Only in Japan

People who travel to Japan are usually looking for that special something in its exotic nature, its technology, its food and traditions. They want to experience how an entire nation can immerse itself in the collective intoxication of the cherry blossoms, and how the late-autumn leaves bathe its temples and gardens in a riot of colour. Visitors who are prepared to fly the long distance to the island kingdom want to relax in hot springs, enjoy the freshest raw fish, travel on the world’s most punctual train, the Shinkansen bullet train, experience the symbiosis between architecture, nature and man in its stylish gardens, and gain an insight into the future in its noisy high-tech districts. With Marco Polo’s insider tips you can truly immerse yourself in the unique beauty and culture of Japan.

HEALTHY LUXURY
Japanese elegance, a fabulous garden and excellent dining make a visit to the restaurant Tofuya-Ukai in the beautiful gardens at the bottom of the Tokyo Tower an undeniably successful, hard- to-beat gustatory experience. (Tofuya-Ukai, daily 11am–8pm, Shiba-koen, tel. 03 34 36 10 28, www.ukai.co.jp/shiba)

LARGE THEATRE
Dramas about popular heroes and love stories, traditional plays and dances in fabulous costumes are performed at Tokyo’s famous Kabuki-za theatre. The all-male performers enjoy pop star status in Japan. (Kabuki-za, Chuo, tel. 03 35 41 31 31, www.shochiku.com)

SPORTING SPECTACLE
Despite the numerous scandals surrounding it, the Japanese love their national sport: sumo wrestling. The atmospheric highlights of this 2000-year-old wrestling match include the summer tournament at the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium in Nagoya.

PURE JAPAN
The wooden terrace of Kiyomizu Temple, which is supported by hundreds of pillars, is one of Japan’s landmarks, and has the loveliest views of Kyoto.

TEA CEREMONY “LITE”
Chado, the “Way of tea”, is a stylish pastime and Japanese work of art. Even if you have no prior knowledge and haven’t spent hours sitting with your legs crossed, you can experience the special atmosphere during a half-hour tea ceremony at the Happo-en garden restaurant in Tokyo . (Happo-en, daily 11am–4pm, admission with garden from 2000¥, tel. 03 34 43 31 11, www.happo-en.com/english/garden)

EMPTY ORCHESTRA
Karaoke is a collective form of entertainment for the Japanese that foreigners are also welcome to share. One venue is the JoyJoy in Nagoya. (JoyJoy, daily, admission depending on room, cabin and time from 900¥, tel. 0522490717)

Buy the Marco Polo Japan Pocket Guide

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Marco Polo’s Top 5 Romantic Destinations + GIVEAWAY

Happy Valentine’s Day! Today is all about the big romantic gestures, and what better way to show your love than by taking your significant other on a romantic getaway. We at Marco Polo have decided to share our top 5 romantic destinations with you and to spread the love, we are also giving away a set of 5 Marco Polo Pocket Guides:

AMSTERDAM

Amsterdam may not seem like a romantic destination, but there is a lot of love in this Dutch city. A stroll down the canals, hand in hand with your love, while the locals cycle by, also often hand in hand. Or take a canal cruise and snuggle on the boat while you take in the beautiful 17th century sights.

Oh, and don’t forget to treat your love to a bunch of tulips at the Bloemenmarkt!

BALI

Bali is without a doubt a romantic getaway destination: the beaches, the views, the sunsets, what more could you ask for? The island is a perfect couple’s paradise! For those wishing to splurge, check out the AYANA Resort and Spa in Jimbaran for first class luxury! For those looking for luxury on a budget, this can still be found at Keraton Jimbaran Beach Resort with its own private beach!

While you’re on the island be sure to check out Sanur for its relaxed vibe, Ubud’s rice paddies and in the north: Lovina to do some dolphin watching!

Venice Marco Polo Guide

VENICE

The canals, the gondolas, the gorgeous historical buildings – Venice is full of romance! It has been the setting of many a love story, and one of the most famous ones is the tragic love story between a fisherman and a mermaid. All that is left of their love is a stone heart that is said to bring eternal love to those who touch it, so make sure to take your own love there.

For the best view of Venice, check out Ponte dell’Academia, also known for the many love locks attached to it. Just don’t leave yours there, the locals will not appreciate the damage done to the historical bridge.

Photo credit: Tim Kelly

LAKE GARDA

The beautiful Lake Garda, with mountains in the distance, makes for a stunning scene for the couples seeking an active vacation. Visit the historical harbour of Sirmione, go hiking in the nearby mountains and end your day in one of the area’s excellent Italian restaurants, or watch the sun set into the lake on the beach.

NEW YORK

With all the romantic comedies set in New York, it would be hard to argue why New York does not belong on this list. It is the perfect urban setting for your very own love story. Exchange kisses on the top of the Empire State Building, take a stroll in Central Park and re-enact your favourite romantic movie scene in the city that never sleeps.

*****

GIVEAWAY

To spread the love, Marco Polo is organising a giveaway! We are giving away a set of 5 Marco Polo Pocket guides to one lucky winner, chosen at random.

How to enter?

Simply share the story of your most romantic travel moment or your favourite romantic destination in the comments below. You can earn more win-chances by liking our Facebook page and by following our Twitter and Instagram and by letting us know in your comment that you have done so.

The competition is open from Wednesday 14 February 2018 until Tuesday 20 February 2018 at 12.00 GMT. We will contact the winner personally via email using the email address used to leave the comment so make sure to check that it is spelled correctly!

Good luck! 

Terms and Conditions:

  1. The promotion is open to UK and EU residents aged 18 or over, excluding employees and their immediate families of Marco Polo, its agents or anyone professionally connected with the promotion.
  2. To enter, simply comment on the blog post. Additional win-chances may be acquired by liking the Marco Polo Facebook page and by following the Marco Polo Twitter and Instagram accounts. If the entrant has done any of the mentioned actions, it should be stated in the comment.
  3. This competition will commence on 14 February 2018 and all entries must be received by 12.00 GMT on 20 Febryary 2018. The Promoter accepts no responsibility for any entries that are incomplete, posted late, misdirected, and incorrect, garbled or fail to reach the Promoter by the closing date for any reason. Entries via agents or third parties are invalid.
  4. No purchase necessary, however internet access is required.
  5. The Prizes: 1 x prize winner will receive 5 x Marco Polo Pocket Guides: (£7.99 each).
  6. The prize must be taken as stated and no compensation will be payable if a winner is unable to use the prize as stated. The winner will be liable for all costs and expenses not stated relating to claiming or partaking of the prize.
  7. The promoter may substitute the prize for a prize of an equal or greater value if, for any reason the original item is unavailable.
  8. By entering, winners agree that if they win they will participate in any reasonable publicity arranged by The Promoter or its agencies.
  9. By entering the promotion entrants confirm that they have read and agree to be bound by these terms & conditions and by the decisions of the Promoter, which are final in all matters relating to the promotion. Failure to do so will result in the forfeiture of the prize. No correspondence will be entered into.
  10. The Promoter or its agencies accept no responsibility for any loss or damage suffered through acceptance of the prize.
  11. The Promoter or its agencies will not be responsible for the non-inclusion of entries as a result of technical failures or otherwise, including any such failure which is within the control of The Promoter or its agencies. Proof of submission of entry is not proof of receipt of entry.
  12. The Promoter reserves the right at its sole discretion to disqualify any person it finds to be tampering or to have tampered with the operation of the promotion or the Marco Polo website, or to be acting in violation of these terms and conditions.
  13. To the full extent permitted by law the Promoter will not accept liability for any loss, damage, injury or death arising from this promotion beyond its reasonable control.

The Promoter is Marco Polo Travel Publishing, Pinewood, Chineham Business Park, Crockford Lane, Chineham, Basingstoke, RG24 8AL

Where to go in 2018? – Marco Polo Staff Picks

Choosing your travel destination can be difficult, as there is the whole wide world to choose from. Many of us are planning our 2018 travels at the moment, so we thought we would ask around our office for some ideas, and some Insider Tips. Here are Marco Polo’s Staff Picks for your 2018 travels:

Lake Garda Marco Polo Guide

Photo credit: Ian MacDonald

LAKE GARDA

“Lake Garda is my favourite holiday destination, it has everything – the weather, the views,
the food, the wine… did I mention the food and wine?

My tip for Lake Garda: Have your first espresso immediately after getting off the autostrada
(motorway). Stop at the car park after the first hairpin bend coming from Nago heading for
Torbole and enjoy your first cup of coffee, your first aperol or your first ice cream (at the bar
on the other side of the road). The view to the south is breath-taking.”

– Ian MacDonald, Managing Director

Dresden Marco Polo Guide

DRESDEN

“Dresden city exudes a magical aura. When the morning sun glistens on the Elbe River and
highlights the silhouette of the Altstadt, even the residents of Dresden catch their breath.

As one of the most popular travel destinations in Germany (the city welcomes around
ten million visitors every year, and this figure is on the rise) it impresses its visitors
with monuments, art and culture. Yet, it is the Elbe River that defines the city’s
mood. It winds its way through the town in broad curves, passing vineyards, stately
castles and homely beer gardens, and lined by the broad Elbwiesen meadows, which
are unlike anything to be found in other large European towns these days. People meet
here to sit around camp fires, eat picnics, go for a walk, ride their bikes
or relax in the sand and watch the clouds go by… why not join them?”

– Andrew, Sales Representative for London and the South Coast

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA

“This is hardly a hidden gem, but after travelling around Asia for two and a half months,
this place is the one I still dream of. Angkor Wat is simply the most stunning thing I have
ever witnessed in my life. It’s no exaggeration to say it took my breath away. Make sure
you allow plenty of time to explore the temples. The best way is by tuk-tuk; hire a driver
for the day. Or if you’ve brave enough you can rent a moped or bike – but prepare to sweat!!

Whilst in Siem Reap be sure to check out Pub Street and the Night Market. Restaurant wise
– I’d recommend New Leaf Eatery and Genevieve’s, both of which are non-profit organisations,
so you can enjoy your meal knowing you’re supporting a great cause!”

– Hayley, Digital Marketing Manager

Photo credit: Alison Floutier

CALIFORNIA ROAD TRIP & SAN DIEGO

“If you’re on Highway 5 heading south from LA to San Diego, add an extra hour to your journey time to allow a stop in San Clemente. It describes itself as the ‘Spanish Village by the Sea’ and would be so easy to dismiss in your charge south to the San Diego. But an hour here, taking in the ocean views and gorgeous Spanish architecture is well worth your time. Insider Tip – you’ll see the big Starbucks sign from the 5. Use this for navigation but stop at the Zebra House Coffee Shop. The best coffee you’ll experience in California and if you strike lucky, the walls can be laden with beautiful artwork from local artists.

Coronado, the spit of land that juts out from San Diego, is Paradise with a capital P. Everyone knows it for ‘The Del’, the grand Victorian Hotel Del Coronado graced by US Presidents and Marco Polo staff alike! It’s a beautiful beach to while away a few hours and then take your sandy-self to the Babcock and Story bar on the ocean front to sip a perfectly ice cold beer and imagine Marilyn Monroe filming Some Like it Hot on the beach just in front. If you can tear yourself away, a drive round to Point Loma is well worth the view looking back across the Navy base, the principal home port of the US Pacific Fleet, and see the hotel and the whole of this gorgeous peninsula.

Insider Tip – the finest Mexican food and eye-wateringly wonderful margaritas can be found just across the road and a world away from the tourist hub of The Del. Hidden behind a row of shops, is the fantastic Miguel’s Cucina. You need to find time to linger here.”

– Diane, Sales & Marketing Coordinator

Marco Polo Guides Lisbon Largo Trindade Coelho

Photo credit: Tim Kelly

LISBON

“Ah, where do you start with Lisbon? I think I’ll have to start with food – freshly caught seafood including prawns the size of your fist and Bacalhau, a local speciality! You can’t leave without trying a Pastel de nata – a Portuguese egg tart. The most popular place to try them is Pasteis de Belem, but they’re sold all over the city. Not forgetting the wine – Portugal produces some excellent wines! Including the famous Port and Madeira, of course… but they’re found all over the country. In Lisbon, the local delicacy is a sickly sweet but surprisingly delicious liqueur called Ginjinha. It’s made from cherries and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a whole cherry in the bottom of your cup! The best places to try it are A Ginjinha near the famous Rossio Square or Ginjinha Sem Rival.

Alfama is my favourite area in Lisbon, I could wander around there for hours. And you must visit Castelo de São Jorge, Rossio Square and the beautiful Cathedral: Se! My other tip is Belem… which is a little out of the city, but worth a visit… and if you have time, take an excursion to Sintra. You won’t regret it!”

– Petra, Sales & Marketing Manager

BOSTON

Boston is ideal as a stand alone city break or as a good starting point for trips further afield in the New England area. Hotels can be ridiculously expensive so we tend to go for the better priced boutique B&Bs. Seafood is plentiful and just about everywhere from cafes, pubs to restaurants offer lobster and their famous Clam Chowder on their menus and at such good value.

For sports fans you have everything covered, The Boston Red Sox Baseball stadium where you can take a guided tour, the TD Gardens for Ice Hockey and Baseball and Patriots Place for the current Superbowl Champions, the New England Patriots for American Football and The New England Revolutions for Soccer. This is further afield and requires a train journey but great to get to see small town America as you travel by.

Boston and the New England coastline is brilliant for spotting whales and from the harbour you can easily book day trips on the many tours they offer. Duck Tours are great to get your bearings and get the low-down on the city from a local driver and they all end up on the river which is one of the best places to view Boston. Their Aquarium is right on the harbour front and worth a visit.”

– Julie, Office Manager

UTRECHT, THE NETHERLANDS

“Amsterdam is one of those destinations that everyone has to see at least once in their life, but my tip for anyone visiting Amsterdam for more than a day or two is to leave the city. It may seem counter-intuitive, but there is a lot more to see in the Netherlands than just Amsterdam. One such place is Utrecht, one of the oldest cities in the country. It’s only 20 minutes away by train, but Utrecht is still a bit of a hidden gem for most tourists.

There are canals, just like in Amsterdam and many other Dutch cities, but the canals in Utrecht have a unique feature: the canal side docks. Once used for loading trade goods, today there are countless restaurants that host their terraces on the docks.

The Dom tower is the main landmark of the city, an old church tower from the 15th century, which you will be able to see in the horizon almost everywhere in the city. The cathedral is also worth a visit, as is the old courtyard with its flowers and a maze. Entrance is free, though a small donation at the door is always appreciated.

If you are hungry or thirsty, there is plenty that Utrecht can offer. My personal favourite for a quick, inexpensive snack is the Vietnamese streetfood restaurant Kimmade, on Mariastraat. It’s a tiny little place, with seats for around 10 people, but the food is excellent. For drinks Neude is the place to be, especially if it is sunny. The square will be packed with tables and chairs and this is where the locals will be. Order a beer and a portion of fries – or bitterballen if you are really feeling the local vibe, and enjoy.”

– Senja, Social Media Assistant

What is your pick for 2018?

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Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 18: Japan Christmas KFC

Marco Polo Japan Pocket Guide

Marco Polo Japan Pocket Guide coming out in January 2018!

It’s Day 18 of our Advent Calendar and the countdown to Christmas has really begun. Today we are headed to a brand-new Marco Polo guide destination… Japan! We are launching our brand-new updated Pocket Guide series in January, with a sleek new design and a bunch of new destinations… but for now we will find out why all of Japan is going crazy for fried chicken on Christmas day. Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here!

JAPAN KFC CHRISTMAS

Christmas isn’t traditionally celebrated in Japan, and those that do, tend to treat it more as a romantic holiday, treating their partners to romantic getaways and dinners as one would on Valentine’s Day. However, there is also a rough estimate of 3.6 million Japanese people who celebrate Christmas with their families and loved ones by getting a bucket or two of KFC, Kentucky Fried Chicken.

December is the busiest month of the year for the KFC in Japan, and you have to order the special KFC Christmas dinner weeks early or you will find yourself waiting in line for hours.

The tradition is almost fifty years old already. The first KFC restaurants arrived in Japan in the 1970s, and in 1974 the company ran a national marketing campaign Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii, Kentucky for Christmas. The Christmas party bucket was an immediate success, possibly because Japan did not have any other Christmas traditions at the time, so people were eager to fill the void. The company also branded their own smiling Colonel Sanders as sort of Santa Claus figure with the traditional Santa outfit and similar jolly white-bearded appearance.

So if you are travelling in Japan during Christmas, don’t be surprised to see long lines outside the KFC. And though we are not likely to pick up the tradition here at Marco Polo, the idea of no Christmas cooking but having a good time with family and friends does sound pretty appealing.

 

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Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 11: Christmas in Thailand

It’s Day 11 of our Advent Calendar and today we are taking a break from all the typical Christmas destinations and heading off to… Thailand! Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here!

CHRISTMAS IN THAILAND

For those who feel like escaping the traditional Christmas celebrations, Thailand is the place to be. As a Buddhist country, Thailand does not celebrate Christmas, though many hotels and restaurants do cater to the tourists who miss Christmas at home. Of course, Christmas in Thailand is the perfect opportunity to trade in the turkey for some Thai curry and the eggnog for a tropical cocktail or Thai craft beer. No incessant Christmas music to be heard, no obligatory family visits; instead you can video call your family back at home by the pool.

Even if you do love the traditional Christmas with the pudding, crackers and Christmas carols, sometimes it is good to take a break from the tradition, if only to appreciate it even more the next time. And who knows, you might just make some new friends among the other tourists at the hotel’s Christmas party!

Buy the Thailand Marco Polo Spiral Guide.

Thailand Marco Polo Guide

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Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 2: Christmas in Vietnam

For the second post of our advent calendar we look into how Christmas is celebrated in… Vietnam! Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here.

Photo credit: Bucket List Bums

CHRISTMAS IN VIETNAM

Though a predominantly Buddhist country, Christmas is celebrated with much flourish in Vietnam, particularly in Hoi Chi Minh. Owing to its history as a French colony, many of the Christmas traditions in Vietnam are Catholic, such as the midnight mass,  though nowadays even the non-Christian Vietnamese celebrate the season with good food and decorations. In Vietnam the Christmas Eve is almost more important than the Christmas day. In Hoi Chi Minh people will crowd the streets, throw confetti and enjoy the brightly decorated storefronts. The French Christmas log cake, bûche de Noël, is a popular gift though exchanging gifts during Christmas is not that common in Vietnam.

So if you are going to be spending Christmas in Vietnam, don’t worry, you won’t miss out on the Holiday cheer!

CHECK OUT THE GIVEAWAY 

Buy the Vietnam Marco Polo Guide.

Marco Polo Vietnam Spiral Guide

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Only in Bali

Bali, Lombok or the Gilis – the names alone conjure up images of beaches lined with palm trees, coral reefs, of rice terraces and mighty volcanoes. Surfers, divers and mountaineers will find their paradise here, while the tourist centres offer all the amenities, from five-star restaurants to oriental spas. Bali’s unique culture draws travellers from all around the world: there are very few places where so much natural beauty meets with such a charming lifestyle as here on the ‘Island of the Gods’. With Marco Polo’s insider tips you can really experience the unique culture of Bali:

Bali Marco Polo Guides

WORLD CULTURAL HERITAGE IN THE RICE FIELD

The Subak system – the irrigation concept of Bali’s rice terraces  – is characterised by democratic and egalitarian principles, as well as harmony between the spiritual world and man and nature. This cultural heritage is clearly explained in the Subak Museum in Tabanan.

GIANT LIZARDS AND DWARF DEER

The dividing line between the Asian and Austronesian primeval continents runs between Bali and Lombok and the flora and fauna of both continents mix here. You will get a particularly good impression of the unique animal and plant world in the Rinjani National Park – also possible on easy day tours; you don’t have to climb the peak straight away!

COLOURFUL PROCESSIONS

Women dressed in brightly coloured clothes balance fruit pyramids on their heads; the men beat heavy gongs: on Bali, you never know when you are going to come across a procession. The most impressive are the parades celebrating the Galungan Festival.

BETWEEN VOLCANOES AND CORAL REEFS

Something you can only experience on the Gilis – and best of all, on the small hill on Gili Trawangan: the Gunung Rijani rises up in the east at dawn and the Gunung Agung shows just how big it is in the west at sunset. In the hours in between, you can explore the fantastic underwater mountains of the coral islands.

SPICY POULTRY

The way the locals like it: the simple Lesehan Taliwang Irama Restaurant in Mataram, which is very popular with the Indonesians, serves a no frills, tasty chilli chicken.

THE BATTLE OF THE PACKETS OF RICE

During Perang Topat – which always takes place at the beginning of the rainy season in Pura Lingsar – Hindus and Muslim Sasak pelt each other with rice wrapped in palm leaves. The so-called ‘Rice Cake War’ is a celebration for all those involved, no matter which religious group they belong to.

 

Buy the Bali Marco Polo Pocket Guide.

Bali Marco Polo Guide

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Marco Polo Guides Bali Indonesia travel

10 reasons to go back to Thailand

Thailand remains one of our ultimate favourite travel destinations. The food, the culture, the people, the beauty of it all – really, the only reason to leave Thailand is so you can return! Here is Marco Polo’s list of ten reasons to go back to Thailand, or visit for the first time if you haven’t already:

Thailand Marco Polo Guide

1.  Life is too short not to come back to Thailand, the most beautiful country in the world.

2. The brochures call it a slice of heaven on earth – and they’re right!

3. Spend your summers in Europe and escape the winter by heading to Thailand.

4. What more could you want than two oceans boasting 3,000 km of tropical coast.

5. Thailand is so cheap that you can still have incredible experiences on a budget.

6. With museums, events and over 25,000 temples, you’ll never run out of things to do.

7. Showing consideration for other peoples’ feelings is a fundamental cornerstone of Thai society.

8. Thailand has the best curries to be found anywhere in the world.

9. You won’t fail to notice that sanuk joie de vivre – is a vital element of Thai life.

10. When you visit the “Land of Smiles” you’ll feel welcome from the first minute to the last.

Buy the Thailand Marco Polo Spiral Guide.

Thailand Marco Polo Guide

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Top 10 Things to Do in Vietnam

There is a lot to see and experience in Vietnam from lush nature to beautiful colonial gems. Here are Marco Polo’s top 10 for Vietnam:

Marco Polo Vietnam Guide

1. HA LONG BAY

Limestone karst formations, some as high as skyscrapers, smothered in dense vegetation, rise right out of the emerald green sea. The best way to explore this bay of sagas and legends is on board a junk.

2. OLD FRENCH QUARTER (SAIGON)

A stroll around the Old French Quarter in the shade of tamarind trees takes you past magnificent buildings from colonial days.

3. HOI AN

A waft of China hangs over this old port between pagodas, traditional merchants’ houses, dressmakers’ and souvenir shops.

4. HUE

Tracing how the emperors and kings once lived takes you to moss- covered palaces and burial sites with gardens and ponds. The imperial era is brought back to life in plays and dances.

5. SA PA

Bright green rice terraces, rounded mountain tops and colourfully clad ethnic mountain people – hiking here from one village to the next is like being in one huge landscape painting.

6. DRY HA LONG BAY

From a canoe you can marvel at the fairy-tale scenery of paddy fields gleaming in every conceivable shade of green framed by karst giants covered in tropical vegetation.

7. PHU QUOC

Vietnam’s largest island is a paradise for beach-lovers with endlessly long stretches of sand and tropical jungle as a backdrop. Diving grounds bursting with brightly-coloured sea creatures wait to be explored.

8. CU CHI TUNNELS

Here, one remnant of the Vietnam War and the Viet Cong resistance movement can be experienced first hand – even if only a few minutes and just for a couple of metres underground.

9. PHAN THIET & MUI NE

This peninsula with its 1.6km (1 mile) long beach attracts holidaymakers from all points of the globe to swim, surf or kite surf.

10. OLD QUARTER AND HO HOAN KIEM (HANOI)

Wander around the labyrinthine alleyways in the Old Quarter with their traditional craft shops, corner bars and cafés, boutiques and galleries.

WIN A COPY OF THE VIETNAM GUIDE AND TWO TICKETS TO THE ADVENTURE TRAVEL SHOW 2017 IN LONDON 

Buy the Vietnam Marco Polo Guide.

Vietnam Marco Polo Guide

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Vietnam – Delicious Dishes from the Wok

Don’t worry – Vietnam’s cuisine may be exotic but no tourist need fear that they will unwittingly be served roast dog, raw monkey brain or geckos on a skewer. The Vietnamese wouldn’t waste such delicacies on a tay, a clueless ‘long- nose’! And, compared to the explosively hot dishes found in Thai and Indian curries, the food here is very mild with fresh herbs dominating the Vietnamese menu.

Marco Polo Vietnam Guide

Enjoy the rice

The Vietnamese equivalent of ‘bon appétit’, moi ong xoi com, actually means ‘enjoy the rice’. Any number of interesting facts and countless legends tell of the importance of rice. Rice comes in all sorts of variations, e.g. as pure white rice (com), as rice soup (com pho), rice noodles (thick banh or thin bun), transparent rice paper to wrap spring rolls in (cha gio or nem in the north), rice pancakes (banh xeo), as biscuits, cakes and puddings. It was probably more than 1,000 years ago that this type of grain was used for brewing beer and making wine. And steamed sticky rice is processed into a distilled liquor called ruou de, ruou gao or can (50 percent alcohol by volume).

Hot Dishes in the Cooler North

Due to Vietnam’s geographical extremities, regional dishes evolved differently. In the cooler north, stews, deep-fried specialities, pan dishes and rice pudding are common. The best-known export from the north is the spicy noodle soup pho that is also eaten for breakfast. It has since become a national dish and has even made its way onto T-shirts with the world-famous Apple trademark and the proud announcement ‘iPho – made in Vietnam’! A hot bouillon is poured over the rice or wheat flour noodles which is served with wafer-thin slices of beef or chicken and a few soya bean shoots. Pho’s delicious aroma comes from the spices used: pepper, coriander, ground chili and lime juice as well as herbs that are always available everywhere.

The hotpot lau is not to be missed either. Rather like a Vietnamese-style fondue, ingredients such as fish, seafood, beef and glass noodles are added to a boiling stock in a clay pot and cooked at the table in front of guests. It is served with onions, garlic, tomatoes, cucumber, mushrooms, beans, soya bean and bamboo shoots, aubergines and carrots. Bun cha is a well-known grilled meat dish: balls of minced meat or slices of filet are cooked on a charcoal barbecue and served with long, thin rice noodles, raw vegetables and any amount of herbs. The sauce however is all important and the best in the country are to be found in Hanoi.

Central Region: Eat like an Emperor

200 years ago the Emperor of Hue was not going to miss out on whatever was en vogue in Europe – such as potatoes, asparagus and cauliflower. Everything was garnished in the most elaborate way for his Highness, well spiced and presented in a mouth-watering way. The pork sausages typical of Hue were not lacking either. Hue’s gastronomic hit, however, is banh khoai: crisp pancakes filled with crab, pork and soya bean shoots with a peanut and sesame dip. When eating da nang on the other hand, you could well believe you are in Japan. The Vietnamese sushi goi ca comprises a raw filet of fish marinaded in a delicious sauce and covered with breadcrumbs. In the little fishing port of Hoi An, cao lau is the hot favourite – a noodle soup with strips of pork, a whiff of mint, roast onions and crisp rice paper.

The Spicy South

More exoticism and spice can be found in the pots and pans of the south: stir quickly, sauté deftly but not for too long, add a generous number of spices and place on the grill – preferably with coriander, sweet basil, Vietnamese parsley, lemon grass, chili, pepper, star anise, ginger, saffron and tamarind paste. Curries are very much part of every housewife’s standard repertoire just as shrimp paste man tom and fish sauce nuoc mam are a must in every kitchen. Small, spicy spring rolls, served as a starter, are a speciality of the south – the deep-fried cha gio nam and the transparent ‘lucky rolls’ goi cuon and banh cuon, that are served fresh and not deep-fried – and require a certain amount of skill in the making. Fine slithers of pork, shrimps, cucumber, slices of star fruit and the usual herbs are rolled in a sheet of wafer-thin rice paper; the tight roll is then dunked in an accompanying dip.

WIN A COPY OF THE VIETNAM GUIDE AND TWO TICKETS TO THE ADVENTURE TRAVEL SHOW 2017 IN LONDON

Buy the Vietnam Marco Polo Guide.

Vietnam Marco Polo Guide

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