Category Archives: Golf
When Monsieur and I travelled through Vietnam some time back, this fascinating country and its people had such a profound effect on me that I haven’t yet blogged about it. Every time I think of our journey, my mind fills with such a kaleidoscope of vistas and tastes and people and experiences that it overwhelms. But now, sixteen months later, I’m going to try to share our experiences.
To start with, here’s a synopsis of how we did it. We didn’t see everything that we wanted to see, because Vietnam is a big place with troublesome roads and slow trains and we only had two weeks within which to learn how to cross the roads and explore as much of the country as possible. The upshot of that is that there’s plenty to keep us busy when we go back one day. And we will go back one day. If I could wangle it, I’d go back right this minute.
GETTING THERE AND BACK:
Monsieur and I flew on Eva Air from London to Bangkok because direct flights from London to Vietnam are exorbitant and this way we’d both save money and see a little bit of Thailand. It’s significantly cheaper for UK residents to fly to Bangkok and then hop across to Vietnam on one of the region’s low cost airlines. In our case we flew Air Asia from Bangkok to Hanoi, and from Ho Chi Minh City back to Bangkok. Air Asia is cheap and efficient, but the baggage allowance is a meagre 15 kilos. Going out, this wasn’t a problem and my packed suitcase only weighed 10 kilos, which is somewhat of an achievement for this girl scout who likes to be prepared for all eventualities. Quite naturally, as we travelled about, Monsieur and I picked up more baggage weight in the form of clothes and gifts for family and friends, so that by the time we left Vietnam, our baggage excess was such that we had to pay a hefty $125 US dollars. The way we looked at it this was that once added to the cost of the flights themselves it just made the flights feel more regular in price as opposed to a real bargain. You have been warned.
Internally we flew Vietnam Airlines, which we found to be pretty good. We later found out that they have a terrible reputation but that wasn’t our experience at all. Had we had more time, we would have liked to try the train that travels up and down Vietnam, but unfortunately the journey times were too long to be practical for us.
So here’s what we got up to. It would be great if you pick out something that you’d like to hear about, leave it in the comments and I’ll write it up for you.
Day 1 – Arrive in Bangkok. Stay at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Swim off the travel grime and enjoy lovely buffet at the hotel.
Day 2 – Breakfast by the river. Hire a driver to take us around Bangkok for 5 hours for the equivalent of a 15 minute cab ride in London. We manage to take in the Golden Buddha, the Grand Palace and a vibrant weekend market before returning to the hotel. Cocktails at the Sirocco Bar with fantastic views over Bangkok and dinner at the Blue Elephant.
Day 3 – Fly to Hanoi. Have fun with immigration officials and ATMs at Hanoi airport. Stay at the beautiful Sofitel Metropole Hotel. Learn to cross streets without being mown down by a tidal wave of mopeds. Walk to old town via Hoan Kiem Lake. Visit Ngoc Son temple. Circle the lake. Dinner at the Spices Garden restaurant at the hotel.
Day 4 – Take tour to Halong Bay. Long day. Epic ingests an entire dish of MSG. By herself. And suffers the consequences.
Day 5 – Walk around Hanoi. Visit Temple of Literature, Hanoi Hilton. Just about evaporate in the heat and humidity.
Day 6 – Fly to Danang. Pass China Beach on way to Hoi An. Stay at Ha An Hotel. Lunch at Banana Leaf. Do walking tour of Old Town – temples, Japanese Bridge, a ‘real’ Vietnamese home etc. Visit Yaly tailors. Dinner at Mango Rooms.
Day 7 – Fitting at Yaly then a lazy day at nearby Cua Dai Beach. Lunch at the beach. Dinner at Brothers Café.
Day 8 – Fly to Nha Trang. Stay at Six Senses resort. Laze around at the beach and in the pool. Dinner and DVDs in our room. We need to slow down for a couple of days, and so we do just that.
Day 9 – All meals taken at the hotel. The much-needed chilling-out period after so much travelling helps a lot so we spend another day at the beach.
Day 10 – Travel by road to Dalat. Looks close on map. Takes hours each way. Visit our driver’s family shrine, rest stop in village, see Dalat train station, Prenn Falls. See coffee/ tapioca/sugar cane plantations. Afternoon at Dalat Palace Golf Club. Interesting drive back to Nha Trang with our fascinating driver. Much of our conversation is taken up by what Vietnamese eat, which is just about everything.
Day 11 – Another day chilling out. Vietnamese coffee rocks. We watch Vietnamese musicians at dinner. We also have a sunburn relief massage with fresh aloe vera. I’d never had a massage before. What total decadence!
Day 12 – Fly to Ho Chi Minh City. Stay at Majestic Hotel on Dong Khoi. It rains buckets. Visit the post office, haggle with street vendors, give thanks for safe travels at Notre Dame Cathedral. Walk to Reunification Palace. Dinner at M Bar with great views over river. That river is a floating highway, even at night.
Day 13 – take tour out of HCMC. Visit Cu Chi Tunnels and My Tho on the Mekong Delta. Boat ride to Ben Tre for lunch. Coconut candy factory, snakes and longboats. Cao Dai Temple. Lacquerware factory visit. Dinner with Adam from Vietnam Travel Notes – we go to Bin Thanh Market together. REALLY good night!
Day 14 – last day in Vietnam. Shopping in town. Lunch at Lemongrass. Dong Khoi. Back to the airport. Long delay because of riots in Bangkok. Stay at The Peninsula Hotel.
Day 15 – Fly home with a head full of wonderful, colourful memories of Vietnam.
+16 months – Epic finally gets around to blogging about it.
To read the previous instalment please click here.
So far, so good. Monsieur and I may not have been walking down the aisle, hand in hand, or trying to knock our female friends unconscious with a low-flying bouquet, but we were certainly enjoying our private celebration of The Wedding that Wasn’t. In one afternoon we’d checked in to a wedding cake hotel, hung out at the driving range, practised our putts and swum in an indoor heated pool. All that activity had worked up our appetites, so we spruced up and set off downstairs to dine at the Club’s Park Restaurant.
As we were greeted by the maître d’ – ”Good evening, Madame-Sir,” following him into a sumptuous dining room, my heart sank. Our day at Stoke Park had been wonderful; how ever was dining here going to live up to our now extremely high expectations?
Monsieur and I were seated at a table for two in the centre of the room; we were not by a window nor tucked comfortably into a plush banquette by the wall. At first I felt a little exposed but we soon overcame that hurdle when the menus appeared. Then, torn between food porn and people-watching I realised that the tables were spaced out in a way that our neighbours’ conversation could not be overheard. At least, not yet. I do like that in a restaurant.
The bread basket was offered and I permitted myself one soft, small brown bun, still warm from the oven. The butter melted slowly into it indicating that it wasn’t too hot or cold, just perfect. Then it was time for some Serious Decision-making as we selected our starters. There was something on the menu for every palate, including vegetarians. Would I choose the pan-fried scallops with celeriac purée, crispy pancetta, port reduction and caviar? Or perhaps I’d try the ragout of chicken winglets, chorizo, girolles and flageolet beans, served inside a filo casserole pan with madeira jus? Even the vegetarian option was sophisticated as opposed to a tie-dyed celebration of lentils; Stoke Park veges could enjoy the goat’s cheese, sweet potato and basil roulade with pear and fig salad and walnut vinaigrette.
Following our amuse bouches of a mushroom cappuccino?? (at least, I think that’s what it was) served with tiny spoon in tiny Mad Hatter’s teacup, the starters appeared, and not a moment too soon, for the afternoon’s activities had caused a persistent rumble in my stomach. I’d chosen the decadence of seared foie gras served on a brioche crouton with baby spinach, red grapes, pomegranate and sweet muscat sauce. Neither piled high nor lilliputian, the starter’s serving was just the right size to stimulate the tastebuds without overloading them.
Monsieur’s first course was a tian of Dorset crab, lobster, prawn and avocado with a cucumber and pink grapefruit dressing. It arrived shaped into a small but perfect tower on the plate, a work of culinary art. Apparently there are various definitions for tian, from layered vegetable preparations to casserole dishes, but in this case it took the meaning of layered presentation. I could tell that Monsieur was torn between tearing into it with his fork and simply contemplating its beauty from afar. The ending here was somewhat predictable, though, and the tian was consumed in its entirety.
We ate slowly, savouring each morsel, for this was not food to be rushed, and we were not in a hurried environment, although the maître d’ often appeared to check that everything was as it should be, each time calling us “Madame-sir”. He was practised in the efficient running of a fine dining establishment, that much was certain, dashing in silent fashion from table to table, seating any new arrivals, farewelling those on their way out, flourishing menus and assisting with wine selection or the deciphering of gastronomic terminology.
In between mouthfuls, Monsieur and I were thoroughly enjoying alternating between a delicious chablis and thirst-quenching Hildon water but we didn’t have long to contemplate grapey notes between courses. Our mains arrived at just the right interval, having allowed us time to ruminate over our delicious starters but not enough time to fret over tardiness in the kitchens.
Monsieur was in carnivore’s heaven with his Beef Wellington. Served with seasonal chanterelles and warm cherry tomatoes (still on the vine)on a bed of mash, he thought nothing of ordering sautéed potatoes to add to his meat- ‘n’-two-servings-of-the-same-veg main. (It even came with the letters SPC in puff pastry – the initials of the Club).
My choice was the trio of fish. Presented on an oval, almost fish-shaped platter with thumb hole at one end for serving, I enjoyed three entirely different, yet complementary, types of fish. First was red mullet ‘escabèche, a delightfully tender fish with zesty marinade. Next was John Dory with pea purée and confit fennel, which struck me as a humourous five-star approach to fish ‘n’ mushy peas. Last on the platter was sea bream with baby provençale vegetables – essentially a ratatouille of mini-veg to match the serving size. For a fish lover, such as me, this was heaven. With a few sautéed spuds pinched from Monsieur’s side order, I couldn’t fault it. Everything tasted freshly-caught, ‘never seen a freezer’, and had evidently been prepared with the utmost attention to the detail of both recipe and presentation.
But we hadn’t finished yet. Oh, yes, there was still dessert to come, and somehow, thanks to considerate portions, we miraculously had room to accommodate another course.
Monsieur tried the Tiramisu Plate – a chocaholic’s perfect falling-off-the-wagon platter. Everything was tiny – the bitter chocolate pot, the artful spoonful of mascarpone and kahlua ice cream, a teeny coffee soufflée and quenelle of tiramisu. Yet the richness of the combination of small tastes just about finished Monsieur off. Even so, I don’t think he would ever have considered not finishing every last bit.
Feeling in the need of a fromage fix, I indulged in the cheese platter. “But please, no blue cheese,” I told the waitress, feeling very When Harry Met Sally in such a high-maintenance demand. Sure enough, the cheeseboard arrived laden with perfect small slices of soft cheeses and hard cheeses but not a blue in sight. I didn’t touch the homemade walnut bread, which looked wonderful but which would only have stolen the last precious intestinal centimetres reserved for cheese. Instead I nibbled on the oatcakes and grapes and perfect slivers of celery to temper the strength of the cheeses and even so, I was quite ready to turn my back on food for a few hours at the end.
And so, feeling like Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Monsieur and I rolled ourselves out of the restaurant and up the narrow set of stairs to our room, where we had earlier stored a bottle of New Zealand’s Lindauer bubbly (if you haven’t tried this yet, do! It’s affordable and doesn’t give you a sore head the following day.) with which to celebrate The Wedding That Wasn’t. We needed ice so called the porter who brought it to the door within minutes, asking, with glint in his eye, if we’d like champagne flutes. Either he’d done the turn-down earlier, spotting our bottle chilling in one of the sinks (there was strangely no fridge or mini-bar in the otherwise beautifully appointed room) or he was accustomed to people bringing their own bubbles to Stoke Park. Once he’d left, I couldn’t decide if this chap was superb customer service, a psychic in our midst or a spy.
Whatever it was, it didn’t matter. Monsieur and I lay there in the Hastings Room, warm and comfortable on the soft bed, sipping on bubbly and talking about the superb day we’d just had. But no, we couldn’t laze about for long. We had to get a full night’s sleep, for the next day we’d be trying our hand at the championship golf course. Tee off was set for 9.40am and you can’t play 18 holes without breakfast.