Healthy travel adventures in Vietnam- words and photographs by Rebecca O’Rourke
Vietnam has previously been a country known for its war torn past, defined by violence and sadness. The Vietnamese people have been gradually building a new Vietnam, where peace and wellbeing resides and welcomes the world as an exotic travel location. The tourism developments have brought with it an enthusiasm for health, wellbeing and spirituality.
Vietnamese food is regarded as one of the healthiest and ‘pho’, a delicious noodle broth with fresh herbs and optional meat or seafood, is representative of the cuisine. The locals often eat it for breakfast but it is available at any time of the day. The wonderful blend of aromatic, fresh flavours is finished with a squeeze of lime and is always a healthy option as it is low in fat and full of vitamins and minerals. A wonderful place to enjoy healthy food is Hoi An: a former major South-East Asian trading port that is now a UNESCO world heritage site and a unique place to see a meticulously conserved historic town. Hoi An has a great reputation for organic farming and dishes served there often include an extensive variety of veg and herbs from local villages, such as nearby Tra Que. In Hoi An you will find distinct local specialties and one example of a tasty and nutritious dish is ‘Cao Lau’, consisting of thick brown noodles and roasted pork, garnished with mint, basil, lettuce leaves and cilantro. The slow cooking methods for the broth and meat, alongside the fresh herbs and vegetables mean this dish is a very healthy choice. For vegetarians tofu is widely available as a tasty alternative.
There are opportunities to practice yoga across Vietnam at many inspiring locations, from inner city sanctuaries to sunset classes over looking the waves. In Hanoi I spent some time at Zenith Yoga where they offer a wide variety of yoga classes, Pilates and also meditation classes. The professionally led classes leave you feeling calm, positive and also deliver some peace in lively Hanoi! They have two handy locations, with one accommodating their vegetarian café that serves delicious vegan and raw options.
247b Au Co, Ho Tay, Hanoi
Studio II & Café
16 Duong Thanh St, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
When in Ho Chi Minh City a visit to Tao Dan Park is very worthwhile. Enthusiastic locals partake in yoga, t’ai chi and jogging each morning, which you can observe from the tropical tree lined paths. I would recommend taking an early morning run where the locals will welcome you warmly, even running with you. It is inspiring to see such a healthy culture thriving in this city and a positive way to start a day in the city.
The Mekong Delta, in the south of Vietnam, is an incredible network of rivers, brooks and canals alongside lush green farmland and fruit orchards. For a flexible and active way to see the stunning landscape off the beaten track it is best to get on a bike! The winding, single-track trails running between the farmland provide a truly unique experience and are much better than sitting on a tour bus. Also, since there are no hills in the delta, it makes this option suitable for all levels of experience. We decided to tour with Vietnam Backroads for a three day trip and they provided a fantastic guide, high quality bikes and were exceptionally helpful in organizing the best route for us.
Water sports are becoming more available in Vietnam and Cat Ba Island is a great opportunity to combine activities such as rock climbing and kayaking, with exploring the beautiful Halong Bay. The serine blue waters and hidden sandy coves are an ideal setting for such activities. In the south, it is also worth taking a trip to the beautiful island of Phu Quoc to enjoy the white sand beaches, lined with palm trees and idyllic blue sea. There are a few excellent dive schools here, which can take you scuba diving or snorkelling for the day. A trip off the coast of the island really is something special and as you travel back on the top deck of the boat at the end of the day, with the sun setting over the ocean, you wonder why you would ever want to leave…