Hanging in Hanoi for 48 hours.

Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam and gateway for a lot of people into the amazing country. Not only is it the entry point for Halong Bay but it’s also a great place to explore for a few days. After my last visit I couldn’t wait to explore again, see some new places and check out some new sights.

Arriving at Hanoi airport, it’s easy to get a taxi into the City and I had planned ahead by downloading Grab. It’s the Asian version of Uber and you can either pay in cash or through an account. Last time I visited Hanoi with friends the hotel was erm… cockroach friendly, so I had booked a nice one called the Light Hotel in the old quarter.

I had 48 hours before flying on to Hong Kong, so what can you do in that time??

Vietnamese Food

Is there anything better? It definitely ranks up there with my fave foods, so what better way to start the day than with some Phó the clear noodle broth that everyone in Vietnam eats.

Fancy an on the go lunch? Banh Mi is sold everywhere, French influence is found in the baguette and pate but the rest is solid Vietnamese…filled with fresh herbs, vegetables and pork.

Wash it down with Vietnamese coffee and finish it off with a French pastry, the influence from being a former colony is still strong in the food. Dinner could be fresh whole fish, BBQ or one of the egg pancake dishes like Banh Xeo where you wrap meat skewers up.with peanut sauce and crunchy salad leaves.

Stuck for dessert? Some Vietnamese cakes could go down a treat, with their blend of European and Asian flavours, or try some fresh and tasty Asian fruits!

Ho Chi Minh

The former leader’s presence here is impossible to miss, with his mausoleum dominating one area of the City along with the huge museum dedicated to his life and legacy.

The area around the Mausoleum is nice to walk around, with some gardens and the famous downed B52 plane hidden in a small lake nearby.

The museum is interesting if you enjoy learning a little about a country while you’re there, and really interesting if you’re a history buff. Especially with the information on Vietnam’s communist era.

There is also the big lake nearby which is nice to stroll around, or cross the central road running through it and check out a temple, war memorial and grab a drink or an ice cream.

Old quarter

The famous old quarter is full to the brim with coffee shops, hole in the wall restaurants and street eateries.

Unfortunately it’s also full of the same souvenir and tour shops. Its definitely a worthwhile visit to wander around and now and again you’ll find a little slice of the real old quarter.

On this visit I only spent time there in the day, but the nightlife is cheap and fun. It really starts when the curfew hits and you’re snuck from bar to bar.

The other cool thing can be found on street walking the length of Phung Hung St you pass life-like paintings of Vietnamese and Hanoi life. It’s super instagrammable and you can have a lot of fun posing at each place.

Hoan Kiem Lake

Found within the old quarter, the area around the lake is great to take a stroll first thing in the morning and, as the sun goes down you’ll catch all the locals exercising and enjoying romantic walks. It’s the small temple in the middle of the lake that most people come to see, crossing a lovely red bridge it’s a peaceful sanctuary in a very busy City.

At night everything is lit up beautifully and it’s a great place to come before heading into the winding alleyways of the old quarter.

Hanoi Train Street

I didn’t know this existed last time I came, but I wish I had! Found just on the outskirts of the old quarter, it’s cool to walk along the tracks in the daytime.

The fun part of this street is when the train comes through, usually in the evenings or more frequently on the weekend. You arrive early, pick one of the tiny bars and sit on the typical plastic stools drinking a nice cold beer or cocktail, chat to the locals and wait.

Then when it’s nearly time, you edge right up to the walls of the street and watch as the train comes down…filling the street as it zooms past. It was really fun to do and our bar got us to put coins with our names on the tracks. If we found then flattened it’s supposed to be good luck, and I found mine!

The Rest

There are a few other things you can do whilst in Hanoi, Hoa Lo prison is interesting to find out a bit about how the French treated the Vietnamese. Thang Long, the Imperial City doesn’t quite live up to its name but was pleasant to walk around, I liked the bunkers the most. There are even a couple more lakes to wander around that aren’t far away. Of course the aforementioned Halong Bay is an amazing place to visit. Hanoi is also a great start off point to explore the North such as Sapa.

The real essence of Hanoi though is immersing yourself in the culture, food and people, and enjoying the neverending sea of motorbikes that somehow part around you as you cross the road.

How to spend a weekend getaway in Hamburg, Germany.

Hamburg is only around an hour and a half from most major UK airports. Germany’s second largest City, it lies in northern Germany just south of the Danish border. It’s famous for it’s canals and waterways, typical German architecture and slightly seedy red light district! Here are some tips on what to see, where to go and what to eat.

Explore Strandkai and Hafencity

Wander through the old warehouse district, with bridges criss-crossing the water ways it makes for some great photos.

You can also check out the modern Elbphilharmonie building, it’s free to enter and you can get great views of the City from up there.

Miniatur Wunderland is also located here, it’s a bizarre mix of central Europe’s most famous sights mixed with top industrial spots. It’s actually quite fun to walk around and there are some weird sights to find. It gets pretty busy so it’s good to book in advance.

Walk along the promenade and grab a beer and bratwurst, we got a great German hotdog from here and sat in deck chairs looking out over the water.

Rathaus and Aubenalster lake

Check out the beautiful Rathaus (town hall) and take some time to relax in the market square in front before taking a walk around Aubenalster lake for amazing views and a break from the bustling City.

Reeperbahn

For an interesting night life head to the busy Reeperbahn, filled with bars it’s the Cities Red light district. I’m not going to lie and some parts were pretty seedy, but it’s also just a good night out. We ended up singing in a Thai karaoke bar after doing a mini pub crawl down the street.

Wander around Sternschanze

This bohemian neighborhood is full of vintage shops and cool bars/eateries and a good way to spend a morning. On Saturdays they have a great market popup to visit! There’s also interesting street art to find.

Take a boat tour of the waterways

We did late evening tour, it took us around the shipyard and docks which wasn’t so exciting but entering the City waterways was definitely worth the wait.

Top places to eat in Hamburg

We found so many nice places, first off my best advice is to stop at any little place for bratwurst and currywurst, they’re a mainstay of quality and good for a quick and easy lunch.

Xeom Vietnamese

We love Vietnamese food and this place couldn’t do it any better, the whole vibe made us feel like we were back in Vietnam and the food was incredible and full of that flavour that the Vietnamese are famous for.

Pizza Bande

Hidden away just off the Reeperbahn, this place does the most amazing Pizza, you just order your toppings from the extensive menu and they cook it from scratch right in front of you. Mix that with a good selection of beers and a bohemian vibe makes this place a little gem in an otherwise slightly seedy area.

Brooklyn Burger Bar

We were a bit hungover and craving something really messy and dirty and this restaurant served it up for us. Loads of burger choices, excellent fries and most importantly, tasty dips to accompany it all. We loved the décor here, the friendliness of the staff and it was busy which is always a good sign. The food was delicious too, with huge portions.

That’s how you spend a few fun filled days in Hamburg. I’d love to go again in the Summer when they have their artificial beaches and bars out on the waterfront. It’s a cool City and a cheap destination if you’re looking to get away for a weekend.

Lets face it, who doesn’t love a big German sausage?

Top food and dishes in south east asia.

After arriving back in the UK, I’ve been missing the SE Asian food. Even though towards the end of the 6 weeks Leia was getting tired of rice and noodles, she text me craving pad thai.

So I thought I’d put some musings about the food on here, and some things that we loved, including types of eateries and how they hold up against each other in terms of taste/price.

As we started off in Thailand we’ll look at the dishes we had there, starting with spicy basil and chilli with your choice of (mostly) chicken or pork mince and rice. I ended up having this quite a few times as it tasted so good and really hit my spicy spot. I knew it wasn’t overbearing spice do could have it without fear of feeling it the next day. The best I had was on a beach bar in Koh Samet for 80baht, the worst I had was in a restaurant in Bangkok for 125baht.

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This will be a common theme and something people who have travelled will already know. Don’t get me wrong, some street food or cheaper stuff wasn’t great, but generally the best food we had was from places I wouldn’t dream of eating in back in the UK. My Mum calls them ‘plastic cafes’ due to the plastic chairs that often dominate the space.

The second dish is pad thai, a common and consistently different dish depending where you have it. I think the worst we had was on khao san road in a bar, but one of the best was from a small cart on the same road. It’s a dish that shouldn’t go too wrong, consisting of noodles, bean sprouts, egg, sometimes tofu, sometimes meat, spring onion and peanuts. It’s so nice and the best we had was on koh samet from a little cart where we had it for brunch several days.

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There was a beautiful yellow curry with crab that we all tried on the same night, plenty of that great claw meat and just the right balance of coconut, chilli and lemongrass. This again was from the same cart in koh samet. It was a nice part of being somewhere for more than 2/3 days, we could find our favourite little place and revisit. Also watch out for expat westerners advertising each other’s businesses, we were told certain places were ‘the best’ but you soon realise they’re mates helping each other out. Fair enough if you’re happy with sub par western food but explore and take risks if you want to experience amazing flavours.

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Another dish we enjoyed was so simple, just chicken or pork fried with lots of garlic, it was great when you got crunchy and soft bits of garlic in amongst the meat. You always got rice with it too. These dishes were all regular members on menus everywhere we went.

Once we made it to Laos it was baguette time, because of it’s past as a French colony bread and cakes are everywhere. In Vang Vieng there were stalls lining the streets at night offering about 30 different filling combinations. I had hotdog, egg and cheese, diet starts tomorrow!

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There were also crepe carts next to all the baguette carts to satisfy your sweet tooth needs. Other than that we were poor at finding any typical Laos foods. Although Luang Prabang night market is filled with buffet style vendors offering a plate for a pound, you walk along and fill your plate as much or as little as you like. Bear in mind it’s only a one off and you can’t go back like a pizza hut or breakfast buffet!

They also had beautiful cake stalls selling all manner of sponges,brownies, cinnamon twists and flapjacks. It was amazing and a nice taste of home in a far off world.

Sorry Laos, we were only there for a few days so maybe we didn’t experience the traditional food.

Next up was Vietnam, in my opinion far and away the best of the bunch, they just have so much variety and it was always very fresh and full of flavour.

A few days into the trip we found a video extolling the virtues of different Vietnamese dishes, we wrote down the ones that sounded good on a piece of paper. Then when we were out and about we could point to the paper and someone would always help us in the right direction. It was fun because you almost let the person you’re asking decide what you’ll be having. It worked great and I wish we had done it more often.

One of the highlights was Tamarind crab from a little place at An Bang beach. The sweet and sour flavours were incredible and it was fun (and time consuming) tearing the crab open to find all the meat. It was a very messy dish but the sticky sauce was good enough to lick off your fingers.

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In Hanoi we had some amazing Banh Mi, a baguette filled with pork and asian salad with a spicy or not so spicy sauce. It was the best lunch ever and we got an even better one from a random cart on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh. I think the one in Ho Chi cost about 40p! People say they lose weight in Asia, but I’m not so sure with all that bread.

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Leia wasn’t a fan of noodle soup, difficult in a nation that eats Pho (noodle soup) from am to pm. However on our list was bun mam, something we found in a market in Danang. We were laughed at for asking after Banh xeo (more on that soon) but were led to the usual plastic stools and served amazing noodles and meat with just a spoonful of broth and sauce. We were served by the smallest old lady ever, and she couldn’t stop smiling at us as we wolfed it down.

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As for Banh xeo, this is the most random dish, it’s based around an eggy type pancake with maybe shrimp or pork cooked into it. You then get a plate of greens, some kind of spicy sauce, maybe with peanuts. Finally you get rice paper which you proceed to wrap everything else up in. It was super tasty and I love anything that you can eat without cutlery. Probably some leftover Neanderthal blood, that or I’m just gross.

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I imagine everyone has tried spring rolls, but possibly not Vietnamese spring rolls, they have similar fillings but are wrapped in gooey rice paper and taste about ten times fresher than deep fried versions (which you still get in Vietnam).

There are too many dishes in Vietnam to get through, one of many reasons I’ll be back there. The final dish we loved was similar to banh xeo only instead of pancakes it was pork skewers that you wrapped up. In fact we struck lucky with a restaurant called Ba Le Well in Hoi An, where we got pancakes and pork! Along with a form of kimchi, you got platefuls of the stuff but we were too reserved to ask for more when offered.

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The pork skewer version is called Nem Nuong and came with a delicious satay type sauce.

One of the best dishes we had was from a tiny little place in Ho Chi Minh. It was just a few plastic kids chairs and a cart, we didn’t know Vietnamese so just pointed to the cart and shrugged. We soon had egg, rice, sauce, salad, tofu and some kind of processed meat square. It was literally amazing and a good example of how just sitting down somewhere and asking for the staple dish works.

It’s not all plain sailing however, and again in Ho Chi Minh we stopped at a place because we couldn’t be bothered walking anymore and it was gross, a big fat guy served us and walked away before we had even finished ordering. The first and last time anyone is Asia was rude to us in a shop or restaurant.

Cambodia was last on the trip, and everywhere had BBQ. We tried it in Phnom Penh and it was so good, you get a portable camping stove topped with a dish that has a hill in the middle of it. We were disappointed we didn’t get to take charge but the young waiter was very good. Firstly a chunk of pork fat and some butter goes on the hill and broth goes around it. This is a good thing, as the fats slide down into the broth adding flavour. You then add the various meats to the hill, we got pork, chicken, beef, fish, squid and frog. The vegetables and noodles go in the broth and you spoon bowlfuls of it out. Eating the meat as it cooks through, it’s fun, social and very tasty! Everything you want in food.

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The other thing we had in Cambodia was bugs! We did it the posh way and went to a place called Bugs Cafe in Siem Reap. Owned by a Frenchman they do posh bug dishes such as burgers, skewers, spring rolls and Mediterranean styles. We went for a platter and it was great, once you get past the fact you’re eating bugs the flavours are really good. We had tarantula donut, fire ant spring rolls, silkworm larvae and crickets in Mediterranean veg and a skewer with spider, waterbug and crickets on it. All washed down with a jug of beer, it was a fun and worthwhile experience. A very controlled way of trying bugs for the first time, and it makes a good story!

The food in Asia is so tasty, fresh, and satisfying that I couldn’t get enough of it. I think I had western food 3 times or so in the 6 weeks we were there. Even simple fried rice or noodle dishes were great and there was so much more to try. Unfortunately when on a budget it’s hard to go for the more expensive £3-4 dishes when you can get a main for 50p, but I wish we had tried some more things! Three is always next time though ;).