Vietnam – Food, Flavour and Phở

Vietnam – Food, Flavour and Phở

vietnamese woman with baskets

Rambutans, Bananas and Mangostreens in her basket

Vietnamese cuisine with its refreshing flavours, citrus hits and use of distinctive herbs and warm spices is one that’ll shake up your taste-buds.  With its careful use of oil it’s also one of the healthiest.  The mere thought of succulent lemon grass chicken, green papaya salad or crisp spring rolls stuffed with minced pork, ginger and Thai basil starts me salivating.  Not only does it taste amazing it looks good too. The food pops with colour – think fresh green herbs, blushing-pink prawns and scarlet-red chillies against a backdrop of pale, fluffy rice. It’s simple, yet sophisticated, vibrant yet subtle.

Pho Ga

Pho Ga

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Things to do in Mui Ne, Vietnam

Things to do in Mui Ne, Vietnam

Mui Ne Beach, Vietnam

After a stay in Ho Chi Minh City visitors to Vietnam might want to swap the city streets for a bit of beach time. Many head east to busy Nha Trang and the South China Sea but it’s worth heading further south to Mui Ne. The small fishing town with its long sandy beach is the kite-surfing hub of SE Asia. There’s plenty to do from fishing boats and fairy streams to quad bikes and sand dunes. Here are the best things to do in Mui Ne

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Miu Ne, Vietnam – Kite-Surfing Central

Miu Ne, Vietnam – Kite-Surfing Central

Busy Mui Ne Beach

Busy Mui Ne Beach

Mui Ne with its temperate micro-climate and 6k stretch of golden sand is Vietnam’s kite-surfing central and adrenalin hub.  Surf’s up most days and although that brings with it a breeze its cooling and refreshing under a hot sun and vivid blue skies. Perfect for a kite-surfing or surfing holiday.  The fishing village at the end of the bay is authentic and colourful which means there’s also a surplus of fresh seafood and there’s some unusual sightseeing nearby too.

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Saigon – Scooters and Sightseeing

Saigon – Scooters and Sightseeing

Saigon Traffic

Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City as it’s officially known, is the largest city in Vietnam with many visitors flying into the city before moving on to explore other parts of the country like Hoi An, Hue or Hanoi. It’s a city of modern high-rise buildings, traditional Vietnamese tube houses and French Colonial architecture. You’ll find street-food, Pho stalls and high-end eateries, parks, markets and shopping malls.  Here’re my tips on what to see in Saigon and how to get the best out of 48 hours in this frenetic city.  But first you need to know about the traffic….

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Istanbul and the Beauty of the Blue Mosque

Istanbul and the Beauty of the Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul, or to give it its official name Sultan Ahmet Camii, is both a place of worship and a major tourist attraction receiving four to five million visitors every year.  Facing the Hippodrome in the centre of Old Istanbul, its grey cascading domes and six minarets are one of Istanbul’s iconic views, the interior is just as stunning.

 

The Blue Mosque, Istanb

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul

This was my first visit to Istanbul and Sultan Ahmet Camii was high on my must-see list along with Hagia Sophia Mosque and The Basilica Cistern.  Since they’re all in close proximity in the Sulthanamet this is the perfect place to start exploring the city.

Sultan Ahmet 1 became the 14th emperor of the Ottoman Empire in 1609 at the age of 13. In a sort of mosque face off he ordered the building of a new mosque to rival the nearby Hagia Sophia. The Sultan demanded the mosque have ‘altin minaret’ or gold minarets. His architect misunderstood and built the mosque with ‘alti minaret’ – six minarets instead. The only other mosque in the world with as many minarets was the Haram Mosque of Mecca. The religious leaders of the time were so outraged that the Sultan sent his architect to Mecca to build a seventh minaret so that the holiest of mosques could retain its superior status.

The Blue Mosque Courtyard

We approach the mosque from the West side near the Hippodrome for our first, close-up, glimpse.  This is the best place to appreciate the mosque’s perfect proportions rather than from Sultanahmet Park. A step through the tall wooden gates and into the large square courtyard and we’re face to face with the spectacular dove-grey domes, marble walls and gold-tipped minarets.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul

At this point most people just stop and stare and the courtyard is busy with people gazing upwards in awe. The mosque is beautiful with its gently curved domes appearing to bubble upwards. We stay for half an hour exploring the courtyard enjoying the beautifully ornate cloisters and the views of the domes.

To enter the mosque itself we exit the courtyard and head around the outside to the south door which is for tourists. This also helps the prayer part of the mosque retain its sacred air.  Worshippers enter through the main door after using the ablutions area.

As the mosque is a place of worship dress code is strict. Before we could enter I made sure my legs, head and shoulders were covered.  We also took socks with us as shoes had to be placed in plastic bags before we could enter. Recently officials have become stricter and now there are more stringent checks to ensure that visitors dress appropriately. Robes are handed out to under-dressed tourists so if you don’t want to wear one of these don’t dress inappropriately. I visited again in 2014 and despite being covered I was still handed a robe to put on over my clothes.

Inside the Blue Mosque

Inside the mosque is cool and we notice an air of hushed calm as visitors become aware of the beauty inside.  A lone worshipper immersed in prayer kneels on the deep red carpet. The building is a work of art and earned the moniker’ Blue Mosque’ because of it’s ornate decoration. More than 20,000 blue Iznik tiles in traditional Ottoman patterns adorn the walls and ceilings. Lilies, carnations and tulips are depicted throughout.  We were able to see some of the tiles from the ground floor although the majority are on the upper levels and out of sight.

Blue Mosque Interior Domes, Istanbul

The interior domes are intricately tiled, painted and decorated with verses from the Koran and the sayings of the prophet Muhammad.  We padded across the carpeting in our socks, necks craned upwards. Softly coloured rays of light filtered on to us through the 260 stained-glass windows.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Where: Meydanı Sokak 17, Sultanahmet, Istanbul

When: Open daily from 09.00 till 1 hour before dusk.  Plan your visit to arrive mid-morning as the mosque is closed half an hour before until half an hour after prayer time – 90 minutes in all.

Prayers happen five times a day with the first call to prayer at sunrise and the last one at dusk.  Avoid visiting a mosque within half an hour after the ezan is chanted from the Mosque minarets. On Friday the doors are closed at 11am and open again an hour after noon prayer.

Entry: Free but donations are gratefully accepted.

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