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The best places to stay and dine

Three is too much unpleasantness around these days, so let’s accentuate the non-political positive with a serving of choice insider information on how to kick back and enjoy yourself.

The following well-researched, region-wide round-up of the most satisfying and affordable hostelries and eateries will allow you to do just that.

Let us start in frenetic Hanoi, whose compact and characterful Old Quarter is made up of 36 narrow “trade streets”, each selling a different product.

Once there, head for the Green Mango Hotel, which has a fabulous location on colourful “fan street” (Hang Quat), full of flags and bandanas and other icons for all occasions.

It is a small guest-house with seven distinct rooms, each with silk sheets, polished wood floors and modern decor, and on the ground floor there’s a neat bar and brasserie serving some of the capital’s best food.

If you do feel the need to explore other restaurants, avoid over-hyped spots like Bobby Chinn’s and Verticale and instead seek out Nem, a rather medieval spot on Bui Thi Xuan Street.

As its name implies, it serves nem, Vietnamese spring rolls, for which it is justly famous. Do not worry about how to order, for there is only one dish on the menu.

It comprises two big, fat, fried rice-paper rolls filled with succulent crab, shrimp, pork, chicken, egg, mushrooms and vegetables, plus a side salad, noodles and dipping sauce. It’s ultra cheap and ultra good.

Further south, in Saigon, the place to eat is a gem called May Bon Phuong obscurely located on a lane off a lane off Dien Bien Phu Street.

Any irritation over hunting down the place soon evaporates when scoffing mounds of exquisite “five-flavoured” barbeque chicken and crispy finger-length minnows, fried whole and bulging with their own eggs.

Let’s jump now to Indonesia, avoiding Bali and Lake Toba, and instead heading for Malang and the incomparable and meticulously maintained, not restored, Tugu Hotel.

Not only are its rooms lovely and its meals, especially the breakfast (thankfully, not a buffet) superb, but the overall ambience is such that you really do not feel any urge to leave the premises.

That is partly because of the wonderful museum that extends throughout the expansive ground floor, where a series of rooms, lobbies and alcoves are decorated with a fascinating collection of antiques and paintings.

It is hard to top the Tugu, but perhaps the ViewPoint Eco-Lodge in Nyaung Shwe in north-central Myanmar, nestled by the shore of Inle Lake, actually does that in its own unique way.

The accommodation is in a series of chalets built out on stilts over the water and linked by zig-zagging wooden pathways. The main lodge has a bar, restaurant and shop managed by Ko Zaw and his wife Ma Myo.

She is a chef par excellence, and after relishing her Shan delights, few will dispute that Ma Myo deserves greater accolades than those the lemmings bestow on the nouvelle cuisine brigade.

In Singapore, stay at the Hotel 1929, in Chinatown’s former red light district, now gentrified and full of funky bars and bistros. The rooms are tiny, but they hit all the right notes and they’re affordable.

Then, avoiding the posh, over-rated cafés, hit the Tong Ah Eating House, also on Keong Saik Road, where black pepper spare ribs, kai lan greens and steamed rice with a large Tiger will cost less than the tip elsewhere.

In Manila, choose the Pearl Garden Hotel in Malate and on no account miss the Casa de Armas bistro on nearby Nakpil Street. Over tapas and red wine, listening to the lively guitar trio, it seems like Sevilla once more.

Okay, that’s enough of my secrets, except to recommend that you dine at Jarrod & Rawlins in Kuala Lumpur, Sticky Fingers in Vientiane and the tiny but justly packed Sun Moon Restaurant in Bangkok.

Enjoy. The bad news resumes next week.

Contact our regional insider Roger at roger.mitton@gmail.com

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