Monday 25 June 2018

Ho Chi Minh weekender

We had one last chance to catch up with the Swedes (the couple we met in Nusa Lembongan) before they headed back to Europe, so Phil and I flew to our chosen meeting point - Ho Chi Minh - to spend some time with them over a weekend.

We rented an AirBnB in District 4 and arrived to beer, cider and a smorgers board of cheese. Couldn't have been happier to catch up with what feels like old friends and wax lyrical until the early hours.

Saturday was the only full day we all had in HCM so had a hearty breakfast at Elbow Room and walked around the city for a few hours. There's an amazing bar at the top of Centec Tower called Shri which the Swedes had been to before and recommended. We had fantastic views of the city and the cocktails arrived to the table in ships, handbags, scientific apparatus and other strange things. Each one came with a culture/history lesson about why it relates to Vietnam and if I remembered any I would love to tell you... but unfortunately the sun and cocktails got to my head far too much that day!

I had booked us on to a city food tour with Back of the Bike, and after the nightmare I'd had booking the tour in Dubai, I was a bit nervous we would have the same bad luck again. I needn't have worried. The tour was incredible and the highlight of our trip to HCM by far.

The four of us were picked up by local guides, all of whom were warm, friendly and extremely knowledgeable about Vietnam. We hopped on the back of their bikes and drove through the city to thr first of five food stops.

Stop 1 was an amazing papaya salad which we ate on mats at the side of the road. The lady who made it has been selling from the same spot for decades and a firm favourite for locals and tourists.

Stop 2 was called Cút Chiên Bơ and in my opinion, the best of the whole tour. Roasted quail in a Vietnamese baguette dipped in some kind of sweet and sticky sauce. So so good.

Stop 3 was crab and fish soup or bún riêu cua (I think) made with coconut milk and fat noodles. Delicious again, but to be honest we were all getting a bit full by this point. 

Stop 4 was a small version of an Indian dosa, called something like banh khot. Little fried pancakes with prawn and veggies, which then became the filling for a rice paper roll with added greens. We also had beetle nut leaf wrapped around beef and dipped in anchovy sauce which was pretty tasty.

Once we had finished, we were given the opportunity to try a duck embryo, something which is really common in Vietnam but in the words of my tour guide, 'rather challenging for Westerners'. We all declined to try it, but chose to watch our guide eat one instead. It was bizarre to see her eat the yolk which was full of veins, then the white of the egg which had already formed half a chick. Definitely not my thing and has probably put me off eating eggs for a while!

Stop 5 was the final stop and the desert course. We had black sticky rice, white sticky rice, coconut ice cream, frozen yogurt with mulberries and fruit. I absolutely love Vietnamese food and need to start cooking more of it back home.

I would highly recommend this tour to everyone visiting HCM. Not only do you get to try good local food, but you also get free flow beer (or soft drinks) and  hear all about the history and culture of the city from the guides.

My guide Tinh was telling me that each there are 24 districts in HCM and each is known for something different amongst the locals. I.e. the western expats live in D2, Koreans live in D7, the rough area is D4, Chinatown is D5, there are also districts for shopping, karaoke, love hotels etc. 

She also taught me a few Vietnamese words:
Yo - cheers
Hello - sing chow
Thanks - cam on
Pronounce 'Pho' as Pha, otherwise it means prostitute
Don't say 'yum' when something tastes good as it means 'horny'
Definitely don't say 'yum, Pha!'

After the tour we found a bar for a few cocktails then the Swedes wanted to go somewhere quiet so they could watch the Sweden vs Germany football match. Whilst the Swedes watched the match, I popped into the spa opposite for a pedicure. It was a bit of a shame the footy was on the one night we had together, as it kinda put a stop to the momentum of the evening. That said, it was so much fun to see them again, and it's such a shame we don't live closer so can get together more regularly.

We said our hungover goodbyes the next day, with a promise to visit Stockholm at some point in the not too distant future.

Friday 8 June 2018

A stop-over in Dubai

We headed back to the UK for my brother's wedding and my best friend's Hen do. It was an EPIC two weeks but that's another story. What I want to write about here is our two day stop-over in Dubai...

We always fly Emirates so thought that it was about time to spend more than a couple of hours in the airport and see some of the city. We landed at about 1am and stayed in a fancy hotel, the Jumeriah Zabeel Sarayt was lavish and exactly what I imagined, but it was so big it felt a bit impersonal and I did kind of wish we had stayed in a smaller place like we usually do. We also had very loud neighbours which meant we only got a couple of hours kip. The breakfast the next day made up for it though. It was a buffet of every breakfast food we could want. We ate then sunbathed at the huge pool until the afternoon.

I had booked us onto an overnight desert safari tour as it had come highly recommended by friends and the internet in general. It was a bad start as the driver was a whopping two hours late, but we tried not to let is bother us too much and went on to have a good time quad biking and dune bashing in a 4x4. 

At sunset we ended up at a little camp site to eat some food and watch a fire breather/dancer. We were very confused by the fact that everyone else at the site drove off the minute the performances ended. We were the only tourists left along with our driver and a couple of people who must have worked there. We asked where our cabin was and were promptly told that we had to sleep on a mat on the sand. No privacy, no tent, no sleeping bag, no nothing. Gobsmacked and confused we left the campsite immediately and I've been trying to get reimbursed ever since. The company, Sougat Tourism, have been an absolute nightmare so I would strongly discourage anyone else booking with them if they can help it.

We booked a late room at a hotel next to Dubai Mall which was lovely, then went up the Burj Khalifa the next day to take in the view. I was surprised at how barren Dubai is. There are a few skyscrapers (most of which follow the architecture of other buildings like the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben), and between the skyscrapers are construction sites, dust and sand. I'm not sure what I expected, but I was generally quite underwhelmed by the place.

We flew back to the UK later the same day and had a whale of a time catching up with friends and family in sunny London and the West Country. The stark contrast between the vibrancy and beauty of England vs Dubai was huge. I'm so grateful I am able to travel around different parts of Asia, but even more grateful I am from such an incredible place as the UK!