanh Niên, SaigonSimple food; beautifully presented: Cơm Tấm Thanh Niên

Cơm Tấm Thanh Niên, SaigonLip smacking: chops and ribs on the barbecue before lunch

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Go to GuideSaigon’s Parks & Open Spaces: Saigon might be known as a burgeoning city full of motorbikes and exhaust fumes, but it still has many green spaces in which to escape the heat, noise and pollution. From lush gardens dating from colonial times to modern waterfront promenades, here are Saigon’s best parks and open spaces……read more

 

Go to GuideSaigon’s Lunch Lady: Illustrated Menu: Feast your eyes on the images in this illustrated menu: find a soup you like the look of, learn the name in Vietnamese, check what day of the week it’s served, and pay a visit to the Lunch Lady’s stall to try it for yourself. This is the Lunch Lady’s full weekly menu, illustrated with tantalizing photos……read more

 

Find more Saigon articles in the SAIGON ARCHIVES

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Saigon’s other Lunch Lady


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Introduction | Saigon’s other Lunch Lady | Map | Related Content

First published July 2015 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

Everyone knows who Saigon’s Lunch Lady is, right? Well, probably not this one. Ms Nga is 43 years old. Her cramped, ramshackle soup stall is located on a quiet corner in Binh Thanh District, away from downtown Saigon. Originally from Thai Binh (a northern province famous for producing excellent cooks), she moved to Saigon in the mid-90s. Since then, she has been serving a different soup each day of the week, on the same spot. Like all good soup houses, it’s run by three generations of the same family. It may not be as ‘scenic’ as Saigon’s more famous Lunch Lady, but the price is cheaper, the quality is excellent, and you won’t be jostling for space with other foodies, journalists, and tourists: this place is local. I spent a week eating at Ms Nga’s soup stall, in order to produce this illustrated menu and guide to Saigon’s ‘other’ Lunch Lady.

Saigon's other Lunch LadyA different dish every day: Ms Nga is Saigon’s ‘other’ Lunch Lady

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SAIGON’S OTHER LUNCH LADY:

Address: 152/6A Dien Bien Phu Street, Binh Thanh District, Saigon [MAP]

Opening Hours: lunch is served from 10.30am to 12.30pm (closed Sundays)

  • MONDAY: bún măng vịt (bamboo & duck noodles)
  • TUESDAY: bún bò Huế (Hue-style beef noodles)
  • WEDNESDAY: hủ tiếu Nam Vang (Cambodian-style noodles)
  • THURSDAY: hủ tiếu mì chay (vegetarian rice & egg noodles)
  • FRIDAY: bún thịt nướng (grilled pork & noodle salad)
  • SATURDAY: bánh xèo (crispy rice flour savoury pancakes) 

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MONDAY:

Dish: bún măng vịt (bamboo & duck noodles) Price: 30,000vnđ ($1.50)

Something about the autumnal colours of this soup – toast-brown, amber, beige – makes me think of it as a warming, soothing antidote to a chilly November day. The broth is a rich concoction of poultry flavours, reminiscent of that quintessential winter comfort food: chicken soup. Onion and shallot also come through strongly and, although the broth is clear, it tastes somehow creamy. A generous portion of slow-cooked, tender duck, and a cube of pig blood cake, sit atop the rice noodles. The duck is on the bone so this is definitely a ‘slurp ‘n’ suck’ soup – don’t forget to dip the meat in the ginger, garlic and chilli dipping sauce. Rough-cut slices of young bamboo – bark-brown and wiggly, like branches off a bonsai tree – add a unique texture and shape to the soup. The addition of fresh morning glory stems, beansprouts, and a couple of mint leaves adds a satisfying crunch. There’s something rustic and rural about this soup: it has all the colour and texture of a bracing autumn day: crunchy and soggy, bright and crisp; like the leaves in a Constable painting of an English landscape after a November shower.

Monday, Lunch Lady, bun many vitAutumn in a bowl: Monday is bún măng vịt

Monday, Lunch Lady, bun many vitReady to be served: Monday’s dish at Ms Nga’s soup stall

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TUESDAY:

Dish: bún bò Huế (Hue-style beef noodles) Price: 25,000vnđ ($1)

With a broth so bright it would glow in the dark, today’s soup – bún bò Huế – is as red, rich, and fresh as blood. It’s a tactile soup: the thick rice noodles (bún), strips of beef brisket (), spirals of onion, and giant hunk of pork chop, are just asking for my lips, tongue, and teeth to engage them. But before I tuck into these textures, I take a moment to appreciate the sweet fragrance of lemongrass rising from my bowl. Bún bò Huế is one of those mystical, complex Vietnamese broths, that’s fascinating just to look at in the cauldron: watching the processes – the magic, the alchemy – taking place, as the bones, spices, herbs, and, in this case, pineapple, change and evolve. I add even more colour, taste and texture to my bowl: shredded banana blossom, beans sprouts, curls of morning glory, mint, lime, chilli. The broth is bouncy, zesty, and light: if yesterday’s bún măng vịt was autumn; today’s bún bò Huế is spring. There’s a freshness and kick to the soup, which counterbalances all those heavy textures. Initially, I’m surprised at how mild the broth is, but, as I eat my way through the bowl, I realize that the broth is still ‘working’, still changing: it’s getting stronger, meatier, zestier the longer I take to eat it. In particular, the lime, mint, chilli, and pineapple keep on imparting their flavour; and as they do, this soup grows on me.

Tuesday, Lunch Lady, bún bò HuếBlood red, blood rich: Tuesday is bún bò Huế

Tuesday, Lunch Lady, bún bò HuếA broth that keeps on giving

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WEDNESDAY:

Dish: hủ tiếu Nam Vang (Cambodian-style noodles) Price: 25,000vnd ($1)

I arrive early at Ms Nga’s soup stall today. The broth is bubbling away: chunks of daikon floating around – orbiting bunches of spring onions – and pig blood cakes bobbing up and down like boats on a rough sea. Hủ tiếu Nam Vang is a clear broth with a mild aroma and light flavour that I’ve always found hard to describe: it’s fresh and clean, like cucumber – a refreshing soup for a hot day in Saigon. The bowl is packed with goodies: shrimp, pig blood cake, pork on the bone, pork liver, sliced pork, pork intestines, minced pork, quail egg, bean sprouts, and onion. Beneath these chunky bits, lies a thick nest of hủ tiếu noodles. The thing about these noodles is that they have a distinctive texture, and they have edges. Unlike other Vietnamese noodles, which are slick, slippery and smooth, hủ tiếu stick together and absorb the juices. Thus, there’s a satisfying release of broth with every mouthful.  The taste is porky but light, with a little sweetness. It’s so well-balanced that I can hardly distinguish the flavours from one another.

Wednesday, Lunch Lady, hủ tiếu Nam VangCrisp & colourful: hủ tiếu Nam Vang at Ms Nga’s soup stall

Ms Nga, Saigon's other Lunch LadyShow time: Ms Nga serves a bowl of soup at lunch

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THURSDAY:

Dish: hủ tiếu mì chay (vegetarian rice & egg noodles) Price: 20,000vnd ($1)

Due to a new moon, today’s dish is a vegetarian alternative to the regular Thursday soup, which is bún riêu (crab meat and tomato noodles). I ate the bún riêu here the previous Thursday, and I thought it was a bit weak, so I’m glad of the unexpected change in menu today. The Buddhist tradition of eating vegetarian food on new and full moons is observed by many Vietnamese, even those that wouldn’t consider themselves Buddhist. There’s noticeably more of a buzz here today: because vegetarian soup stalls are hard to find, on ‘moon days’ they are always packed with people. This soup has a mixture of rice and egg noodles. Heaped on top of the noodles is a mountain of crispy, curly, crunchy things: fried wonton dumplings, tofu skin, and cubes of sautéed tofu. Beneath them are slices of daikon, cabbage leaves, carrots, wood ear mushrooms, and button mushrooms – which release a striking aniseed flavour when bitten into. The clear broth is light, mildly sweet, with a cool, celeriac flavour. Ms Nga’s mother is worried that, without meat and bones, the broth lacks depth of flavour. She urges me to add soy sauce. It works: the saltiness somehow beefs up the broth. I find that the variety of textures compensates for the lack of flavour very well, and – even without animal parts – there’s still a lot going on in this soup. But, even as the vegetarian soup is being ladled into bowls, I can see meat marinating on skewers in the kitchen, ready for tomorrow’s dish.

Thursday, Lunch Lady. hủ tiếu mì chayNew moon vegetarian special: hủ tiếu mì chay

Ms Nga, Saigon's other Lunch LadyMise en place: Ms Nga surrounded by her paraphernalia

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FRIDAY:

Dish: bún thịt nướng (grilled pork & noodle salad) Price: 25,000vnd ($1)

There’s a sense of anticipation around Ms Nga’s soup stall today. A handful of customers sit at tables, awaiting their noodles; several motorbikes are pulled up on the sidewalk, waiting for their lunches to take away. Nga’s husband sits on the roadside, wafting a fan over a small charcoal barbecue. The grilling pork skewers send scented smoke streaking across the street. Ms Nga is busy frying spring rolls in a large wok full of bubbling oil. Today’s dish is a southern classic: bún thịt nướng – essentially a cold noodle salad with grilled pork and spring rolls. Sweet, savoury, crunchy, soft, but most of all, fresh and light, bún thịt nướng is perfect for a hot, oppressive summer’s day. It’s also one of the prettiest noodle dishes in Vietnamese cuisine: full of colours, shapes, and textures. There’s no broth. Instead, a sweet and sour nước mắm sauce is poured over the noodles and stirred in with chopsticks. Stirring is important because, under the delicate white rice noodles, grilled marinated meat, and fried spring rolls, there’s a cooling salad of lettuce, cucumber, mint, shredded carrot, daikon, and peanuts. With the noodles now moist and all the components stirred through, it’s ready to eat. My favourite place for bún thịt nướng happens to be a few doors away from Ms Nga, but I have to admit that they are pretty evenly matched.

Friday, Lunch Lady, bún thịt nướngFriday’s pretty dish: bún thịt nướng

Friday, Lunch Lady, bún thịt nướngBBQ: Ms Nga’s husband grills meat on the roadside

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SATURDAY:

Dish: bánh xèo (crispy rice flour savoury pancakes)

I work all day Saturdays, so I’m not able to make it to Ms Nga’s soup stall for the Saturday special: bánh xèo. However, these crispy rice flour pancakes are a central and southern Vietnamese classic, and are almost always excellent: I’m sure Ms Nga’s version is too. On Sundays, the family takes a well-deserved day off. Breakfast is also served here daily: each morning from 5am, Ms Nga’s husband and daughter cook bánh cuốn (steamed rice flour rolls filled with pork and mushroom) for 15,000vnd ($0.75). I tried them on a Monday morning, and they were good.

Breakfast, Lunch Lady, bánh cuốnDaily breakfast at Ms Nga’s: bánh cuốn

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Saigon’s other Lunch Lady:

Address: 152/6A Dien Bien Phu Street, Binh Thanh District, Saigon


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Trash Talk: Litter in Vietnam’s Beauty Spots

Last updated January 2017 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | MAIN ARTICLE | RELATED POSTS

When I first started riding my motorbike in the Vietnamese countryside, I was struck by the natural beauty of Vietnam. However, even in remote or sparsely populated regions, I always came across large areas that were inexplicably strewn with trash. The litter consisted mostly of plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic pots, beer cans and leftover food items. The trash was not piled up, awaiting collection; it was spread around, dispersed evenly over large areas: under casuarina trees on swathes of deserted beach; over rocks rising out of mountain streams; on the pine needle-carpeted forest floors of the Central Highlands. These were not informal rural dumpsites; clearly no one was going to come and take it away. I couldn’t work it out. Until, one day, I took a road trip on a Vietnamese national holiday. Now, all of the previously isolated, empty beauty spots, were teeming with people from nearby towns and cities. Hundreds of picnickers were sitting under trees, on riverbanks, on beaches; thoroughly enjoying the great open spaces and natural beauty of the countryside. But very few people bothered to clean up after themselves: the picnic detritus was simply left on the sand, rocks, and in the water. Thousands of scenic locations all over the country are now utterly ruined by trash. It’s sad, disappointing, infuriating, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. In fact, it’s getting worse.

Trash in Vietnam's beauty spotsRuined: scenic spots throughout Vietnam are strewn with picnic trash

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ARTICLE: TRASH TALK

How and Why Picnic Trash is Ruining the Vietnamese Countryside

In the past, when I have asked my Vietnamese friends why they think the problem persists, they have often replied, “Chưa có ý thức”, which literally means there’s ‘no awareness or consciousness yet’. However, there are official government signs and billboards dotted throughout the Vietnamese countryside, clearly stating ‘Keep Vietnam green and clean: throw your trash in litter bins’. There are also advertising campaigns on T.V and in newspapers addressing littering, and many school and university projects deal with the issue of litter in Vietnam. Chưa có ý thức is no longer a legitimate excuse or explanation for littering the Vietnamese countryside.

Some Western expats I’ve talked to about the problem, suggest that there simply aren’t enough trash cans and dumpsters in scenic spots in Vietnam: People would gladly throw garbage in bins if they were provided, but as they are not, the most convenient option is to leave it behind. I agree that this is certainly the most ‘convenient’ option. But these days there are plenty of litter bins in rural Vietnam, and even if there aren’t – which is often the case in more isolated beauty spots – is it really that ‘inconvenient’ to put your trash in a plastic bag and carry it with you until you find a dumpster? Unfortunately, litter bins are often ignored by picnickers in Vietnam: I’ve seen people nonchalantly throwing beer cans down mountainsides and into lakes when there’s a litter bin just a few feet away.

Trash in Vietnam's beauty spotsWhy? Trash left by picnickers under trees next to a beach on the south-central coast

It seems particularly sad to me that the catalyst for litter in Vietnam’s beauty spots should be picnicking. I have never seen a nation enjoy picnics in the countryside as much as the Vietnamese do. It’s a wonderful tradition and one that highlights the bond between Vietnamese people and their land. This is a bond that goes back centuries – there are poems and stories about it – and most Vietnamese are proud of the physical beauty of their country. What better way to express this than a picnic in the landscape?

On weekends and national holidays, scenic spots – especially those in the shade or by water – buzz with large groups of friends and families, sitting in circles around makeshift barbecues. There’s food, alcohol, laughter, games, guitars and song. If you’re a foreigner you will almost certainly be asked to join in; offered copious amounts of food and beer or rice wine, and politely interrogated about your love/family life, your job/salary, and your impressions of Vietnam/the Vietnamese.

Picnicking in Vietnam is an outpouring of joy: a celebration of freedom – from work, from the city, from the banalities of day to day life; a Dionysian abandonment to food, conversation, music and just plain fun. Occasionally, when too much alcohol is consumed, things can get out of hand. But, in general, Vietnamese picnics are joyous occasions. The question is, of course, why does this love of picnics in the countryside and pride in the landscape not translate into respect for the landscape? Why do so many people leave their trash behind?

Trash in Vietnam's beauty spotsNatural beauty; national pride: waterfalls are favourite picnic spots – it’s easy to see why

I think the reasons behind the litter problem in Vietnam, especially with regard to picnickers, are not so much about awareness and provision of garbage cans – although these certainly have a large role to play – as they are a matter of psychology. Like most of my friends when I was growing up, I littered until sometime in my early teens. Looking back, the reasons are quite clear. On the one hand it was pure laziness: I couldn’t be bothered to walk five minutes to the nearest bin, and the whole attitude of nonchalance and indifference was part of being ‘cool’. On the other hand, I just didn’t think that correct trash disposal was my responsibility: when I was a kid it was my parents’ job to clean up after me; when I was a teenager it was somebody else’s responsibility: the local council, the government – someone, anyone, but me. Like most people, I’d rather the streets where I lived were clean and not strewn with trash, I just didn’t think I had a part to play in implementing this.

Likewise, on countless occasions in Vietnam, when I have witnessed someone littering and then asked them – sometimes politely, sometimes angrily – to pick up their trash and put it in the bin, invariably the person acquiesces, apologizes, and proceeds to talk about the problem of litter in Vietnam. Never has someone reacted angrily or said ‘no’. So why didn’t they throw their trash in the bin in the first place? I think the answer is the same as it was for me when I was a teenager: partly it’s laziness, and partly it’s people thinking the responsibility lies with someone else.

Picnic trash in VietnamSomeone else will clean it up: teenagers about to leave their picnic site in the Central Highlands

Trash collection in Vietnam’s urban areas is pretty darn good. There are two daily collections on the street where I live in Saigon. Add to that the ‘trash snatchers’ – people who rummage through household garbage before the collection, looking for anything that can be recycled or sold – and you have a very efficient waste collection system. The problem is that when urbanites step into the countryside – for picnics on public holidays, for example – they assume that a similar system is in place; someone else will pick up their litter on their behalf. But there is no trash collection in the highland forests, mountain streams, or on the beaches: the rubbish that picnickers leave is never collected; it stays there for a very, very long time.

Trash collection in VietnamEfficient: urban trash collection in Vietnam is excellent

Some Vietnamese people I talk to suggest that, for Vietnam’s nouveau riche, it’s a matter of pride: cleaning up trash after themselves is simply beneath them. Also, the countryside represents the past; the old, the poor, and the backward. Cities, on the other hand, represent Vietnam’s glittering, wealthy future. A couple of years ago I was watching an episode of the T.V show, Mad Men. There is a scene where the main family is having a picnic in a park. They are fairly wealthy suburbanites living the American dream in 1960s New York. They dress fashionably and act respectfully (at least in public), and they display all the trappings of success: they are a modern, nouveau riche family. When they finish their picnic, the wife shakes out the picnic blanket, sending all the trash and food over the grass. She folds the blanket – leaving the trash where it fell – and the family gets in their car and leaves. It immediately made me think of picnickers in Vietnam. Exactly what point is being made in this scene is an interesting topic of discussion (as you’ll see by reading the comments below the video clip). This is booming, post-war America; many people are getting rich and moving to the cities, embracing materialism and modernity. There are many socio-economic and environmental similarities between 1960s America and present-day Vietnam; perhaps attitudes to trash is one of them.


Mad Men: Don Draper and his family take a picnic and leave their trash behind

Vietnam has no shortage of scenic spots, many of which are ideal for picnics. New roads are constantly being opened, easing access to more and more remote, beautiful parts of the country. But this means easier access to more potential picnic spots and, if the current trend doesn’t change soon, that means more trash covering the countryside. Vietnam is a relatively small country with a large population: if things continue as they are, there will be very few beauty spots left that aren’t covered in picnic trash. In late 2014, I spent two months travelling the length and breadth of Vietnam by motorbike. I hate to say it but, although the areas of natural beauty were many, the areas of pristine countryside – clear rivers not clogged with plastic bags, beaches not strewn with trash, forests not full of beer cans – were few.

Pristine countryside, VietnamPristine: the central ‘spine’ of Vietnam, near the Lao border, remains largely untouched by litter

Even Ha Giang, the northernmost province, long considered the final frontier for travel and tourism in Vietnam, is starting to suffer from litter. A region famous – even legendary – for its extraordinary natural beauty, is about to join the ‘picnic trail’ and find itself strewn with picnic trash. After years of riding through Vietnam I have come to see it as inevitable that, once a new road is completed in a scenic area, it’s just a matter of time before picnickers leave their lasting mark. I have travelled on new roads on the south coast, the Central Highlands, and the northern mountains not long after they have been completed: invariably, when I return the next year, they are marred by litter. This depressingly familiar pattern shows no sign of changing.

Roads in Ha Giang, VietnamNew roads: remote and beautiful areas, such as Ha Giang, are more easily accessible than ever

Ironically, at the moment it seems the only way to protect Vietnam’s natural beauty spots is to build on them. Once a hotel, resort, or luxury apartment is built on a scenic plot of land it is kept clean, and potential litterers – picnickers – are kept away. This is very sad for a number of reasons, not least because it means that scenic spots will only be open to the few who can afford luxury hotels and condos. Phu Quoc is an obvious example: Dai Beach, in the northwest of the island, was a long stretch of empty white sand, shaded by casuarina trees. It was relatively clean – save for some flotsam and fishermen’s trash – until the island’s airport and roads were upgraded, and access became far easier. After that, Dai Beach became a favourite picnic spot on national holidays and started to fill with trash. Last year, a major resort/casino development called Vinpearl, was completed on a large section of Dai Beach: now this is the only part of the beach that is truly clean; only accessible if you can afford $200 a night for a room.

Construction on Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam Build to protect? Construction on Dai Beach, Phu Quoc Island

More education – raising awareness – is obviously a good idea, but it seems to have had little impact so far. More trash cans in scenic spots would help, but there are plenty already in place and they are often ignored. Danang, perhaps Vietnam’s most forward-thinking city, tried a ‘littering hotline’, where people could call to report littering and receive a cash reward for their efforts. But the motivation for this is money rather than social conscience. It would be nice to think that dealing with personal trash responsibly is its own reward: next time you go for a picnic in the countryside you will not be surrounded by trash; next time you visit Ha Giang you will not have to wade through plastic bags and beer cans to reach a viewpoint.

Obviously there are much bigger, more serious environmental issues in Vietnam. But picnic trash in the countryside seems to me to be one of the most immediate and visible problems. It is also one that can be directly affected – or even solved – by our own individual actions, and without too much effort. This problem can’t be blamed on big corporations, or politics, or globalization. This problem is in our own hands; it’s our responsibility to clean up after ourselves: Let’s keep Vietnam looking its resplendent best: Let’s put our trash in garbage cans. Hãy giữ gìn Việt Nam xanh sạch đẹp: Hãy bỏ rác vào thùng.

Lotus flower, VietnamKeep Vietnam looking great: throw your trash in bins


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