#ProjectMSingapore – Singapore on a shoestring?

Sparkly, clean and fiercely organised. Singapore has always been in my travel bucket.

For a backpacker, Singapore is expensive by South-East Asian standards. If you’re landing from destinations like Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, please be aware that most costs will be double in price.

Regardless, I highly recommend a visit for a few days. If you learn one thing from a visit to the city-state, it would be that the Singaporeans live in ethnic harmony. They practice diversity to their advantage and respect each other’s beliefs and religions. They’ve nailed it. You rarely hear about racial tensions in Singapore right?

So, how to do Singapore on the cheap? Write down my recommendations and thank me later.

Food

If you’re a foodie, please eat at any Hawker Centre. You won’t want to eat anywhere else. They’re big communal food courts where the locals eat. If you’re looking for fine-dining, this is not the place. Loud and busy with a school canteen atmosphere, the food is authentic, cheap and delicious. It houses a mixed bag of Singaporean, Chinese, Malaysian and Indian dishes. The easiest ones to get to are Maxwell Food Centre, Gluttons Bay and Newton Circus Food Centre. Go to the places with the biggest queue, and you won’t regret it.

Chinatown/Smith Street is worth a visit; you don’t need to go into any of the restaurants as the street food is incredible. I had platefuls of dishes there for $1-$5 (SGD).

Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to go, but a birdy recommended Little India for the vegetables and unusual snacks.

Singaporean Foods to try:
Hainese Chicken Rice
Mee Goreng, Chilli Crab
Fish Head Curry
Fried Carrot Cake
Hokkien Prawn Mee
Kaya Toast
Laksa, Rojak
Roti Prata
Any Noodle Soup

Couchsurfing?

Ok, disclaimer, I have to admit that as a backpacker, I slept in a fancypants hostel. I know, I’m a traitor. The original plan was to stay at a budget one, but I had food poisoning the week before, and I wanted to treat myself to a nice bed. I wasn’t disappointed; I opted for a custom-made cabin with silky bedding and satin blackout curtains. I highly recommend Alder Hostel if you’re looking for comfort. For budget options, try couch surfing at the link in the title (please be cautious and always check reviews!), or there’s plenty of good hostels on this site.

Travel & Free Attractions – the free stuff

Singapore is tiny, and the central attractions are close-knit, so get ready to walk. Take this route: Chinatown – Kompong Glam – Little India. FYI the MRT train is approx 10 SGD per day.

You’ll come across lots of temples which you can visit for free like the Buddha Tooth Relic and Thian Hock Keng Temple.

Check out the Singapore Symphony Orchestra; they host free concerts in throughout the year.

If you love nature, take a treetop hike and see the old bridge at the MacRitchie Reservoir Park. If you’re not into hiking and prefer to relax, then go and see the waterfalls at Singapore Botanic Gardens — don’t forget to see the ginger garden.

Don’t laugh at me, but the airport is AMAZING. Honestly, Changi Airport is my favourite airport. If you’re easily pleased (like me), arrive early for your departure flight and sit on the free massage chairs, admire the Kinetic Rain sculptures or go on the nature trail. I didn’t ever think that I would ever write a list of things to do in an airport.

Going on holiday or business trip?

Not everybody who will be reading this post will be a budget backpacker, so this is a list of where to splash if you’ve got the cash:

Marina Bay Sands – How can you not tick this one off? The Infinity Pool is totes’ Instagramable.
Visit Singapore Zoo – get up close and personal with the nocturnal animals at the night safari
Eat at the Boat Quay – if you like food with a view, there’s lots of alfresco pubs and restaurants here
Make a day trip to Sentosa – this island is packed with touristy things to do, it houses the Tiger Sky Tower, Underwater World aquarium, Circus Shows and Universal Studios.
Explore Bukit Timah Naturae Reserve – if you’re a wildlife lover go and see how many birds, macaques, squirrels and flying lemurs you can spot
Take a trip to Pulau Ubin – are you a history geek? Learn about the locals living in traditional villages known as “kampongs.” in the 1960s

If I’ve missed a must-see, let me know, and I’ll add it.

Please let me know if you’ve been or planning to go, I’ll love to hear from you.

Monica x

Location: Singapore

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Image credit: Singapore Airport

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#ProjectMVietnam | Ho Chi Minh

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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#ProjectMVietnam – Hanoi

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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#ProjectMVietnam – Cooking Class in Vietnam

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a Food Presenter.

I’d watch a foodie channel, interrupt the show with my mouth full of spag bol’ and I’d vent “…you lucky sods, I want to travel the world and eat all the foods!”.

When our tour guide mentioned the option of taking a cooking class in Hoi An, I instantly jumped up with my best oh-pick-me-pick-me-please face.

Welcome to the Lantern, a cafe/restaurant charged with fuschia flower trees. We were guided upstairs, where the fun begins.

Our teachers introduced themselves (a brother and sister, from a wonderful family business) and guided us to the local bustling fresh food market.

After our educational food tour, we were taken to our cooking station.

I apologise in advance for my s**t quality photos, my iPhone just didn’t agree with the lighting.

Because I love that you’re reading my Blog, I’m going share Hoi An’s authentic recipes with you.

Ok, let’s begin.

First dish: Bánh Xèo. A thin, crispy, very light pancake filled with pork, prawn and veggies. Roll over to my homestay post for juicy details of my love affair with this dish. “Xèo” refers to the sizzling sound it makes when you fry it. The name loosely means “sizzling cake.”

To make enough for four hungry friends, you’ll need:

0.6kg pork belly
180g jumbo king prawns
400g pancake flour
4 cups water
1 cup of coconut cream
10g spring onion – sliced
Half of an onion – sliced into thins
200g shrimps
500g bean sprouts
1tsp Turmeric
1 Handful of fresh mint
1 Handful of fresh coriander
1 Handful of fresh bean sprouts
1 Handful of lettuce
2tsp vegetable oil
(20) Vietnamese soft rice paper (optional)

Pop the pork belly in boiling water for 15-20 minutes. Slice thinly and set aside. Blanch the bean sprouts in boiling water. Set that aside too.

Prepare the batter by mixing the flour with water, coconut cream, turmeric and spring onions.

You’re going to fry one pancake at a time, so don’t go crazy and throw all the meat in the pan (I was hungry and keen).

In a frying pan, heat the oil in a pan over a medium heat. Toss in the onions and then a portion of pork belly and king prawns. (For one pancake, I put in about a tablespoonful of pork and prawns). Fry until cooked.

Pour a cup full of the batter mixture into the pan over the meat, quickly tilt the pan, so the mixture spreads thinly.

Add a spoonful of bean sprouts on the pancake.

Here’s a little tip, to stop the edges from sticking to the pan, brush a little oil around the edge of the pancake.

Once the mixture is clear over the edges, fold one-half the pancake over and slip it onto a plate.

Get your greens in and fill up the pancake with a lettuce and chopped up cucumber.

It’s not mandatory but wrap it up in rice paper if you wish to give it that extra crunch.

Taa-dah! Can you just feel that concentration?

Hands down, best roll I’ve ever, ever, eaten. I promise you, I’m not just saying that because I made it.

The Vietnamese Dipping Sauce can also be whipped up ahead; it’s easy to make, so while you’re on a roll (ha) why not get started?!

Fish Sauce 100ml
Rice Vinegar 100ml
Brown Sugar 100ml
Water 170ml

Mix all above in a bowl (preferably in the above order) and stir well. Optional: add chopped garlic, chilli, basil and crispy onions to taste.

Best of all, the sauce goes with all of the dishes in this post.

Next dish: Papaya Salad, who’s best friend is Vietnamese spring rolls (I’ll get to those bad boys later).

Recipe:
1 large green papaya
1 large carrot
2 shallots
2 chillies
A packet of basil leaves
Handful of roasted peanuts
Shred the green papaya and carrot finely into strips. Use your Spiralizer to make lovely swirls (or a knife will do).

Cut the shallots into little cubes.

Add it to a mixing bowl.

Add finely cut chillies to taste.

Drizzle with the Vietnamese dipping sauce and mix well.

Top with basil leaves and roasted peanuts.

I just wanted to stick my head into it. When a dish is bursting with colour, you know it’s good.

Hoi An, Vietnamese Crispy Spring Rolls. These spring rolls are different to Chinese spring rolls; the coating is netted — so they’re the ultimate level of crispy.

You’ll need:
Vietnamese netted rice paper
100g glass noodles
200g minced pork
Handful of Wood Ear mushrooms
1 carrot
1 onion
Handful of spring onions
1 garlic bulb
Salt & pepper to taste

Shred the carrots, Wood Ear mushrooms, onions and spring onions into thin strips. Brine and then cut up the glass noodles into 2cm pieces.

Throw all of the cut-up veggies into mixing bowl and add the pork mince.

Squash garlic cloves and pop that into the bowl.

Get your hands dirty and mix well.

Remove rice papers from its packaging. If the papers are dry or hard, use a damp cloth or place a wet paper towel beneath them.

Fold one edge about 3cm, put about 1 tbsp of filling on top of the closed area. Then roll up to create a tube.

Heat up some oil (I use sunflower) for the spring rolls to be deep fried. Fry for about 2-3 minutes.

Enjoy and let me know how utterly satisfied you feel.

Vietnamese Grilled Fish — a dish wrapped up cosy in banana leaf.

You’ll need:
200g fresh tuna steak
Green banana leaf (3 x 30cm pieces)
1 egg
Handful of Wood Ear mushrooms
Handful of shallots
1/4 of an onion
Handful of spring onions
1 carrot
10g glass (vermicelli) noodles (soak in warm water and cut the pieces so they are about 1.5 inches)
Chopped fresh garlic (1 bulb)
1 fresh turmeric
2tsp turmeric oil
1 fresh chilli (or more to taste)
Salt & pepper to taste

Slice the tuna into bite size pieces.

Slice the Wood Ear mushrooms, shallots, spring onions, carrots, garlic, turmeric and chilli into thin pieces.

Pop all of the ingredients into a mixing bowl

Mix it up and form a flat paste.

Grab the patty and place it onto three layers of banana leaf (to avoid burning our fishy dishy)

Pop it under the grill on a low setting for 15 minutes.

Take it out and devour. This dish is regularly served with rice. I warn you, once you take that first bite, you won’t be able to stop.

As a class, we demolished our delicious banquet, which, of course, tastes better when you made it yourself.

Incredibly fresh, authentic Vietnamese flavours, hugely rich in protein, antioxidants and Vitamin C.

I have no doubt that all three dishes will fill you up.

I dare you to give them a try and let me know what you think.

The cooking class was exactly how I dreamt it to be, even better perhaps.

If you’ve at any point yelled ‘ah, I would love to do that’, then Real Food Adventure – Vietnam is the one for you.

I would also point you in the direction of Mexico Food & Culture or Real Food Adventure – India (because they are basically on my list). If you fancy somewhere closer to home: Local Living Italy looks like fun. Can’t decide? A full list is here.

Location: Vietnam – Hoi An

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#ProjectMVietnam – Hoi An Bicycle Tour

We hopped onto our bikes to explore Hoi An’s picturesque countryside.

Excuse the outfit, when you live out of a backpack you can easily achieve the dishevelled ‘gap yah’ style.

I would recommend hopping onto a organised bike tour because part of the money from your fare goes to the local people that you visit.

And you get to do this:

GOOD MORNING VIETNAM!

Just watering my crops and going back to my roots, (ha, get it?).

Our tour guide announced, “Girls, it’s time to ride a buffalo!”.

Yes, a buffalo.

I have a story to share with you about my buffalo experience. This one is a charmer.

I perch my bum onto this buffalo’s back.

I stared into the distance — into layers of rice fields as they gathered over the horizon. I was content. Then out of nowhere, Mr Buffalo Man stands up and starts chanting some Vietnamese opera song.

Then the buffalo starts pooping in the water, whilst I’m still on it.

Then the buffalo man (somehow) encouraged me sing along to his song!

Everything happened so fast that when it was time to get off, I was like, what…what just happened?
I survived!


We love you buffalo & buffalo man!

Our last stop on the bike ride was this beautiful beach.

The perfect place to reflect on our wonderful tour.

If that wasn’t enough, we were taken onto a boat back to Hoi An: Old Town. This was our view whilst we floated across layers of black silk.

Before heading to the land of nod, we were absolutely staving!

The food in Hoi An is beyond ridiculous. We ordered a three-course meal and this was the starter. Who gives you three plates for a starter?!

 

Like seriously, Hoi An, you’re spoiling me!

My main man dish arrived: chicken in banana leaf. I needed someone to roll me out when the banana and chocolate pancake made an appearance.

Stuffed and a bit tipsy, it was time to head back to our hotel to visit the land of nod.

By this point, I thought I was a giddy fairy and flew under this pretty gateshead outside of the hotel.

Goodnight, Hoi An, you light up my heart.

Location: Vietnam – Hoi An

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