Dear friends of fine food and great wines,
Please join us for an exciting dining experience following my travels from Hong Kong through Vietnam to Bangkok, a region rich in culinary tradition and a touch of French influence.
As a professional chef, I have always admired Chinese chefs with their wok cooking and special seasonings. My European colleagues require hundreds of pots, pans, molds, terrines, and different knives, not to mention a pot washer, to prepare their food. In contrast an Asian chef can prepare an 18-course dinner with only a cleaver and a wok.
After a long flight from Houston, my wife Connie and I landed in Hong Kong and checked in at the Park Lane Hotel. We enjoyed the architectural wonders of this great city, and had a great dinner in the “Old World” classic style of China including dumplings and Peking duck before we boarded our ship “The Seven Seas Marine” the following day. We sailed for two days through the South China Sea and arrived in Hong Gai, Vietnam, the gateway toHalong Bay with its 3000 mountainous islands. A sailing trip on a picturesque Junk to visit the boat people with their ancient tradition in fishing and diving for pearls was another unique experience. The next day we toured the countryside, and after a 3-hour bus trip we entered Hanoi to explore the culinary heritage of North Vietnam. A very tasty welcome luncheon at the contemporary Wild Rice Restaurant was our first Vietnamese meal before touring this city with its horrendous motorcycle traffic.
The Port of Chan May was our next destination with a tour through Hue with its temples and Forbidden City of ancient dynasties. Next, we embarked a traditional dragon boat in front of the Heavenly Pagoda for a cruise on the Perfume River to enjoy the wonderful scenery and colorful life along both sides of the river. A short trip to Nha Trang dotted with green rice fields was another great adventure as we experienced the rural country life of Vietnam.
The highlight of our trip to Vietnam was the bustling Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) with its long and often glamorous, but violent history. The touches of the former French Colonial Empire are very visible in the upscale French Quarters, Notre Dame Cathedral, the colonial styled Post Office, botanical gardens and spacious boulevards. The former Presidential Palace is now the Reunification Hall and the US Embassy has been rebuilt.
Being a chef at heart, we also toured the outdoor food market of Cho Lon. The streets are full of live, color, and exotic spices as well as numerous street stalls amidst hundreds of hidden temples, shrines and pagodas with an endless stream of bicycles, covered tricycles, and motorbikes. A farewell six-course dinner hosted by our Vietnamese friends at the well-known Rex Hotel (the home of journalists during the Vietnam War) accompanied with a native musical floorshow was a memorable event.
On our last day at sea we arrived at the beautiful island of Ko Samui. The highlight was an elephant ride during a tropical storm in a jungle of tall palm trees. We also attended a Thai cooking class and had our first taste of native Thai food. After lunch we left all civilization behind and traveled in a prehistoric ox cart on a bumpy road and experienced the harvest of rubber trees, before returning to our comfortable ship, which sailed at sunset for Bangkok, our final destination.
Upon our arrival to Bangkok, we received a warm welcome by several of my former employees from the Rotisserie for Beef and Bird who returned to their homeland two decades ago and became very successful in their own businesses. My friends drove us to the Shangri La Hotel where we had a comfortable suite overlooking the Bangkok River. For the next 6 days we visited the many markets, museums, dozen of temples including the Emerald Buddha, soup kitchens, elegant restaurants, the most elaborate shopping center, and a spectacular royal boat show from King Rama. Naturally we enjoyed the food served on sidewalks from chicken on the stick to sticky rice, in addition to family dinners with the next generation of my friends. Bangkok, with a population of over 13 million, is one of the most amazing cities we have ever visited, and I only can say; it was an experience of a lifetime.
Connie & Joe