Lucky little egg rice cakes

I’m double double lucky, the old girl seemed to say.

What were the odds of scoring double yolks not once but twice in 10 quail eggs?

“Banh can” are steamed rice-batter cakes, often cooked roadside, in Nha Trang, Vietnam.

The price was VND30,000 so I haggled for 20,000. Nope, you might be lucky but you’re still paying full price, Mister!

Haha

So I gave her 50,000 ($3) anyway. Now she’s happy, I’m happy, Buddha happy.

Isn’t life good when you’re not a selfish pr*ck?

Great News for Vietnam-Australia Air Travel

Vietnam budget airline Vietjet will fly direct between Melbourne and Ho Chi Minh City, starting March 31 2023.

Vietjet joins Vietnam Airlines and Bamboo Airways, with direct flights between Australia and Vietnam.

Vietjet fare classes will include SkyBoss Business, SkyBoss, Deluxe and Eco.

Victorian Government Minister Tim Pallas said the new service would boost sustainable tourism, and trade.

Flights are expected to increase to seven weekly, in December 2024.

Flights:

  • On every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, flights depart from HCMC at 09:50 AM (local time) and land at Melbourne Airport at 10:35 PM (local time) on the same day.
  • On every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, flights depart from Melbourne Airport at 00:30 AM (local time) and arrive in HCMC at 05:15 AM (local time) on the same day.

A fascinating new story starts with just a “hello”

Enjoying a coffee at St Kilda’s popular Acland Street cake shops with my friend Joan from the UK, and noticed a fellow patron taking notes whilest obviously enjoying a mint slice.

So, we chatted.

Folks, meet Melbourne author Leanne Francia, who has recently published her first children’s illustrated book, “No More Monsters”.

Leanne happened to have a copy, which she graciously signed – and now Joan has a fabulous, real souvenir of her time in St Kilda to take back to the UK and give to a little friend.

The wonderful, interesting people you meet on the street, while having a coffee.

All you need to do is say “hello”.

The Moc Bai Visa Run

Star Wars hero Han Solo, piloting his Millennium Falcon, famously boasted of doing “the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs”. Greg Hackett can top that: “the Moc Bai visa run”. Admittedly, it was more than 12 parsecs – and more than a handful of US$

The border visa run is an essential experience for any seasoned traveller in South-East Asia. Why get your tourist visa via the boring online method, when adventure and daring-do await at the border. In Cambodia, I usually acquire a Vietnam visa at the Vietnamese embassy in Phnom Penh. It’s simple: US$5 tuk tuk ride from guest house to the embassy, US$100 for a three-month multi-visit tourist visa which is ready to collect in four hours, and a US$5 tuk tuk back to guest house. This trip, I choose to do it the interesting way: at the Bavet/Moc Bai border.

NO PERSON’S LAND

The bus from Phnom Penh stops about a kilometre from the Bavet border gate, with a short stroll across “no man’s land” to Moc Bai, in Vietnam. A Dutch backpacker has kindly told me to “get off here and follow all of the others, and the border crossing isn’t far by foot.”

“Brilliant!” 

I follow the gaggle of Cambodians for about 200m that seems like 20km in the hot and humid early afternoon. A crook lower back likes to complain but I travel lightly with just a carry-on bag. The Cambodians begin peeling off as we pass a long street market. The sun is so hot, no tree shade, no checkpoint, just heaps of Cambodian market workers chattering loudly. 

“Not so brilliant.”

THE WALK OF SHAME

The road elbows to the right, and so I continue to trundle along – now with only a few remaining bus passengers who enter a gate on the left, into a long, long newly built factory/warehouse/office/motorbike shelter. It goes on for hundreds of metres. Okay, I’m thinking, this must be the start of the border checkpoint complex. Persevere. However, a further 200 or so metres and the building ends. So does the road.

“Brilliant” is no longer the word I use.

An hour of retracing my steps – the walk of shame, as the afore mentioned Cambodian workers and market shoppers gawk and grin at me (and never a tuk tuk available when you need one!) – I find the border crossing. Now the fun really begins.

LUC GETS LUCKY – I DON’T

Border checkpoints the world over have “expediters” (as I call them) who will handle all of the admin hassle for a small-ish fee. “Luc” appoints himself as mine. I queue in the packed, non-aircon, stifling room and get the $US20 “exit stamp”. Luc  takes me to “his man” at the vehicle exit gates, we pass through and trek to the Vietnam side, where the gates, the guards, the gardens, even the building’s paint all look military, serious and officious. Now the problem arises: Luc can acquire for me a three-month, multi-visit tourist visa for 6 million dong ($US250). However, I don’t have THE Letter. I’m supposed to have previously applied for and received a letter of invitation to visit Vietnam – something I had erroneously presumed would be in the “$US250 visa package”.

This is a major dilemma, Luc informs me, and he must call his “Boss lady”, who tells me over the mobile phone – in a distinctive, sweet but serious voice – that “The Letter” can be arranged at much effort on such short notice, and for a further $US150 fee. Cash, up front, of course.

BACK TO CAMBODIA AND BACK

The problem now: I’m out of cash. All ATMs are on the Cambodian side. I hop on the back of Luc’s motorbike and off we go, across the border and back into the Kingdom of Cambodia. Via the back way!

A dirt track skirts around the side of the official border checkpoints. This entire area is a huge construction site, and the track is buzzing with horn-honking motorbikes and trucks, as Cambodian and Vietnamese workers and delivery folk go about their business. No doubt a practical solution: no point in having local labourers clogging up the main route, where permits and visas and stamps are required. And fees.

These are high-rise casino-hotels in various states of completion. Luc tells me that they are all Chinese. We arrive at a newly opened bank branch, which has an outdoor ATM. By now I’m hot, tired, stressed, anxious – I just want to get this done. At any cost.     

HORROR OF HORRORS

Cashed up, we scoot back along the dirt track and over to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Luc drops me off at the checkpoint souvenir shop where I discover – and I nearly pass out in horror – that I have left my credit card in the ATM. The only ATM. On a street of casinos.

Back onto the motorbike, back onto the dirt track, back over the rain filled pot holes and weaving between huge concrete trucks and motorbike riders yabbering their mobile phones, back to the bank. Fortune indeed does smile upon the brave (and the tired, stressed forgetful traveller). The bank is sill open, the young bank manager has just popped back into the office and, by a stroke of good luck, she doe have a key to the outside ATM (which is not the normal practice). And the ATM did have my card. Relieved, I genially ask her why so many Chinese casinos? With ubiquitous Cambodian smile, she replies: “Casino? Chinese? Here? I no understand?” 

ANOTHER MILLION DONG GONE

So, back we go to the Vietnam side, to the souvenir shop where I am to wait while Luc goes off to take care of things – with my cash and passport, a fact that does not help soothe the anxiety. The souvenir shop – which is huge and full of items that the well healed, modern Asian tourist might want – has a reception desk, where a young lady is on the phone … and I think that I might recognise that distinctively sweet but serious voice.

Such are the ways of South-East Asia, and I love it.

Two hours later, Luc returns with all documents, stamped and in order, and I am ready to go. A generous cash tip for Luc – hey, why stress about another million dong – and I wearily trundle to the car park and make a snap decision: stuff mucking about with public buses and group “VIP” vans, get a taxi for the 150km (4 hour) drive to Vung Tau. Then starts the final leg of this journey: The fare is US$110 and the driver must get his mate to do the trip. That mate arrives after 20 minutes and phones his wife to say the job is all the way to Vung Tau – and she goes ballistic! Sitting in the back seat, I could hear her. Half an hour of driving at 45kmh, we pull over for 10 minutes and a third driver arrives to take over. He has to veer off to a designated petrol station to fill up the car, so another 20 minutes before I finally embark on the last leg of my journey to Vung Tau.

Where more adventures await …

Bánh mì Baguette With a Sausage & Sauce: Readjusting to Aussie Food

Who doesn’t adore Vietnam’s bánh mì baguette? Light and crusty.

Time to “re-acclimatise” to Aussie food (fly home from Vung Tau tonight) so lunch is a good ol’ snag & egg in a roll. With tomato sauce.

After a month of mostly preservative-free Asian eating, Aussie food can give you a hard kick in the belly.

Read the ingredients label: we tend to consume the entire Periodic Table at every meal.

That’s the “price” of convenience food …
(This tastes good, btw)

The Vietnamese bánh mì baguette: light and crusty.

Crayfish to Crave. But be Prepared to Shell Out for it

You beauty!

Dinner tonight. That’s 750 grams of Vietnam crayfish to crave.

I shook his hand (antenna) in the tank first, to make sure he was a fine specimen.

Now into the pot, then onto the barbie, and bon appetit.

1.2 mmillion dong (AUD$75), in Vung Tau. Same price in Nha Trang and DaNang.

If you think fresh seafood is still cheap in South-East Asia, you’re dreaming.

Demand from China has put paid to that. (You can see why the Qantas CEO prefers a planeful of Tassie live lobster, to economy passengers.)

Fresh, live crayfish in Vietnam. This is a beaut specimen, for dinner tonight. Demand from China is pushing up the price of fresh seafood across Asia

Vietnam Food. So You Think You’ve Tried It All?

You’ve seen it a thousand times, on a dozen visits, probably nibbled it – but never really stopped and “experienced” it. 

South-East Asian food is like that. You may reckon you’ve seen it all but no, there’s always a surprise.

Vietnamese call this grapefruit. It’s a type of pomelo, and it varies in taste, appearance and name, according the area where it’s grown.

This one might be nam roi or doan hung; its juice is sweet and with a lingering acidic after-taste.

It is bursting with “healthy”.

When have you eaten enough?

The sweetness lures you into yet another mouthful, while the hint of acid sharpness suggests otherwise: ahh, the absorbing contradictions, that is travel in South-East Asia.

Vietnamese grapefruit are a pomelo and vary in taste, texture and name, according to where that are grown.

Fast Food Wars in Vietnam

Fast Food Wars: the smokey, heat of battle in Vung Tau, Vietnam.

Pitched on each side of the street, it’s Cóm 25k versus Cóm Tàm 25k.

Maccas v Hungry Jack’s? KFC v Red Rooster?

Both sell the grilled, ultra-thin chicken cutlet with egg, rice, vegie and a squirt of sweet chilli syrup.

Delicious, too.

Let’s call it a draw, and we’re all winners …

Vietnam Grows on You

Vietnam devotes much effort into beautifying the beachside parks and gardens.

This is the “Back Beach”, in Vung Tau; the same for Nha Trang, Da Nang, Hoi An – at destinations up and down the Vietnam coast.

Take time out in Vietnam’s beautiful and relaxing beachside parks and gardens

Crunch Time: Tackling Vietnam Soft-Shell Prawns

Vietnam soft shell shrimp (prawns).

Not to my liking but it keeps popping up, in Vung Tau, Nha Trang – across this fascinating country.

Steamed, grilled, sweet, fried. Not one to shy away from a challenge, by the end of this journey I will have acquired an appreciation, or, having given it my best shot, I shall withdraw with honour.

This night’s street-stall version is a big prawn, deep fried in peanut oil with a very tasty batter, and the prawn meat is firm and delicious.

A pity there’s a barrier of “crunchy” shell between the two.

Crunch, crunch, crunch …

Soft-shell prawns/shrimp are a culinary favourite in South-East Asia (and now world-wide) but that “crunchy” shell can be a challenge to even an adventurous diner.