The special meal I was invited to in Mai Chau turned out to be dog... In these parts of Vietnam, dog meat comes from farms and is served on special occasions. It tasted a bit like lamb, but we made sure to wash it down with lots of rice wine!
After Mai Chau, I drove three hours to Ninh Binh. This is a stunning area of lakes, rivers and limestone peaks, also known as ‘Halong Bay on land’ and it is easy to see why. For those who may be worried about the crowds of Halong Bay, the Ninh Binh area makes an excellent alternative and is only a two hour drive from Hanoi. We cycled for 45 minutes along the dyke path, enjoying the Van Long wetland scenery and wildlife. Sadly, the overcast weather turned to heavy rain and we didn’t get to do the boat trip as planned.
There is another river boat trip in the area through Tam Coc, which we didn’t have time for, but it looks amazing. Whilst here, I stayed at Emeralda Resort, which so far has been my favourite hotel - the rooms and service were first class.
Next stop was Halong Bay. I boarded the new Signature cruise under leaden skies, but after being welcomed by the many warm smiles of the staff, I soon forgot about the weather and settled into the excellent five course lunch. We visited a pearl farm and took a bamboo boat ride among the limestone islands. There are certainly a lot more Junk boats than when I last visited and the places of interest are busy, but the cruise was very relaxing with excellent food and service throughout.
I then headed to Hanoi Airport and took an evening flight to Danang in central Vietnam. From Danang I was taken 30 minutes south to Hoi An, a UNESCO protected town. This was my favourite spot on my last visit, and I am glad to say I still really love the place. Yes, there quite a few tourists, but it is still a fabulous town to explore and soak up the atmosphere.
This morning, I embarked on a half-day cooking class with The Market Restaurant. We started by taking a short boat ride to the market where we learned about the ingredients, then to the school for some demonstrations. We learnt techniques for cutting up rice noodles, and making vermicelli, both very difficult!
Finally, there was a cooking lesson where we cooked our own lunch of prawn dumplings with cabbage soup, mango salad, marinated chicken and crispy pancake. Thankfully no dogmeat was involved.
Tomorrow, I learn to fish Vietnamese-style in the morning with hotel inspections in the afternoon. Hopefully I will get time in the late afternoon and evening to wander Hoi An and absorb the atmosphere before my next flight south.
Read the first part of Neil's blog, Hello from Vietnam.