A Red Bridge Cooking Class Experience in Hoi An Vietnam

Hoi An was unique, its old quarter being its highlight, this town which lies between Nha Trang and Hue in Central Vietnam is rich in its culture and is widely known for its tailor made garment ready for next day delivery.  We both decided to obviously not buy any suits or shirts as we both have a lot of travelling to do!



We decided to experience the Red Bridge cooking school which lies just away from the centre of Hoi An, we initially thought that this experience would be out of this world as we both intended to be really hands on at cooking oriental dishes.  The result was below what we had initially expected, the actual class was well run by an experienced female chef who took time in what the clients were experiencing, but there was a sense of “ bums on seats” or even a conveyor belt approach to the class.  Every 2 hours or so new clients wait for their turn to  cook  and experience their own dishes afterwards.

The Cooking class can be bought from some restaurants in the old quater of Hoi An, simply ask to purchase tickets for the Red Bridge Cooking school for the following day.  The price for a half day cooking experience which elapsed from 11:00 to 15:30 was 615.000 Dong.  Within this price you were entitled to aWelcome drink at the restaurant where tickets were bought, a tour of the local Hoi An market to explain the ingredietnts you would later use, 40 miunute boat ride to the school, 2 hour hands on lunch, followed by lunch.



We felt the price was fair when you take into account that lunch is included in the price, you also get to see parts of Hoi An’s riverside leading to the school which is beautiful!  When you arrive at Red Bridge, you cant help but notice that the place is picturesque and stands out from its surroundings, a modern school which is always full to capacity. 

Before we started our class, we were taken to the herb & spices farm to see what herbs we would be using for the class. The two hours hands on classes were first demonstrated by the chef and her helpers and we then started on our dishes.





































We created the following dishes:
Hoi An Rice Pancakes
Shrimp Spring rolls
Seafood Salad
Eggplant Claypot

Out of all the dishes, we never created the salad as this involved many other ingredients.  Note to self this was a tad of a letdown when you come to terms that the salad was the tastier of all the dishes.  The remaining dishes were prepared by the clients using readymade ingredients.  So in actual fact all we were doing was mixing the ingredients into the small sized Vietnamese pan or the claypot.


If you are looking for a hands full experience, I would suggest other locations in Vietnam to carry out this class as although a fun experience, this cooking school was for absolute beginners in the kitchen just searching for a small experience followed  by a recipe book to carry out at home.

The food itself was a treat for the tastebuds, we enjoyed every plate and we have certainly learned how to personally cook Rice Pancakes from scratch which was the only real hands on experience we came out from the class.  




So all in all a wonderful day out but don’t expect to come out knowing fully how to make your own twist into Vietnamese cuisine.  We will have to experience another class in Thailand, let’s see how that turns out!

Bon Appetite!
Dylan 

Some Travel Facts from Vietnam We Love!

As we head into the middle of Vietnam later tonight on our second overnight train to Hoi An, I would like to share some interesting facts on Vietnam, it’s nothing major, however, they are worth being noted down in my notebook.


Culture and Lifestyle

Having had experienced Ho Chi Minh and Nha Trang, I can honestly say that we both expected less of this amazing country which houses the best in terms of flavours and the most vast in history.  One of the most apparent realisations I have encountered is the fact that in both places that I have visited so far, both have luxurious places and then at the turn of the corner you will see absolute poverty lived by some locals.  I guess this happens everywhere, but in my experience of travelling this has to be a first in terms of proximity.

There are probably more motorcycles in Vietnam than there are people. The traffic is absolutely manic and has its own way about it, people will hoot at each other and everyone would know what each type of hoot would mean, no one with road rage or getting angry, yet its the most chaotic thing I have ever seen! There are no rules! 

They also seem to carry anything and everything on their motorbikes, from 4 person families to ironing board to crates of food... I think its an art!


Demography

I have learned some new facts which surprise me each in its own way. For instance, Vietnam’s population in 1945 was only 18 million but in 2013 this has grown to a staggering 90 million! Who turned off the lights?

Another funny fact I have come across is that ethnic minorities in Vietnam follow the matriarch system where the woman is the family leader, Vietnamese in turn follow the patriarch where the father is the leader figure. 


Language 

Did you know that the language comes from Latin, well at least 75% of it, the other percentage derives from Spanish and Italian.  Once you know the 24 letters in the alphabet along with which hyphen goes where, it become easier to understand the writing aspect of the Vietnamese language, however verbal is another story completely because of the dialects!


Religion 

Religion? In 1945 the new religion of coconut religion was born, people who follow will relate to coconut and will eat loads in their lifetime! There are around 10,000 followers in Vietnam! I find this quite ironic.

There is also a large following on the belief of Karma, where if you carry out a good deed you will be granted one in return... it also applies for the negative!

Buddhists pray four times in a day, starting at 06:00, 12:00, 18:00 and straight through to 00:00. 

Cemeteries here are the most beautiful ones I have ever seen, at home our cemetery is plain grey, here they are a burst of colour with incredible and intricate designs of traditions and religious beliefs. 


History 

The Cu Chi tunnels were opened in 1988 for foreigners; it wasn’t until then that they decided to relish foreigners having a look at what was so vital in the Vietnamese war.


I hope you have enjoyed some facts that have come across us in the past week.  Last night was quite interesting as we partied on the beach in Nha Trang after an incredible BBQ dinner, it was a completely local place to go and you had rows and rows of tables in the big open spaced restaurant, the waiters would bring you fresh meats for you to cook, it was incredible, however, feeling the effects of alcohol accompanied with being sun burnt is not fun the day after!


Stay safe and happy travelling.
Dylan 

Greetings from Nha Trang!


Greetings from Nha Trang!  Our first stop after visiting the buzzing capital that is Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City, as it’s known these days.  After having made our journey to Nha Trang via an overnight sleeper train we now find ourselves away from the motorcycle madness of Ho Chi Minh.


Before I get into detail about this post on what we did in Nha Trang, I want to give you some advice on sleeper trains.  Like I mentioned, we travelled up north to Nha Trang yesterday night and spent the most of 8 hours in a shared room with four bunks.  The experience on a whole was good considering you are paying not more than 25 dollars, if you come to think about it you’re saving up money on accommodation!  Just make sure you jump on the train from the origin as the train will be clean and bed linen will be changed.  If you happen to hop on in the middle of the journey you will find a dirty cabin which has already been used moments before!  So sleeper trains should be used from the place of origin... just a little suggestion.

We arrived in Nha Trang very early in the morning (about 6am) and so our rooms were not quite ready yet. Dylan fell asleep in the common room whilst I went for a walk around the area. The sun was rising and the streets were already full of people! I love that neighbours in Vietnam seem to have breakfast all together on plastic chairs and tables in the street. Our hotel was a 2 minute walk from the beach and it was a gorgeous sight in the morning! 

We only had a day in Nha Trang and so we decided to visit its theme park Vinpearl! Its wonderful for groups and families as it has a wide array of rides and activities happening all day long. I thought there was only a water theme park, but actually the park is divided into several sections of water and non water type rides. It also has a Dolphin show, which we thoroughly enjoyed and an aquarium which took my breath away!




The aquarium has two levels, the first is full of different sized fishes and creatures of the sea and the second was just absolutely mind blowing...It was one huge tank on which you stepped on a conveyor belt and it took you right through it! Here we saw sting rays, sharks and turtles... some parts of this tank also had mermaids! It was absolutely wonderful. 




The second highlight to this park is the white sandy beaches that stretched across the bay, the water was clear blue and had sun lounges and cocktail bars running throughout it. Really wonderful to relax and let your mind wander! 



Finally, to get on and off this island theme park you need to catch a Cable Car! It is the longest cable car over water in Vietnam and has incredible views of the bay. A really wonderful day out! 

The day cost us $25 dollars each and we spent the entire day there! 

The next day we really only had time to explore the beach front and found a chilled out relaxed restaurant with breathtaking views of the ocean before we started to head out to Hoi An. 

Let us know if you have ever gone to Vinpearl or Nha Trang and what you liked best about it. 


Happy travelling 
Shereen 

Hoi An - The best Spring Rolls in central Vietnam!

This is an important announcement.  

As you may all know we are quite passionate about our food, up until now I have tried different combinations.  I am very pleased to confirm that out of all the lunches and dinners I have tried in Vietnam, I have to mention that the Spring Rolls at Bale Well, Hoi An are out of this world.

Wipe they give you to clean your hands has the menu on it!

Lunch at Bale Well Restaurant 

We visited the restaurant today in Hoi An, a lovely picturesque portside town which offers an abundance of tailor shops for those in search of tailor made suits and many restaurants which lie at riverside.  It wasn't until we organised a lunch at the Bale Well that my views on spring rolls changed forever!  The restaurant is run by a large family, the ladies run the front of house, each with their own wittiness of attracting clients to what the owner says is Number 1! You will hear her say that every time a client leaves the restaurant.

The menu is simple and offers Pork satay gently done in bbq, pork in bbq, Rice pancakes, Vegetables and chili sauce.  Get all these ingredients together and you create the best Spring Roll.  I had the luxury of having all 8 spring rolls done for me and even fed to me by the owner as she explained that I was handsome!  What a laugh!  The ingredients are as fresh as lettuce!  I really recommend this restaurant if you are in search of the best spring roll!











I simply have to mention to you guys that I will be revisiting tomorrow as I cant get enough of it!  Oh I nearly forgot to mention the simple dessert on offer.... simple chocolate mousse with fresh pineapple chunks.  Mix these bad boys together and your taste buds will be anointing you for the rest of the day!

So guys as I prepare for dinner, I simply had to share this experience with you and I really hope you visit Hoi An and this restaurant one day, you wont regret it!

Stay safe
Dylan 

The Colours of Asia - Ben Thanh Market - Ho Chi Minh City

So we arrived to Ho Chi Minh City in the evening and after all the jet lag, only had a couple of hours to wander through the streets to find some dinner. Thankfully our hotel, A&EM The Petit Hotel was located two streets away from the Ben Thanh Market. 



The Ben Thanh Market at Night

Because we strolled around these streets at night, we had no idea that the Market was actually located inside a building and not outside which is what we found as we searched for food around 9pm. We realised the next day, when we toured the city during the day that the market was 10 times as big in this indoor arena than the mere couple of streets at the night market! The food we had that night though was amazing and only for $8 (160.000 VND). 






The Ben Thanh Market during the day

The next morning, we visited some of Ho Chi Minh's attractions and Dylan needed to buy some flip-flops (the heat here is unbelievable!) so we decided to go to the Market to grab more street food, there are aisles and aisles of stands each selling something different! From footwear to labelled brands to suitcases and safes! Be warned that people will want to try and sell you anything and everything and will always initially throw you a really high price, with which you then haggle down. A friend of ours managed to get some shoes down to 230.000 VND ($11.50 approx) from a staggering 680.000 VND ($34.00 approx)!




In any case this market is vivid with locals giving you a real taste of the city! The amount of beautiful material for scarfs and wrap-overs etc was a colourful attraction in itself and the market is definitely not one to be missed!  





The aroma of the place was also an exciting adventure as each time you turn the corner a new whiff of delicious noodles would make your mouth water only to be slapped in the face with another smell of cold raw fish on the next turn. 


Our lunch in the middle of the Ben Thanh Market

We sat right in the middle of the market to have our lunch on a small stool and table, Dylan and I couldn't help but giggle to enjoy watching the commotions of our surroundings whilst we watched our food being made from the freshest batch of meats available. We had two chicken soups for starters, a beef noodle with vegetable stir fry and fried rice with shrimp for main, together with two bottles of water cost us $7.50 (350.000 VND). 





If you head to Ho Chi Minh City, please pass by the market, even if you do not buy anything, it will give you a wonderful sense of the kind of culture and traditions brought alive by the Vietnamese people!

Happy Travelling 
Shereen 


A Day in the Life of the Cu Chi Tunnel Soldiers, Ho Chi Minh City


After having spent a couple of days in the busy Ho Chi Minh City, we went to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels, what an experience guys.  It’s even better when you are accompanied by a guide whose knowledge is so profound of his country’s history.  Our guide Hai had been a communications officer for the American army during the Vietnamese war in 1972.  His views are that of a man who spent 2 and half years in a Communist orientation camp after the Americans left Vietnam.  His views are excellent and his history even better.


Orientation video before the tour
With our expert guide Hai

The Origins of the Cu Chi Tunnels 


The Cu Chi tunnels are simply a work of art in my opinion.  After having seen many films on television related to Vietnam, I can now personally say that the Americans were simply outplayed in every sense of the word.  Jungle warfare was something the allies were not prepared for.  

Nevertheless, the level of ingenuity to construct districts within tunnels is unique and magnificent engineering.  The name derives from the Cu Chi trees that surround the area.  As communists commanded in Cu Chi at the time, over 75% of the population in Cu Chi decided they simply had to find a way to hide and at the same time inhabit a tunnel network that would be blind to the allies.  Over 42 square kilometres of tunnels were constructed simply by using their shovels and bare hands.  They dug an astonishing 10 meters deep and not more as this would result in water retraction making the tunnels weak.

It took the allies a very long time to realise this and it was then that they bombed over 500 thousand tons of bombs in Cu Chi.  The result of such devastation after the war was incredible.  Over 16,000 communists used the tunnels as a hiding place only 5,000 were alive by the end of the war.
Entrance to the Tunnels 
Start of the Tunnel Network (made bigger for tourists, but back in the day was a third this size)


I crawled through 100 meters in the tunnels!

I only experienced 100 meters of these tunnels the result was just as I had imagined it.  Even though part of the tunnels have been made bigger for westerners such as myself, the level of heat and to a certain point claustrophobia is tremendous, it was a long 100 meters considering you have to crawl your way through.

Not just a tunnel network, but home to many men, women and children.


Cu Chi tunnels also houses different exhibitions relating to the war, the firing exhibition allows you to fire different rifles from the era! The best part was that you could fire real bullets! I chose the AK47 and fired 10 bullets for 10 dollars.  It really looked like certain scenes in Platoon the movie when you roam through the jungle listening to sound of bullets being fired.


Huts like these used for kitchens and lodgings


Bombs and Shells from the US Army left over 

Different types of traps set up around the area. Cu Chi soldiers always had to carry a map in order to not fall into one!


Making Rice Paper 
Original tunnel left open for viewing

So as an update I would like to let you know that the CU Chi tunnels is a must when in the capital, even though it is nearly 2 hours away in coach, you will enjoy this remarkable piece of history. 

Next time on The Travelling Postcard...

Watch this space as Shereen will be posting about the Ben Thanh market in Ho Chi Minh, she just loved the colours!

Safe Travels

Dylan