Bonsai Cruise, Grand Dining on the Saigon River

Looking for something a little different to do in Saigon? Still with some site seeing, a touch of culture and impressive food along with a different perspective of the city? .. And an exciting cocktail list!?

My friend, Adam and I booked the Bonsai Cruise after some research on activities to do in Ho Chi Minh. I love being on the water and frankly, if there’s great food (hello luxury buffet!) involved, I am in!

We were welcomed, seated and had our welcome beverage in hand within a few minutes. The watermelon crush was refreshing but lacking a little something… We were in a jovial mood and much to the bemusement of our waiter we each ordered a vodka shot to spice up the welcome beverage. I highly recommend starting off the evening this way and a number of our fellow diners joined in the activity!

You are soon cruising the Saigon River, and the food is ready almost immediately. An upbeat drumming group provides a little welcome music before the band starts. We waited for the masses to grab their food from the three stations before getting our plates – this human does not like to line up! Strategic dining, I call it. Order your first cocktail at this point too, there’s no drinks queue at this point either.

With three food stations it was hard to know where we start. If you know anything about me though, you’ll know that I love dumplings. So obviously that’s where I started! I created an entrée type plate for us with wontons, dim sims, rice paper rolls and some beautiful feta and heirloom tomato sticks.

Seeking something a little more substantial (working your way through the cocktail list will do that to you), I visited the wok man. He’s a wok magician! There’s food flying, flames flying and the voila! You have a delicious plate of noodles in front of you! The wok magician really had outdone himself, but there were more stations to try.

“Menu items are slow-cooked, hand-selected, fresh from the grill and all tangy in taste. Arranged and prepared live on our interactive buffet stations. Our aim is to create signature dishes based on the many regional delicacies of Indochina.” – Bonsai Cruise

Next up, bruschetta, some vege and chicken skewers, some roast pork and prawns. Still not content, we slurped a noodle soup bowl each which was perfect to finish off our meals…. Until dessert!

The dessert station was substantial – much to our delight! We tried almost one of everything.

Ploughing our way through the cocktail list, I have to admit that the pina colada was my favourite. The margarita was my least favourite, only because it was rather strong – Adam was happy to take care of it for me.

All the while we were enjoying our feast there were cultural performances. From traditional dance storytelling to stick dancing, there was always somewhere to look. The band was fantastic and there was always a great view to take photos with in the background.

I always find you can learn much more about the landscape of a city from the water. Looking back at the curves, the bays, the hills, the skyscrapers. I feel more oriented and enjoy the different perspective.

If you’re in Saigon and have an evening free, be sure to check out Bonsai Cruises for a great evening on the river. Remember to visit the wok musician and try a pina colada.

Oh! And importantly, for those who care about the environment (hopefully that is all of you) they operate sustainably. It’s an environmentally friendly cruise with ethical and local sourcing.

*While this cruise was complimentary, this review is true and authentic.

Real Vietnam Is At The Back, Not At The Front – Best Nha Trang Cooking Class

Chef Dat picked me up from my hotel on the morning I was returning to Saigon from Nha Trang. He had plans to take me to the local markets and countryside and then a cooking experience at his country house. Talking to Chef Dat, you immediately realise he is not in this for the money. It’s all about great passion and a calling to help those less fortunate. Chef Dat has worked in Nha Trang tourism since 1994, he has fantastic English and owns a local cafe, Same Same But Different Cafe. He often hosts home-stay guests who assist him to educate local village children who cannot afford education. I immediately connected with him and looked forward to an amazing day.

Over and over again Chef Dat told me, the real Vietnam is at the back, not at the front. He was referring to the tourist centers that sit at the front of the cities where you can get lost just in that world. The truth is though, if you explore more outwards you will start to see the real Vietnam. And it certainly is a sight and experience to behold.

First of all we stopped on the roadside and we went to the local bakery and Chef Dat explained about the French influence and the Chinese influence on Vietnamese food. Wheat is still not grown in Vietnam, only rice, all wheat is still imported. The bakery was incredible – a very old wood fired oven surrounded by trays of dough. A man sprays the dough with colour then places the dough (banh mi shape) on the board. He grabs a stick from behind his ear and quickly draws a line through the middle on the top for that classic Vietnamese roll look. He shoves the board into the hole in the wall to get it in the oven. Not too long later he pulls out another tray and they all fall in the basket. The smell is delicious, if you weren’t hungry yet, you would be now.

Next stop, a local roadside produce stall where Chef Dat explains to me all the herbs, fruit & vegetables and what they’re good for both cooking & health wise. For instance, 200g bitter melon is good for Type 2 diabetes as it absorbs sugar in the stomach and purple mint is great for coughs. We purchase some items for our meal.

Right next door is pork, killed at 4am that morning, very fresh. Chef Dat chooses some pieces for our pho.

Up the road we go, we choose some chicken and beef.

We drive past a group of men, sitting facing each other, with birds hanging in mini aviaries above them in the middle. Dat explains it’s a bird cafe! The Vietnamese men’s hobby is birds and they are very proud so bring them to the cafes to show them off. I wish I took a photo!!

Chef Dat took me to the bustling local markets where they sell everything from fresh produce to clothing and rice cookers. On the way in a lovely Vietnamese lady let me try her special silken tofu. She poured some sugar syrup with ginger over it to sweeten. It was so incredibly smooth and dissolved in my mouth. The sweetener and honey made it just right. A beautiful taste.

We sought out some more produce, some prawns and some spring roll papers from Chef Dat’s regular vendors. They all know him and call out.

Chef Dat took me to his local village and showed me their temple. He explained that Vietnamese is the only Asian language with a Latin influence. He showed me the cemetery and how their faith believes that when they die they go to the permanent life. This is why they have lotus flowers on their headstones. It might be a cooking tour but you learn much more than just about food.

A local produce farm was next door, I smelt all different kinds of basil & mint and watched the Vietnamese working the fields. Just like in the pictures.

The next stop is Chef Dat’s House. A beautiful big house with the cooking area beautifully set up outside. We are joined by five others while I enjoy a beer and help Chef Dat prepare the ingredients and explore his organic garden.

The spring roll ingredients are all cut (by yours truly and the others) and placed separately on the plate. These colours and separation indicate the elements and you’ll notice many Vietnamese cooks and recipes place emphasis on this. Dishes in Vietnam appeal to gastronomes via five senses: food arrangement attracts eyes, sounds come from crisp ingredients, five spices are detected on the tongue, aromatic ingredients coming mainly from herbs stimulate the nose, and some meals, especially finger food, can be perceived by touching.

We get the broth boiling for the pho, the spices flaming and the smells wafting over are mouth watering! We all take turns chopping, mixing, grinding and char-grilling and frying. It’s very interactive, fun and friendly.

Here comes the heart breaker, I had to leave BEFORE the dishes were finished! No fault but my own, I had booked the tour full knowing that I would have to leave early and miss out, however I didn’t want to miss out on this experience and I am so, so, so glad that I made the effort to go and meet Chef Dat and the wonderful tour and environment he has created.

I had been writing everything down so I could recreate the recipes at home, however it turns out they are on the website! I am going to make everything we created together. You can check out the spring rolls, pho and chicken with chilli & lemongrass recipes too.

Word of warning: many other tour sites sell this trip as their own at a much higher price. Book with Nha Trang Cooking Class for the best deal.

*While this tour was complimentary, this review is completely authentic and true! I admire Chef Dat and the work he does in the community.

Our Great Ocean Road Tour – Wildlife & Raging Coastlines

Last week my brother and I decided to spend a day exploring outside of Melbourne City and check out the Great Ocean Road. After umm-ing and ahh-ing we decided a day guided tour would be best. We were both really tired and didn’t have time to research the car journey if we drove on our own, so booked the Great Ocean Road Classic Tour with Bunnyip Tours.

So very glad we did. I think both of us slept most of the way there and had a few naps at other quiet times too! We headed off with Katie, our wonderful Bunyip guide, who decided that she would do the tour backwards to beat both the heat and the crowds.

The incredible 12 Apostles were our first stop on the Great Ocean Road. Breathtaking views, ragged cliffs, stunning colours and a roaring ocean. I could have stared at them for hours. Instead, typically, we did our best to take some photos in front of them and enjoy the view. Being so early in the day there weren’t many people around and while the weather wasn’t great, I think it was the best weather to visit the 12 Apostles in. The colours were mesmerizing.

Our next stop was the Loch Ard Gorge and the Shipwreck Coast. Luke and I ran along to see everything and Katie was very kind to take us to another special spot, Thunder Cave and Sherbroke River. I managed to break my shoe while running along the paths – oops! The views were so worth it. Big thanks to Katie for going out of her way to make our experience special, knowing that we were adventure nuts!

We stopped for lunch at Otway lighthouse, mainland Australia’s oldest lighthouse. It took 70 men 10 months to build and was much needed with all the shipwrecks along the coast. Lunch was a typical Aussie BBQ, sausage sizzle, pasta salad and fresh salad – yumm. There’s some really nice sweet slices inside too if you’re so inclined. We ate overlooking the lighthouse and then took the pathway that lead us to the top to magnificent coastal views. We learnt the ancient history of the Aboriginal owners, the Gadubanud people in an Aboriginal hutt where you can hear stories from the past.

We followed the Great Ocean Road back along the rainforest towards Melbourne, stopping in Apollo Bay and Lorne – both small coastal towns. At Lorne you could even try a vegemite gelato! Not my thing, but I’m sure some people like it…

We stopped to looked for Koala’s in the wild and found four! There were heaps of friendly birds too, with Cockatoos and Australian Parrots wanting to land on our arms and heads for the perfect photo opportunity. Luke was fairly pleased with his new pics (I’m sure they’re on his Tinder profile already – ha) with all his new bird friends.

During the course of the tour we also saw a kookaburra, a kangaroo and even some dolphins on the way home! They were following us down the coastline.

Katie is great entertainment and full of knowledge while on the road, constantly sharing stories, personal experiences and even singing local songs! I highly recommend doing a tour if you are time poor or from overseas – there’s so much to learn that you miss on your own. Plus you make new friends along the way!

*This tour was complimentary however is a true and authentic review.

Where To Buy Diamonds in St Martin: Ballerina Jewelers

** I wrote this blog after my trip to St Martin a few months ago. Unfortunately Hurricane Irma flew in and devastated the island, shutting down the store for a long time. For the last month or so they received power and water to the store for a few hours a day so they could get some business done and prepare to open again. Great news is, they are open again for business!

Looking for diamonds in idyllic St Martin? Check out Ballerina Jewelers on Front Street in Philipsburg. If diamonds are a girls best friend, then this place is Disneyland.

I spent a long afternoon in search of quality diamonds at a fair price. I could have saved myself a whole afternoon and stopped right where I started! Ballerina Jewelers was the first place we went in to. We were assisted by Deepak who helped me find some chocolate diamond bands and explained the quality and pricing.

I then spent three hours or so wandering around and stopping in approx fifteen other stores. Other stores were cheaper but they didn’t have the quality. Many were more expensive and still didn’t have the quality! The customer service all around was pretty good, salespeople would call their other stores in search of what I wanted – apparently a chocolate diamond band is far too classic and reserved around here. There were some very elaborate designs around.

I ended up back where I started. Deepak patiently took me through the four rings I was contemplating again and helped me decide which fingers they would look best on to compliment my other rings.

I chose three rings (much more than the one I went in for!) and had two sent away to be complimentary resized.

We were in the store a long time and were always welcomed with a big smile by everyone and even sipped on champagne they poured us while we made our decisions.

My decision ended up being not one, or three rings… but four rings!!! I absolutely adore them all. Deepak has provided wonderful service post the sale too, sending over my appraisal certificates as soon as he had an opportunity post the hurricane.

I highly recommend visiting Deepak and the team at Ballerina Jewelers in St Maarteen if you are considering purchasing diamonds in the Caribbean!

Nest Restaurant – Asian Fusion Happiness in Brisbane CBD

Seren and I visited Nest Restaurant and Bar in Brisbane at Hotel Jen last week. Little did we know what was in store for us! An Asian fusion feast that has me drooling just thinking about it again.

Arriving at Nest Restaurant, you walk in through an intimate bar with gorgeous luxuriously styled booths with an Asian twist. Olive green velvet and wood sets the scene with contrast splashes of bright red. There’s funky, modern artwork on the walls of gorgeous Japanese women. It sets the scene and as I was about to find out, it really matched the food too.

Anyway, onto the feast. It really was a feast! We shared a banquet of three entrees, two mains plus a side and two desserts – full to the brim didn’t even cut it, we practically rolled out like happy little dumplings.

As soon as the entrees arrived I knew I was in a happy place. We devoured the mouth-wateringly good twice cooked lamb ribs cooked in sweet and sour, chilli, lime and mint. Then the prawn toast which was well paired with yuzu mayo and fresh coriander and mint. The herbs bought a fresh and vibrant taste to a plate that could have felt heavy on its own. Next out, the sticky beef wontons – the pulled beef was full of flavour and the crispy wonton shell added an awesome texture.

Exploring the cocktail menu @nestbrisbane 🙌🏽🍾🍹

A post shared by Wander Wonder Wonton (@wanderwonderwonton) on

Then came the mains. We shared the beef cheek penang curry with kaffir lime leaves, green beans and peanuts. The curry had very generous proportions of the brisket and the crispy green beans were a great contrast. Texture is well considered here obviously as well as taste. My fave main came out next, the tea smoked crispy half duck paired with a caramelised mandarin sauce. Yasss – the duck was juicy and smoky and tender. The citrus perfectly elevated the flavour and went really well with our side of morning glory, which even on its own was wonderfully flavoursome!

Andddd of course we had to finish with something sweet. Deep fried peanut butter ice cream with salted caramel sauce – yeah you read that right! And my favourite, the coconut tapioca pudding with palm sugar caramel, passionfruit sorbet and puffed rice.

Our banquet was well paired with the McWilliams Markview NV Brut Cuvee. Sparkling and not too sweet. Went down a little too well, if you know what I mean..

Speaking of which, I’d love to go back and try some of the cocktails I saw coming out of the bar with some friends – they looked superb.

The wait staff were knowledgeable and lovely, answering my (hundreds) of questions and taking a few snaps for us too.

Nest Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

**This dining experience was complimentary from Nest Restaurant, however is completely true and authentic. I cannot wait to dine there again!

Why I Love Staying at Shoreline Hotel, Waikiki

I love Hawaii. It’s my happy place. From the stunning beaches to the rugged mountain ranges, lush jungle, delicious local dishes, fun happy hours and the wonderful locals, it’s where I go to explore and unwind.

Every time I visit, there are soooo many choices on where to stay and it can become overwhelming. I enjoy a more boutique hotel. Something a little more fun, funky and relaxed than a corporate chain. Last time I stayed at Shoreline‘s sister hotel, The Coconut and had a wonderful stay so this time I figured it was only right to check out Shoreline Hotel! Plus my fave cafe in Waikiki, Heavenly Island Lifestyle is right downstairs – quite convenient, don’t ya think?!

After a huge day exploring Maui, I arrived at Shoreline in the middle of bustling Waikiki. The reception area is relaxed and funky, a projector showing fun clips along the back of the wall and huge couches to chill out on. I loved the welcome board with my name on it outside the lifts!!

I had the junior suite for my two night stay – a huge bed and room all for me!! Eep! The room was really spacious, the bed was HUGE and there were more wonderful little touches around like ear plugs by the bed. Little touches make me happy. As did the view! A stunning city line view of Waikiki looking towards the ocean.

A few times a day I would make my way to the reception to fill up my water bottle with the lemon, lime and cucumber water – it’s so refreshing before hitting the heat outside.

While there is a great complimentary continental breakfast spread in the lobby every day, I had other plans. Each morning I would visit Heavenly Island Lifestyle Cafe. If you follow my blog you would have heard me rave about it before – it’s full of healthy and sustainable food options, sourced from local growers. It has a funky vibe to it and the acai bowls, juices, kahlua pork eggs bene are all to die for! You can read more about that here.

Oh! I nearly forgot to mention, the rooftop is awesome! There’s a pool and it’s the perfect place to watch the sunset from with some friends.

The hotel is right by fantastic shopping, great restaurants and bars and the beach – it really is right in the heart of Waikiki.

PS. If you book direct you get 15% off – winning!

**This stay was discounted by Shoreline Hotel, however is completely true and authentic.

Want new blogs to your inbox?

Yeah you do!

Add your email to receive new blogs to your inbox. We promise not to spam.

You have Successfully Subscribed!