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Blind man climbs coconut trees to support his family

Sightless since five, 43-year-old Nguyen Van Binh makes light of tasks arduous to most people who can see.

Binh, 43, of Tan Phu Commune, Tay Ninh Province, said his family was too poor to provide him with proper treatment for measles and he ended up losing his sight.

He now lives with his wife, three daughters and a son in a small house his father left him.

He did not let his blindness defeat him, and has worked hard for the last 20 years to support his family. People hire him to climb and harvest coconuts during the dry season. Despite his disability, he is able to clamber up a coconut tree quickly.

“Since I was a kid, I have been groping around to help my parents, so I became more proficient with my hands,” he said.

He can use his finger to determine the quality of the coconut. Binh can earn up to VND100,000 ($4.28) a day since he gets paid VND1,000 for each coconut he plucks.

Living along Ho Tin Reservoir, he also learned to catch fish when he was young. So when no one hires him during the rainy season, he goes fishing instead.

“I have to fish near the shore since the water level is high during the rainy season. I throw the net randomly since I cannot see where the fish are. There are times I cannot catch any fish the wholeday.”

With just his hands, he can distinguish between various kinds of fish and detach them from the net.

At the end of September he goes out to the fields to collect cassava. Binh said farm owners let people take whatever is left after the first harvest.

Nguyen Thi Dep (40), his wife, said theirs was an arranged marriage. She did not like him at first due to his disability. But now she is glad she married Binh because he is a hardworking man who wholeheartedly loves his family. Binh said he gets a lot of support from his family and neighbors, who help him go to work and assist him whenever he needs.

“Now I work hard to ensure my children have a better life,” Binh said.

Source: Quynh Tran (VNEXPRESS)

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Crêpe, Galette: Culinary extracts from a French experience in Saigon

Little crêperies, ubiquitous in France, can spring a surprise in Vietnam. A Saigon establishment shows how.

Photo by Trung Lam

Photo by Trung Lam

There are two types of crêpes: sweet crêpes (crêpes sucrées) and savory galettes (crêpes sales). The crêpes, made with wheat flour, can be dessert or as part of a breakfast.

Galettes are made with buckwheat, usually filled with egg, meat, fish, cheese, vegetables and other ingredients, and can be a meal at all times.

Most Vietnamese know of the sweet crêpes, so the savory galettes are a good choice for those who want to try something new and different.

La Crêperie, courtesy Brittany

Since opening in 2012, La Creperie Saigon has gathered a following of both Vietnamese and international customers. It prides itself on bringing a slice of Brittany in northwest France to Vietnam.

“We’re in the backpacker area, so we also get a lot of French people travelling in Asia. They can’t eat rice anymore after two weeks and they come here and they exclaim, “oh, we feel like we are at home,” because we also speak French here,” said Trinh Hoang, manager of La Creperie.

The restaurant adopts a marine theme for its interiors, using fish nets, blue stripes, a ship’s wheel and other things, reflecting the fact that the Brittany region is surrounded by the sea. The French-speaking staff and music playing in the background add to the French feel.

Even though the head chef here is Vietnamese, he has been with the restaurant since the beginning and learnt how to create an authentic Brittany flavor, Trinh said.

As the name suggests, the restaurant’s specialties are their crêpes and galettes. The most traditional savoury galettes here are La Complete (ham, Emmental cheese, eggs and served with salad), and its cousin, La Bigoudene which adds vegetables.

“The La Complete is exactly what my grandmother would order in a restaurant,” said Emmanuel, a Breton customer.

For sweet crêpes, Trinh recommends visitors to try their Salted Caramel Crêpe. “It uses our special homemade caramel sauce.”

La Crêperie’s menu features a total of 13 galettes and 20 crêpes that you can choose from. There’s an open kitchen so the visitors can watch the chef as he makes the crêpes.

Apple cider, a Brittany drink, served Brittany style, in a small bowl

Apple cider, a Brittany drink, served Brittany style,
in a small bowl

Brittany is the second-largest producer of cider in France. Apple cider is usually suggested to customers as an accompaniment to the food.

Trinh said the apple ciders are imported from France and that “they are easy to drink… go well with both sweet crêpes and savoury galettes”.

The restaurant serves dry and sweet apple ciders, as well as cranberry apple ciders

Apart from crêpes and galettes, the restaurant also has seafood, another thing that Brittany is famous for. Some common dishes like pizza, pasta and stakes round off the menu, so as to cater to a larger clientele in a backpacker area.

And while the focus is on being authentic, a few adjustments have been made to suit the local tastes.

Trinh explained: “French people eat some seafood fresh, without cooking. Asians prefer cooked food, so we changed it for all our customers,”

These Brittany rolls are quite similar to Vietnamese fried spring rolls, and are served with chicken or beef fillings

These Brittany rolls are quite similar to Vietnamese fried spring rolls, and are served with chicken or beef fillings

Story & photos by Linh Nguyen
Video by Trung Lam
Source: VNEXPRESS

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Destination

In Hanoi, autumn is a transcendent season

It is a time when the soul turns poetic, mesmerized and spellbound by the charisma that autumn bestows on Hanoi.

The scent of milk flowers in the wind

Green rice scent in your little hands

Leave a fragrance in your footsteps.

Trinh Cong Son’s song, Nho Mua Thu Ha Noi (Missing Hanoi’s Autumn), would play on my neighborhood’s old loudspeaker when I was a little kid.

The indelible memory that evokes extraordinary beauty is refreshed anew every October as I wake up, open the window and a calm and gentle breeze ruffles my hair.

The sun seems mellowed, too.

There are fragrances and hints of fragrances in the air, lingering like a pleasant aftertaste.

When it all seems like a beautiful dream, I know autumn is here, here in Hanoi.

Autumn in Hanoi is a transcendent season. It becomes the muse for poets, musicians and artists, and it becomes the muse that makes everyone’s heart sing.

It casts a spell on everything – the air, the space, the food, the drinks, the fruits.

I was born in Hanoi, and have lived here all my life. Yet, I fall in love every year, at this time of the year.

The weather

The spring brings in warmth after a biting cold winter, and the a scorching summer follows. It rains. Then, autumn steps in gracefully, bringing cool, gentle breezes and sunlight that sprinkles just the right amount of warmth all around. The sky smiles a brilliant smile. The leaves of huge trees turn red, reddish brown, yellow and other hues that adorn Hanoi in this season.

Hoan Kiem Lake (Sword Lake) and West Lake cast peaceful yet stunning sceneries. Cycling or riding a motorbike slowly through the streets of Hanoi at this time is a lovely experience, watching fallen and falling leaves, feeling the soft breeze and soft warmth of the sunlight.

The flowers

In the evening and the night, the famous hoa sua or the milk flower exudes its bewitching fragrance. Along some sections of the West Lake promenade, on streets like Phan Dinh Phung, Quan Thanh, Quang Trung and many other places, the scent is so strong that some people, especially women, said they feel faint.

Autumn also seems to be the season of daisies and lotuses that are carried on many vendors on bicycles and sold on pavements. The sight of women holding bouquets of daisies on a breezy autumn day adds to the beauty of the capital city during his season.

The fruits

Autumn leaves its mark on the capital city with fruits that are particular to this time of the year, that seemed made particularly for this time of the year.

In summer, young dracontomelons are used to make a syrup for a thirst quenching drink. But in the autumn, when they are ripe, these are peeled and sugared or salted to make a snack people love. Dracontonmelon is a fruit that reminds people of Hanoi.

From September to October is also the time of ripe persimmons, when the fruit’s skin turns a glossy yellow or orange, and the pulp is crispy and sweet.

Grown in urban areas and usually close to temples, thi is a fruit is similar in shape and color as the persimmon, because they belong to the same plant species. But the thi is not meant to be eaten, because the taste can be quite harsh and bitter if not prepared correctly. Instead, people buy the fruit for its pleasant and fruity smell to place in the house as a natural deodorant.

The eats

Apart from the fruits, autumn in Hanoi bring to mind eagerly awaited delicacies like beaten green rice and noodle that are packed with memories for both old timers and the young.

Com (Green rice flakes)

Com, immature rice kernel roasted over very low heat and pounded into flakes is an essential of autumn here. Its special sweetness and nutty flavor gets further enhanced by the lotus leaf in which it is typically packed. Having this with ripe bananas is a popular combination that is a must-try dish for all newcomers to the capital city.






Today this simple dish has spawned many other popular dishes like com cake with mung bean filling, com sweet soup and com ice cream.

Com is not for hasty people. You have to take it really slow, like a food for thought.
Thach Lam, Author

Ragworm

Ragworms can either be fried with meat or eggs with tangerine peels, crunchy and fragrant, with a rich taste. Fried ragworm has always been a favorite of gourmets in autumn for two reasons. First, they can only be harvested during high tides, so they are very rare and expensive (VND500,000 or $23 for a kilo). Second, not many places serve great ragworm dishes in Hanoi. The best places are on Hang Chieu Street in the Old Quarter or on Lo Duc Street.

The late author Vu Bang, a Hanoian at heart, wrote: “An autumn without ragworms feels as tragic as a woman who has wasted her youth”.

Snail dishes

Boiled snails are another favored autumn food in Hanoi, maybe because these are at their freshest during this season. A bowl of boiled snails can be an appetizer before going on to other dishes made with the molluscs. The steamed snails are taken out of the shell by using a small and flat metal pick, and dipped in a chili-garlic sauce.

On colder autumn days, a sweet, sour and savory snail vermicelli soup is great body warmer. An original Hanoi dish, bun oc is a vermicelli soup with a tomato-based broth made by slowly simmering pork or chicken bones, topped with fried tofu, prawns, fish cakes or beef and Vietnamese herbs like perilla and cilantro. Of course bun oc will not be bun oc without the famous escargots – as the French refer to snails. To add even more flavor to this dish, you can either use fermented shrimp paste or chili oil. One of the oldest bun oc spots in Hanoi is on Hang Chai Street, where it is always busy and crowded. A bowl of bun oc costs around VND30,000 ($1.28) a bowl.

Another “cooler” version of this dish is called bun oc nguoi (cold snail vermicelli). This is another traditional Hanoian dish. The broth is made of snails, rice vinegar, special herbs and some fried scallion sprinkled on top. A great bun oc nguoi spot can be found on Tay Son Street.

Lotus seed sweet soup

The lotus seeds are used in traditional medicine but can also be turned into a sweet and elagant dessert, cooked in syrup that has a light taste and a fragrant, heavenly smell.

Banh troi tau (Sweet rice soup)

This is another autumn-geared dessert made with sticky rice and mung beans cooked in a sweet soup made with water, sugar and grated ginger, garnished with toasted sesame, peanuts and coconut milk. The dish adds to the enjoyment of rare rainy days of autumn.

The drinks

After all the walking around and the eating, it’s time for another treat that is part of Hanoi’s autumn charms, thirst quenching drinks that also soothe the soul.

Lotus tea

The lotus is Vietnam’s national flower and found in many parts of the country, but connoisseurs will tell you that the most fragrant ones, which are used to make the famous lotus-scented tea, is to be found on Hanoi’s West Lake.

It is said that it takes about 1,500 lotus flowers to make one kilogram of lotus tea, so the price of high grade lotus tea can go up to hundreds of dollars per kilogram.

A sip of this tea will make you feel the price is worth it. The fragrance and a sweet aftertaste linger long after you have finished your up. This tea is sold on Nghi Tam Street, and among other places, a lovely café called Huong Mai on Ma May Street in the Old Quarter serves a great cup of lotus tea.

Egg coffee

Much has been written about Hanoi’s egg coffee, and it has now reached places as far as Chicago, but the ultimate place to have it is at its birthplace.

One of the best places to get a cup of egg coffee is at Giang, a humble café on Nguyen Huu Huan Street, where Hanoians get together on chilly days and enjoy the feeling of warm coffee running through their veins.

Tra da (Vietnamese green iced tea)

Arguably the most popular thirst quencher in Vietnam, tra da is a very simple drink, but an awesome one, nevertheless. Refreshing and affordable, this drink also has a special flavor in Hanoi, compared to other parts of the country. It is more bitter and therefore has great sweet aftertaste. Those who are used to the tra da in Hanoi will tell you that you can get it anywhere else in the country.

In sum, every aspect of life in Hanoi is toughed by the autumn magic, and if you spend a weekend experiencing it, chances are you will extend your stay or play your return even before you leave.

More lovely and stunning photos of Hanoi’s autumn

Story by Tuan Hoang
Photos by Giang Trinh, Kieu Duong, Nguyen Chi
Source: VNEXPRESS

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Central Highlands

Da Lat beckons: Now is best time to visit Vietnam’s ‘Little Paris’

Da Lat is much loved by its year-round cool climate, green pine forests, misty landscape, and resplendent architectural gems dating back to the colonial era.

Given various nicknames like Little Paris, the city of eternal spring, the city of flowers and the city of love, Da Lat high up in the Central Highlands of Vietnam has gained popularity both as a romantic place for honeymoon couples and an oasis in a country that usually sweats all year round.

The town, situated 1,500 meters above sea level, has repeatedly garnered global attention. The New York Times named Da Lat among the world’s 52 must-visit places in 2016 while TripAdvisor readers ranked it in the top 10 list of rising destinations in Asia.

If you are just starting to plan a holiday to Da Lat during the year-end travel season, here’s the itinerary for a three-day trip that allows you to catch the best of the highland town.

Photo by Shutterstock/Vietnam Stock Images

Three-day trip planner

  • Day 1

    Hanoi/HCMC- Da Lat- Rooster Church – Truc Lam Zen Monastery– Tuyen Lam Lake

  • Day 2

    Hang Nga Guesthouse – Golden Valley – Langbiang Mountain – Hell Market

  • Day 3

    Da Lat Train Station – Linh Phuoc Pagoda – Cau Dat Tea Plantation

Day 1: Rooster Church – Truc Lam Zen Buddhist Temple– Tuyen Lam Lake

For a trip-around-town, make your way to the Saint Nicolas Cathedral, one of the oldest and most beautiful architectural works left by the French that lies on Tran Phu Street around a kilometer from downtown Da Lat.

Built between 1931 and 1942, it is considered the largest church in Da Lat and a convergence point for Catholics living in the Central Highlands.

One of the most impressive features of the church is the rooster statue on top of the 47-meter bell tower which has earned it the nickname “rooster church.”

Photo by Shutterstock/Vietnam Stock Images

Photo by Shutterstock/Vietnam Stock Images

From the church, head north for five kilometers and you will reach Truc Lam Zen Buddhist temple, the largest temple in Vietnam, lying at the foot of Phung Hoang Mountain and the edge of Tuyen Lam Lake.

Pass through the gate and be rewarded with a calm and tranquil atmosphere.

The temple evokes the spirit of Zen Buddhism practiced under the Tran Dynasty, which ruled the country from 1225 CE to 1400 CE. The tradition was initiated by King Tran Nhan Tong, the third king of the Tran Dynasty, who abdicated the throne when he was 35 and spent the rest of his life on Yen Tu Mountain and founded the Truc Lam Zen.

A visit to Da Lat will be incomplete without a stop at Tuyen Lam Lake, one of the most beautiful in Vietnam and one whose raw beauty has yet to be undermined by tourist hordes.

Tuyen Lam Lake in Da Lat City. Photo by Shutterstock/Vietnam Stock Images

Tuyen Lam Lake in Da Lat City. Photo by Shutterstock/Vietnam Stock Images

No one knows for sure when and why the lake was named Tuyen Lam, but many think Tuyen stands for stream and Lam for forest. Tuyen Lam is this a place where water and trees meet.

The magnificent scenery around the 3.2-square-kilometer lake, comprising mountains and vast pine forests, is much admired. If viewed from the cable car above, Tuyen Lam Lake looks like a miniature ocean with its own continents.

You can hire a boat for VND300,000 ($12.85) for a group of six to take a sightseeing tour around the lake.

If you go into the pine forests for camping overnight, you can also get a chance to discover the customs and traditions of the K’ho ethnic minority people, who live in small stilt houses built on mountain slopes. At night the sound of gongs invites you to join young K’ho men and women dancing around a fire.

Day 2: Hang Nga Guesthouse – Golden Valley – Langbiang Mountain – Hell Market

Photo by Shutterstock/Vietnam Stock Images

Situated around one kilometer from Da Lat, the guesthouse opened in 1990, and has been compared to the amazing architecture of world-acclaimed constructions such as the Salvador Dalí Museum and Walt Disney Concert Hall.

U.K. travel magazine Lonely Planet last April listed the bizarre building, dubbed the “Crazy House”, among the 120 most breathtaking human constructions on Earth.

Once forgotten, it has now emerged as one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, and visitors have to pay VND50,000 ($2.20) for an entrance ticket to sate their curiosity.

From ‘Crazy House’, travel 30 kilometers to reach Golden Valley. Continue riding your motorbike until you reach the so-called pink grass fields and enjoy the scenery, which is best at sunset and sunrise.

Pink muhly grass is relatively common in China and North America but extremely rare in Vietnam. Not surprisingly, the hill constantly attracts photographers and nature lovers.

The blooming season starts in September and November and December are the best months to visit.

Before conquering the peak of Langbiang Mountain at a height of 2,167 meters above sea level, find a restaurant to fill your stomach and take a break as the trip could be tiring.

Take a jeep ride to the peak of Rada hill at a height of 1,929 meters for a panoramic view of Da Lat in the mist and listen to the touching love story of a couple named Lang and Biang.

The cost of a jeep ride ranges from VND100,000 to VND120,000 for a group of four and a one-way trip takes you 15 minutes.

Photo by Shutterstock/Vietnam Stock Images

It is a thrilling and unforgettable experience for young people to conquer the two highest peaks in the Langbiang plateau, the 2,124-meter Ong Mountain and 2,167-meter Ba.

Don’t miss a chance to experience a cozy family meal with the Lach ethnic people at the foot of Langbiang Mountain and learn about their daily lives and spiritual values.

At night return to Da Lat and go for a walk around the night market, dubbed “Hell Market,” a unique destination that can be hardly found anywhere else in Vietnam.

Visitors can find random shirts and warm clothes at the market, but it’s really a place for foodies with a wide choice on the menu such as warm fresh soymilk and artichoke tea, sweet tofu in ginger sauce, grilled scallops, chicken porridge, steamed corn and banh trang nuong (grilled rice paper).

Day 3: Da Lat Train Station – Linh Phuoc Pagoda – Cau Dat Tea Plantation

Begin the last day of your trip at one of the most popular destinations in the highlands town: Da Lat Railway Station.

The station was built by French architects in 1932. When it opened in 1938, the station was part of the Thap Cham – Da Lat railway line, running from the former coastal Champa Kingdom in Ninh Thuan to Da Lat.

It has been crowned as the oldest and most beautiful railway station in Indochina with a touch of unique French architecture.

But after French troops withdrew from Vietnam in 1954, people stopped using the trains and the tracks were dismantled by people looking to sell scrap metal.

But a section of the track, for a short distance of seven kilometers, has been relaid and trains are operating from Da Lat to Trai Mat to take visitors to Linh Phuoc Pagoda.

Photo by Tuan Dao

Photo by Tuan Dao

Linh Phuoc Pagoda, situated around seven kilometers to the west of the station, piques the curiosity of visitors, especially foreigners, with its colorful appearance made up of tens of thousands of pieces of porcelain. Though the materials used are scrap, the craftsmanship on display is indubitable.

Don’t forget to drop by Cau Dat tea plantation, a 30-minute drive from Linh Phuoc Pagoda and the place where the Vietnamese tea industry originated.

The tea farm has gained fame as a tourist attraction in Da Lat and become the most mentioned on Instagram, the world’s largest photo sharing network, after many young people take photos here and share them on social media.

Photo by Shutterstock/Vietnam Stock Images

Photo by Shutterstock/Vietnam Stock Images

Food guide

Here is a preview for the must-try food tour in Da Lat.

Banh can on Tang Bat Ho Street

It is said that no one leaves Da Lat without having tasted banh can. Situated at the end of the steep Tang Bat Ho, the place has been serving the treat with only two options, quail egg and duck egg, for over 15 years.

Banh uot and chicken guts on Tang Bat Ho Street

Trang’s has been treating its customers to the famous banh uot for three generations. The dish is a combination of banh uot (literally wet cake) and chicken meat and guts, eaten with a well-seasoned dipping sauce.

Tile Grilling on Nguyen Luong Bang Street

This specialty dish is cooked over hot coals, not on the usual iron grill but a clay tile.

The grilled items include seasoned pork, beef, seafood, and game meats usually accompanied by a mixed salad. It is not a bad idea to spend a rainy day with fresh vegetables, meat roasting over a fire and a bottle of wine. You can find this grill restaurant on Nguyen Luong Bang street.

Grilled pork roll on Phan Dinh Phung Street

Grilled pork roll in Da Lat is made by folding minced pork around a bamboo stick. After it is grilled, it is rolled in rice paper with pickles and herbs. The most essential thing again is the dipping sauce, a special mixture created from pig liver, shrimp, pork, and ground bean paste.

Tasty, greasy and crispy grilled pork roll is a wonderful treat when the weather turns cold in Da Lat. You can find several grilled pork shops on Phan Dinh Phung Street.

Where to stay in Da Lat

The town has been a holiday paradise in Vietnam for years and is always packed during the holidays and high travel season. Therefore, accommodation services are well developed.

You can opt for hotels near the downtown area and Da Lat night market, which makes transportation convenient. Prices range from VND150,000 to VND250,000 per night.

Homestays are also worth considering. You can choose from Jang & Min’s house, The Barn Home Farm, Moonrise Garden Dalat, and Dalat Lacasa Homestay II. Prices range from VND70,000 ($3) to VND300,000 ($12.85) per night.

How to reach Da Lat

From Hanoi and Saigon, the best way to reach Da Lat, which is best enjoyed during the year-end flower blossom season, is by flight.

Vietnam Airlines and Vietjet Air have direct flights to Da Lat every day. Return tickets cost around VND1.1 million ($47) from HCMC and VND2.4 million ($103) from Hanoi.

Lien Khuong International Airport is around 40 kilometers from the town. You can take a shuttle bus from the airport or take a cab to reach Da Lat.

Those looking for cheaper options can hop on a sleeper coach from HCMC that takes around eight hours and costs VND220,000 ($9.42).

Travel tips

– It’s best to travel to Da Lat in October when wild sunflowers are in full bloom them, weaving a yellow carpet along streets.

– Remember to take warm clothes though since the weather could get quite, especially at night, with temperatures from 19 to 21 degrees Celsius (66-69 degrees Fahrenheit).

– It is better that you book a hotel room in the downtown area of Da Lat before arriving. But in case you cannot find any hotel room, a homestay is not a bad choice.

– Tourists can get ripped off when buying local specialties, so beware

Photo by Shutterstock/Vietnam Stock Images

Photo by Shutterstock/Vietnam Stock Images

Story by Nguyen Quy

Video contributed by Nhung Nguyen

Photos by Phong Vinh

Source: VNEXPRESS

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