Vietnamese Specialty Dish – Earth to Table

Hoi An, a charming ancient city on the central coast of Vietnam, is a foodie’s haven. The menu goes way beyond the ever popular banh mi and pho. It’s time to try something new! Three local dishes I had for the first time in my life were cao lau, white rose dumplings and fried wontons (not the Chinese version). They were all delicious but it was the cao lau that I ate multiple times during my 5-day stay here. Wonder why?! It is because cao lau is truly unique to Hoi An and you can’t make this dish elsewhere without a native ingredient, unless you literally bottle it yourself.

Cao lau is a noodle dish with meat topped with fresh greens, bites of fried wonton, and the desired amount of spicy sauce. The noodles have a unique taste and a chewy texture. These flat noodles are yellowish and much denser than the average rice noodles because they are made with the water from Ba Le Well, the town’s ancient Cham water source. Cao lau is as core to the diet of the Hoi An people as croissants are to the French. You can find a bowl of Cao lau at every street corner, but the best was found at Miss Ly’s restaurant.

I was so impressed by this true example of the “earth-to-table” practice continuing for centuries in Hoi An! Following google maps, I set out to find this well. A posted sign pointed me down a little alley leading to the Ba Le Well.

The Ba Le well is a cold water well that is authentically preserved. It was built around the 10th century. It was constructed specifically as a vertical prism with a square bottom and built with big bricks. The well bottom was paved with a frame of four thick iron-wood boards that have two functions of protecting its bottom and filtering its water. Apparently the local inhabitants still use its water for their daily activities, as well as for cooking Hoi An specialties. 


A Wellness Itinerary in Bangkok

Is it possible to achieve wellness in this polluted city with constant traffic congestion? I am up for the challenge! Wellness can be found in many places and the key is to plan your activities around the city’s cultural attractions. I set out for my day of wellness focusing on the highlights of the city so I can see the sights and experience the culture at the same time.

Bangkok is known for its street food! There’s a huge selection for cheap, some healthy and some not so much. Around the corner from my hotel, there were fruit carts and BBQ meat stands. Nothing is more refreshing than the delicious locally grown mango, all peeled and sliced for only 70 baht (approximately $2.30US). I grabbed a box of mango and walked a few steps to this adorable little dumpling shop, Feng Zhu Pork Shop & Co., run by mom, pop, bro and sis. This savory breakfast is nutrient-dense, high in protein, low is simple carb and sugar which is far better for your blood sugar than breakfast cereal, toast, or pastries. Ten little bite-size treats were only 160 Baht (approximately $5.30US). This beats the continental breakfast for $17US at my hotel in more ways than just my pocket book.

Dumplings from Feng Zhu Pork Shop & Co.

After I filled my tummy, it was time to head out for some exercise. Bangkok streets are far from walkable. Sidewalks, if any, are packed with street vendors and often have little puddles of filthy water that you may accidentally step into if not careful. A better way to travel is on the Chao Phraya River which runs through Bangkok, dividing the city into the east and west banks. The east banks are where some of the world’s most beguiling temples are located. There are 34 piers that ply this 21 km route. Once you figure out which pier to catch your boat, it’s easy to hop on a boat that will take you close to your destination. For a fare of 15 baht (approximately $0.50US), you can enjoy the view of the city and all the local life along the river banks rather than sit in traffic when you travel by car.

There are more than 400 temples in Bangkok so visiting one is a must. The grounds of the Thai temples and palaces are usually enormous so better be prepared to do some serious walking. I took a boat from pier 3 to pier 8 which brought me right to the entry gate of Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), located on the west bank. Given the beauty of the architecture and the fine craftsmanship, it’s not surprising that Wat Arun is considered by many as one of the most beautiful temples in Thailand. The 70 meters high prang (spire) by the Chao Phraya is one of Bangkok’s world-famous landmarks. It is beautifully decorated with tiny pieces of colored glass and Chinese porcelain placed delicately into intricate patterns. Climbing the very steep stairs on the central prang is a sure way to increase your heart rate. At the highest point you can see the winding Chao Phraya River and the Grand Palace and Wat Pho on the opposite east bank.

Wat Arun

After getting in 5,000 steps walking the grounds of Wat Arun, it was time to get some lunch before clocking the remaining 5,000, towards my wellness goal of 10,000+ steps a day. Besides, it was time to get out of this 92 degree temperature before I got dehydrated. To find a cooler spot, I rode the boat back down the river to ICONSIAM, an ultimate shopping destination on bank of Chao Phraya River. As expected by the flashy exterior, this vast complex is filled with high end designer shops. But what sets ICONSIAM apart from the other shopping centers is an area called SookSiam which brings the best of Thailand’s provinces into one “village”. There is no better place to try Thai street food than in this clean, air-conditioned mall. The authenticity of the experience was impressive, not only in the food but in the decor as well. I grabbed a bowl of Thai curry for 80 baht (approximately $2.65 US) and ate it squatting down at the miniature table and chair. With 5,650,000 sq ft of shopping space, I decided this is a great place to get in my remaining steps.

After unbelievable sensory overload, it was time to wind down with a traditional Thai massage. Rather than visiting the spa in the hotel, I opted for one of the many local massage spas. Magic Hands Massage is the nicest of the 6 massage spas on Si Phraya Road. The setup of these spas are all very similar – a row of very comfy reclining chairs for foot massages and massage mats for body massages. For 300 baht (approx. $10US), I had one of the best and most rigorous massages in my life. My body hasn’t felt so loose and limber in months.

It was a fun day, packed with sightseeing and good eats. All that’s left to complete a day of wellness is a good night sleep!