We welcome Martha, J’s mom, to SouthEast Asia!! She’s with us for 3 weeks, then striking off on her own for another 2 weeks in Thailand. Awesome!!
We begin in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). We see the sights, and get used to a much faster-paced travel style than we’ve become accustomed to. Saigon is a huge, sprawling city packed with people and motorbikes. We’ve heard tell of the dangers of crossing the street, but find it actually a sort of Zen experience – there is never going to be a break in the endless stream of traffic. To cross, you must stay close to your companions and simply step out, then continue walking at a slow and constant speed until you’ve reached the other side. The motorbikes veer around you and converge again like you were never there.
We introduce Martha to street food, including tiny BBQ quails for 13,000 Vietnamese dong (about 60¢ a pop). Vietnamese food, we find, consists of six main ingredients: rice, pork, shrimp, garlic, ginger, and green onions. Other meats, vegetables, herbs, or fruits are sometimes added, but these six ingredients are in everything. And it’s incredible the array of dishes we’ve tasted.
J and Phó – rice noodle soup topped with sliced meats, garlic, and green onion.
Bahn beo. A small patty of rice noodle with a topping of shrimp, minced pork, fried shallots, and garlic. The other dish we tried at this restaurant, Bahn nam, was essentially the same ingredients, but came wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed, resulting in two surprisingly distinct flavors and textures. See also: bahn khoai, in which the rice base is a crispy fried pancake, the shrimp and pork are sliced, rather than minced, and the onion, garlic, and herbs are fresh. Equally delicious, if not more so. Many dishes are served finger-food style. For example, you order fried tofu or a sausage, and are served a stack of fried tofu, a plate of rice noodles, a plate of sliced veg and herbs, either rice paper or large leaves for wrapping, and a dipping sauce. Alex claims we overuse the term “delicious”. But it’s pretty darn delicious.
We take a side trip for one night in the Mekong river delta, where we took a tourist trip and visited the sights, then ditched the tour and found beautiful home stay for the night.
Coconut candy being made. Ladies folding it into small squares of paper in the background.
J on a Vietnamese foot bridge. And yes, it moves as much under your weight as it looks like it would.
Overnight train to Hoi An, a very cute colonial town about halfway up the Vietnamese coast. Hoi An used to be a bustling hub of trade between the Vietnamese, the Chinese, and the French, but the river silted and trade moved south. It became a bit of a ghost town, then remained un-bombed through both the French and American wars. In the last decade or two, it has been restored and showcases beautiful old buildings blending colonial architecture with Chinese decor, quaint streets, a park-like, sculpture-filled riverfront, and a booming tourist-based economy.
We take a cooking class and learn to make Vietnamese specialties. Above, J serving our beef and green mango salad (delicious). We discover that Vietnamese fish sauce is a whole different beast than that found in Thailand or Laos. Very light – delicate even. Aromatic, but much less pungent. Also, incredibly potent black pepper.
Bia Hoi – fresh or draught beer. Made daily and usually served at sidewalk joints from a large plastic water bottle. 5,000 vnd, or about 25¢ per glass.
As in Laos, the French influence is strong here. Bahn my – the word for baguette and also sandwich – is everywhere, and usually contains at least three different kinds of meats or patés, possibly an omelet, sliced cucumber, tomato, a pile of herbs, and chili sauce. Above, the ladies behind our favorite stand, once visited by Anthony Bordain (though she doesn’t know it) where a sandwich with everything is 20,000 vnd ($1).
We were in Hoi An for Women’s Day, when one traditionally buys flowers, gifts, or lanterns for your mother, wife, girlfriend, or other important women in your life. We buy flowers for Martha, exchange bunches of lychees and banana between ourselves, and Alex buys us all beer. Happy Women’s Day! We rent bikes and thoroughly enjoy spinning around town, the islands, and finding our own stretch of beach, where we all strip and J takes her first dip in the Pacific Ocean.