Posts tagged ‘Pho’

Sunburn, squoodles and splattered chickens. Hoi An to Nha Trang, Vietnam. (Day 1)

From the very first day, our biking tour was the real Top Gear experience – our shoebox of money only bought us rattley old shopping trolleys; having the largest head in Vietnam meant that Simon almost had to resort to strapping a collendar to his head; and Gary obliged us by kickstarting our two day trip from Hoi An to Nha Trang with yet another copycat emergency.

“Oh crap!” I heard him shouting as we zipped down Highway 1. “My key fell out of my ignition and I have no idea when. I won’t be able to turn the bike off or open my fuel tank!” Fortunately for us, if there is one thing that every Vietnamese person knows how to do, it’s fix a motorbike. Any problem can be solved using two lollipop sticks, a tube of pritt stick, a handful of pipe cleaners and some coloured paper. Three minutes after he arrived, panicky and urgently pantomining his predicament, a small man covered from head to flip-flopped foot in oil handed Gary a brand new key tied on a string for safer keeping free of charge. Mechanical geniuses and they’re warm hearted – we were really growing fond of these curious, smiling people.

A little boring at the start, the road eventually developed into a pretty easy-going, flat ride through tiny tumbleweed towns. For hours we cruised uneventfully past flooded rice paddys, watching distant lime green tones develop into murky reflections of nearby mountains as they blurred in and out of focus. Thankfully, the scorching heat of the day was offset by the dusty, exhaust-infected air whipping past our skin so it wasn’t until we pulled in at My Lai for lunch that we realised just how badly sunburned we were. Not happy to let us eat in peace, Joe whipped out his trusty Lonely Planet guide and proceeded to tell us all about the town’s tragic history.

As it turns out, My Lai was home to the worst massacre of the Vietnam War. Under the pretense that they were aiding the North Vietnamese Army, the US army decided to make an example of the small market town. During the weekly market, when they knew that everyone would be in the town centre, the army landed nearby, pouring out of their helicopters and surrounding the town to cut off any chance of escape. Over the next few hours they threw grenades at houses, shops and bomb shelters and mowed down every person they saw. At least once, they lined over 150 people up in a ditch on the side of the road and shot them one by one. At the end of the day, every single person in the village was dead. Most were women, children or elderly people and not one single member of the NVA was found.

Sitting in a shaded porch listening to the kitchen staff’s easy banter, watching chickens dart between noodle stalls on the street and marvelling over the man zipping up the street with a full chest of drawers tied to the back of his bike, it didn’t seem possible that such a thing could have happened in living memory. How could such a close-knit town ever develop out of all the ash and corpses left behind that day? Not surprisngly, finishing our lunches was another impossibility so we morosely decided to press on in the hope that we could find a hotel before dark.

On that front we were incredibly lucky. Just as dusk began to spread it’s jaundiced fingers across the sky, we came to another rural town and, spotting those six golden letters glinting in the falling light, we pulled into a hotel on the side of the road. Rounding the building we were thrilled to discover a small lake crossed by a rudimentary bridge which lead to a beautiful white sand beach. This discovery and the sucessful completion of another trying day definately called for a few Huda beers on the beach so we settled onto a wall and reminisced over the day as the sun set and the boats on the horizon twinkled to life.

Later, after scrubbing violently at the black film smeared across our exposed skin and tenderly treating our excrutiating sunburns (well, Gary and I treated our burns while the Aussies admired their golden tans) we popped over to the canteen across the road for dinner. Fed up of pho (beef noodle soup), we ordered a feast of grilled beef, fried rice and sautéed chicken. As is the norm in Vientam though, what we had ordered was less important than what the cook felt like dishing up so our succulent feast came out as several bowls of squid noodle soup – squoodles – which the waitress identified as “rice” and “beef”. A second, and even third round of ordering was no more successful so, after downing four whole squid, six packets of instant noodles and three litres of chicken stock each, we decided to call it a day and get an early night so we would be ready for the ambitious 340km ride we had planned for the next day.

To be continued….

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January 23, 2010 at 11:25 am Leave a comment

So it begins, Hoi An, Vietnam

In our heads the bike journey was always going to be a repeat of that first day – sunny weather, long lunches on the beach, quaint villages, plenty of photo opportunities and a pretty easy pace. We were pretty stunned then to wake up on the morning of our first day of biking to find monsoon weather. Even more disappointing was the first 50km of our trip – grimy suburbs, crowded roads, beeping horns and not a paddy field in sight. Soaked through (despite the massive cape raincoats we had bought to cover us, our bags and our bikes) we were forced to pull over when the roads became treacherously slippy and our grumbling bellies got to us.

After some urgent pointing, a trip to the kitchen and a consultation with the phrasebook we managed to order a bowl of questionable pho which Gary, Joe and I devoured but Xavier and Simon couldn’t bring themselves to eat. “Do they not have any burgers or even some fried noodles?” they pleaded. An early brush with food poisoning had left Simon a little doubtful about Vietnamese street food so he was of the ‘eat nothing rather than something Hep A contaminated’ school of thought. Far past that after travelling China (and in Joe’s case Nepal and India) we greeted food poisoning and diahhroea as old friends and were pretty much grateful for anything we could get.

Fed and watered (or in Simon and Xavier’s cases still starving) everything started to look a little brighter, and after another hour of driving through sheets of pounding rain the weather finally started to co-operate and the sun came out just in time for our first mountain pass. The pass was an incredible combination of helterskeleter patterns, hairpin turns and freefall hills ending in hair-raising views of lush mountains, crystal water and dense forests. Since trucks, buses and cars were diverted through a tunnel under the mountain, we had the road more or less to ourselves so, finally appeased that this biking lark was a good idea, we used the full width of it, whooping and hollering like children playing cowboys and indians.

It was all fun and games until Alice (my bike) started to cut out and spew an unhealty amount of smoke. After easing her over the last mountain we stopped in a leper colony (population 200) to have the oil changed before pushing on to Da Nang. Hitting the city in rush hour traffic, we spent a hair-raising 75 minutes navigating gridlocks of a hundred or so motorbikes, dodging suicidal pedestrians, weaving between veering trucks and ambitious cyclists and losing each other again and again to the droves of polished, coloured heads crowded around traffic lights and roundabouts.

Surprisingly we made it through the crush alive though and another hour of driving in darkness brought us to Hoi An – a charming village stuck between a river and an ocean. After a decadent hot shower and badly needed clothes change, we met Alex and Rhianna (friends from Hué who we were to bump into in every city) and headed to a riverside restaurant for beers and an excessive amount of food.

Charmed into submission by Hoi An’s winding alleys, 200 year old storefronts and hundreds of coloured lanterns reflected in the shimmering river, we floated through the next two days in a vegetative state. Loving our new hedonistic lifestyle we skipped from the beach to the bars, wolfed down delicacies in colonial cafes and browsed the multitude of clothes and craft shops crammed into every inch of the old section of town.

More pictures from Hoi An are available in the gallery

January 19, 2010 at 6:11 am Leave a comment


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