Rick Stein's food tour across Vietnam

We're back in the UK for a few more weeks still so it was great to see Vietnam featured on primetime TV on Thursday night, when , a popular UK chef, spent an hour travelling and eating through Vietnam as part of his Far Eastern Oddessey, which can be viewed here on BBC iPlayer.

We really enjoyed the show - and it was great to see a travel program on Vietnam where for once the food featured was about much more than macho presenters drinking snake's blood - food in Vietnam is so divine it always annoys me to see countless presenters grossing-out over dishes that many people in Vietnam wouldn't eat, either.

Retracing the journey

For those who have developed a taste for Vietnam after seeing Rick's show, here's a quick itinerary of his travels, should you wish to explore some of the places he saw and foods he ate!

He started the show visiting floating villages and the market in Chau Doc, at the border with Cambodia, deep in the Mekong Delta, before heading to the trading hub of the Mekong, Can Tho - famous its floating market, though he didn't pay it a visit.


Hanoi floods again - Photos

In a repeat of last year's major flooding at the end of October 2008, Hanoi woke up this morning to find parts of the city were deep underwater:

Motorbike braves the floods

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As heavy storms turned to tropical depressions the rivers around Hanoi overflowed causing chaos on the streets. According to the city's drainage department the pumps are hard at work and the water could be cleared by the end of the day if the rain stops, but if it continues the floods could remain for several days.

Last year the flooding lasted for over a week and the people of Hanoi did their best to continue their daily business. Some even took the opportunity to catch fish in their local streets!

(photos: VNExpress + VietNamNet)


Learn Vietnamese

Learn Vietnamese

Although in popular tourist destinations and larger cities it is just about possible to get by without knowing a word of Vietnamese, insisting on speaking your own language all the time will isolate you from the majority of Vietnamese people and leave you less likely to make friends and relationships you will remember from your travels. By learning to speak just a few words of Vietnamese you can greatly improve your experience, reduce misunderstandings and frustrations and have a chance to talk - however briefly - with individuals who work outside of the tourist service industry, giving you a far greater appreciation of the Vietnamese culture and outlook on life.

We think any responsible traveller should at a minimum learn how to meet and greet people and how to be polite, but taking the time to learn a few more phrases will certainly enhance your enjoyment - even if it just means you are able to recognise a few more items on that otherwise baffling Vietnamese menu. Use our free online phrasebook to sharpen your skills and prepare for your trip - or download it as a PDF to put on your Kindle, mobile, iPhone, iPod touch or other ebook reader.

The original copy of this guide can be found?at http://www.priceecodesign.com/learn-vietnamese


How to haggle - bargaining in Vietnam

Women haggling outside Ben Thanh - Photo credit: Lecercle

Living in Vietnam and travelling throughout Asia it is always sad (and occasionally embarrasing) to see travellers ruining their trips by getting too worked up over money. It is a natural reaction, as the way people shop in the West and the East is very different - but it is completely avoidable.

For those of us who have grown up in Western societies with fixed prices and no room for manoeuvre, haggling in a foreign country with unfamiliar people and practices can be an unsettling experience. Some people feel offended that an initial offer is higher than a 'local' price, or get angry when a trader won't budge.

Others go for it guns blazing, unsatisfied unless they can squeeze every last penny off the price - often leading to unpleasant scenes where a rich foreigner bargains ruthlessly with a homeless child for a pack of cigarettes, fighting to the last cent despite clearly being able to pay a fair price.

Either way the outcome is unpleasant for all involved, and can leave a bad taste in the mouth for both parties - the traveller feels they have been ripped off, and the trader can't understand why they are being shouted at in the street or why foreigners have such hot tempers.

Bargaining is a game, not a fight to the death
You should always enter into negotiations in a good frame of mind and a with a sense of humour. If an offer is too high, laugh it off, don't get furious. Make a joke and counter offer; if in turn you are being unreasonable the trader will try to push you in the right direction. Feel free to try again, raising your bid, but keep in mind the real change in value - at the end of the day there is little point negotiating over less than a dollar.

Don't take it personally
A market trader's job is to maximise profits, and fixed prices don't always exist in Vietnam outside supermarkets. It is only natural for a trader to 'have a go' and see what they can get, and it is in no way an affront to you. The attitude in Vietnam is that if you take a higher price they've had a lucky day, and if they take the correct price they didn't lose anything in trying - there is nothing personal about it.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that everyone is out to overcharge foreigners, either - Vietnamese people are just as likely to be overcharged, at least initially, and some local people can't stand haggling either.

Drink plenty of water
It seems trite but so many travellers lose their patience and temper in Asia for no reason other than dehydration. It is a natural that as your brain dries out you become tired, minor irritations become major annoyances and it is difficult to keep your cool. Whether shopping or exploring, making sure you are drinking enough can dramatically increase your enjoyment.

Don't assume you are being ripped off
Sometimes the price asked is just that - the price everyone else in the country pays. Some travellers get it in their heads that they are persecuted, and end up fighting over the price of a bottle of water, a bus ticket or some other product that has a fixed price - and then act shocked and offended when the vendor won't budge.

Consider the real value of an item
A trader will always try to sell for as much as they can get, usually because they don't earn a great deal and could use the extra money. Most travellers arrive in Vietnam with significant amounts of money in Vietnamese terms, and benefit from the low cost of food, hotels and souvenirs in the country. Take a moment to consider how lucky you are.

Remember that even if a product is 'overpriced' it is still generally cheaper than at home; indeed this may be your only chance to buy it - if you pay a few dollars more than the next man, will you really worry about it in years to come? If the product means something to you and the trader won't budge, perhaps you should just buy it rather than regretting it later. If you don't need it that badly then just walk away.

Walk away
Walking away is one of the most powerful tools a shopper has when bargaining, and the market trader's reaction speaks volumes. If you have offered a fair price and been rejected the trader will normally call you back and agree - if they couldn't care less then it is probably you that is being unreasonable. If you realise you were pushing too hard, don't feel too proud to come back either, there is no shame in paying the correct price!

Know when to quit
If you are quibbling over less than 10,000 VND, stop. If you are beginning to lose your rag, stop. If you are thirsty, go get a drink and come back refreshed. If the trader is obviously just particularly stubborn, walk away - you are bound to find another person selling the same thing not far away.

Let it go
Just met a traveller who said they paid half the price you did? Forget it - or take note for next time. The deal is done, there is no sense getting angry after the fact - it will only spoil your day.

Avoid it all together?
Bargaining is a game and should be fun for both parties. If you're not enjoying it, stop. If you can't bargain without losing your temper, don't - just pay the price requested. Most travellers will have saved $1,000s to visit Vietnam, and yet some will let one disagreement over less than $1 for a motorbike ride ruin their day - a complete waste of their limited time in the country. Pay the price asked - your trip will still be cheap compared to travelling anywhere outside Asia, and you will enjoy yourself an awful lot more.


Legacies of War: Agent Orange (Dioxin)

A US Army Helicopter Sprays Agent OrangeUsed to defoliate jungle areas that gave cover to the North Vietnamese, Agent Orange was among several herbicides dropped on huge swathes of Vietnam during the War. Its deadly ingredient, dioxin, has been found to cause a range of health problems, from hydrocephalus and several kinds of cancers to diabetes and skin diseases to physical deformities such as missing limbs. Estimates of how much Agent Orange was sprayed on the country between 1961 and 1971 vary, but range as high as 75 million litres. Vietnam has estimated that 400,000 people were killed or maimed by the defoliants, that 500,000 children have been born with birth defects as a result, and two million more have suffered directly or indirectly from its effects.

Effect on the environment

In addition to causing bodily harm to generations of Vietnamese, Agent Orange has had a toxic effect on the environment, remaining in the soil and poisoning the food chain. Lakes in heavily sprayed areas still exist today where the fish are unsafe to eat - contaminated a generation after the war ended - and there is still talk of evacuating some of the most affected areas.

Compensation for those affected


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