Nam Việt

October, 2009

Sunset Over Hoàn Kiếm Lake

Throughout October, Ryan, Ollie and I traveled Vietnam from nose to tail.

In the North, we saw clouds reflected in the rice terrace pools outside Sa Pa and watched the moon rise over the spines of “dragons” sleeping in Ha Long Bay. Hanoi’s old merchants’ quarters burst at the seams in early October as the young and old took to the streets surrounding Hoàn Kiếm Lake with red silk lanterns held aloft during the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival.

Favorite Northern Vietnamese dishes:
Chả cá Lã Vọng – turmeric-dusted whitefish fried tableside and accompanied by fresh dill, scallions, basil, peanuts, cilantro, and chile sauce, along with a tangle of vermicelli. The best versions are on Cha Ca Street in Hanoi.
Chả giò – deep fried pork spring rolls served with tangy nước mắm (fish sauce) and chili

Ollie’s favorite Northern Vietnamese dish: french fries

Glowing rice paddies

In Central Vietnam, the air along the ancient river in Hue smelled of incense while the bullet-riddled imperial city concealed the specters the French and American wars.  In sweet Hoi An, cheerful cries sang out from seamstresses in tailor shops, and along Cua Dai all the way to the beach were frangipani blossoms and fruit stalls.  School girls in white ao dais floated on the breeze.

Favorite Central Vietnamese dishes: Bánh khoái – Crispy egg pancake with shrimp, pork, bean sprouts, mint, fig, star fruit and topped with a sesame-peanut sauce (Hue) Mục Tai Chánh  – squid marinated in lemon juice (Hue) Cao lầu Noodles – thick udon-style noodle with pork rind croutons, lime, mint and shrimp in a beef broth (Hoi An) Bánh Bao Bánh Vac – (white rose dumpling) – steamed shrimp dumpling bunched up to look like a rose served with fish sauce (Hoi An

Ollie’s favorite Central Vietnamese dish: french fries

In the South, Saigon’s traffic rotaries bristled with motorbikes traveling in different directions all at once. Expats in many shapes and colors marched up and down the boulevard past the Rex and Palace Hotels, around the department stores and Bvulgari ads with their young children in tow. We shared steaming bowls of pho for dinner every night, piled high with bean sprouts, lime, basil, chili and hoisin.

Nothing says "Mekong Delta" quite like this hat!

Rice a thousand different ways in the Mekong delta. Up and down the river were boats towing the husks for fuel; their painted-on eyes forming consternating glares once used to ward off crocodiles that had been hunted down to nothing long ago. Within the flooded delta, coconut palms arced over the swollen waterways and sampans plied the canals bearing heaps of dragon fruit, pineapple and sweet potato off to the floating markets Cai Bei and Cần Thơ.

Favorite Southern Vietnamese dishes:

Cá Kho Tộ – river fish braised in a clay pot

Coconut toffee and sweet puffed rice cakes held together with condensed milk, cane sugar, coconut flakes, ginger and chopped peanuts

Ollie’s favorite Southern Vietnamese dish: french fries, coconut toffee and sweet puffed rice cakes

Phu Quoc, Vietnam’s island treasure is a small scattering of village folk on red earth roads.  On the windward side was a long beach that looked at the sun as it fell into the Gulf of Thailand; in another place was sand so white and water so clear that one would shield their eyes from below.   Men dove for pearls off the coast and green peppercorn plantations marked the edge of town.

At the end of the month, we broke all the written rules and bee-lined for the most remote border crossing Vietnam shares with the Cambodian coast. In the town of Ha Tien, contrary to Lonely Planet, money does indeed buy you your Cambodian visa and in no time we were off, leaving the mighty river and her people behind in the last of the wet season’s afternoon downpours.

They are ALL clothing-optional beaches when you are 2yrs old

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