Monthly Archives: March 2017

Danang, Vietnam–Creatures of the Night

It’s been nice being back in Danang, away from the constant hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City.  My favorite part of the day is actually nighttime, when Ryan and I walk along the beach.  We do this every night, usually around 9pm.  It’s cool and relaxing.  We walk nearly two miles in the soft sand.

Unlike other places I’ve visited, enjoying the beach after dark is very common and popular in Danang.  The areas are well lit and very safe.  In fact, during the early morning hours around sunrise and after sunset appear to be the only times that the locals come out and enjoy their beautiful beach.

Ryan’s favorite hypothesis is that the good people of Danang are in fact vampires who scatter as soon as the sun appears in the sky.  We saw this happen one morning when we got up to enjoy a sunrise and found the usually vacant beach to be crowded with locals exercising and swimming in the sea.  It was a major contrast to the daytime scene.

Though he was not serious, it was interesting to hear a friend from back home say that she’d heard Vietnamese people drink blood.  She’d heard this from someone living in Napal.  Ryan told her that while he didn’t believe this to be the case, he was entertaining the notion that Danang might be full of vampires…it was good for a laugh at least.

Another scenario, and a much more likely one, is that many people from Vietnam (as well as other parts of Asia) prefer to keep their skin as white as possible.  Women zoom around on their scooters in the heat of the day completely covered to keep the sun off their skin.  They wear gloves on their hands and socks beneath their sandals.  They even cover their mouths and noses which not only blocks the sun but keeps the exhaust from passing cars and scooters at bay.

Everywhere we go, people look on us pale-skinned foreigners with our legs and shoulders exposed and shake their heads sadly.  How could they purposefully be baking their naturally pasty white skin? they seem to be thinking.  I’ve even had one or two concerned onlookers try to convince me (mainly with gestures and pointing) that I’m ruining my skin.  How can I explain that this is simply not the case?

Much to Ryan’s delight, I have become more diligent than ever in applying sunscreen daily to every part of my body that could possibly come into direct contact with the sun.  Ryan on the other hand has not been so diligent and compared to him, I’m still fairly pale.  It doesn’t help that the sunscreen we buy has a “whitening” agent and it’s hard to find any without it.  Like I said, they want the white.

In addition, as the weather grows hotter, we rarely visit the beach during the day.  Like the locals, we prefer to enjoy it without the sun when the sand doesn’t burn our feet and the breeze feels fantastic.  We go out for meals twice a day and the occasional shopping trip, but more and more often we hide ourselves inside, waiting for the oppressive sun to go down.  It seems that we too are on our way to becoming creatures of the night.


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The Mekong Delta, Vietnam–Tourist Trap

Earlier this week, Ryan and I went to the Mekong Delta which is considered to be the “rice bowl” of Vietnam.  Here, everything from boats to restaurants to markets float upon the many rivers, canals, and streams that make up this watery world.  We took a tour for convenience.  After we were picked up at our apartment we were driven about 38 miles southwest of Ho Chi Minh City to My Tho.  This relatively quiet market town on the banks of the Cua Tien River is the gateway to the Mekong Delta.  Once here, we boarded a boat and crossed the river.

To see the floating markets, houses and restaurants we would have had to venture further into the Mekong Delta to Can Tho.  However, as we were short on time (and funds) we settled on a day trip that still offered a variety of sights and activities.  Our first stop took us to try some honeybee tea.  It was really good and not as sweet as I had been expecting.  In addition to the tea, there was an assortment of honey candy.  My favorite kind tasted like peanut brittle.

From there we traveled further inland by foot to try some fresh fruit and listen to traditional southern Vietnamese music.  It’s called “don ca tai tu” and is a blend of court music and folk music.  The instruments were interesting, as was the singing.  The fruit included pineapple, papaya, sopadilla, star apple, and brown lychee.  The brown lychee was definitely the most fun to eat.  After you pop the little ball into your mouth, you have to bite just hard enough to break the skin, then peel it away to reveal a rubbery little ball.  You chew the flesh away from the pit. It’s a sweet fruit.

After the fruit tasting and the music had finished, we loaded up into long boats called sampans and were taken down narrow canals.  These were crowded and we had to make sure to keep our hands inside the boat so they couldn’t get crunched by passing boats.  We saw tadpoles jumping along the muddy banks.  Our lady was nice and she did work hard, but she definitely made a display of her efforts to ensure she would get a good tip.  This whole leg of the journey was very touristy and even passing boats tried to get some tip money out of us.  We didn’t tip them, but we did tip our driver well.

Once we were safely back on land, we were taken to a family run business to try some coconut candy.  I didn’t particularly like the finished product–it tasted too much like molasses–but it was interesting to see how it was made.  We were also highly suspicious that the business was created solely for tourists.  While we were there, different tour groups came and went and we were given ample time to “shop around.”

Then it was back to the boats, only these were motorized and the canals were went through this time were much less crowded.  Along the way we got to visit with the other members of our group.  They were all from Australia and were lovely and friendly people.



This leg led us to our lunch.  I don’t know what the restaurant was called, but it also seemed to function solely for tourists.  Each tour company claimed a different section of the restaurant for their group to sit and as far as I could tell, everyone was served the same thing.  Our meal included a nice variety of local specialties such as “standing fish,” fried rice, morning glory greens, banh xao (a Vietnamese savory fried pancake), some kind of soup, and an interesting sticky rice ball.  The food was pretty good, but it wasn’t great.  In my opinion, the fish tasted a little muddy.

After lunch we climbed onto carriages pulled by tiny horses.  They took us back to our boat.  This was my least favorite part of the adventure as the horses were small and unshod and forced to trot or lope down paved roads while pulling carts packed with four to five people.  Again, the horse and cart business seemed to be operating solely to serve the tourists.  Locals zoomed around us on scooters and in cars and once we arrived back at our boats, the cart drivers were tipped.

We boarded the same boats that had brought us across the river at the beginning of the adventure.  We were given fresh coconut water to drink (yum!) and got to enjoy the cool breeze and each other’s company for the remainder of the ride back to My Tho.  All and all it was an enjoyable experience, although definitely on the touristy side of things, as far as tours go.

My favorite part may have been afterwards.  On the way home, we stopped to visit the Vinh Trang Pagoda.  It was very impressive and was definitely not built for tourists.  If we ever get another opportunity to visit the Mekong Delta, we’d really like to see the floating markets in Can Tho.  This time we’d probably explore on our own and avoid some of the tourist traps.  I know that what we saw was merely a glimpse of the Mekong Delta, and although it may have been through a tourist’s binoculars, it was interesting all the same.


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HCMC, Vietman–Enjoy the Show

One of the most interesting things Ryan and I have done since arriving in Ho Chi Minh City is attend the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Show.  This was a very fun event, despite the rat that ran behind our feet (no big deal) and that fact that my seat malfunctioned.  It was a theater style seat and when I unfolded it, the darn thing came right off.  But no harm, no foul.  They had it reattached by the time the show began.  We were seated in the fourth row, eagerly anticipating some puppet action.

This was the first real puppet show that I’ve ever attended and I considered it to be a bonus that it took place in the water.  I mean, how cool is that?  I’m pleased to report that I was not disappointed (although I think Ryan was just generally confused).  It was awesome!  The show lasted for fifty minutes.  The music was live and each section had different puppets with a seemingly different story.

To be entirely honest, I have no idea what was going on as the puppets all spoke Vietnamese.  I’m not sure if the sections were related or if they were separate stories told in a random order.  But no matter.  I chose my favorite bits, mixed them up, and here’s what I think was happening:

Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was a small fishing village called Pu Pu Fhu.

The the fish were abundant and fat.  As a result, the village prospered.  The people were well-fed and and all were content.

Then one day, everything changed with the arrival of Zesty Cat.  Zesty Cat terrorized the villagers and frightened away all the fish.

The peopled searched far and wide, but there were no fish to be found, such was the wickedness of Zesty Cat.

They traveled so far that they eventually came across and ancient tortoise who told them exactly what they needed to do.

The people made offerings to their fishing gods, praying that the fish would return so that they could feed their grumbling bellies.

In answer, the water dragons appeared and did their water dragon dance which frightened off Zesty Cat for good.

The fish returned and the villagers were happy once again.



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Vietnam–Tasting Fear

As I have already mentioned, one of Ryan’s New Year’s resolutions for 2017 is to try 100 different food/drinks.  The longer we’re in Vietnam, the more I’m discovering that I’m also trying an assortment of new things, whether or not I intend to do so.  Here are some of the surprises we’ve found on our plates so far.  Some have been more surprising than others.

1) Shrimp fries

These crispy little critters were just cooked right in.  They weren’t terrible to the taste, if you could get past the texture.  I actually thought they were a little bland, but I’m sure the sauces on the table would have fixed that right up.

2) Goby fish

In truth, Ryan hasn’t been nearly as adventurous since he ordered these.  When they came out, he wasn’t sure what to do, so he just ate the whole thing and the lady that worked there looked horrified.  After the first one, he left the heads and tails…

3) Beef ball soup

I still don’t know what these were but I’m thinking that they weren’t actually testicles (although I’ve only head fried testicles, so I don’t really know).  They were pretty dense and somewhat chewy with less flavor than I’d expected.  Again, I think adding spice is expected, it’s just a shame I really can’t tolerate much at all…

4) Vietnamese BBQ

This place was pretty interesting.  We tried the octopus and some pork.  Both were good with lots of flavor and we actually liked the texture, which was surprising to me.  A little rubbery here, and little crunchy there, not too bad at all.

5) Mystery seafood soup

We found that little tidbit floating around in our soup.  It looked kind of like an eyeball.  I couldn’t get up the nerve to try it but Ryan did.  He said that it popped and a paste-like substance squished out…we still haven’t figured out what it is but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t an eyeball.

6) The non-assuming banh mi

I’ve come to learn the hard way that the simple, non-assuming banh mi can kick my ass in the spice department.  Every time I bite into one of those hidden peppers, my world ends for about fifteen minutes.  Not fun.  Not fun at all.

7) Crispy fish

It was a dark and humid night and I had finally decided to brave the mysterious world of seafood and order my first Vietnamese fish.  I thought crispy fish would be safe.  After all, we’d had our share of fresh fish in Colombia and they were always good.  You just had to give it a good picking through with your fork first.  However, this one arrived with chopsticks, and I was at a complete loss for words.

8) Broiled fish

Same dark and humid night.  I did manage to find a silver lining.  When Ryan’s broiled fish came out–also accompanied by chopsticks–I considered myself lucky.  (Although his had surprisingly good flavor.)

9) Banh tam bi

This southern Vietnamese dish consists of thick rice and tapioca noodles covered in pork, drenched in coconut cream dressing.  I loved the idea of this dish, but the consistency of the noodles and the strange mix of flavors were a little off-putting.  I think the truth of the matter is that it just looked pretty gross, and I never got past it.

10) Crab and shrimp pizza with Thousand Island dressing

So we knew what we were ordering this time, but we were curious enough to do it.  One or two pieces were good, but after that, all I could taste was the dressing.  It was definitely worth the try, but not something I’d likely order again.

The result of this culinary craze is that I’ve developed a food suspicion.  When my order comes I have taken to looking everything over very closely before popping it into my mouth.  Sometimes I find that the coast is clear.  Other times however, I find that I’m not so lucky.  Instead of tasting the tempting morsel I thought I’d ordered, I taste fear.  It’s a flavor that has become all to familiar.  Now, it seems that there is only one thing left to do.  Have courage and look to the silver lining, which in this case is weight loss.  Little did Ryan and I know, we were achieving both of our goals simultaneously.  Ryan gets to try new things, and I’ve lost ten pounds!


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