Double the Delights of Vietnam

Happy in Hanoi, GREG HACKETT hits the road to Vung Tau. Literally.

I came. I saw. I broke a big toe. (Apologies to Julius Caesar.) However, Vung Tau might just be my lucky break. I’ve been on the hunt for an “easily do-able” South-East Asian seaside destination to replace Cambodia’s diabolically destroyed Sihannoukville, and this south Vietnamese pearl is looking perfect. Even an aching toe (I don’t suppose you can sue a municipal council for an uneven footpath injury in this part of the world, eh? Haha) doesn’t seem so bad, with the aid of osteo-paracetemol, Saigon Green beer, a beach, and a thousand smiling faces.

Pullman Perfection

Variety is the essence of this Vietnam journey: imagine French Versailles one day, Ancient Sparta the next; from a Hanoi Pullman luxury suite to a standard room at Vung Tau’s Hoang Cam guesthouse. This is how I travel. And I love it.

My first time in Hanoi, and the Pullman makes it easy. An optician across the street from the hotel’s entrance is handy – I have my eyes checked with the hi-tech gadgetry, and order (with same day delivery) several new spectacles of the same or superior quality, and half the price, of those I bought in Melbourne. The Pullman is located on the edge of the Vietnam capital’s “embassies precinct”, with the Temple of Literature, Uncle Ho’s Museum and all the other bits and pieces that tourists seek. The Pullman’s concierge provides a map for a casual 40-minute “cultural walk”.

Embassy “Spy” tail

Now with good vision (and a full stomach from the breakfast buffet) I gladly put the map to use. As I strolled (or semi-hobbled, with a crook back) past the Ukraine embassy’s gated entrance, a 30-something, hair shortly cropped, blue eyed blond bloke, dressed all in trendy black, emerged with a beautiful Vietnamese girl. He nodded “hello” to me, and I nodded in acknowledgement and let them pass, as I further studied my “cultural walk” route. By pure coincidence, we headed in the same direction – him chatting to his young companion and darting glances back at me, and me schlepping along about 30 metres behind, happily absorbed in trying to decipher street directions. Ten minutes later, we passed the Chinese embassy and crossed the intersection, to Lenin Park. With a quick frown in my direction, he ducked out onto the street, stopped a taxi, hurriedly bundled his lady acquaintance into the back seat, jumped in himself, and off they sped to their … afternoon assignation.

The silly bloke. If he thought I was tailing him, Putin’s spies must now be half the height and twice the age!

Choice accommodation

Smaller, “no-frills” guesthouses and hotels (the ubiquitous sign Nhà Nghi in Vietnamese) suit a solo traveller such as myself, and the Hoang Cam guesthouse, at US$7 a night, ticks the boxes: fan and aircon, WiFi, mini fridge, cleanliness, location and a bonus balcony. However, for a traveller, a couple or a family wanting quality/price comfort, I can’t speak (or write) highly enough of the Hanoi Pullman. My many friends and contacts who have followed my travel writings over the years are familiar with my praise for the Accor accommodation properties Pullman/Sofitel/Novotel – because I’ve simply never had a problem with them. And I can be blunt in my assessment.

Travel Tip: Always tip the hotel/guesthouse manager the day you arrive, not the day you depart. It makes sense.
At Vung Tau’s Hoang Cam hotel, The reception lady mistakenly overcharged me when I prepaid my bill. The following day, the manager informed me and reimbursed the cash. Most Vietnamese and Cambodians are good like that …

Tasty little Mystery Bags

Never let it be said – or written – that won’t give something new a go.

To me, these tapioca dumplings (Banh Bot Loc) look like steamed prawn dumplings still in their embryonic stage.

Verdict: good. Chewy but in a nice way.

They remind me of the tapioca dessert at old Mrs Coish’s Kiewa farm.

In hindsight, a generous squeeze of lemon/lime juice (like Mrs Coish did) should replace the little bag of ubiquitous “sweet chilli/ginger dipping syrup” (ed: the little red chilli rings in that syrup can be hot and dangerous – think of bright blue rings on an octopus).

NB: The “Thousand Island” dressing was on standby in case of emergency tastebud resuscitation. It wasn’t needed.

China, lobsters and soaring prices

A roast chicken USD10, average live lobster USD50, airport taxi USD30: The huge Chinese “spend” in South-East Asia is causing a rapid inflation of prices.

Expect enormous inflationary pressure to soon weigh on the smaller economies as locals struggle to cope with rocketing property/food/transport costs.

It’ll be much worst if tourism turns away from “once cheap” Asia…

Clarification: roast chooks in SE Asia haven’t yet undergone the Ingham/Steggles “miniaturisation” program and are a decent size, and come with claws and head cooked and intact – woo hoo, a bonus locals love!



In Asia I don’t normally send back food when served the wrong item; I take it as fate inviting me to try something different. But today when I asked for “No.106 seafood noodle soup” and got “No.105 meat organs” (ie offal), I had to act. It was the gristle ball that looked like a burst testicle. Cook and waitress were cranky but it was a good decision: the seafood was delicious. The bill, though, jumped from 10,000 riel to 13,000 riel (US$3.25), so they’ve charged me a “nuisance fee”. I got even – I made the waitress go and get change for a US$20 note. Haha. Oh, the little things that amuse me on my travels…

126 The Noodle Factory, Phnom Penh


The famous White Rose prawn dumplings of Hoi An: Compared to South Melbourne Market Dim Sims? Well, think of Snow White next to Shrek. I told the owner the “garnish” – crunchy dried, fried onion bits – made my hair re-grow, as I scoffed the lot. Tip: don’t eat the green thing in the dipping juice, it’s hothothothot…