As shameful as it is to admit, I have to say that I spend an inordinate amount of time on Quora (especially when I know I have very important things to do, because that’s just how a procrastinator is). I once stumbled upon this question, which I found equal parts amusing and bemusing: “My Vietnamese girlfriend can’t cook Pho. Does that mean that she’s not good at cooking?”
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Phở is the most famous Vietnamese food on Earth. Another truth is that Vietnamese restaurants have popped up in every corner around the world (thanks a lot, globalization!). The consequence of that, however, is that those restaurants, and the reputation of Pho, paints a very misleading picture about what Vietnamese people actually eat at home.
The stuff that you see on the menu at a Vietnamese restaurant, all the Pho and Pho cuon and Bun cha and Banh xeo – those are the food that we Vietnamese have when we eat out. Not everyone knows how to cook Pho, because a perfect bowl of Pho is like art. It’s something that you perfect over time, most often through generations, and it takes an immense amount of effort.
So what do Vietnamese people cook at home?
Vietnamese culture puts a heavy emphasis on balance and harmony, and that is evident in how we eat. That balance and harmony is present in the spices we use, the ingredients we pick out, the flavours of each dish. It is also present in the elements of a meal.
A complete meal should have five elements: rice, one or two savoury dishes (from meat, seafood, tofu, etc.), one vegetable dish, soup and the sauce (often fish sauce mixed with lime juice and chilly). Everything is placed at the centre of the table and is shared by everyone. Of course, people don’t have enough time and effort every day to ensure there are five dishes on the table all the time, but we at least want to make sure we are consuming rice, meat and veggies in one meal.
The rice we use are often white rice, and the most popular types are either Vietnamese-grown rice, or Thai jasmine rice. Modern knowledge about health and carbs have steered many people towards alternatives such as brown rice or black rice if they can afford it.
As for savoury dishes, the main meats that we use are chicken, pork and beef. Seafood (clams, shellfish, fishes, etc.) and river fishes are abundant and affordable. Tofu is not a vegetarian-only sort of food (as it is often regarded in the West) but just another type of protein. We Vietnamese boil, steam, stir-fry, deep-fry, stew, braise and do just about everything under the sun to our meat. A typical dinner table probably has about two or three different cooking methods going on.
Vegetables and root plants are integral parts of Vietnamese cuisine. It started out that meat was a luxury in Vietnam, a luxury that most people couldn’t afford. Vegetables, meanwhile, was plentiful and readily available. Even now, as Vietnam is on the track of developing, vegetables and root plants remain integral elements to our meals. They balance the fat and heaviness of meat, they are a great source of vitamins and fibre, and they are healthy, so what’s not to love?
The concept of soup in Vietnamese cuisine is quite different from what you normally imagine to be soup. For us, soup in everyday meal is more of a broth with vegetables and meat, or the water from boiled vegetables. Ever tried boiled water spinach soup with tomato and a squeeze of lime? You are missing out!
Then last but certainly not least, is the sauce. Or to be more precise, it’s dipping sauce (nước chấm). The central element to Vietnamese dipping sauce is fish sauce, mixed with a few cut of chillies, a bit of lemon juice and a few drops of water. Depending on the dish, you can also add sugar, pepper, garlic, vinegar, etc. The sauce is an irreplaceable part of a Vietnamese meal; in many cases, it is what makes or breaks a meal!
So you see, what Vietnamese eat at home and what are sold in Vietnamese restaurants are very different things. If you have the chance to try a home-cooked meal, take it. I am sure you will not be disappointed.
Chùa Hương (Perfume Pagoda) is a vast complex of Buddhist temples and shrines built into the limestone Hương Tích mountains. It is the site of a religious festival which draws large numbers of pilgrims from across Vietnam. The centre of Chùa Hương lies in Hương Sơn Commune, Mỹ Đức District, former Hà Tây Province (now Hanoi). The centre of this complex is the Perfume Temple, also known as Chùa Trong (Inner Temple), located in Hương Tích Cave.
The Vietnamese believe that Hương Sơn is Buddha’s Heaven. Hương Sơn complex is considered the place to worship Quan Thế Âm Bồ Tát (Brodhisattva Kwan Yin).
1/How to Visit Perfume Pagoda?
*Hanoi – Perfume Pagoda
There are many ways to travel to Perfume Pagoda, such as cars, buses or motorbikes, because the distance is not long, so most people choose to go by motorbikes, while students usually travel by bus. Actually, cars will be the most suitable vehicles if traveling in the daytime because of cold weather in the early morning and late afternoon in the new year days. The traveling time from Hanoi center to Perfume Pagoda is approximately 1h30’.
*Reach the Perfume Pagoda
Rowing along the Yến Stream
Rowed by young women, boats carry visitors along the Yến Stream through a stunning landscape of blazing green rice paddles studded with jagged limestone mounts to the base of Perfume Mountain.
Proceeding to the pagoda
From the riverbank, pilgrims proceed on foot, past various ancient pagodas, monasteries and shrines, up hundreds of stone steps and a switchback trail, all worn smooth by the passage of countless feet. Taking a cabin car is an additional way to reach the pagoda.
2/ Where to Visit Along Your Journey to Perfume Pagoda:
A pilgrimage to the Perfume Pagoda overview is not only for religious reasons, but also to see the numerous natural landscapes and valuable artifacts of the nation.
2.1. Trình Temple
Trình Temple is also known as Ngũ Nhạc Linh Tử, is a small temple on the right of the Yến Stream. This place is dedicated to the soldiers of the mountains, guarding the Pagoda. Visitors must go to the temple to present before entering the complex and this is a little procedure that everyone should do when visiting Perfume Pagoda.
2.2. Hương Tích Cave
The cave is considered to be the center of the Perfume Pagoda complex, and is the destination of all visitors when coming here. If you come to Perfume Pagoda without setting foot on Hương Tích Cave, you have not been to Perfume Pagoda.
2.3. Vân Song (Double Cloud) Temple or Cửa Vọng (Echoing Gate) Temple
This shrine is formerly a small shrine built by the villagers Yến Vỹ from ancient times to worship their Forest Goddess. The temple is on a high mountain, at the base of a mountain is a deep valley, while overlooking the valley is a mountain hamlet.
2.4. Giải Oan (Exculpate) Pagoda
There is a clear fresh water well calls Long Tuyền (Black Dragon) in the Pagoda. If the people with unexplainable matters in their hearts which can not be shared with anyone can come here and tell the stories, they will reach serenity.
2.5. Thiên Trù Pagoda
This pagoda is built from the reign of King Lê Thánh Tông (1460 – 1497), located on Lão Mountain.
3/Lễ hội chùa Hương (Perfume Pagoda Festival)
The main pilgrimage season at Perfume Pagoda is during the Perfume Pagoda festival, when hundreds of thousands of pilgrims make their way to Hương Tích cave and other temples. Known as the longest lasting festival in Vietnam, the Perfume Pagoda Festival lasts from the 6th day of the first month to the end of the third month of the lunar calendar. The Festival is seen by some as a good opportunity for young people to find romance and begin courtships.
People conduct a dragon dance in the yard of Trình Temple, and sail the royal barge on the 6th day of the 1st month. The festival is held in three places, Hương Tích Pagoda, Tuyết Sơn, and Long Vân. The festival is most crowded from the 15th – 20th day of the 2nd month of the lunar calendar as this period marks the main festival. The path leading from Outer Pagoda to Inner Pagoda is full of visitors coming up and down the mountain.
You should wear appropriate clothes, could be casual but don’t wear anything too short or too revealing.
You can bring some offerings for the Pagoda such as fruit, biscuits,… In the case that you didn’t prepare anything, you can also buy offerings at the local shops but the price will only get higher once you enter closer to the Pagoda.
Remember to ask for the price and to bargain before buying anything. If you are not careful, you will end up buying something with the price much higher than the value of the thing itself.
There is a hotline to call if anything should happen: 0912558905
The Perfume Pagoda Festival is one of many traditional and well-known festivals throughout the country. This is a perfect opportunity for Vietnamese people to show respect to the Highers we worship and also to pray for good blessings for the New Year.
If you have any questions about this article or are in need for assistance about travelling in Vietnam or just anything at all, please do not hesitate to contact us, and we are sure to be thrilled to help.
Like a painting with pure white theme, plum flowers in Moc Chau are making many people trembling with excitement. Do you want to go to Moc Chau this January to have that feeling, the feeling of soaking yourself in this earthly paradise?
White plum is the characteristic flower of Moc Chau highland. Since plum trees are planted in fields covering even a whole village or valley, their flowers also bloom in groups close to each other. This is why the place has gained its famous name “White Paradise”.
1/ When to go:
Coming to Moc Chau from January to February, you will be greeted by a white paradise of plum flowers. The picturesque scene becomes more colorful with pink French peach flowers, wild peach flowers and green grasses.
It is certain that plum flowers season is in the January -February period, but the starting time depends on the weather – it can be earlier or later. The blooming peak time lasts from 2 to 3 weeks, withering quickly later for bearing plum fruits in April. That is why people describe plum flower as a young north-west maiden – fragile, vigorous, soft and nearly untouchable.
2/ How to go
From Hanoi to Moc Chau (Son La province), you can go by motorbike or by bus.
If you choose bus, you can book a seat in My Dinh or Yen Nghia bus station.
If you think motorbike is favorable, the direction is easy – just follow the ‘new’ 185-kilometre National road number 6 connecting Hanoi city center to Moc Chau town center.
The most suitable spots for seeing plum flowers are Ban Anh pine forest, Ba Khe minor area, Long Luong, Thong Cuong, etc. Because of the fast withering phase, rush yourself to Moc Chau in January- February now!
Moc Chau, a big plateau in Son La province 180km from Hanoi, has a shared border with Laos of 40.6km. Moc Chau is very popular among Vietnamese travelers because of its poetic landscapes with endless grass fields, huge gardens of plum and apricot trees as well as peaceful countryside atmosphere. The habitants of the plateau are mostly of 12 ethnic groups, namely Thai people (33%) and Muong people (18%.)
1/When to travel?
If you just simply want to have a change of air, an escape from the crowded and noisy cities of the modern world, then Moc Chau will be welcoming your tired souls at any time. However, there are several occasions of the year when you can truly enjoy the unique beauty of Moc Chau, according to the seasons.
Suggested time to travel to Moc Chau
Before and after Lunar New Year is the season of peach blossoms and plum blossoms.
Around March is the time when white orchids bloom. In addition, on March 26, there is also Hết Chá festival of the Thái people.
Early September is the Independence Day of the Mông people.
November is the time when cauliflowers paint the hills pure white.
Photo: Google Image
December is the season of marigold flowers, you will meet them everywhere along Highway 6.
And here comes our most awaited part: where to go? Below is some suggestions you may find interesting:
2.1/Thung Cuông Village (Thông Cuông)
Thung Cuông (Thông Cuông) is a Hmong village located between two communes of Đông Sang of Moc Chau and Xuân Nha of Vân Hô. The pathway to Thung Cuông has its two sides decorated with vast valleys of white cauliflowers. Between the flowers are lines of plum trees waiting for spring to come, along with waves of mountains creating a magnificent scene of nature.
This is also one of the favourite wedding photography spots of young people. The local people let themselves be absorbed into the gentle arms of nature, the children cycling home when school is over creates such a happy and joyous scene. Meanwhile, the travelers become so hurry in the scare that if they are too slow such incredible scene will disappear into the old books of fairy tales.
2.2/Pa Phách Village
The top of Pa Phách is a village of the Thái people. The bottom of Pa Phách includes three villages: Pa Phách 1,Pa Phách 2 and of the Mông people. The village Pa Phách 1 belongs to Đông Sang Ward.
The road to Pa Phach is quite dangerous, simultaneously passing through upright slopes that sweat you out, and on the top is the view of a blue sky of plum trees, peach trees… and a few Mông’s houses hidden in the forest. On the other side, the plateau Moc Chau extends its arms full of green grass, young corn, and some dairy cattle grazing the green grass… Especially, the climate is very cool and in the afternoon, the fog will escalate everywhere and make you feel like drowning in the ocean of fog.
2.3/Rừng thông bản Áng (Pine forest of Áng Village)
Located on Moc Chau Plateau, Áng Village does not just own the fresh and cool climate and the romantic scenery, but also has the preserved cultural treasures of the Thái people.
From Moc Chau Farm Town, following Highway 43 about 2km to the South is Áng village. From above, Áng Village is as beautiful as a water painting with layers of traditional stilts lay hidden under the green leafy canvas. Near the village is a natural lake with an area of 5 hectares surrounded by green pine forests on reddish brown hills. In the distance, the scenery of Moc Chau plateau, especially in spring, with the tea hills, green pasture, flowers, banana flowers, plum blossom whitening the forest seems to be adorning the beauty of Áng Village to be more dreamy and romantic.
Áng Village is home to the Thái ethnic group. They live mainly on farming (tea, canola, corn, rice), traditional breeding and handicrafting (weaving brocade, rice padding,etc.). Although located in Moc Chau Town, Áng Village’s community residents still preserve peculiar traditional stilt house, costumes, traditional folk songs, folk games, and special ceremonies. You will have the opportunity to experience daily life with the villagers (in the floor, rice padding, tea picking down the hill, fishing stream,etc.); explore the scenery of the Northwest forest, especially horseback riding on the Áng forest and enjoy the local specialties, such as rượu cần (weed wine), cơm lam (bamboo rice), pa pỉnh tộp (grilled fish), smoked meat, and wild vegetables,etc.
2.4/Thác Dải Yếm (Dải Yếm Waterfall)
Dải Yếm Waterfall is also known as Nàng Waterfall or Bản Vặt Waterfall. It is located in Mường Sang Commune, Moc Chau District, Sơn La Province. According to the legend, the waterfall is bib of the girl who saves the boy out of the flood.
The Bim Waterfall consists of two parts: the upper waterfall (70m wide) and the lower waterfall (150-200m away from the upper one.)In the dry season, the lower falls only have a flow from the height of 50m to the rocks below. The two cascades fall down together with a total height of 100m; one side is divided into 9 floors while the other is divided into 5 floors. Between the two waterfalls is a flat land. On its top is flourished rich vegetation.
2.5/Ngũ Động Bản Ôn (The five caves of Ôn Village)
The five caves consist of four main caves lying on a hill and an independent cave on the other side of the hill. The five caves are compared with the theory of the Five Elements: Wood, Water, Fire, Earth, and Metal. The stalactite shimmers with many unique shapes, crystallized over thousands of years. The third cave is the most extensive and also the only one, which is equipped with electric system by the transmitter, but it is only used during holidays, so you will need to bring a flashlight when exploring the caves.
2.6/Đồi chè Mộc Châu (Mộc Châu Tea Hill)
Moc Chau Plateau is famous for its green tea plants stretching across all the hills. Tea is grown everywhere here and mixed with the beautiful small houses among them. Somewhere along the spring flowers, paper flowers are blossoming in the frosty mist like the poetic scenery.
3/What to eat?
There are so many unique dishes of Moc Chau that I’m sure you will fall in love with:
The fishes round of Moc Chau stream are very round. Some are little like the little finger, some are just bigger than two fingers. The fish is washed and then pan fried until crispy, when eating you can chew both the meat and the bone.
Some other lands also has this potato but in terms of deliciousness, the taros of the Dao people are the best and most delicious. According to many people, the taros can only be grown by the the Moc Chau Dao people of Moc Chau. Taro is usually eaten between July and October, November. If you have the opportunity to go to Moc Chau at this time, don’t forget to buy a little as a gift for your friends and family at home.
Approximately one kilometer from the Áng Village, there is an area where attractive orchid and strawberry orchards have been planted and tested for fruit for several years. Many gardeners are expanding the area to export to the city and processing into jam and wine.
At present, Moc Chau Province has about 3,000 hectares of tea of different kinds. The beautiful vast hills of tea plant has turn Moc Chau into a dreamy green pearl. Tea is one of the symbols of Moc Chau plateau, which is also increasingly attached to the lives of the peoples here.
Besides, many tourists enjoy the taste of the most famous tea of Moc Chau plateau, San Tuyết (San Snow), a tea made from hundred years old tea plants here.Other brands are OOLong tea and Kim Tuyền tea with different tastes.
With hundreds of dairy cows on the farm, dairy products are one of the specialties you should definitely try when you come to Moc Chau. If possible, enjoy a glass of freshly cooked milk as soon as is leaved the cow (it’s Vietnamese’s favourite way of drinking milk). Other dairy products you should also try are yogurts (not the kind canned in supermarkets), butter, cream,etc. You can buy these products in any restaurant on the way to the Town.
Moc Chau is about 200 km northwest from Hanoi, in the direction to Sơn La. You can travel to Moc Chau on private motorbike from Hanoi, or by bus and then rent a car to Moc Chau.
Buses (passenger cars) from Hanoi and some other Northern provinces to Sơn La
The cost for one trip is usually from 125,000 to 145,000 VND (5.50$ – 6.38$) and takes around 9 hours of travelling.
Bus number: 01 Route: Bản Cá, Chiềng An Ward, TP. Sơn La – Bệnh viên đa khoa tỉnh – Chợ Trung tâm – Cầu Trắng – Ngã ba Quyết Thắng – Bến xe khách TP. Sơn La – Trường Cao đẳng sư phạm Sơn La – Nhà máy xi măng Chiềng Sinh – Chiềng Mung – Nà Sản – TT Hát Lót – Bến xe buýt Cò Nòi, xã Cò Nòi, huyện Mai Sơn
(Ban Ca, Chieng An Ward, Son La – Provincial General Hospital – Central Market – White Bridge – Quyet Thang Junction – Son La – Son La Teachers College – Chieng Sinh Cement Plant – Chieng Mung – Na San – Hat Lot Town – Co Noi Commune, Co Noi Commune, Mai Son District)
Bus number: 02 Route: Tiểu khu 64 Thị trấn Nông trường Mộc Châu – Trung tâm hành chính mới huyện Mộc Châu – Ủy ban nhân dân xã Chiềng Hắc, huyện Mộc Châu
(Moc Chau 64 Farm Town District – Moc Chau District New Civic Center – Chieng Hac Commune People’s Committee, Moc Chau District)
Bus number: 03 Route: Phường Chiềng Sinh, TP. Sơn La – Bến xe khách TP. Sơn La – Ngã ba Quyết Thắng – Cầu Trắng – Đèo Sơn La – Chiềng Đen – Phiêng Tam – Ninh Thuận – Chiềng Pấc – Bệnh viện Thuận châu – Trung tâm xã Phỏng Lái, huyện Thuận Châu
(Moc Chau 64 Farm Town District – Moc Chau District New Civic Center – Chieng Hac Commune People’s Committee, Moc Chau District)
Renting motorbike/scooters in Moc Chau
Company name: CHỊ DUYÊN (SISTER DUYÊN) Address: Tiểu khu 9- Thị trấn Mộc Châu (Ngã 3 bản Mòn – cạnh Sữa Chua dẻo Mộc Châu) Hotline: 01636 828 666 Company name: NHÀ NGHỈ PHƯƠNG VY (PHƯƠNG VY MOTEL) Address: Thị trấn Mộc Châu, Mộc Châu, Sơn La (Đối diện Khách sạn Công Đoàn) Hotline: 022 3869813 – 0975 304595 – 0984 607327 Company name: THUÊ XE MÁY MỘC CHÂU (MỘC CHÂU MOTORBIKE RENTING) Address: Thị trấn Mộc Châu, Mộc Châu, Sơn La Hotline: 0163 2653052 – 0945 918050
I kept the address in Vietnamese so you can easily ask the locals for directions while travelling in Mộc Châu. Just simply show them the address and they will guide you there.
If travel by motorbike, try to drive during the daytime, try not run late after 18:00 (especially for those who have not experienced mountain bike) because after this time the roads to Mộc Châu are often thick with fog. If travelling in winter, you will be blind (from Mai Châu to Mộc Châu).
If travel by passenger car, you should choose the hotel or motels just off Highway 6 and booked them in advance because these cars are often running in the evening. When you arrive at Mộc Châu, it is likely to be 1-2 o’clock in the morning.
Moc Chau is a hot spot for drugs dealing. When you go to the local’s villages (especially the Lóng Luông area), always stay alert and absolutely never leave your belongings or your vehicles away from you because if somebody put a little drug in the luggage, you will be in trouble.
Km 135 border between Mai Châu (Hoà Bình) and Moc Chau there are often inter-sectoral bolts of Traffic Police, Local Police, Drug Prevention Bureau… If they ask you to stop for some check-ups, it’s completely normal; you should be courteous, not objectionable in that case.
6/Few last words
I hope this article can help you choose your next travelling destination, or simply just give you a more fully understanding of Moc Chau, a very poetic area of Vietnam. If you have any problems or questions about travelling in Vietnam or just anything at all, please don’t hesitate to contact us for assistance. We would be thrilled to help you.
Today, Vietnam Track Team will introduce you a well-known attractive travel destination – a place far away from hustle metropolitan area. This destination is called ‘Cao Bang’.
1/ Where is Cao Bang?
Located in the Northeast of Vietnam, Cao Bang Province shares a more than 333 kilometer border with Guangxi (China.) Its natural land area is almost 6700 square km – mostly occupied by forests (90%) and endlessly extended mountains. Because of this feature, the climate in Cao Bang is mild and breezing cool.
2/ How to get to Cao Bang:
Cao Bang is 240 km away from Hanoi, and you can get there by car or motorbike.
You can follow the belt road 3 (vành đai 3,) go across the Thanh Tri Bridge, and head to Ha Noi –Thai Nguyen Highway. Upon arrival in Thai Nguyen City, you need to follow the National Highway 3 for 50km to reach Bac Kan Province and then for another 120km, you will set foot in Cao Bang territory.
As for those who like backpacking or couchsurfing, going to Cao Bang by motorbike to explore beautiful sights is a perfect choice. From Hanoi city center, you should go straight to Nhat Tan Bridge and then follow National Highway 3, which will lead you to Cao Bang province territory.
One advice for foreign tourists: although the road to Cao Bang is not so hard to track, you should be accompanied by experienced Vietnamese-native backpackers/couch-surfers because there are dangerous mountain passes, which are full of heavy-loaded trucks.
3/ Beautiful scenes in Cao Bang:
3.1/ Ban Gioc Waterfall:
Ban Gioc Waterfall lies on the Vietnam – China border in Dam Thuy Commune, Trung Khanh District which is 84-88 km away from Cao Bang city center and 25 km northeast away from the center of Trung Khanh District. The 30-metre high waterfall is one of the most imposing ones in Vietnam. To capture its best moments, you had better visit it in August or September because of the rainy season.
On arrival in Cao Bang City, you have two options to reach Ban Gioc Waterfall. First, hire a motorbike and drive to the destination by yourself. Or hire a local motorbike taxi to drive you there. It’s advisable for foreign tourists to choose the second way because the road to Ban Gioc Waterfall is quite dangerous.
From faraway, you are able to see regal white water pillars and hear the thudding water hitting multiple limestone stairs. Especially, in the middle of the waterfall, there is a wide stone block dividing the waterfalling line into three smaller streams. On sunny days, the steam risen from water bubbling at the end of waterfall creates magical glittering rainbow.
Services there are not fully completed yet. So it is advisable to bring food, water and other personal stuffs by yourself. There are a few motels and restaurants at Ban Gioc, but reservations are needed. Entrance ticket fee is VND 20,000/person (approx. USD $1.)
The famous cuisines you should taste are grilled chicken, sour pho, cóng phù (similar to Chinese stuffed sticky rice balls), xôi trám (canarium steam sticky rice balls) and Chongqing nuts.
3.2/ Nguom Gao Cave:
The second famous travel destination which Vietnam Track would like to introduce is Nguom Ngao Cave. Located 3km away from the Ban Gioc Waterfall, the cave was first discovered in 1921, but not until 1996 did it become a travel destination. According to local natives, the name of Nguom Ngao originally came from the fact that there were ferocious tigers living there a long time ago and they often sneaked into nearby villages to eat the cattle.
The total length of the cave is 2144 meters with 3 main entrances: Nguom Ngao, Nguom Lom and Ban Thuon. The Nguom Ngao entrance is a few hundred stairs from the bottom of the mountain while the Nguom Lom entrance stays hidden under stone blocks of the bottom as well and the Ban Thuon entrance is behind the mountain. When entering the cave, you will be amazed by the nature’s construction printed on the limestones in various shapes.
We hope that the information given is helpful for your trip to Cao Bang. Please share with us your own experience when visiting our country!
If you have any problem travelling in Vietnam, please don’t hesitate to contact us for more assistance. We will be thrilled to help.