A Travellerspoint blog

Hanoi Cooking Centre

Langfords learning the secret of spring rolls

sunny 31 °C

If you have a half day in Hanoi and want to learn how to make pho, spring rolls and other delicious Vietnamese food, go to the Hanoi Cooking Centre
www.hanoicookingcentre.com in Chau Long, Hanoi, just on the northern edge of the Old Quarter. It is relatively expensive (compared to V'ese prices) but we had such a good time. The centre usually takes you to the wet market about 100 yards down the street; you wander around and they explain different herbs, meat, anything you are interested in,they will buy and cook with you (my kids showed an interest in still live silk worms and they were duly bought and fried....). Our kids love pho and spring rolls and we were shown how to make these. The guys teaching were great fun and very keen that you, as the pupil, learn and enjoy the course. I had to leave an hour early (infected mozzie bite on my foot) but they want me to go back with Nick and finish off! Laura, Ed, Peter and Brad had such a good time: another highlight of our holiday together.

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Posted by langforda 08:05 Archived in Vietnam Tagged centre cooking hanoi Comments (0)

Sunday in Sapa

Paddy fields, mountains, clouds and motorbikes

sunny 0 °C

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Sapa = stunning scenery! As we were there in mid September, the rice was just beginning to ripen and in some fields turning from lush green to yellow: it reminded me so much of home and the wheat turning. Chi showed us how they get some ears of rice and crack them between their teeth to test for ripeness - just how my father does with his wheat!

There are so many photos of Sapa taken throughout the seasons and there were so many fantastic shots and scenery but in the end I just wanted to take a few (maybe not that 'few' in the end) and then enjoy it all. Laura, Brad, Ed and I all took so many photos and I will try and pick out the ones I think people will be interested in and what sums up our weekend up there.

We had some great meals: the kids all wanted spring rolls at every meal and began rating them against others (including their own which they made at the Hanoi Cooking School. I had forgotten we had been there so will go back and put in a short blog later). True to form and history, Peter tried spag bol in each town visited (only Hanoi and Sapa but he will return). One of the funniest meals was on the Friday when we arrived at Sapa. Everyone got up and we went looking for lunch. Found an outdoors place and duly ordered. The waiters either rushed around (literally, running) or were very laconic about serving us and we couldn't quite work out why. I think mine and Laura's sandwiches came first, followed by our cultery. Then came Peter's spag bol, then his cutlery. When we asked where Ed's pizza was, there was much rushing around and one lad zoomed off on his motorbike. He returned, with Ed's pizza, then brought his cutlery. I think Brad had a salad and they most probably had to go to the market to buy the ingredients! However, the spring rolls were good and came with the usual Chin Su hot sauce.

Hong came up trumps again and within minutes of asking, had 6 motorbikes lined up outside the hotel for us to hire for the day. Fortunately Sapa is somewhat quieter on the roads than Hanoi so we managed to get out onto the open road (think Toad, of Toad Hall. Poo poop) and up the mountains to a spectacular waterfall. Brad had chatted to a young Vietnamese couple up there and when we all found ourselves parked at a vantage point,overlooking the valley, they invited us to join them for lunch at the roadside cafe. Kebabs, sticky rice barbequed in bamboo cane, green tea, barbequed corn. They then even insisted on paying. In my usual way, and because I hadn't broken anything so far on the holiday (and I always do), I managed to break the little plastic stool I was sitting on. At least it provided entertainment for all!

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We then rode up the valley, beyond where the tarmac ended and kept going. So much to see, wonderful views, village life, pot holes to avoid, fords to be crossed (and you didn't want to stall half way). The photos show that we don;t quite look like Dennis Hopper but some members of the family definitely thought they were on the set for Easy Rider......

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Of course we all took lots of photos and, with my new snazzy camera, I fiddled around and quite liked using the Pop Art setting to capture some of the paddy fields.

Posted by langforda 07:09 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Saturday in Sapa

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Nick arrived on the night train and by 0930 we were off on a hike with our Hmong guide, Chi. Hong, the hotel owner, and I had organised this some weeks before but once there, I asked if we could avoid the usual tourist trails and head off elsewhere. Chi was happy to do what we wanted and, although she only came up to just above Ed and Peter's waists (and carried our picnic) she had her route planned. We had the most fantastic day! Firstly, apologies to fellow tourists but....., not another tourist in sight. Secondly, amazing views, footpaths, through settlements and paddy fields - I felt we had just scratched the surface a tiny bit to see what life was here in the valley and mountains. Women walking past us (often catching us up and overtaking us, and carrying heavy loads) on their way to or from market, another village or house. Some greeted us with a smile and others just nodded. Chi has excellent English - learnt from working in her aunt's shop in Sapa and then from tourists. She can't read or write but has a mobile phone so clearly has mastered numbers. She has such a great sense of humour and an openness about her which we just loved. She wanted to answer our questions - anything we asked - and yet uninterested in our lives. She did like knowing that we were all one family and Brad the b/f, that we were living in Hanoi and our kids in Australia or "left behind" but beyond that we talked about the Hmong, the valley, life, things that affected us all. This photo of Chi was taken whilst she was telling us how she got married, against her wishes. We later heard from Hong that actually her husband is a very nice man and he lets her carrying on being a guide and he does work at home which traditionally would be a woman's role and they are a very unusual Hmong couple. She explained that people can intermarry between tribes but if you do, then you no longer are a member of your tribe, you just "become Vietnamese" and there was no shame in that either.

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Like virtually everyone we saw on our walk and most of the tribes people in Sapa, she wore the traditional Hmong clothing. They wear very dark blue clothing, dyed from indigo and she picked some for me as we walked along, got some water from a puddle and we crushed the leaves in my hand. Over a minute or two, the dye began to appear and it took some days before I managed to scrub it all off. The women wear long, baggy shorts and a long sleeved jacket with embroidered sleeves, a tabard, belt, gaiters made out of what felt like velvet and the garters were a length of embroidered tape. Chi had wonderful huge hooped earrings and a silver semi circular necklace attached, from either end, lots of silver chains. Like her fellow Hmong, she had long hair, worn on her head and kept in place with several combs - one large one in particular.

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Two other girls accompanied us for over 2 hours. One was rather surly but the other was delightful, chatty and made me a heart woven out of a bracken leaf. Yes! I knew I would have to buy something from these two girls at the end of the walk but I think they earned it!

It was a hot day, little breeze and the sun kept coming in and out. While we were slapping on the sun cream and covering up, the girls and Chi raised their umbrellas.

When we came to the end of the day, Chi shook hands with everyone else but gave me the biggest hug! I did have to bend double to reciprocate but we had a such a wonderful day and have such respect for Chi and her fellow Hmong for their way of life. Yes, schools have been built down the valley but still children in remote houses aren't educated as they can't get to school. Life is hard by our standards but they have managed to maintain their pride and traditions.

We all took so many photos and I've uploaded quite a few on the blog and have a few more on my laptop if you are interested......Se my next blog for a few photos of mountains, paddy fields and Langfords on Tour..

Posted by langforda 06:19 Archived in Vietnam Tagged ethnic minorities Comments (1)

Sapa for the weekend!

sunny 30 °C

Talk to anyone here in Hanoi, mention you are going to Sapa and they sigh and will tell you when they went, how wonderful it was and how much we will enjoy it after the heat, humidity and chaos of the city.

At 1,650 m above sea level, Sapa was used by the French as a hill station retreat from the summer heat of Hanoi. The best way to go is on the overnight train from Hanoi up to the regional capital of Lao Cai and then a 56 mile bus ride up the mountain to Sapa. The plan was to go up on the Thursday night train and back on the Sunday night, ready for Nick to work Monday morning but he had to stay in Hanoi for meetings on the Friday. It was really disappointing but that's work so he came up on his own on Friday night. The railway station was fairly chaotic and to reach our carriage, we walked over and along the tracks - the Lao Cai train was the only one leaving in the foreseeable future. There had been a derailment of a Lao Cai train earlier that week and, once we were on the move, it wasn't so easy to relax as the train bumped, jostled, braked and trundled along: you definitely knew when you were going over points and often the carriage swayed, righted itself and off we go again. Laura and Brad had the de luxe carriage reserved for Mr and Mrs Langford but it did mean that we all piled in there and quickly the beer man with his trolley of Tiger beer had worked out who his best customers would be - even if that meant him leaving his trolley and hot footing it down to the bar carriage and getting more(cold) beer!

We stayed in a "modest" little hotel, at the bottom of the steps to the botanical gardens. Yes, the bathrooms needed doing up and Hong, the owner, discussed this with Nick, but the breakfasts set it apart and Hong knew everyone in town so gave advice etc. We wandered around on the Friday, up through the woods to a minority tribe village, Cat Cat, to a waterfall and then, as it was so very hot, motorbike taxis back to town.

There are 54 ethnic minority groups in Vietnam and then they are subdivided into other groups. The Kinh are the largest % of the population (87) and live countrywide: others live in quite widely diverse areas whilst others inhabit a very small area such as a valley. The Brau, Roman and Odu minorities only have a population of a few hundred each. Around Sapa are the Black Hmong and Red Dao: many of them wear their traditional clothing. They make a living from growing rice, some grow roses, others try to make a living from pretty persistent trading with tourists. On the morning we arrived, the others all went to bed as we got in about 0720, having had not much sleep, but I wanted to wander around while it was still relatively cool. A couple of young Hmong girls walked with me, chatting, asking me questions. I knew this was their trading ploy but so long as I know, then I make the choice! I was appalled to see a Vietnamese tourist grab one of their arms and pull her to stand next to other tourists. Although apparently treatment of the minority tribes by the Government has improved, and we saw the new schools along the valley, here was an example of the prejudice which others in Vietnamese society still hold against these tribes. The Black Hmong have had a particularly unpleasant time: those living in the Central Highlands supported the Americans in the war.

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Posted by langforda 05:53 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

The Perfume Pagoda - Chua Huong in the Huong Son Mountains

By bus, sampan, cable car and foot

sunny 32 °C
View Perfume Pagoda on langforda's travel map.

The Perfume Pagoda is about 40 miles SW of Hanoi. It is sacred pilgrimage site with dozens of pagodas and shrines. You are advised not to go its annual festival, lasting 7 weeks in March - April as apparently the river and the site is teeming with Vietnamese coming to worship. Huong was our guide all day; in fact I happened to bump into him this week when I was taking some photos for Nick's work - to all of those who may visit us, I shall recommending Huong to you if you want a guide at all - delightful guy, sense of humour and oh! he likes sport!

The journey out of Hanoi was an experience in itself. As I've said before, the traffic is really crazy! There seem to be few rules/laws and apparently you only look ahead at your line of travel and not worry about the person behind you. So. You are coming to a junction and you want to turn right, you just carry on your own sweet way, into the line of traffic and continue. Whatever carnage you have caused behind you, is behind you and therefore not your problem. Believe me, it makes for some interesting journeys! We eventually left the outskirts of Hanoi and almost immediately the roads aren't tarmac'd to the same quality; pot holes abound and you certainly don't want to catch your wheel at the side of road and that 3 or 4" drop off the road.

Once there, we were rowed up the Yen River (Song Yen) in two sampan - metal, flat bottomed boats. Laura, Brad and I in one and Ed, Peter and Huong in the other. The oarswomen sat at the back, rowing forwards. They didn't row, as many do, with the feet but you try rowing forwards! Steve Redgrave eat your heart out! The limestone mountains rear up from the flatland and Huong pointed out various mountains which resemble familiar shapes or have special names like the Crouching Elephant. Our oarswoman grinned broadly and nodded each time one of us turned to look at the view behind us as she pulled with apparent ease on the oars but she really must have had a stronger left arm as we did veer towards the boys' boat several times and, virtually colliding, she pulled away again. Don't think the boys' oarswoman was too impressed!

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It takes over an hour to get up the river and, with no shade on board and as it was so hot, we were 'glowing' when we arrived. The boys had taken the umbrellas in their boat "in case of rain" so they very wisely used them as parasols. I've attached one or two photos here but have loaded more up and a short video of the boys in their boat.

Once at the bottom of the Huong Tich Mountain, we visited a couple of pagodas, had our picnic lunch and then set off for the Perfume Pagoda at the top. They say it's a steep, winding ascent of 2½ miles and whoever installed the Austrian bubble cars should be given a huge medal. Being Vietnam, of course the cable cars only ran when there were enough people to justify the power so we had to wait about half an hour at either end! Stunning views on the way up and then a short walk and 120 steps into the vast cave which houses the Pagoda of the Perfumed Vestige. Inside there are numerous altars, each one has a purpose, mostly, it seemed, connected with marriage and fertility. Huong decided he couldn't show and explain them all as he said Westerners "laughed at them". That was a shame really but everyone did laugh when they had just had one staligmite described a lacating nipple and I come along and stroke it (it was so cool and I was so hot!).

Heading back, a storm was gathering behind us, the wind was picking up and the sky amazing colours and contrasts. Huong made the women land us early as we could walk/run faster ahead of the rain and wind than they could row.

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Posted by langforda 04:58 Archived in Vietnam Tagged pagoda Comments (1)

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