|Quoc lo 1A - AH1 road map|
So to start my 2012's travel resolutions, my family and I made a road trip by car from Danang up to Sapa, Lao Cai, the very northern area of Vietnam. We took AH1 road (quốc lộ 1A - photo above) from Danang to Hanoi, from there took the straight way to Sapa, Lao Cai, and crossed the border between Vietnam and China. On the way return, from Hanoi we changed to take the Ho Chi Minh trail (photo below, blue line) which was a very wise decision. Ho Chi Minh trail compared to AH1 is much newer, better road quality with amaaaazing view of countryside of Northern Vietnam.
Of course I didn't forget my job of observing and experiencing food cultures as we travelled through cities. In every city people'd sell local specialties along the road, so we stopped to buy a bit of everything whenever possible. Let's join me through the photos!
1. Hà Tĩnh: Cu đơ - Ricepaper peanut brittle
Our first stop was Ha Tinh, a small and poor city in the north central. Ha Tinh is very well-known for its cu đơ - ricepaper peanut brittle. We stopped at a local shop called "Ông bà thư viện" (address: 485 Hà Huy Tập) which claimed to produce the best cu đơ in town. It was very interesting to see the whole production inside the shop, and enjoy just-produced hot and crispy cu đơ at the place.
|Cu đơ - Ricepaper peanut brittle|
2. Vinh (Nghệ An): Súp lươn - Eel soup
We stayed a night in Vinh city (Nghe An province) and had the chance to try the city's popular eel soup. Just eel and spring onion in a well-seasoned stock. Was not much impressed by the dish, perhaps because I was tired that day.
|Súp lươn - Eel soup|
3. Ninh Bình: Mía - Sugarcane
This is an extremely worth-visiting area of Vietnam, as long as you take Ho Chi Minh trail. Road with the most beautiful natural scenery in Vietnam, period! The endless (more than 1 hour driving) magnificent limestone mountain ranges in this area was truly astonishing. I was literally jaw-dropping at the scenery. Such a shame I couldn't capture just a part of its beauty..
|Viet countryside at its best|
Also here you can see sugarcane fields one after another. There are often two kinds of sugarcane here, one with lower quality planted for sugar factories, and one with very nice sweet taste we can actually eat.
|Selling sugarcane along the road|
|Have you ever tried directly eating fresh sugarcane like this?|
4. Phủ Lý (Hà Nam): Bánh đa cá rô - Grilled tilapia noodle soup
At Phu Ly I tried the best dish of the whole trip: Bánh đa cá rô or grilled tilapia noodle soup. I rarely enjoy anything at 6am, but that day I finished my bowl of banh da ca ro in a heart beat. Deboned tilapia was perfectly seasoned, grilled to a degree that made the fish surface quite firm and slightly crispy, eaten with green mustard leaves and rice noodle. So yum! All the banh da ca ro shops at Phu Ly was packed with road travellers even before sunrise.
|Bánh đa cá rô - Grilled tilapia noodle soup|
5. Ba Vì (Hà Nội): Sữa - Milk products
At the northern outskirts of the capital you can find all kinds of milk products including fresh milk, milk candy, milk cakes...
6. Việt Trì (Phú Thọ): Bưởi Đoan Hùng - Doan Hung grapefruit
|Bưởi Đoan Hùng - Doan Hung grapefruit|
7. Sapa (Lào Cai):
Finally we arrived at our main destination: Sapa. Sapa is a very famous site of Vietnam, if you haven't heard of already. Sa Pa is a quiet mountain town and home to a great diversity of ethnic minority peoples including H'mong, Yao, Tay... In recent years the town's centre area has become quite touristy as more and more people get to know about its natural and raw beauty.
|Why bother going to Europe?|
|Early market at Sapa church|
We were very lucky as we got there on the day all the local H'mong people celebrated their new year festival. I'd never been surrounded by so many minority people like that, perfect chance to polish my crappy photography skills.
A short video I made in Sapa:
|This little girl eagerly climbed up hill after hill (with only her little brother!) to attend the festival|
|Traditional game of H'mong kids|
Sapa in early February was freezing. Perfect for some grilled stuff at night in front of Sapa church. A must try is cơm lam - glutinous rice stuffed and cooked in bamboo tubes, then quickly grilled over hot charcoal. What's special about com lam is that after cooked and cooled down, the rice are naturally wrapped up by a very thin layer of "bamboo's skin", and has a nice scent of tender bamboo. Eaten with salt-peanut, this was a serious knock-out of the night.
|Wonderful Cơm lam|
|A wild pig @Sapa|
|Grilled stuff at Sapa|
|Grilled stuff at Sapa|
We then got back to Lao Cai to go to China for a day through the border.
|My passport to China|
|Where Hong river starts @Vietnam-China border|
So that was my one week new year trip. Through the car window I passed endless green fields, old northern villages, and bright smiles of hardworking farmers. To realise that my country is still very poor, but beautiful more than ever.