The New Year festival of Tet takes place in Vietnam on February 14 this year and this is a joyous time to indulge in eating, drinking and social activities. It’s also when spring is in the air and the wedding season is in full swing, but ex-Intrepid leader John Kirk discovered that getting married might not be as simple as popping the question to your loved one…
“In the past, families enlisted the help of matchmakers to choose marriage partners. Great care was taken to ensure equality, similar background, compatibility in social rank etc. These days, even in the rural areas, couples have more freedom to choose their life partners. However, some Vietnamese are deeply superstitious and fortune-tellers are still consulted by many couples to see if their horoscopes are compatible.
In the markets of Vietnam you will see mounds of fresh and delicious tofu – so many different kinds cooked in every way possible.
Here are a few recipes for you to enjoy at home, to keep your wonderful memories of Indochina on the tip of your tongue…
Tofu Soup (Canh Dau Hu)
3 large dried shiitake mushrooms
6 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
20 rau ram leaves, plus extra for garnish, or 10 sprigs cilantro, plus extra leaves for garnish
6 ounces baby bok choy, root ends trimmed, and leaves separated, or spinach
10 ounces medium-firm tofu, rinsed, drained, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
coarse sea salt
freshly ground white pepper
1 scallion, trimmed and thinly sliced diagonally
Extraordinary travel experiences in Vietnam don’t cost a fortune, but as one-time Intrepid leader Trish Shaw discovered, getting to know the people is worth its weight in gold…
“If a picture can tell a thousand words, then this is a face that can tell many thousands of stories, and fortunes. Hidden away in a small farming community, just outside of the former imperial capital of Hue in central Vietnam, lives a lady who was once a laundry worker for the American soldiers stationed in the area during the war.
Why did the chicken cross the road? Who knows? But if that chicken was in Vietnam, then Intrepid’s Tracey Wajda has the local know-how that might be a clue…
“In Hanoi’s tiny Ly Van Phuc Street they serve up the most succulent barbecued chicken you’ll ever enjoy. Every one of the dozen or so restaurants in this street has a coal barbecue out front, on which racks of chicken thighs and wings, pork spare ribs, sweet potatoes and bread is being roasted and constantly brushed with honey and spicy sauces.
Seeing our world through the eyes of young travellers is a fantastic reminder that our planet really is diverse and exciting. Kaitlin Nichols went with her family to Vietnam and she hasn’t stopped talking about it since…
“I think the most fun that I have had trying to speak local dialect was actually on an Intrepid tour. It was in Vietnam and Son, our tour guide, attempted to teach our group some frequently used phrases. There were the basic ones, like hello and good bye, but we were also taught the numbers and sayings.
Ask Intrepid traveller Susan Everton what were her Vietnam highlights and she’ll tell you she loved cruising Halong Bay, exploring the Old Quarter of Hanoi and overnighting at a Mekong Delta homestay – but her special stand-out event was the Hoi An cooking school…
“If you’re travelling with Intrepid make sure you join in the cooking class in Hoi An. It was fantastic – our teacher had a great sense of humour and we all had so much fun learning to cook Sweet & Sour Chicken Soup, Aubergine Claypot, Fish in Banana Leaf, Spring Rolls and Green Papaya Salad. The best thing is now I get to make these dishes at home and the food reminds me of my special Vietnam moments. Here’s my spring roll recipe that’s a favourite with all my friends.”
Day Seven – Hoi An
Our first day in Hoi An! The bus trip from Hue was around four hours including a couple of stops along the way. We stopped in between Hue and Da Nang at the Hai Van Pass, where our bargaining skills were really put to the test. It’s likely your bus will stop here and you will not be approached, as much as mobbed, by vendors selling necklaces, bracelets, ‘real pearls’ and drinks. But the views were worth stopping for – and most of us ended up with jewellery we didn’t really need too.
“Our train pulled into Hue station around 8.30am. We were all struck by how quiet Hue was compared to Hanoi. The roads were almost empty (and easy to cross) and there were few other tourists in the vicinity of our hotel. We spent our morning familiarising ourselves with the town, wandering around shops and grabbing some of Hue’s famed pancakes at the Mandarin Café.
Given any opportunity the Intrepid team will head off to wild and wonderful corners of our world. Sarah Moore from our NZ team has recently jumped aboard Intrepid’s Reunification Express and her journey continues on Day 3 in Vietnam…
“Everyone was looking forward to today – we’d all heard so much about Halong Bay with its emerald waters and unusual jutting islands. But first it was all aboard the Intrepid bus for a trip to the Blue Dragon Charity – another institution set up to help disadvantaged children earn an education.
We were welcomed into a beautiful building decorated with children’s art and brought upstairs to a breakfast of thick coffee, cakes and fruit (including the popular dragon fruit – a watery but tasteless produce specked with seeds that look identical to black sesame seed. Huong assured us that dragon fruit is very delicious and refreshing, but I’m not sure she’s going to secure any devotees on this tour).
Vietnamese New Year, or Tet, is a bright display of blossoms, fruit offerings and red envelopes carrying lucky money. As the chant of “Chuc mung nam moi” rings out around Vietnam this week, wishing friends and family happy New Year, we join Intrepid’s Sarah Moore on her recent Reunification Express adventure…
“Last night I met the eleven travellers I would spend the next 14 days with. A mixture of Kiwis, Aussies and Brits, we are (amongst other professions) a doctor, hairdresser, lawyer, two school teachers, a semi-retired courier driver and a diesel mechanic, ranging in age from eighteen to fifty-six years.