Weasel Coffee, Schmeasel Coffee

How far would you go for a good cup of coffee? Would you get yourself a pet weasel, feed it coffee berries, dig through the weasel droppings to get your precious coffee beans back, and then grind them for a tasty cup of coffee?

Well, if you are a true coffee connoisseur and want to try the most expensive coffee in the world, that’s exactly what you have to do. Alternatively, you can come to Vietnam where you can sample a whole list of roasts including the famous weasel coffee. So, why exploit a poor weasel? Apparently enzymes in the animal’s digestive tract produce a very aromatic, less bitter coffee. And, more importantly, people are willing to pay big bucks for the beans after they come out of a weasel’s butt. Continue…

The Citadel of Hue

Hue, the city of imperial palaces and tombs, is on most travelers’ itineraries when they visit Vietnam. The city’s most famous attraction is the ancient Citadel and the Imperial Enclosure within. Having done a semester course in Vietnamese history and being an architecture nut, I had set my expectations pretty low for our visit to the Citadel. Between French, Vietcong, and American attacks on the city followed by years of Communist neglect of the ancient monuments, I was expecting very little to be intact. In fact, I was quite surprised by how much remained and how beautifully Hue’s monuments have been restored.

Thomas and I rented bikes and rode across the Perfume River to the Citadel’s massive 10-km outer walls. (You know I love my walled cities.) We biked along the lotus-filled moat past the massive Continue…

Vietnamese Salads

What I really love about Vietnamese food is the integration of fresh, uncooked fruit and vegetables into many of the dishes. If you like light and fresh, it doesn’t get much better than Vietnamese salads. Although famous beyond the borders of Vietnam, we had a hard time finding restaurants which offered them here in the country. The last thing I wanted was a Russian salad with potatoes and mayonnaise. But then, on our last night in Hoi An, we discovered Mermaid Restaurant.

Only slightly pricier than the average tourist restaurant, Mermaid offers an array of traditional Vietnamese dishes including all of Continue…

The Best Service Ever

We don’t normally recommend hotels because everyone’s expectations of a place and how much they should pay are so different. This time, however, we have to make an exception.

Almost immediately after entering the Hoang Trinh Hotel in Hoi An, we knew this place was different. Exhausted after an 11-hour bus ride from Nha Trang, we basically crawled into the reception area just to find a plate of coconut macaroons and cinnamon tea waiting for us. When a young lady in a traditional Vietnamese dress led us to the room, we couldn’t believe our eyes. There were white swans sitting on the bed. Continue…

Beware of Firesheep

Travelers with laptops take note, yesterday’s release of the Firefox extension named Firesheep has the tech-world buzzing with fears about potential security threats. If you are using your laptop in a shared Wi-Fi zone, amateur hackers sitting near you can use Firesheep to seize control of your personal accounts on various sites, including: Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and others. Read more about Firesheep here.

Beach Treats

With over 3,000 kilometers of coastline, nothing in Vietnam is really far from the beach. Between exploring Hoi An’s old town and sampling local cuisine, we took an afternoon out to relax at An Bang Beach, a long, nearly undeveloped stretch of sand a few kilometers outside of town.

What seemed to be an almost deserted beach, with the exception of about 20 tourists frying in the sun, quickly became a busy playground for locals as soon as the sun dipped below the horizon. Suddenly, there was movement everywhere. Vietnamese ladies set up small barbecues and laid out woven mats for customers to sit on, fisherman took their coracles out to sea, and groups of teenagers started crowding the beach.

Following the smell of something barbecued, Tony and I Continue…

My Son – This Ain’t No Angkor Wat

“Angkor Wat is much better,” the girl complained as she puffed on her cigarette and held her head, “God, I have such a hangover.” She took another puff and dropped her butt amid the ruins.

Sometimes, I really miss the days when travel was hard and the clueless rarely found their way past their front doors.

My Son, pronounced “me sun,” represents the largest surviving collection of Cham ruins in Vietnam. Yes, they in no way compare to Angkor Wat, the largest temple complex in the world, as few things do. But My Son, the best surviving example of Cham temple architecture, is unique and important Continue…

Les Desserts

Baguettes, croissants, home-made country pâté, fine wines and a love for strong coffee, French colonists definitely left their mark on Vietnam. And while the Vietnamese fought long and hard for independence, they were more than willing to keep a few culinary memories of their colonial oppressors. Traditional French cuisine is widely available in Vietnam’s larger cities and high-end French-Vietnamese fusion restaurants seem to be popping up everywhere.

To be super blunt, it is hard for me to justify the high prices at these trendier restaurants when Vietnamese cuisine is some of the most delicious, well-priced food on the planet. But when we stopped in Hoi An’s Cargo Club Restaurant for an afternoon ice coffee, I happened to spot their phenomenal selection of desserts in the attached patisserie. Desserts are this super-cheapo’s version of cryptonite.

Shelf after shelf of eye-popping Continue…

Hoi An for Foodies

After wandering through Hoi An’s atmospheric back lanes and along the river-front promenade, it’s time to buckle down and start eating. For most visitors, a sampler of classic Hoi An specialties is on the menu. Virtually all the restaurants offer their own version of the classics, some better than others. In a massive generalization which kind of holds up, the further the restaurant is from the river, the better the food. Here are the dishes to look for: Continue…