This is the last post of my #ProjectMVietnam series before you fly over to Singapore, with me, on the blog.

Welcome to Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon. The first thing I said when I arrived was, ‘What. The. F**k’.

It’s a city on steroids. Mopeds will drive wherever and whenever they want. The first thing you will need to learn is how to cross the street (it took me a couple of days).


This picture sums the city up.

But you should go.

Why?

You should learn about their fascinating history. Head to the War Remnants Museum to learn about Vietnam’s side of the story.

We climbed inside the famous Cu Chi tunnel, which was a network of sneaky hiding spots for the crafty guerrilla’s soldiers. Built so that only small people could fit inside — it was of great importance to the resistance of the American soldiers.


Next reason to visit is, of course, the food. This is a special post because I celebrated my Birthday with a good ole’ BBQ.

I love the BBQ experience in Saigon. It’s like eating in a nightclub: It’s loud, energetic & everyone has a cracking time feasting together.

The best BBQ spots are:
Lang Nuong Nam Bo (Vietnamese)
Quan Ut Ut (American)
Saffron (Mediterranean)

Ho Chi Minh has some real good food if you know where to go. If you’re looking for places to eat, I’ve got you covered.

If this is your first time to Vietnam and you’re not heading to other parts of the country, then Pho and Bun are the obvious must-eats. Try:

1. Pho Hung – they say it’s the best Pho in town.

2. Bun Bha Ha Noi – Northern Style Bun Cha. It’s good, fresh, clean & cheap.

3. Pho 2000 – made famous by Clinton’s visit. Located in the heart of District 1, It’s easy to find.

A very traditional Vietnamese dish is Banh Cuon (steamed rice rolls). My cousin took me to a restaurant that did a variation.

This is a bite size version — topped with dried pork & shrimp. They taste like little clouds; the crunchy & soft texture takes you to heaven.

If you want, authentic Vietnamese food and you’ve got an iron stomach, head to Oc Dao. Warning, it’s where the locals eat — this isn’t the spot for high-quality service or hygiene. It’s the stuff you want to eat for Bear Grylls adventure training.

You come here for ‘tasty’ snails — this place is for the foodie ambitious. Don’t even think about going if you’re vegetarian.

If you’ve overdosed on the Vietnamese dishes and you’re wanting something different, awesome — the western food is shockingly good.

You don’t need to book another flight for decent gourmet pizza. I went to visit my (British) expat friend at 4ps pizza restaurant. It’s just as good as London pizza.

If you’re looking for a cheap takeout and greasy pizzas are your thing: Espy Pizza is your match. It’s a ‘spot on’ New York pizza. It’s f-ing delicious.

Does anyone else go on holiday and then for the last night, they go big or go home?

I’ve got yours planned.

Head to San Fu Lou (situated at the heart of District 1) to gobble up Dim Sum. Then pop over to Chill Skybar (next door) for a shiny view of the city. It’s a swanky sorta’ place so dress up. At the time of my visit, David Beckham was launching his new whisky brand.

The city has fantastic nightlife, head to a rooftop bar to look over a very sparkly city.

1. I already mentioned Chill Bar above
2. Glow Skybar
3. Saigon Saigon Bar

For shopping, the only place I recommend Ben Thanh Market – please be careful, the market is crowded and rife with pickpockets, but it’s the place to pick up a bargain.

Ho Chi Minh is a crazy city with everything happening at once, it isn’t for everyone and may take some time for some people to adapt, but it has so much to offer. Any expat or backpacker will tell you their crazy stories.

Enjoy, stay safe and please tell me your stories as I would love to hear them!

Location: Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

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As a kid, I wanted to be a superhero that fights bad guys.

Then I grew up to realise that I couldn’t fly. Damn.

So how can we be our childhood heroes & help save zi’ world? I could tell you to volunteer abroad, foster a dog or to give up on civilization altogether and join a hill tribe.

I’m never going to be a barefoot forest dweller called Theresa Green or Ivana Makepeace — and look like this weird chick:

Yeh, she’s weird, isn’t she?

Without coming across like an organic-hipster-vegan-tree-shagger, I (try to) make a conscious effort to be eco-friendly to our world.

But let’s be realistic, most of us have busy lives.

You don’t have to whip your bush out to tap into Mother Earth’s rhythms. There are many micro-activities that you can incorporate into your everyday life.

Here is my lazy and modern guide to saving the world:

Recycle

The amount of waste that currently permeates our planet is a good starting point. Let’s stop throwing reusable things into landfill. And no, I’m not asking you to be a hoarder. It’s the opposite: sell, donate or recycle.

Sell it: eBay and Gumtree are my handy friends, I started selling things online as a young’un and I learnt how to turn it into a good secondary income. It’s a win-win situation: earn pocket money and reduce waste. Before you put it in the bin, ask yourself, would someone buy this?

Can’t sell it? Donate it. Wherever I live, I look out for my nearest clothes bin or charity shop. I usually hand in bits on my way to work or on the way to town at the weekend. You can also pop your items in those clothing bags that you get through the door. Donate barely used makeup to Give and Make Up which helps women escaping domestic violence. Send your used stamps to the Royal Institute of Blind People (they can sell them by the kilo and raise vital cash). Recycle your old ink cartridges to Tommy’s which funds research into miscarriage and premature birth.

Recycle: Freecycle is an amazing recycling site. The best part about it? People will come and collect your items from you. If you have an old wardrobe, desk, blankets, anything, stick it online. You could be helping someone out: whether they’re a DIY Guru, just moved into a new home or are looking for supplies for their business, you’re helping out your community in a cost-effective way. Swish: swishing.com, swishingparties.co.uk, bigwardrobe.com are great sites to find your local clothes swap parties and any clothes that don’t get sold go to charities like Cancer Research UK. Oxfam & Save The Children has some of the best of pre-owned designer fashion, I’m always surprised when I browse their online sites.

Plastic

You may have seen the video of the turtle with the straw up its nose. When you think about it, it’s easy to reduce your packaging intake. Do you need a plastic tea stirrer or plastic knife & fork? And yes, I’m just as perplexed as you are about having to pay 5p for a plastic bag. I’m from an Asian family; we reuse plastic bags for everything. I was outraged because I genuinely do reuse them. But the government does have a point; plastic bags are not biodegradable. We, as a nation have learnt to use them even when we buy a small chocolate bar. By sticking your items in a reusable bag, we will save millions of tons of waste — 32 million tons.

Apps

Download an app which supports causes like the Cancer Research UK Genes in Space app, every time you play; you’re contributing to the development of spotting DNA data which will help scientists in their research.

The Charity Miles app encourages users to raise money for charity every day as part of their usual exercise daily routine like walking, running or cycling.

If you like playing games on your phone like I do, the My Life As Refugee app is an educational download. Based on real-life experiences of families torn apart by conflict; It raises awareness of the plight of the refugees and gives you insight into the work that UNICEF does.

Clicks: For every donation you make online, Google will match it on One Today.

Hungry?

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy eating meat. Meat is (scientifically) nutritious for you. Our species survived by eating it. If you read my blog regularly, you will know how much I love food and ah, burgers. Err sorry, got a bit distracted there. Anyway, in today’s world, we don’t go hunting for our food anymore (looking for the half price in the meat aisle doesn’t count). Today, due to the high demand, we have very advanced industrialised animal agriculture. Meat production has caused the cut down of 260 million acres of forest, and it’s responsible for a high amount of greenhouse gas emissions. These reasons mentioned, are only a few reasons why Veganism is growing. I have realised, I do eat a f**k load of meat, so I’ve cut back. I won’t tell you to be a Veggie or Vegan (unless you want to), not because I’m not — but because it’s your choice. Just be aware of your intake. Fred, the photo bombing deer, (behind me), agrees.

Food waste

Surprisingly, lots of people don’t know the difference in food expiry dates.

Best before: it’s preferable to eat said item before that date, but it won’t kill you.

Use by: throw it out mate, by the stated date. None of that ’30-second rule’, none of that ‘but it looks fine’ biz, no buts, just no.

  • Crush old bananas and make muffins.
  • Didn’t finish that roast chicken? Make a hearty pie or curry.
  • Make a yummy fruity smoothie when you’ve got bits of fruit and veg that are on the verge of going off.
  • Heading off on holiday? Throw all of the remaining veg’ into soup, create stock or cook stir-fry.

Places like The Real Junk Food Project are great; they are ‘pay as you feel’ cafes, this concept is growing in the UK, the money they raise goes to homeless charities, you can volunteer or donate. Check out a spot near you.

When I go for a meal, and I can’t finish it, I always ask for a ‘doggy bag’. Then if I see a homeless person, I leave it beside them. If I don’t see anyone, I put it in my fridge and have it for lunch.

And that’s that!

See? I didn’t even have to tell you to egg a politician.

You’re welcome.

Superheroes, feel free to comment any of your tips to share with my lovely readers, I’d love to hear them. Monica x

 

Location: Zi Planet

Real location: Richmond Park, London

Photographer: Hattie Day at Wild Young Minds (FB here)

Guerlain La Petite Robe Noire Range | La Petite Robe Noire Fragrance | Guerain La Petite Noire Lipstick | Guerlain La Petite Robe Noire Nail Range | Guerlain La Petite Robe Noire in Black Perfecto

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You know what? I love a good slick of lipstick and killer swipes of nail polish (insert nail emoji).

The lovely team at Debenhams has introduced me to Guerlain, and I’m addicted.

There’s a new range of lippies and pollies in town: Guerlain La Petite Robe Noire. The lipsticks are light-weight, comfortable, luminous, buildable and delicious. The nail polishes are highly pigmented, ultra-shiny and scented.

.

Inspired by signature La Petite Robe Noire fragrance, the delicately flavoured lipstick formula has a surprising taste on your lips. It’s designed to reveal the lips’ natural radiance to keep lips conditioned and kissably soft.

I’m wearing the shade Pink Tie. Over bare lips; this one adds a moisturised and hydrated look while adding a buildable pink tone.

The great thing about these bad boys is that they aren’t sticky or uncomfortable which is ideal for windy days. I topped up throughout the day for a sheer balm finish. The packaging is gorgeous; pop off the heart-shaped handle and twist the bottom to lift. If you wear Dior Addict or Yves Saint Laurent Volupté Sheer, then you’ll love these. The full range of shades suits everyone and should be a ‘go-to’ for a hydrating summer lipstick.
I’m also wearing Guerlain La Petite Robe Noire deliciously shiny nail colour in shade Black Perfecto. There’re two reasons why I’m in love with these polishes, 1. I love the flat brush, all nail varnishes should have one. 2. You end up smelling your hands throughout the day from the floral fruity scent. If you were a kid who had those smelly gel pens, then these will become only the nail polish you’ll ever buy.

Have you tried these yet? Let me know what you think of the scent.

Location: Richmond Park, London
Photographer: Hattie Day at Wild Young Minds (FB here)

Guerlain La Petite Robe Noire Range | La Petite Robe Noire Fragrance | Guerain La Petite Noire Lipstick | Guerlain La Petite Robe Noire Nail Range | Guerlain La Petite Robe Noire in Black Perfecto

 

 

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My parents were Made In C̶h̶i̶n̶a̶ Hanoi, so I knew I would remember this trip forever.

If you can, visit the destinations of where your parents lived, everything about your upbringing will unravel during your journey.

My background originates in China; both sets of my grandparents packed up their bags (and their kids) to begin a new chapter in Vietnam.

Okay, Hanoi, the first thing I recommend to you: Eat. Bun Cha. Immediately.

Chargrilled pork & lettuce on a bed of rice noodles splashed with fish sauce. Mouthwatering and gratifying, there’s also a spring rolls version (Bun Chao Gio), sometimes I can’t decide between which I like best.

Head to a street-side cafe, go for the sort of establishment which has makeshift tables & plastic chairs. It’s fast food at its best.

The first place we explored around was Hoan Kiem Lake, located right in the centre of the capital. Look out for the Tortoise Pagoda, the shrine to giant turtles.

The lake calms the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s the only place where you can escape the noise. It reminds me of Central Park in NYC. If you go early in the morning, you can go and watch the locals perform Tai Chi.

Since having my first sip of Vietnamese iced coffee on the Mekong River, I had to grab one of my own.

We discovered a cute French-like riverside cafe. I opted for a chocolate iced coffee; I always have time for chocolate.

There’re lots of things to do in the capital.

One must bargain their ass off at The Old Quarter. Head to Dong Xuan Market. You’ll spot a lot of naughty fake goods like (Mulberry & Burberry) and ‘Folex’ (Fendi and Rolex). I think we can all agree that they’re novelties and that we prefer the real deal so put your feet up, I’ve added a cheeky widget below for you to shop in your PJ’s.

ShopStyle


 

Head to the temples to imitate a magpie and admire all the shiny things.

I would recommend a visit to the Women’s History Museum; learn about the daily lives of struggling women in Vietnam.

We went to watch a Water Puppet show; the puppets are carved from wood and performed in a waist-deep pool. Mind the loud opera singing, it’s all in Vietnamese, so if you don’t know the language, you won’t have a clue what they’re chanting. It was probably one of the most bizarre shows I’ve seen, but it’s a unique experience.

For our last night in Hanoi, we treated ourselves in a rooftop restaurant which overlooked the lake.

The sights are incredible.

Escaping the crowds + eating your weight in food = bliss.

I had the seafood fried rice, fragrant & hearty rice with squishy yet crunchy seafood married in a tangy sauce.


Hanoi, I’ll never forget you.

If you’re ever in my parent’s hood, remember to eat the Bun Cha.

Location: Vietnam – Hanoi

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I often get asked ( — and always when I’m scoffing my face in), “you eat so much, how are you not fat?”.

It’s a stereotype that East Asians are naturally ‘skinny’. Some say that we’re lucky; we’re mysterious creatures who possess magical genes that aid metabolism. While genes are a contributing determinant, I’ve been doing some digging and besides being Maybelline (‘Maybe She’s Born With It’), there are the lifestyle and cultural factors that help us maintain a healthy weight.

I’m going to share them with you.

No. I’m not going to give you some lame faddy diet. All that maple syrup, air, baby food & no-carbs-after-six bullocks, is not good for you.

I don’t want to shock your body drastically because any weight you lose temporarily, will just creep back up on you — like that creepy stalker that just won’t take the hint.

These nuggets (not the chicken kind, soz) of wisdom have been passed down generation to generation.

It’s about the facts, nutrition, science and food coming together. I’m going to split this post into three sections: food, mentality and fitness.

Food

Welcome to the secret eating tips of Asia.

First of all, it’s important to keep in mind that I don’t want you to eat because you have to; I want you to eat because it’s delicious. If you don’t know how to cook, then there’s your starting point. Learn how to prepare food from scratch — then maintaining weight will become a lot easier.

Soup

Soup is essential in the Asian diet. We drink it either before or after our meal. Our soup is essentially bone broth (made with boiling meat bones in water). It’s packed with vegetables, beans and natural Chinese herbs (you should see mummy Wong’s cupboard). Broth takes hours to boil but is super easy to make. Why bones, you ask? The gelatin from the bone marrow contains glycine that is anti-inflammatory and helps to regulate metabolism, maintain lean muscle mass, preserve bone strength and control cellular health. The vitamins, proteins, and minerals from the ingredients dissolve in the water — giving you a balanced supply of nutrition which helps to keep you full. The Chinese love to poach chicken feet in the soup because it has a lot of collagen that is good for the skin. It’s not uncommon to see an old Asian woman ask the local butcher for meat bones (I totally see myself doing that in thirty years). Centuries ago, we needed to make use of limited resources to their full potential. These days we boil our veg to death and then chuck away the mineral water containing all the good bits. If you’re vegetarian, veg broth works just as well (don’t forget the spinach for iron). If you’re not brave enough for trotter soup, don’t worry, there’s always Pho (Vietnamese rice noodles).

The most traditional soup from Hong Kong is Pork Bone Vegetable Soup:

Pork bones 1.5-2 lb
2 potatoes
2 tomatoes
2 carrots
1 onion
1 tbsp salt
2 bay leaves (optional)

Wash the bones and chop all the veggies.
In a stock pot, fill up with water almost halfway up the pot (around 2.5 litres).
Throw in the pork bones and bring to boil. Once it starts to bubble, reduce heat to low-medium and stew for 1.5 hours.
Turn heat to high and pop in all the veggies, salt, and bay leaves.
Reduce heat back to low-medium and boil for another hour.

Ceramics

The size of your plates and bowls determine (unconsciously) how much food you eat. If you buy small plates and bowls, you’ll eat smaller portions. Without thinking about it, lighter servings give you time to enjoy your food, and you reflect on whether you want to grab a second helping.

I love the Japanese bento box; It’s like picking things from a sweet shop (I’m like a child). Speaking of picking things up, you eat smaller portions with chopsticks.

The slower you eat, the faster you’ll be full. East Asians feast with a bowl of rice in hand and select from a selection of entrees. They pick one piece at a time from the middle of the table and tend to eat how much they want rather than finishing everything that’s on a plate.


H2O

Drink lots of hot water. I know it’s not the most fun of activities but it cleanses and boosts your immune system. If you’re not keen on hot water, try adding a lemon. Herbal teas contain antioxidants, and they’re best mates with your metabolism. My favourite green tea is Jasmine tea. I love the blossoming flower ones; I always end up staring at my cup & I have the same reaction every time “Oooh, so pretty!”.

Not a fan of the hot beverage? Make a homemade tea cordial. Experiment & mix different tea leaves: Lemon & Ginger, Raspberry Blaster, Baked Apple & Sticky Toffee, they could help you steer away from those naughty processed sugary soft drinks. When I went to Thailand, I had lots of fresh coconut water. It suppresses your appetite, the fat content is low and makes you feel full because it’s rich in taste. It also made my skin glow; I couldn’t stop touching my face! I also drink lots of almond & soy milk which have lots of iron and calcium.

Sometimes, your body will tell you, ‘Yo, give me food!’, But actually, you just need a refreshing beverage, so drink lots of cold water too. H2O helps us distinguish between being hungry and being thirsty so always stay hydrated.


Fish

East Asians eat a lot of fish; there are endless benefits, the fresher, the better. (Fish fingers don’t count, don’t let Captain Birdseye try and flirt with you in frozen aisles). Always eat fish off the bone because natural fatty fish contains the highest source of natural Omega 3.

Brown rice 

I’ve already mentioned that Asians eat a lot of rice, in fact, they eat white rice every day. I’m going to talk about a healthier alternative: brown rice. I don’t get it when people say they don’t like it — I honestly can’t taste the difference! Brown rice = fibre. Genuine quote from my mummy who told me when I was six, “fibre helps you poo”. Err thanks, mum. We need fibre for digestion, and it reduces high cholesterol levels. Fibre helps out by keeping blood sugar levels under control, so brown rice is an excellent grain choice for people with diabetes.

Vegetables

To state the obvious, eating a lot of vegetables keeps you slim. The Chinese, Japanese and Korean diet is predominately rice and vegetables. Korean people consume a lot of raw cabbage -i.e., Bimibap. The Chinese eat a lot of greens like Pak Choi, lettuce, radish and spinach. I hated vegetables as a kid. I hated it so much that when I got to University, I got carried away and ate everything that looked beige, speaking of beige, there’s food out there that isn’t green and is good for you. If you’ve realised that you’ve over done it with the meat treats that week, why not replace it with tofu? It gives me lots of energy and is high in protein, vitamins and fibre. It’s all about learning how to balance. I missed my parent’s cooking so much at University, when I graduated, I ended up naturally eating 70% good food and 30% junk. Find your method of balance.

Steam

In the same way, that the Chicken Korma is not native Indian, foods like Sweet & Sour Chicken is not authentic Chinese, it’s British. Yes, I agree with you, it’s delicious, but we can’t eat that shiz every day. Authentic Asian cuisine is steam every-thang. I remember when my sister was born, my daddy made a Chinese hot pot and popped it in an old Carte D’Or tub (hi Asian parents). It has everything you need nutritionally for a baby: fresh meats, vegetables, tofu and seafood. The origins of the Chinese hotpot has been around for over 1,000 years. Packed with flavour, I love a good hearty hot pot. My favourite one is on this blog.

Fruit

You know what? I’m not going to lie to you; I love a sweet treat. My Instagram is a collage of cake. I’m addicted to cake and breakfast tea. One day, I substituted my breakfast muffin for a banana and realised that the satisfaction I got out of both were similar — it helps if the texture is comparable. If you crave sugar, you can get it from the healthier sugars in fruit. Asians have either soup or fruit after dinner. The way I balance it out now is by having dessert for breakfast or as a dessert after dinner, never both.


Diet food

When I went travelling in Southeast Asia, I rarely saw any diet food. ‘Light’ options in the supermarket annoy the s**t out of me. Like ‘no added sugar’ yoghurt, or ‘low fat’ cereal, or ‘light’ mayonnaise. If there’s less fat in there, it usually has to be replaced with something else to keep the flavour. Dear food brands, you can’t fool us with your extra sugar, sweetie. Diet Coke is one of the worst offenders, less sugar but more Aspartame. I’ll leave you to research and make up your own mind on that one.

I’ll end the food section with a poem from Japan called Hara Hachi Bu which is the Confucian philosophy for ‘eat until you’re 8/10 full’. Derived from Okinawa, the Japanese leave that little bit on their plate.

Hara Hachi Bu

‘The Okinawa Diet‘:
Fill your plate with plants.
Consider the sweet potato.
Eat soy every day.
Learn some recipes that call for turmeric.
Make meat a rare treat.
Drink green tea like it’s going out of style.
Forgo the “all-you-can-eat buffet” mentality.

Mentality

In the Asian culture, there is no liability for eating. Guilt leads to anxiety and stress leads to overeating. Eating brings people together; it’s supposed to be a joyous occasion.

(Vs. Western culture) Asians talk so openly about weight which eliminates guilt. If I’ve gained or lost weight, my mum will tell me. I don’t get offended. If I’ve gained weight, I’ve gained weight. If I’ve lost weight, I’ve lost weight. Who gives a f**k if we’re chubby this week?

Counting calories is not fun. Fixating on measurements can lead to a reverse effect on your objective. We all know the type, ‘Oh I had 300 calories today, so according to this fitness app, I can have this chocolate bar to meet the recommended daily allowance’. You could argue that you’re the person who’s more like, ‘Ah s**t I’ve gone over my daily allowance so I won’t eat any more’, but that’s so tiring, isn’t it? Question your mindset, you know what works for you.

Mentality and way of thinking determine your diet. It’s about feeling comfortable with yourself as a person. Accept yourself, for what you are. The aim is to have a healthy relationship with yourself (and food).

Fitness

Okay, so you need motivation. You know your body & mind more than anyone else. You know what motivates you. What motivates me is to refer to an image that is the end goal.

You need to get off your ass. If you work in an office, you need to get off your bum even more.

I’m not going to tell you to join a martial arts class and become a ninja (unless you want to).

The best way to lose weight without realising is to find a sport / active activity that you’ll fall in love with. Asian parents take their kids to sports classes when they’re young, I mean the culture in China is a bit extreme because they want their kid to be the next Olympian, but as an adult, sweating it out in the gym is not fun.

Martial Arts, Basketball, Football, Netball, Rugby, Swimming, Cycling, Running, Boxing, Yoga, Zumba, Ballet, Ariel Silks — the list is endless.

Once you’re addicted to your competitive sport, you’ll be fit and you’ll feel good about yourself.

And that’s that!

Quit weighing yourself. It’s not a reflection on how you’re doing & you’ll feel crap one day and then endure short-lived happiness the next. Go on how you feel.

Don’t stress about your weight. Food is for enjoying, not for worrying about. East Asians tend to eat little and often. That’s why people think we eat all the time.

Start looking up sports classes that you’ve always wanted to join. Trial some on Groupon and let me know which ones you like.

Decide to love yourself today.

Zen

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