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.

Pho-nomenal Vietnamese Eats

Soooo…. did I mention I was going to Vietnam?? Probably not. I only booked about ten days before I left.

Pho-nomenal Vietnamese eats – get it? Pho… I have been making ridiculous puns ever since I got here – it’s mainly to distract from the fact that I am eating a stupid amount of pho, but hey! Who’s watching?! Good pho you…

I generally start my day with pho – it’s a breakfast / any time of the day meal here. I’m an addict. I love it! Rare pho bo (beef) is my happy place. The herbs are so fragrant and flavoursome here it makes it all the better. The beef can be a little touch and go though…

Pho costs approx… $3AUD. Yeahhh that’s a great deal. I’ve spent next to nothing on food since I arrived six days or so ago.

So I’ve been trying to branch out and eat some other Vietnamese food. Banh Mi was next on the list. I found a great place in District 2 in Ho Chi Minh and had devoured the crispy baguette with bbq pork and salad – ommm. They had just swept the floor – I stood up and crumbs flew everywhere!!! Haha – sorry Banh Mi 365 Team!

Today I tried a duck and bamboo soup with vermicelli for breakfast at Costa Seafood in Nha Trang, it was pretty good – I love the bamboo. Didn’t really eat the duck.

What’s your favourite Vietnamese food? What should I try? I’ve had some comments on Instagram and apparently Banh Cuon Nong (rice pancakes with pork & mushroom insides) and Bun Cha are delicious. I’m having trouble finding them in Nha Trang so will have to be back in Saigon.

Ho Chi Minh is up next – let me know your favourite dishes and restaurants to chase!

Brisbane-based lifestyle and travel blog image featuring mountain and sea scenery

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