Sunday, December 03, 2006

Dinh Lang Restaurant

Dinh Lang Rest

This is a quite well-known Vietnamese restaurant in Hanoi which is especially popular with visiting Vietnamese and other Asian tourists. It has a good range of dishes and drinks but the price is a bit over the top and the service's not the best.

Dinh Lang Rest

Located right next to the Hoan Kiem Lake, the heart of Hanoi, it has wonderful views over the lake to Ngoc Son temple. There are lots of tour groups coming to this place because of its location, the presentation of the food and the traditional music. The food highlights when I was there were the pork in clay pot and the banana flower salad (pictured above).

Dinh Lang Rest

Signs and rules in Viet Nam are meant to be broken. Look at the above picture. It says that proper attire is required, no shorts or T-shirts. It's hilarious, isn't it?

Dinh Lang Thuy Ta Restaurant
First floor 1 Le Thai To Street
Ha Noi
Tel: 84.4.8286290
Fax: 84.4.8255265
Open daily: Lunch 10.30Am-14.00Pm
Dinner: 17.30Pm-22.00Pm

Friday, December 01, 2006

Buses In Viet Nam

Buses are one of the most common forms of transportation in Viet Nam. In cities like Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City the traffic situation is crazy everyday, with not only buses but also lots of cars and millions of motorbikes. I remembered I caught a bus once a few years ago after a long trip from Bai Tu Long Bay. I took a bus home and it was really uncomfotable, smelly and full of people. But it has changed so much in that short time, especially the city buses in Hanoi.

With thousands of people travelling by bus daily, bus companies are spending lots of money for new buses but it's still not enough. The buses are commonly over-crowded, with about 50 people in a 30 seat bus, which is not right and could be dangerous. For only 5000Vnd, you can go from one side of the city to another, even from the city center to the airport which is really good. Because of the cheapness and convenience, so many people use this service. The new buses are clean and nice but the service from the drivers and the staff are not really nice due to the work conditions. They have to work from 14 hours to 16 hours a day without heath insurance, full of stress about being on time, and crazy traffic always around them on the roads. All these stresses add up to make these drivers and the staff get angry easily and this can lead to accidents.

In Hanoi, all of the disabled get free bus trips all over the city, which is really good news for those who want to travel by bus instead of motorbike taxi or walk. Travel by bus is also risky not only because of the way they drive, but because there some thieves waiting for your unsuspecting moment, your wallets, mobile phones, money or whatever they think they can exchange for cash.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Then and Now Part II

Pay day! Oh my gosh! I remember my father always gave most of his salary to my mother which was then deposited in the bank to get some profit and to be safe. My mother was in charge of everything in the house as well as her work at the rice company. My father was a hotel manager who took care of the accommodation for high class government officials.

Ducks- Le Duan street

I remember we had some chickens, ducks and pigs at home. I had to help my brother and sisters to cook the food for the pigs and give them a bath and sometimes had to take pig shit to my neighbors, and dig it into the land. Not the best household job! In those days, most families had pigs or chickens or ducks around their houses, but the most popular were pigs and chickens. We used to eat the chicken eggs and sell them to get money or exchange them for some other food.

"The system of distributing subsidised food produce affected people who did not work in agricultural section from the wartime until 1989. The system's rice stores were perhaps its most essentail components; people's lives were directly dependant on them". This was very true and my family were lucky because my mother was a rice shop manager so we had better options to choose our own rice and we didn't have to queue that much.

Words - history

Some people weren't as lucky as us. As Mr Ngo Duc Thinh, aged 63, prof.Ph.D, room 912, A6 Giang Vo Street, said "After taking the rice home I would open the sack immediately: if the rice wasn't smelly I would feel happy the whole day."

"His face is as sad as if he had lost his rice book!"(an idiom in subsidy period).

Tobe continued.

Now and Then Part III

"Buying and selling coupons illegally was common. People even bought and sold train and bus tickets etc. If you queued and couldn't get the ticket or you didn't want to queue, you could buy a"black market" ticket. The real price of a ticket was 5 hao(10 hao equivalent 1Vnd), you had to pay 7 hao. Illegally traders made a connection with the government clerks who sold the tickets," said by Mr Le Gia Thuy, aged 65, sub alley 12/21, alley 12 Luong Khanh Thien street Ha Noi.

This man's story reminds me of the time when I had to go to buy two train tickets for my relative with my sister. We had to queue for most of the morning at the station but we couldn't get the tickets so we were forced to get 2 tickets from "black market" traders. We pay 3 hao (about 50,000VND/US$3.20 in today's money, I guess) more than the official price but we decided to do that in future to save time.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Alibaba - Indian Restaurant

Alibaba- indian restaurant

This Indian restaurant in Saigon has a special name and I like it. It's a small restaurant with a good chef, great food but the service is not really what I expected. They didn't explain what each dish was when it arrived at the table and, it seems that smiling is a very difficult thing to do here :) However, the owner is a friendly Indian guy. I reckon that they need to ask the staff to change their attitude or they will lose their customers.

Alibaba- indian restaurant

I really can't remmeber what I ordered except for plain nan and garlic nan, some curries and tandoor dishes. I enjoyed my food and watching Indian music videos with beautiful Indian singers on a big screen. It was a bit like Bollywood. We need one good Indian restaurant like this place in Hanoi.

Alibaba Restaurant
60 Le Thanh Ton - Dist 1
Ho Chi Minh City
Tel:P 84.8.823 3594

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Now And Then Part I

Museum - history

I went to the Viet Nam museum of ethnology last weekend and was really surprised about the information that they give to visitors, even though I'd heard about this place heaps before. This place reminds me lots about our life after the American War, about how difficult life was and how the majority of people were needy but people were still happy that peace had finally arrived.

Bang phan phoi - history

Here are some extracts from the musuem brochure about that time:

"The period of the "Subsidy Economy, 1975- 1986" has been known as a time of hardships, when mechanism for socio-economic management was inappropriate, causing privations in people's material and spiritual life. Material life was poor due to a sluggish and inefficient production system, but the constraints also applied to people's creative and spiritual endeavors."

"Almost all commodities were distributed to people through a system of state and cooperatives. Distribution of goods was dependent on the rank of the citizen and distributed by the using coupons or food stuff books. High ranking officals were served at special shops,whereas a number of other stores in the city were for common people".

Coupons - history

"Food was bought with coupons that had a lot of small spuares. Sometimes, in order to buy green vegetables or even to buy some oranges in the summer, you needed to cut the different squares on the coupons" said by Mrs Le Thi Hien, aged 69, former head of the Dong Xuan vegetable and fruit shop,85 Hang Buom street, Hanoi.

Queue - history

Yes, this is so right, I remember my family had to go to the shop very early sometimes to put a brick or stand there for hours just to buy some veggies or some meat. But luckily, at that time I was only about 6 or 7 years old and people saw me as a tiny kid and they always let me buy my stuff first. One day, on the way I lost my coupon which had just 3 squares left. I was really nervous and expected a big slap on my bum from my Mum when I got home. But my mother didn't do that. She told me have to be more careful next time.

My parents both worked for the government as managers so, while our life was still difficult, it was worse for other families.

To be continued

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I Quit My Job

I have been working in hospitality since I was 18 years old and I've never been so tired of it as I have in the last one and a half years. It's not about the work pressure, but because of my boss' treatment.

I've always thought about myself as a good employee who tries my best in all of my duties but that didn't seem to mean anything to my boss.

Maybe I wasn't a good assistant because I didn't tell him all about the staff mistakes and instead asked about staff conditions. I always told my colleagues straight away about whatever they did wrong and helped them to communicate better to customers. I am not a hard guy and very understanding person that's why I have a really good relationship with most people I have been working with.

So I had a problem about what to do. I really didn't want to be a busy body and tell the boss about the smallest things because I could solve those problems, but sometimes, even though you think you're doing the right thing it's still not acceptable.

Anyway, I felt so tired that I decided to stop working at this beautiful restaurant, after that I think I will move down to the south next year for another job. I also hope I can do my favorite work again in hospitality or something related to hotels, tour companies, restaurants, organizing events and functions.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Banana Flower Salad

Dinh Lang Rest

Banana Flower Salad is one of the most popular cold salads throughout Viet Nam. This salad is not very difficult to prepare, and only needs about 15 minutes to prepare. Let's take a look at the recipe:

200 g of banana flower
2 teaspoons of sugar
1 teaspoons of salt
Juice of 2 lemons
1 teaspoons of chopped garlic
2 teaspoons of chopped chili
½ Cup of fresh basil
½ Cup of crushed peanuts
½ Lettuce
Mint & coriander to garnish

Shred the banana flower into thin strands in a food processor
Place in a mixing bowl and add the salt, sugar and lemon juice
Next add the garlic, chili and basil and continue mixing
Pluck off thin strips (1-2 CMS in length) and mix into the salad.
Arrange in a bowl with a little lettuce and garnish with mint & coriander.

Banana flower

Presenting the salad in a banana flower as in the top picture makes it look great, especially if it's a special occasion.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Food In Lao

Beef Lap

Lao food is a bit spicy, includes lots of herbs, is very healthy and not really expensive. Lots of people said to me that Lao food is similar to Thai food and I totally agree with that and maybe there are similarities to Vietnamese food as well. The green papaya salad and beef laab and noodles are the highlights of Lao food but unfortunately I don't really like green papaya salad at all. Most restaurants in Lao make quite fishy green papaya salad but the laab and noodles are great.

Noodle with pork, beef and pork with spicy

There don't seem to be as many choices in Vientiane because it is not as popular as Luang Prabang among tourists but there are lots of small restaurants along the Mekong river where they serve grilled Mekong fish and other traditional dishes. Lao people in Vientiane don't speak great English but please, do not complain about it. We had a great time and we also had a most embarrassing moment in a restaurant called Mongkol. We finished our lovely meal and my friend, Liz, wanted some fresh fruit, yoghurt and cream for dessert. She ordered and after 10 minutes, the waiter came back and told us that the restaurant doesn't have shit or cream, only fresh fruit. We opened our wide eyes and just laughed for about 15 minutes. I think he confused and he didn't even know what he was talking about, maybe we said something similar, he left with a red face :). The food at this place which overlooks the Mekong is good, a bit expensive compared to other places around but they have good view and good atmostphere.

Shit dessert

As I mentioned in other posts, Luang Prabang is a tourist spot so it's no wonder that there are so many restaurants. My recommendations for those restaurants are as follows:


For 5000K, I had one of the best vegetarian meals ever. Imagine that for half a dollar you can eat whatever you want and this place is always full. The restaurant opens at about 5 pm in the evening and you have to sit on long tables and long chairs meaning you have to sit right next to each other. Maybe you will make some friends during the meal.

3 Nagas restaurant 1

The Three Nagas, located in a nice French building with lovely decor such as rock paintings. It's a little bit expensive but it was worth what we paid for, delicious food, nice setting and great atmosphere. This is one of the most famous restaurants and hotels in Luang Prabang.

Spring rolls in LP

Tum Tum Bamboo restaurant is also one of the best restaurants that we ate at, a small restaurant, a little bit expensive with smallish portion but it's tasty. They are also well known for their cooking classes.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Lao Faces I

Mum and son (7

Lao people have such beautiful, calm faces. A little girl or an old lady, an old man, they have different faces but from their expressions you can see that they are happy even though they may have many things to worry about in their daily life.

Gorgoeus baby

Lady at the Cave

They are indeed a friendly people and a smile seems always on their faces. This is a good thing for tourists, making Laos a friendly, warm experience. Please look at the following beautiful faces of Lao.

Man at the cave

Night market seller

Tobe continued

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Weddings in the Countryside

Luu Wedding

I have attended many weddings in the countryside near Hanoi where all of my former colleagues live. Most of the weddings are prepared with the help of the their neighbors, who come to cook and serve the food. Some families hire the services of the local restaurant to cook for them but this is not really common due to their incomes.

Trau cau Phan wedding

When you enter the house, you'll see a lots of candy, betel-nut, even cigarettes on the table, for the visitors enjoy. From what I've seen, people in these places don't really dress up for this special occasion, not because they don't have respect but because life in the countryside is more simple. Young people may dress up in new clothes, like jeans or a t-shirt or just normal working clothes if they come straight from work. Lots of girls dress in a very impressive but weird dresses which are really interesting to look at. I don't mean that in a bad way but they don't have good taste in fashion: they just join whatever they've got together and they love colorful clothes, but they are happy with it and that's great.


Chicken, beef, goat, pork, veal and dog are the most popular meats that are served in the wedding but in some places they also add their local specialty such as cat... I ate cat once at my friend's wedding and I didn't know it was cat until I left the party. Cat meat is really tender and tasty and it looks like beef as well.


Some families hire a band to sing in the party, which is fun even though the music is a bit old-fashioned. But in the countryside that's acceptable and good. They always turn music really loud and the singer has to scream to get over the music. I like that!

Luu Wedding Grand mothers

The table settings are very simple with long low tables and plactic chairs along each side. If you are a foreigner then you may not think this is a wedding or a party but that's the way it is and in some places, people just sit on a big mat on the floor and eat. Food is served on a normal round tray with all of the dishes on it and each tray prepared for four people. There are not many weddings which serve beer and soft drinks, only rice wine. The wine depends on the region. Some places have very sweet wine and some others very rough wine but all these wines are really strong. You will get drunk easily after a few glasses and for western people it may taste like petrol.

Luu Wedding- Luu- Huyen- Ngoc-Thuan-Phuong

If you get the chance, a Vietnamese wedding in the countryside is worth going to.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Dzoan Cam Van

Dzoan rest

Cam Van is a well known name for most Vietnamese who work in hospitality because she has her own cooking show on TV and I decided to go to her place to try it when I was down south a while back.

Dzoan rest

As I expected, the food was delicious and well presented, the staff were really friendly and helpful. I tried quite a few different starters and I was really impressed about the flavours in the food. I also tried the most popular dish, the hot pot with seafood and beef, which was the highlight. Doan restaurant serves generous portions that are enough for at least two people and it's not expensive at all.

Dzoan rest

You can choose to sit inside with airconditioning or outside in the garden or at the back of the restaurant with fans, overlooking the foutain.

Dzoan rest

Check out at: 438 Vo Van Tan, District 5, Q3
Ho Chi Minh City
Tel : 84.8. 39291949/59

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Hanoi's Pavement

The pavement is for walking and parking in some places but if you come to Viet Nam, the pavement is a place for people to do business even it's illegal.

Street food

Wandering around Hanoi from morning till evening, you can try all types of good cheap food. Pho- noodle soup with chicken, beef or with organs, sweets, fruit and others along the streets of the old quarter or from people walking around. Both are great. I always eat at Lang Ong street where they sell best street noodle soup.

Cafe Hanoi

Coffee on the pavement is the most popular in Hanoi and customers sit on small low plastic chairs or wooden chairs and they use those small chairs as tables. These places are also the most popular places in Hanoi to hear all the lastest news, gossip or even the secret news from elsewhere in the world but do not trust what you hear with 100% accuracy.

Hair cut

The pavement is not only for parking and walking, but it is a place for car washing, pumping and selling petrol. You can also have a hair-do.

Street  business

Unfortunately, the pavement is also a public toilet where people stop for a quick pee. Even people who drive a very expensive car or ladies who sell fruit on the street and sometimes parents help their baby to have a pee.

Pavement Hanoi

The pavement and middle of the street become one especially in the peak hours when people drive their motorbikes and bicycles like crazy on the pavement and pedestrians have to walk in the middle of the street instead of walking along the pavement.

Hanoi by night

In the evenings the pavement is a public park for lovers, young or old, a whisper for afew minutes then they go away together. The pavement is also a five star hotel for the homeless and beggars, giving them somewhere to dream about their future. If you walk around on hot days you can see lots of people sleeping along the pavements after lunch.

Hoa Hanoi

Markets on the pavement are also common where lots of small stalls of vegetables or some people just selling a few pieces of vegetable. Second hand clothes also very popular and can be seen along the streets where the sellers hang their stuff against the wall.


Anyway, that's just some examples about the crazy stuff that happens everyday in Hanoi. Even though the police try to stop them by giving fines, they are not very effective. And when someone shouts out loud that the police are coming, you will see so many people running up and down, running around trying to hide all of their stuff inside a house or up an alley before running away from thepolice. BUT the situation will return to the same when the police are gone. This is a very funny incident to watch, I promise!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Sabaidee Lao Market

Night market

Luang Prabang night market is one of the best markets I've ever been to, so colorful, not really expensive and not as much crap stuff as other markets. Compared to the morning market in Vientiane, this is much better with a wider variety of stuff and a great atmosphere. The market opens from about 5 pm to 11pm. I love hanging around this market because the Lao people always smile at you even if you don't buy anything from them.

Happy money

We were playing our bargaining games here so well and sometimes it made us laugh our heads off because the surprising prices that we gave and the sellers accepted. Most of the prices that those sellers give to you are up really high and the game starts from 70% off then stop about 40%. One tecnhique is a smile and walk away and then they will call you back to ask for a little bit more but if you are strict with that price then they will sell it. We wanted to buy a small piece of cloth with a small handmade patch on it. One old lady told me that it costs K5000, I said K500 and she agreed. We wondered about the real price and how they can earn any money from that?


Liz wanted to buy a bed cover with two pillow covers, the sellers told us $25, I said $14 and they didn't agree, we went to another shop and finally she bought two for $28, very good quality and they look gorgeous! The funny thing is that Lao people always thinks that I am Lao or Thai then they speak those languages to me and I teasing them by smiling knowingly and uh ha, uh huh just trying to make a good deal and I realized that it was quite a good technique to get a good deal.

Rock painting

I bought so many lanterns and paintings at the night market, they look so pretty and very cheap. Most of the paintings sold here are from an artist who lives in the mountains. Some of them are from student artists who copy and they look not really good. Buddha tile paintings are great here, they are small pieces of flat ceramic that you can stick on the wall or on the floor or put them in a frame, it costs a little bit but I think it worth what we paid for.

Sabaidee Lao, sokdee and phopkanmai!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Luang Prabang Part II

Sunset in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is the best place in Lao for both tourists and locals to do business and relax. No wonder people call this the thousand pagoda city because pagodas are everywhere and you can see monks from early in the morning until the evening. The monks are dressed in a beautiful orange, carrying school bags and umbrellas, wow, I love looking at them all the time.


Lao monks in general have free education and they all go to school, they study all kinds of subjects from computers to english ... Monks in Luang Prabang speak good english, much better than in other parts of Lao, because they have lots of opportunities for practicing their english with tourists and they are very friendly here. Sometimes, in the evening you can see a monk using the internet or having a cigarette but I don't know if that's allowed or not.

Monk and mobile

One day, we went around and stopped at one of the pagodas and saw a monk playing with his mobile and he didn't seem to mind that he stood right in front of lots of tourists around and he seemed proud of his update technique. Does Buddha know about this? From what lots of people said, including some who used to be a monks, families want them to go to the pagoda because they can have a free education and food. After a few years, they leave and return to normal life. I think this is a good idea for whoever can't really afford to go to school, because going to school is not really free here in Asia but the fee is not really high.

Morning monks

I tried to wake up about 4am to see the monks praying but I couldn't make it that early but I woke up at 5.30am to take some shots of monks parading after chanting. They wander around the city to get food from the local people. Hundreds of monks walking in orange robes makes the early morning in Luang Prabang so colorful like thousands of butterflies are walking on the street. I couldn't believe that there were also about a hundred western tourists there before me, standing there waiting. If you want to contribute food to the monks, you can buy food from ladies who hang around there with baskets of food. It was a nice experience to start the day.

Tobe continued