Australian Consul-General Karen Lanyon talks to AsiaLIFE’s Barbara Adam, a fellow Australian, about all things Vietnam, including food. Photo by Romain Garrigue.

What was your first impression of Ho Chi Minh City, coming as you did from a posting in Los Angeles?

Quite frankly I was blown away by the dramatic changes to the city from when I visited regularly while posted in Cambodia from 2001 to 2004. The buzz, energy and dynamism are palpable. The air is electric. You get the feeling that anything is possible. It is a very exciting time to be here.

Looking back at your first month here, what’s the standout memory that will remain with you forever? (This is a version of the very Vietnamese question “how do you feel about Vietnam?”)

What will remain with me forever is the constant colour and movement of this city. Forget New York, Ho Chi Minh City is the city that never sleeps!

The fabulous food and the genuine hospitality of the people will also remain a treasured memory. Arriving from LA and knowing no one, Ho Chi Minh City and its people welcomed my husband and I with open arms and we are both very grateful.

You travel a lot for your job as Australian Consul-General. What’s your favourite destination in Vietnam and why does it appeal to you?

This is a very very difficult question as I am yet to find a part of Vietnam that I do not like – and yes I travel a lot.

I have, however, spent a significant amount of time in Danang over the last year in the lead up to the APEC Leaders Meeting where Vietnam and Danang will be showcased to the world. Danang and its beautiful setting – green mountains, white sand beach and warm blue water – also remind me of home.

This is particularly the case with the increasing number of Australian-trained surf lifesavers dotting the beaches in familiar red and yellow uniforms.

Everyone has a different experience of living in Vietnam. How does your and your husband’s experience differ?

My husband and I are a true team – he is an ex-diplomat. We travel together throughout Vietnam and he supports me fully in the job I do here as Australian Consul-General. I could not do it without him.

He does however enjoy a little slower pace of life and has time to smell the roses and discover things about the city that he shares with me and our many, many visitors from around the world, from coffee shops to cooking classes to craft beer joints and excellent street food. He is, in fact one of the best concierges/tour guides in town.

The Vietnamese people are very forward-looking and positive. How do you imagine Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam in 10 years time?

That (positivity) is something I admire very much in the Vietnamese people and something I think Australians and Vietnamese share – along with a healthy sense of humour, love of family and kicking back with friends and a good beer. It is why we make such good partners in business and in the region generally. It is this entrepreunial spirit that we share with Vietnam that will make Ho Chi Minh City a key global economic hub in the next 10 years if Vietnam stays on a trajectory of reform and development. It is a true global city with limitless potential given its most precious resource, its human capital. 

After living here for a little over a year and a half, can you talk about what’s unique about the relationship between Australia and Vietnam?

We do indeed have a very close and very strong relationship. We celebrate 45 years of diplomatic relations next year so everyone should look out for the many celebrations across Vietnam, like our Australia Day Family Celebration at RMIT on 28 January. There’s also Taste of Australia functions around the country in April, as well as family barbecues and much more.

Over the last 45 years Australia and Australians have forged a strong bond with Vietnam that plays out in every field of human endeavour, from security (close police cooperation on counter terrorism, anti-people trafficking and fighting narcotics trade), to education (26,000 Vietnamese students are currently studying in Australia with a growing number undertaking courses here in Vietnam with Australian curriculums), and innovation (Australia is working together with Vietnam to develop innovative skills and technologies in a range of areas that will ensure Vietnam’s economic prosperity – agribusiness, health, water, manufacturing, infrastructure).

Australian alumni in Vietnam now number well over 80,000 and more Australians are travelling to, studying in and investing in Vietnam than ever before. Our significant Australian Vietnamese community is also a strong bridge between our countries contributing to the economic development of Vietnam. These people to people links are what makes our relationship unique and strong.

Lastly and most importantly (in a tongue-in-cheek way), what’s your favourite Vietnamese food?

Of course this would be the final question. I am asked this in the park every Sunday by students practising their English!

It’s so hard to choose but living in Ho Chi Minh City I cannot go past a good bun thit nuong or banh mi with loads of pickles and chilli and fresh herbs, washed down by a cold beer – particularly if they are made with Australian wheat (as are 90% of banh mi), Australian malt or barley (a key ingredient in growing percentage of Vietnamese-made beer) and Australian meat (Vietnamese love our fresh, clean Australian beef).