Wine tasting in Dalat – the rough style

Research into the range of tasting material was quickly concluded, as there is only one wine producer in Vietnam: Ladofoods, Dalat. A privatised former government company.  Their brand name is “Vang Dalat”.  “Vang” for wine can’t deny the French influence :) It sounds nearly like the “veng” that my French friends from the South would call that drink :) But that’s about where similarity ends.

They produce three major kinds of red wine: “Superior”, “Export” and “Strong WIne”.

Reading the labels showed the following astounding findings: the “export” wine is a mixture of wine made from “Cardinal” grapes – and mulberry fruits! It contains 12% alcohol. The “strong wine” contains 16% alcohol and is made from mulberry and other fruits – it does not mention any grapes nor the other fruits that participate.

The only real red wine they produce (at least according to the labels) is the “Superior”, which supposedly is a blend of Cardinal and Syrah. So, one went into the shopping bag.

After some longer searching and probing I found a bottle of “Premium” – a blend of Cabernet and Merlot.

Needless to say, that none of their wines has a specific year :(

OK, since I am on my own anyway I decided to leave it at these two bottles for today’s tasting.

Fortunately, my fancy hotel has a cork screw in the room – and wine glasses :)

I also made a quick detour to the market. To buy some pains and something “to soak up the alcohol”. While other people might have opted for a “ring of scampi” – I went straight for a crispy “ring of pork”…:)

…the meat looked so harmlessly little when I bought it – but once the lady started to chop it up it turned out more than I possible can integrate into the wine tasting :) …and the Vietnamese like their pigs to have a lot of fat! Much like Bulgarians!

I also decided on some cashew nuts – they are being produced here – and you can’t get them any fresher. In fact once you have tried these here, like fresh from the tree you don’t want to touch the dry and tasteless stuff they sell as cashew nuts in our countries:

Now the tasting has been in progress for the last two hours or so. One glass of “Premium”, some snacks, one glass of “Superior”, some snacks – and a little dozing on the bed. And again. Now it’s the third round. And the wine still has not become any better! And I can’t take any more of the fat pork! It seems there should be a somewhat bigger break this time….

…well, the wine tasting is all over now. Prematurely cancelled in favour of a cold Saigon beer and a pork noodle soup. No problem, as the jury came to an early verdict:

None of the wines is good for a professional alcoholic’s consumption.

Maybe Vietnamese should stick to their mulberry wines, lemon and strawberry liquor,  and other such beauties that may appeal to the tastes of cocktail lovers. But, please, leave us professionals alone!

Now, of course, I have the usual problem of the Vietnamese lifestyle I became used to after only one month: by 7 pm you are finished with dinner – and if there is nothing to be posted on the internet you will end up in bed by 8 or 9 pm. Which makes you wait in frustration in the morning for the breakfast room of the hotel to open up at 6 or 6.30am…

Well, that’s the way it is. Can’t change it now. See you guys…

 

 

 

 

 

Dalat

Getting up at 4 am has something to it. At least in Vietnam and if you went to bed early enough to feel fit. This morning I realised that in every town or city in Vietnam the cocks start crowing at 4am. Yes, even in Hanoi with its 7+ million people you hear cocks in the morning :)

My flight left on time at 6 am and by 7:20 we landed near Dalat. The transfer took about 40 minutes through fields and fields of yellow Gerbera and predominantly pine forests. By 8am I was in my hotel, the “Dalat Plaza” in the centre (and they even had a room ready for me).

So, by lunchtime I have already nearly 4 hours of sightseeing behind me! Good boy, sweating despite the cold weather! Here in the central highlands and Dalat especially the climate is like in Europe and they grow many things for which it is too hot in other parts of the countries. Like artichokes and strawberries.

Fresh strawberries at the Dalat market:

And tons and tons of flowers.

I was more interested in that take-away stall with its various dipping sauces, however :)

A view to the covered part of the market:

Recently I seem to have been to a different market nearly every day. And they all seem to have the same structure. Fruit and vegetable are usually on one side along the outside of the market building. Rice and noodles occupy the other side – while meat and fish is to be found at the far end. This is quite practical to know when you are in a hurry :) – which I am not, of course.

In the Dalat market you have a lot of shops selling green tea and coffee – both produced in the area – and I am wondering if I should buy some to take home. But then: for what? Back home my life is different and there I treasure other things. Even to take some as presents does not make sense as people would not appreciate them if they have not experienced the things themselves over here. In other words: I have not spent 5 stotinki on souvenirs or presents – and I am planning to keep it this way.

The French discovered Dalat in the late 19th century and turned it into a little French memory place where homesick and such people could feel like in Europe. This has left Dalat with a special flair. It’s full with cafés, art galleries, botanical gardens and the like. In the last couple of years Dalat has become immensely popular with the Vietnamese. Everyone I talked to in Hanoi loves Dalat. And I can see why. It’s the “Europe” of Vietnam. Different climate and vegetation (e.g. only 20 degrees C in the sun today). Different “feel”. Rich people buy houses here. For the others loads of new typical Vietnamese hotels pop up. Which kind of ruins the atmosphere a little with less and less “French” architecture left.

Here a view to the centre from my hotel room:

…and to the lake:

My first walk was around the centre of Dalat, the artificial lake, the upper town with the market and the French church. And I have been stopped by at least 1/2 dozen “Easy Riders”, Vietnamese with chopper-like motorbikes that offered me tours of Dalat. For a modest 40$ to 50$ :)

Some backstreet, residential life:

…fresh socks…:)

Someone selling ornamental, live fish:

 

My reward for walking up and down the hills: ca phe den da (black ice coffee)! Yippeeh!

 

The idea of sightseeing with a motorbike is not bad, however, as Dalat is very spread out and many interesting things are outside. But I am not prepared to spend 40$-50$ for a guide. So, my goal is to rent a motorbike for the day tomorrow (that should be about 8$) and go riding around on my own. I already have a local map and in addition have read about all the major sites and their backgrounds in my guide book.

Here is also the only region in Vietnam where they grow wine. Today I might have an early start with the Dalat wine degustation. The modest temperatures will make this a pleasant task. I might head back over to the market again to look for some snacks with the wine. But first it’s time for a little nap…

 

From Hue to Danang

 

Due to too much rain the transition from Hue to Danang was kind of floating :) In any case, no cultural programme today. Well, not quite true because I carry my ethnic studies out without a pause…

A last visit to the Hue market in the morning and to buy some fruit for the trip.

…different kinds of garlic…

And “roots” en masse. The basis for a many a good curry and other delicacies:

I am afraid that these Vietnamese tomatoes are just as tasty as our Bulgarian ones – whether I/we like it or not :(

Just look at the figs in the centre. When I touched one of them, considering to buy some, they were as hard as stones. They cook them with meat (and probably for a long time). In any case I have never seen them on display together with fruit – and this collection of stuff in the photo also looks like the ingredients for a kind of sweet and sour Vietnamese dish…Here, the department for the lazy people. You want to cook something special tonight? Buy the ready sauce and just fry the meat or fish for a minute… :)

…..

My hotel choice in Danang was a lucky pull. In the centre of Danang but in a local area (no tourists), a Vietnamese “business hotel”, impeccably clean, huge bathroom – and in contrast to the last two days in Hue: flaming internet!  And all of this for 17$ a night! And great staff!

I always interview the hotel staff and everybody else who crosses my way about the best places in town for different kinds of Vietnamese “fast food” dishes. Tonight the lady at the reception gave me the most convincing recommendation, so I took her up on it and had a taxi take me there.

“Ong Ta” on Nguyen Chi Thanh street. And I am glad I went there. They make the meanest Bun Cha Ca that has hit my taste buds so far. A symphony of crisp freshness from the veggies and the meat and mean power and structure from the addition of chillies, garlic and shallots in vinegar, lime and fish sauce…and only 20000 Dong (1.50 Leva) ! The owner asked me if I found the price OK :) I did not play any games, because I felt honoured that they did not overcharge me as a foreigner. So I just thanked her again and tried to show her through signs how much I had liked the Bun Cha.

Now I should find a way to bed as I have to get up at 4am to catch my 6am flight from Da Nang to Da Lat. Uzhas! In addition it’s only eating and sleeping that distracts me from cigarettes. Today has been the fourth day without them! …

I will be in touch from cold Dalat in the highlands – I hope…

 

Hué – the imperial tour

If you cannot have sunshine for breakfast the next best thing is a good noodle soup that can substantially brighten your day:

As I hinted yesterday, Hué is famous mainly for the fact that it was the capital of the Nguyen dynasty – the last clan to rule Vietnam. From 1802 till 1945, when the last emperor handed his power over to Ho Chi Minh. So, Hué is not a very old imperial city. Nor has there been much left of its grandeur. The Americans and their South Vietnamese cronies looked to that by laying Hué in ashes.

But the Nguyens had powerful egos that turned Hué into something special. It started with calling themselves “emperors”, while in all reality they were mere kings. And the imperial town and it’s forbidden part was a copy of the Chinese palace in Beijing. Like all the rituals of the Nguyen courts were a copy of the Chinese “Son of Heaven’s” life style.

One thing I find absolutely unique for this part of Asia, though, is that some of the emperors went to find an idyllic place West of Hué where they ordered their tomb groups to be built – during their lifetimes still. OK, that was inspired by the Chinese Ming dynasty – but not just copied. These were huge areas, surrounded by walls and containing different groups of temples and worship places (all arranged according to strict concepts) – like a small town for a dead emperor. As I always had a weakness for megalomaniacs I like these tomb groups very much. They reflect the personality of the guy – or at least how he had wanted himself be seen by the public.

Due to limited time I visited only 3 such groups. First the one of Minh Mang, the second ruler of the Nguyens. Here are some impressions:

And here some pictures of the tombs of Tu Duc, number 4 in the line. He was a romantic one – and had no children despite 107 wives. The poor lad had to write the inscription on his tomb with all his good deeds himself – this was usually done by the emperor’s successor.

I will skip pictures of the Khai Dinh tombs.

…and here me at the entrance to the imperial town in the centre of Hué – just about when the battery of my camera let me down.

…anyway – far too many monuments.

Today I will move to Da Nang…

Hué – the Home of the Vietnamese Emperors.

Hué is supposed to be a beautiful place – or rather what’s left of it after the US bombing in spring 68.

I cannot tell you much so far because since my arrival it only rained and rained – and now it’s dark and rains. I don’t know how I shall go out for dinner in this weather. But I need to do something to distract me from the desire to buy some cigarettes.

Now I am still in the “cold turkey” stage, where the physical addiction to nicotine tries to keep you focused on cigarettes. Today, I was ready several times to give in and just buy a bloody pack of fags. For only one puff or two. But then, when I was already standing at a shop checking their selection of cigarettes, that hard-boiled, die-hard Frank, that has made it to the top in life several times and that has survived each and everything and everyone, that part of me that I was not even sure existed still kicked in and made my walk away!

It is damned hard, though. My whole life is programmed around cigarettes. I sit down – I light a fag, I pour a drink (any kind), I light a fag, I pick up the phone – I light…, I sit in front of the computer, I light…and so on and so forth. So many small every day life routines are programmed to be connected with cigarettes. I certainly behave like the Pavlov dogs in that old experiment.

So, every time I do something that is usually connected to lighting a cigarette (and there were many occasions within the last two days) I am feeling that physical urge. Shit! I guess the physical urge will go away after maybe two weeks – but the “programming” will stay in my head.

Basically, I know how it all works. After all, I gave up smoking once before. On May 24th, 2004 at 14.37pm I smoked my last Camel non-filter, “my” only cigarettes for more than 30 years, two packs a day. And only those produced in Germany. I even smuggled the expensive German ones into Bulgaria (where Camel were less than 1/3 of the German price) – but they would make me cough! In the end my monthly cigarette consumption amounted to the monthly salary of my darling lady.

The reason for giving up was, of course, not the money. But health and fitness, or so I thought. Because breathing had become a challenge. Especially up in the Pirin mountains and with young people.

So I did not smoke for about 5 years or so. To my surprise, after waiting one year, my breathing did not improve, however. That was also the time when I (admittedly, half-heartedly) made a few attempts at fitness studios.  Come on! What’s that?  Still huffing and puffing like crazy? So, I went to Germany on a medical fact finding mission.

As it turned out there were certain damages (even progressive ones…) to the good old luxury body, that neither time nor medicine could heel…

So, when I started smoking again in 2009 I did this in the full awareness that it would accelerate the down trend. Well, not really, in the beginning I lied to myself that the smoking would be only “temporary” and so I even bought cigarettes I did not like not to feel comfortable with them. But that “camouflage” became obvious to me rather quickly. But I continued to smoke – till two days ago.

Should I stop again. For the second time now?  There is no way back to improve my health from current rotten levels. Smoking or not. So, what for? To live a year longer, or maybe even two? I don’t see much benefit in that.

What gives me an incentive, however, is my desire to be independent and my quest for quality of life. I know that smoking, in my bodily situation, does not give me any pleasure whatsoever. It’s all about the nicotine. There is not even one cigarette a day I enjoy from beginning to end. So, should I be an addict to this? I should not! Much better to smoke opium, when you are here in Vietnam. At least this will give you some pleasure. The fags don’t. And I can’t imagine that you can get more addicted to opium than to cigarettes…

Goodness, I started out on Hué – and now I am bitching about around my own miserable life. Sorry guys! Maybe I should cut this out from this Hue post and put it somewhere else (likely, better delete it).

And, it’s still raining and nearly 7pm now. Soon it will be too late for dinner. At least for the food-shops. They have their rush between 6 and 7 pm – and then they close…the up-market restaurants (at least those catering to foreigners as well) are open to as late as 9pm!!! But I don’t want to wander about in the rain!  OK, I will give it another 15 minutes.

If rain won’t stop soon I will stay in my room with an estimated 120 million of small ants, 2/3 of a bottle of Bacardi (one third went since I started this monologue), some coke and a bag of dried fruits (banana slices, papaya pieces and whatever), that I bought at the producers “zech” (as we would call it in Bulgaria in German language…:))

So, that’s it from me for tonight. I hope. I also hope that tomorrow the weather will be better as I have hired a local guide for a city tour for all day. He will pick me up at 7 am. Well, in principle, it’s a logistical luxury I afford. Because sights are spread out in all directions. And I should hire different taxis to get from here to there. Which would be more expensive than to hire a guide with transport  for the whole day ;-)

As I have my done my home work  I am very much aware of the features of the emperors’ city and the forbidden palace (both of whom, by the way, are a miniature copy of the same thing in Peking, Beijing, or whatever you feel inclined to call it), as well as of the magnificent, unique tombs they have built for the emperors outside Hué. All I need now is: actually seeing them – without rain :)

See you tomorrow…

 

 

Nightlife in Hoi An

Tonight (or rather late afternoon) I ventured back to the riverside place I had been to a few days ago. To enjoy the peaceful, calm, relaxed moments of the time before sunset looking at the river. In Europe we are privileged. Because this time of the day may last up to one hour.  But here in this part of the world it’s a question of not more than 15 minutes.

I felt a bit like in Base Camp in Bansko (probably a stupid comparison) surrounded by people my own age group:

I had given my Vietnamese phone number to the German guide at My Son, living here, at the end of our excursion.

When I was just enjoying my Larue beer with ice he called. So, I told him where I was and he came to see me. Or tried to. But since he lives here only for two years he did not know where my local place would be and got my directions wrong. Eventually he arrived and we had in interesting conversation.

He is the first ex-pat living in Vietnam that I met – and to complement my picture of the country I was very keen on knowing how other foreigners see life in Vietnam (not to hear it only from Vietnamese). Well, people are different. I still invited him for dinner to my favourite seafood place (which he did not know either – but then, he has been here only 2 years). We had a tuna salad and a seafood salad and squid and prawns. And some more beers.

I got a great insight into the life of foreigners here and their problems with local bureaucracy – and the people. All from the perspective of a German, not to forget :) Fortunately, I know them well and realise how to interpret their views.

I am a very privileged person. Because I somehow have the ability to understand different people. And, given enough information, what makes them tick and what their desires are. Maybe because I love people. Not everyone is in such a fortunate position. Some people can live in a foreign place forever and still have no clue what local life around them is all about. Because they are focused on themselves. I absorb local life like a sponge :)

We got kind of kicked out of the restaurant at 9 pm – the normal closing hour for Vietnamese restaurants. My man from Berlin, whose name I still don’t know (because he did not volunteer it and I did not feel the urge to ask him) felt compelled to invite me for a drink at his favourite hangout before going home . It was, surprise, a tourist place with happy hour, pizza, pasta, burgers and the works!

They offered a “Happy Hour” deal: two drinks for the price of one (between 4pm and 7pm). And while the happy hour had passed a long time ago I did not want to stress the budget of this poor German and ordered a gin & tonic at the happy hour price :)   – Of course, they brought me two g&ts when I wanted only one at half price, but at lest they honoured the “Happy Hour” price (3.65 Leva for two). Vietnam!

And from this glorious place we got kicked out at 10 pm – the time when all Vietnamese establishments close down! Apart from some night clubs in Hanoi that stay open till 11 pm.

So, here I am now, forced to indulge in Havana Club and coke as life around me has ceased.

By the way: the Vietnamese are very early risers. When I drove to the market in the centre, the peak of the rush hour seemed to have been at 6 am in the morning!!! Can you imagine?

Well, no wonder, all soup and noodle shops are full at 6 am, lunch is at 11 am – and dinner outside not later than 6pm (at home dinner in Vietnam is usually at 7pm, because they love to watch the extensive news on TV that start at that time). And latest at 9 pm all “normal” people are in bed. Only the younger ones stay up till 10pm.

In other words: the majority of people in Vietnam seem to get up at 5am, latest!

Now it’s past midnight again, thanks to this blog. Tomorrow (or rather this morning) I will be free. No more cultural obligations. I have seen everything in Hoi An by now. Beach, swimming pool, drinks and seafood! Lowly life, I know – but then: from time to time :)

Hasta la vista, conquistadores!…

 

 

 

 

My Son

I had a rather early start and by 6 am I was in the old town of Hoi An at the market.

This is the market hall:

Despite the early hour it was bustling with life and there were loads of people having their breakfast in the “fast food” section, in the form of some kind of soup or noodle dish or other.

Here some impressions:

All different kinds of fresh noodles at about 10 stalls:

Real farm chicken – not from the factory – quite pricey but firm, tasty meat:

My department :) :

Some kitties playing under a table in the eating section of the building:

Here I stocked up on delicious bananas for the day:

 

After all the looking and walking I had earned my first ice coffee for the day :) Here are two local brides at the next table flirting with me:

They invited me over to their table – but none of them spoke a word of English. Which kind of limited our conversation :) I understood, however, that they were working in a restaurant where they had seen me as a guest – but maybe I got it completely wrong :)

After that I took off, to finally visit My Son, a UNESCO world heritage site. It was the temple city of the Cham (or Champa) empire – that ruled Southern and Central Vietnam from the 7th till the 15th century – which makes it one of the longest lasting empires in history. The temples are Hinduistic , as basically the whole of Indochina was first “conquered” by old Indian religion – Buddhism coming later (but also from India).

There were many tourist buses and it took quite some effort and patience to take a few snapshots with not too many tourists on them :)

After the fall of the Cham Empire in 1471 My Son became more and more forgotten and was reclaimed by the jungle. Only in 1895 or so it was rediscovered by some Frenchmen – and the same Parmentier who excavated Angkor Wat also excavated My Son.

Altogether there were 68 structures in the big temple compound, that was surrounded by a moat and by walls. During the Vietnam war our dear American friends managed to bomb away 48 of them – the reason for that not being entirely clear to me. They also used a lot of Agent Orange in the area. If you are too young to know what this is and what it does, have a look here and spare me an explanation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agent_Orange

Anyway, it was interesting to visit this smaller Cham version of the Khmer’s Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I just wished I had been there at 6am, when they open the gates. Because there would have been less tourists – and I would not have melted in the sun so much…

I had a guide who, of all people, was from Berlin! With a bigger belly than my own and a real “Berliner Schnauze”. He is currently planning to open a beer-garden establishment in Hoi An, in the Berlin style of the sixties, with Buletten, Currywurst, Eisbein and such stuff. Oh my god! Just what Hoi An needs! The world is really colourful!

I have retreated to my air conditioned room and will the swimming pool for the first time before I will venture out for some aperitifs and an early dinner at the river.

More seafood in Hoi An

As it got later and “wetter” last night as expected I did not hear the alarm clock in the morning. So, instead of visiting My Son I spent most of the day in old Hoi An.

Nearly all the old houses there are painted yellow. And nearly all of them have shops.

Here is an embroidery shop where the girls slave away:

A rather big house. As there is a huge Chinese community here since the 16th century I trust it belongs to one of them :)

Chilling a bit with a “Bia Hoi”  in between and watching people pass by:

The old Japanese bridge – that separated the Japanese quarter from the Chinese.

Very laid back atmosphere:

Hoi An must the the capital of tailors. There are more than 200 of them – all willing and able to whip you up a suit within 24 hours. For as little as 150$. As I am wearing mainly Bansko peasant outfit these days I have no need. Nor for any souvenirs :)

Of course, I had another of those delicious ice coffees. In the North people drink mainly green tea. Here in the centre and to the South they love coffee – me too :)

I also got my trip organised – all the way to Saigon. Next week I will move to Hue for a few days, then one day to Danang and from there I will fly to Dalat in the central highlands. And afterwards to Saigon. Flights and hotels all booked.

Then it was high time for another visit to “my” fish restaurant. This time I had a closer look at what they had to offer.

Lined up along the wall they had about 20 different basins with all kinds of different live water creatures.

Today, again, I limited myself to three different dishes.

First: sea crab

As I had no clue about how to attack a crab with chopsticks I reverted back to my archaic method: with jaws and claws :) And no one paid any attention to me, luckily :)

After the sea crab came the river crab (in the back):

At 12.50 Leva (in comparison to 7.20 for the sea crab) the most expensive item on the menu. Because river crabs are much rarer. It was definitely worth the difference in price. The river crab meat is much more aromatic and while I get all carried away eating any crab (and silently go oh and ah and hmmm) river crab makes me shift in “delirious mode”…maybe my love for crabs goes beyond the taste even. Maybe it’s also the the primitive gnawing and sucking and the fact that you first have to do some hard work before you get to little pieces of meat that excites me.

For relaxation I had some easy to eat  fish grilled in banana leaf, with some finely chopped lemon grass and chillies!

I am a master of “cutting up” fish with chopsticks now – especially when it’s a fillet :)

I am having a small rice rakia for digestion “at home” now, feeling happy and relaxed. Life is a joyful thing , if you know how to make the best out of it :)

 

Hoi An – singing in the rain…

I did it! I really got up at 5 am, quickly dressed, grabbed my casket and went outside. Only to find out it was raining cats and dogs. Grrrrr…So, I turned around and went straight back to bed. Of course, now I could not really sleep any more.

Breakfast at 7. Today a slightly more interesting selection as there was a Vietnamese travel group staying in the hotel ;) Soup, fried rice, noodles and stir-fried veggies to go with the coffee. The fruit, however was not fresh (as were the pastries). I am glad I never had dinner in the restaurant here.

Some coconuts as seen from my breakfast table:

A glance out of the window confirmed it was going to be a wet, wet day. Notice the informal cemetery behind the rice fields…

Now at 9am it’s still pouring. A day in? Maybe not so bad as I finally need to start planning the continuation of my trip. Otherwise I will be running out of time very quickly. I have booked my hotel till 31.10., so I will be in this area till then.

Some ideas are taking shape.  Like, flying to Dalat in the South Central highlands for three or 4 days. Not only a very picturesque place at 1500m altitude – but also the only area in Vietnam where they produce wine. To sample it should be an interesting task in itself :)

Then from Dalat to bustling Saigon for a some days to get a feel for modern Westernised Vietnam. From there on a 4 day excursion to the Mekong delta.

Back to Saigon and a flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia with a visit to Angkor Wat for two days. From Siem Reap to Bangkok and then on to spend the last 10 days of my trip either on Koh Samui island or Phuket. I need some time in Thailand before going back. Filled with passionate Thai sea food – if nothing else.

The rainy day will give me time to do all the necessary flight and hotel research and to check if prices are within my budget :)

….continued….

I had not realised that at my advanced age even planning makes you tired and I became a little fidgety. Two times in the afternoon it stopped raining and I wanted to go out. But by the time I had my gear together and was ready to leave the room it started raining again!

At 4.30pm came my chance. I went to some travel agency to get more information for my plans. And I have to say that most people are so extremely helpful here. The lady in the shop was very professional and made an effort to supply me with info even on things where they could not make any money out of me.

I used the opportunity to ask the locals there about the best place for Pho, the noodle soup, in town. And all the four employees answered in unison: at “Lién” on Le Loi street.

I had just started to stroll the old streets of Hoi An when the rain set in again.

So, I did not have a chance, as I had no desire to sit in one of the tourist cafés, I had to rush for an early light dinner:

Pho of the better kind

I still cannot get to grips with the hygiene attitude of the Vietnamese. You have no idea! I did not want to write about this before. Because I thought maybe the people in the North and in the South are different and I should wait till I have seen the whole picture. And I will wait till my trip is concluded.But just to give you a typical example: on my table was a tray with a plastic jug of green tea and some glasses. A must in such places as the patrons like to drink a glass of green tea after eating. So, what happened? One of the women on the next table came to my table to pour themselves a glass of tea. They took a glass, filled it with tea, drank it and put the glass back on the tray. The next person did the same. Either with the glass of the previous person (by accident) or any other glass! The glasses get rinsed in cold water maybe once day (if ever). So, if you want to drink green tea  you are bound to use a glass that uncountable people had used before. Never properly cleaned since it was bought. And everyone finds this completely normal. And no one, including myself, ever seems to have any health problems with it. Imagine this in our countries!!! There are loads of other things I could tell you that might be shocking for you. But no, I will wait till the time is ripe :)

Now I am going to have an early night because tomorrow morning I want to go to My Son, another UNESCO world heritage an hours drive away…

Bon nuit,

Frank

 

 

 

 

Another entry in a sloth bear’s diary…

All day I carried through my early morning decision not to get engaged in any serious activities.

I did, however, check out local travel agents on the internet to organise a boat trip on the beautiful river here. I found one company that offered what I want and that had the best price. So, I set off to the town centre to pay them a visit. While their shingle is still up, their shop window was nailed over with wooden boards. Out of business…More checking required tomorrow.

After that unsuccessful effort I drove to a fishing village along the river. The typical scenery of ordinary Vietnamese life. No difference to the North. Just a bit more crowded. I ended up in a dead end street, stopped by the river, with the sun preparing to set at just around 5 pm:

As I did not want to drive back on those narrow, muddy, unlit lanes in the dark I turned back to find a restaurant for an early dinner. In a godforsaken place I found “Tunh Anh”, a local garden restaurant right next to the river. And it was only 5.30 pm when I arrived there. A tranquil setting with the river in the background.

At least now I was in safe territory as from here it was only a couple of hundred meters to civilisation with lit streets and did not have to be afraid of darkness any more :)

I ordered the obligatory Larue beer and a salad made from shredded banana blossom, shrimp, pork, onion, mint and peanuts (4 Leva):

Nothing complicated but because of the freshness of the products and the balance of tastes something I could only dream of back home. I was also ogling at the seafood menu – but in the end decided a salad was quite enough. Willpower, eh!

On the way back, after crossing the bridge to the old town and passing by many shops…

…it came to my mind that my “consultant”, the lady from who I rented the motorbike, had recommended a restaurant “very good” and “not expensive” on the road from the old town and my quarters. And I though, what the hell, I will check it out. Just briefly. Maybe just sit and have a beer and a look at the menu :) Which I did.

What a different world! A restaurant geared completely to foreign tourists. Lovely and smiling service, no complaint. But there were at least a dozen German couples (and a few English):After nearly 4 weeks of completely Vietnamese life the whole setup felt totally unreal to me. Just looking at these German tourists and their sodden faces and staid outfits made me wince. Fortunately, with my poor hearing I did not have to listen in on their boring conversations :) OK, here I was, seated at a table. What to do? A Larue beer and a small item from the menu: squid with lemon grass and chilli.

As to be expected they brought me not only chopsticks but also fork and spoon :) – but no bowl with fish sauce or chillies. But that was easy to order.

To my surprise (not really) the squid came sliced in rings like in Western restaurants. They were not bad, though -fresh elastic squids with the right texture – but the chillies I had ordered to be put into the dish in addition were not much hotter than red peppers :) And the rice was not of the superior quality I had in most of the purely Vietnamese restaurants.A dish like you can find it in many restaurants all over Europe (apart from the refreshing lemon grass feature).

By the time my squid arrived two young German couples had settled in on a neighbouring table. And despite my bad hearing I was subjected to their conversation. The ladies were discussing their problems at work and with their bosses in Germany. What a topic for a holiday in an exotic country!

Well, what should I have expected? The recommendation came from a woman that sees me as a tourist like all the others she deals with and she thought this would be just the spot I might be looking for. I am to blame – not she. Because I should have known better. Well, now I do. Here is the culprit, “Miss” Lan:

But I do value this experience. Because it made me aware again that I am doing the right thing for myself. Avoiding Western tourists and trying to immerse in local life – and enjoying all the marvellous experiences and things I cannot encounter back home. Why else should I have come here?!

On my way home to the hotel I was hit by a gushing shower. The joys of motorbiking :) “No problem” – my favourite Asian phrase. Comes right after “niama problem” back home in Bulgaria. Hehe.

After a shower and new clothes I strolled over to the other side of the street to have a good-night drink on the deck of the restaurant, built on stilts in the river, where I had my first evening’s dinner.A classy place! Very expensive but with a laid back but cultivated attention to details. From furniture to plants to service and low background music (Sade and Nora Jones in a restaurant in Vietnam?! Unbelievable!)

Great to chill out here – with a gin & tonic. In  fact, I felt like being Hemingway (but, of course, my ego is bigger than his :) ) I happily paid the 90,000 Dong (6.70 Leva) for the gin & tonic in exchange for an hour of complete relaxation. May all days end like this!

Well, tomorrow is another day and we will see what it brings. The weather forecast talks about rain. My idea is to get up early and go to the Hoi An fish market – if I can heave my body out of bed in time. Because the market starts at 5 am (when the fishermen come back in with their prey) and finishes at 8 am. I won’t make any prognosis at this point in time :)

Leka nosht and till soon…