Do you know what it feels like to be amongst a large school of fish, as they rapidly flit and weave all over the place yet all travel in the same direction? No, neither do I. However, I am positive that the feeling is similar to what I felt whilst riding a motorbike on the roads of Hanoi in Vietnam. With motorbikes cosily flooding the entire road and driving in a straight line unheard of, I was thankful for the good helmet on my head and travel insurance under my belt.
We were eagerly on our way to the centre of Hanoi to slurp our way through a bowl of Pho for dinner, as if we hadn’t done so already for the past couple nights. For those of you who are unsure what Pho is, imagine a warm steamy broth packed with tender beef strips, thin noodles, fresh green leaf vegetables, a dash of lime and spoonful of chillies. Many people believe Pho to be a traditional Vietnamese dish, but it was actually created in the 19th Century with influences from Vietnam’s Chinese heritage and French Colonisation.
As a person who isn’t normally keen on soups or broths, tasting my first bowl of Pho was a life changer. Aside from the delicious blend of flavours, one of the best parts of eating Pho is you can customise it to your individual taste. More common at cheaper restaurants in Hanoi, separate components of the Pho are given to you apart, meaning ingredients can be added or left out.
image: My family at the local Pho restaurant
Of course, Pho is by no means just a dinner dish. Upon arriving on our cruise boat in Halong Bay, I was delighted to discover that Pho was available for breakfast! Because Halong Bay is situated on the East coast of Vietnam leading into the South China Sea, the seafood there is fresh, skilfully prepared and like all of Vietnam’s dishes, full of fantastic flavours. Therefore, my lunches and dinners were reserved for the seafood buffet feast our boat provided, offering everything from scallops to snails that we ate looking out at the rugged, yet beautifully scenic karsts.
The boat my family chose was a little on the fancy side, however if you’re travelling as a student with friends there are cheaper options. A cheaper option could even be a day of kayaking in Halong bay, rather than an overnight boat. A bit of useful advice, which is also stated on the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office website, do check out the boat’s safety standards as there have been fatal accidents due to poor safety regulations.
image: Looking out at Halong Bay from our cruise boat
If you don’t intend on travelling in Halong Bay by cruise boat you can still get your hands on some amazing seafood in Halong, whether in a local restaurant or even trying out some Vietnamese recipes yourself. The seafood market in Halong bay is drenched with people, and every type of fish that aren’t long out of the sea, making it truly a seafood lover’s fishy pic ‘n’ mix. A market called Cai Dam is the best option for buying your own seafood, and if you’re not confident in your cooking abilities, why not bring the fish you buy to one of the local restaurants and ask for them to cook it for you?!
image: A lady selling freshly caught fish in Halong Bay
Another great Vietnamese coastal city that you should venture to if you can’t get enough of seafood is Nha Trang, which offers long beaches and offshore islands that you can explore. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a traditional cultural adventure, why not travel to the Northern town of Sapa where you can mingle amongst local tribes and fill yourself up with a Vietnamese hot pot after hiking in the rice fields all day. Vietnam is not a place you want to rush, what with the numerous varieties of locations to experience and activities to immerse yourself in. Remember that if you are a British citizen, you’ll need a visa if you stay in Vietnam for longer than 15 days, and then an online e-visa for up to 30 days to be applied for in advance of your visit to Vietnam.
Preparation is key to a safe and enjoyable trip abroad, especially if it is to a country you’ve never been to. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office campaign, ‘Travel Aware’ provides extremely useful advice that may just prevent any unwanted situations whilst on your holiday.