Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Vietnam: Flights

Vietnam has two major international airports. Ho Chi Minh City is located in the South and Hanoi is in the North. These airports are served by many direct flights from several countries overseas, but long-haul flights usually stop in Bangkok, Singapore, Taipei or Tokyo where travelers will transfer to smaller planes for another flight to Vietnam.

Tan Son Nhat International Airport (airport code SGN) in Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam's largest airport, located about eight kilometers from the city center. The airport code comes from the city's former name of Saigon.

When stepping off the airplane, prepare yourself to be welcomed my a warm hug of sultry heat waves! Vietnam was one of the most humid and just downright hottest countries I have visited. Locals seem to relax during the day and sit on the street chatting, while selling all sorts of foods. Then at night, they head to the market and out on the town. Don't forget to drink lots of (bottled) water!

Tuk-tuking around HCMC

The easiest and least expensive method of transport from the airport to the city is the relatively recently introduced bus No. 152. It's air-conditioned, and will drop you off in the city center.

However, we didn't exactly know about this at the time and first agreed to take one carrier's transport service, until we found out that it was no more than a moped. But he was convinced he could squeeze us and our luggage on the tiny bike. Rather than finding out, we played it safe and took a tuk-tuk.

A stream of mopeds speeding down a Saigon street

When heading home, don't forget that you will be asked to pay a departure tax as you're leaving the country (unless it was included in the price of your ticket) - don't spend all your money before you get to the airport! I believe this is under $20.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Vietnam: What the Phở?

Where to I begin?!? The food in Vietnam is some of the best I have ever eaten. The traditional Vietnamese dish of Phở is certainly a dreamy bowl of cultural delight that amazingly cools you off on a sultry day.

Phở -nomenal

is served as a bowl of white rice noodles in clear beef broth, with thin cuts of beef (steak, fatty flank, lean flank, brisket).

Seasonings include Saigon cinnamon, star anise, charred ginger, cloves, and sometimes black cardamom pods which are sewn up in a disposable pouch and dipped into the broth.

Enjoying some phở on Mui Ne Beach... am I slurping?
I think so, but it is culturally permissible in Vietnam. Whew!

The dish is garnished with ingredients such as green onions, white onions, coriander leaves (cilantro), ngò gai (culantro, or long coriander), Thai basil, lemon or lime wedges, and bean sprouts. The last five items are usually provided on a separate plate, which allows customers to adjust the soup's flavor as they like. Some sauces such as hoisin sauce, fish sauce, and the Thai hot sauce Sriracha, are popular additions as well.

This dish differs by regions, as each region uses garnishes that grow near them. So one thing that is certain is that every bowl will be different, and the wonderful thing about pho is that it is served for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

And just in case this bowl of goodness isn't your cup of tea, there is a variety of other amazing dishes that will blow your mind! The seafood is caught fresh daily and literally served to you within only a few hours. I wanted to try it all!

Sea bass with peanuts and sweet chili sauce

Don't miss out on the Vietnamese coffee. Made with the richest coffee and a delightful drop of sweetened condensed milk, it is a delicious spin on your morning joe! As you see it comes with a mini filter that sits on the top of your cup, so you can make a second cup if you like!

Vietnamese Coffee