Train Travel in Vietnam

I’d read that train travel in Vietnam was comfortable and cheap, and the best way to see the countryside if you didn’t have a lot of time. I found it somewhat comfortable and well priced, and a good way to see the countryside. It was also a chance to talk with other travelers.

Train ticket

Train ticket — about $13 for a 270 mile trip

I traveled from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang on a nine-hour journey. I purposely chose a daytime trip, so that I could see the landscape as it rushed by. When I boarded the train, it looked like most of the Vietnamese weren’t really paying attention to their assigned seats, and they just sat wherever suited them best. The tourists, on the other hand, stuck with the number on their paper, so it was a funny mix of me stubbornly searching for the seat that matched my ticket while everyone around me negotiated with one another for favorite spots.

Full train to Nha Trang

Full train to Nha Trang

There were a few other tourists in the same car, and that’s how I met Laura, a lovely woman from London. She was traveling with a friend, Kate, whose seat was somehow several rows behind ours. Laura and I chatted most of the trip, and I hung out with her and Kate in Nha Trang, and later in Hue, when our paths crossed again. I probably should have just offered my seat to Kate so they could sit together, but I liked my window seat and didn’t want to break the rules. If I hadn’t stayed in my spot, I never would have met them and hit it off so well, so the moral of the story is that sometimes being uptight pays off!

hue to hanoi train

Burning in the fields

Burning in the fields

Scenery on the way from Saigon to Nha Trang

Scenery on the way from Saigon to Nha Trang

The train had a couple TVs on it, playing flashy ads and soap operas. Nearly all the coat hooks were being used to hold people’s bags of food. A cart came around a couple times, selling treats and drinks. At one point the train stopped longer than usual at a station, and Laura nudged me, pointing out the possible reason: a couple of men in official looking uniforms, arguing with a middle-aged woman in a seat six or seven rows in front of us. A couple stations later, the uniformed men led her off the train, carrying what looked like a toy machine gun. We’re guessing the toy was hers and it wasn’t allowed? We really hope it was just a toy. It remains a mystery.

From Danang to Hue

From Danang to Hue

Misty coast

Misty coast

I took a train from Danang to Hue, and that was the prettiest train ride of my trip. The tracks followed the coast, and even though it was an overcast day, I saw plenty of lush tropical forest tumbling down the hills and into the ocean. This train was empty, so we all just picked which seats we liked best, which was good because the seat I was assigned seemed to have some springs poking out of it. This train was not as nice as the first one, but with scenery like that, who cares.

That sunset ride is pulling in

That sunset ride is pulling in

hue to hanoi train

The last train I took in Vietnam was an overnighter from Hue to Hanoi. I was determined to be picky about my seat, since I’d paid extra for a bottom bunk in a six-bunk cabin. Imagine my surprise when I arrived in the cabin and found the pillow and blanket tossed to the side, and a man sitting on my bunk. Once I showed him my ticket proving it was my spot, he gave it up and sat on the other bunk with his friend and the woman whose bunk it was. I only meant he couldn’t sleep there, not that he couldn’t sit while we chatted, but that was just the first of a series of small misunderstandings. I fit my bags in around the five-gallon jar of homemade whiskey the guys were transporting, and then we faced each other and tried to talk. I had bought a small bag of sticky rice at the station and ate that while we talked, which the three of them found hilarious (I am not very good at chopsticks).

Bunks on the overnight from Hue to Hanoi

Bunks on the overnight from Hue to Hanoi

My bunk, with the homemade whiskey just visible in the corner there

My bunk, with the homemade whiskey just visible in that rucksack in the corner there

The two men had very limited English, and I only knew how to say “please” and “thank you” in Vietnamese, so it was a real struggle to talk. The most astonishing sunset was taking place outside the hall window, but every time I tried to peek out there, the guys pulled me back and tried to talk some more. There’s a lot to be said for cross-cultural communication, but when the language barrier is this huge, there’s really only so much that can be said. They would ask a question, and I would respond, and they’d smile, uncomprehending. Then I would ask a question, and they would respond, and I’d smile, uncomprehending. Any attempts to clarify what was said were met with more smiles and shrugged shoulders. I learned that their names were Tien Troung and Van Hien (they wrote their names for me in my notebook), and they were engineers on a work trip to Hue, returning home to Hanoi. They brought the homemade whiskey with them and were eager to return to their wives and children. Tien Truong showed me a photo of his six-month-old. That, at least, is universal. I congratulated him, and he grinned proudly.

Tien Truong and Van Hien

Tien Truong and Van Hien, who insisted on posing for photos and asked me to pose as well

Sleeping on that train was nearly impossible, since the guys played music on their phones and two other passengers climbed in the middle bunks midway through the night, and I had to use the bathroom twice, and tried to forget the experience each time because it was so disgusting that if I remembered how nasty it was, I’d never be able to go again.

hue to hanoi train

We arrived in the capital around 6am on Gio to Hung Vuong Day, a celebration of the Hung Kings, who founded Vietnam. I said farewell to my cabinmates, scooted my bags away from the whiskey jar, and left the train behind.

The Glamour of Vietnam’s Reunification Palace

I went to Reunification Palace right after going to the War Remnants Museum, and the change was jarring. I had an emotional experience in the museum, and it was strange to walk away from the troubling rooms of the museum into the perfectly manicured halls of the palace.

Reunification Palace, Ho Chi Minh City

Reunification Palace, Ho Chi Minh City

I caught a tour midway through, and learned a little about the building. The French had built a mansion on the site back in the 19th century, but it was bombed in 1962 in an assassination attempt on President Diem. The damage was so extensive that Diem ordered the building razed and rebuilt, which is why it’s entirely built and decorated in the modern style of the mid-1960s. 

I often dislike these types of windows, because they're usually done in a heavy concrete, but here they seemed much lighter

I often dislike these types of windows, because they’re usually done in a heavy concrete, but here they seemed much lighter

One of the reception rooms

One of the reception rooms

It was like stepping on the set of Mad Men, except where I find the dark browns of that show uninspiring, the bright colors and rich materials of the palace were a sight to behold. I think a lot of that had to do with Vietnamese-born, French-trained architect Ngo Viet Thu, who purposely used fabrics, rugs, and paintings showing Sino-Vietnamese designs. Everything was sleek lines, symmetrical layouts, long rooms filled with matching furniture. One room held a painting that represented the north, middle, and south of Vietnam. The president’s main reception room incorporated traditional Vietnamese designs, and the lacquer on a painting in another meeting room was stunning.

Check out that lacquer

Check out that lacquer

From left to right: the north, middle, and south of Vietnam

From left to right: the north, middle, and south of Vietnam

The residential quarters were emptier, nearly bleak, compared to the dressed to impress public rooms. The courtyard of the residential quarters contained the preserved legs of elephants, a miniature ship, and a Chinese ceramic dog, which seemed an odd assemblage.

The relatively bare residential quarters

The relatively bare residential quarters

Odd mementoes

Odd mementoes

The palace includes a movie theater, a gambling room, and my favorite–a rooftop ballroom. There’s a dance floor, bar, and grand piano up there in the center of the roof, and space on either side to drift away to for conversations romantic or political, or maybe both.

Tables were set up for mahjong and blackjack

Tables were set up for mahjong and blackjack

Dancing on the rooftop

Dancing on the rooftop

Down in the basement is the war strategy room, several small offices, a small cell for the president to hide in during combat, the kitchens, and the Mercedes used by the last president of South Vietnam.

The door to the movie theater

The door to the movie theater

Strategy room underground

Strategy room underground

One of the views from one of the balconies

A view from one of the balconies

Diem was killed before he could ever live in the palace, but two of his successors lived there. On April 30, 1975, a tank crashed through the gate of the palace during the fall of Saigon, and the war officially ended. What had been called Independence Palace was renamed Reunification Palace by the Communist government, and it has remained pretty much untouched ever since. Sometimes official meetings are held there, but mostly it’s a strange museum piece, a building barely used for its intended purpose, a monument to the decadence of a former regime.

Adding the traditional to the new building

Adding the traditional to a new building

Beyond the Facts: Visiting the War Remnants Museum in Vietnam

No museum is a mere collection of facts. It’s not possible to display information completely objectively; there’s always a point of view taken, a lesson to impart, an agenda to push. This is true even for museums that aren’t at all political; for example, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic House & Museum promotes not just Wilder’s writing, but the idea that her values and way of living are worth emulating. Museums only exist because somebody thought the topic was worthy of further study and wider knowledge by the general public. Just by building a museum, you’re taking a position. But I have to say, I have never been to a more baldly biased museum than the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City.

The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Unlike a lot of museums, this one makes no bones about its purpose: it is there to tell the story of the Viet Cong during the Vietnamese-American War, and it is there as a corrective to the American narrative of the war. Every single poster and placard called it the American War of Aggression. Any time the war was called “the Vietnam War,” the phrase was placed in quotes. South Vietnam was called the “so-called Republic of Vietnam.”

Protests around the world

Protests around the world

When the USSR or China were mentioned, the war was called a “struggle for national salvation,” to be more aligned with Communist vocabulary. One placard showed Australians protesting their government sending troops to aid the Americans, and the placard said they were protesting the agreement between the Australians and US to “force Australian youths to become field targets in the US battles in Vietnam.” The whole museum was a master course in semantics. (Which is not to say it was false–you can put a lot of gloss on a base of facts.)

Some veterans from the US have sent in their medals and fatigues to the museum, with notes of apology

Some veterans from the US have sent in their medals and fatigues to the museum, with notes of apology

It was also extremely difficult to visit, because the anger and loss on display was so raw and so recent. An entire room was devoted to photos of children suffering from painful and debilitating birth defects, which they got because their parents were exposed to the dioxin in Agent Orange. Did you know that this was only one of the toxins sprayed over forests and farmlands? The museum showed posters of the various “colors” of toxins used by the US. The posters looked a lot like our terrorist threat level posters today, only guess who was the threat?

Yikes

Yikes

Ranch Hand: the name of the operation that sprayed various chemicals over the farmlands and forests of Vietnam from 1962 to 1971

Ranch Hand: the name of the operation that sprayed various chemicals over the farmlands and forests of Vietnam from 1962 to 1971

Research since the 1960s has shown that even just one parent exposed to dioxin could affect the DNA of the child, resulting in spina bifida, diabetes, various cancers, twisted or missing limbs, developmental disabilities, and other defects and diseases. So it’s not just the people who survived the war who developed health problems, but their children did, too. (Of course, this has been a big issue in the States, too, as the military has slowly agreed to compensate some US veterans for the health problems they and their children suffer as a result of being exposed to Agent Orange. We hurt ourselves when we hurt others.)

A whole room of these images, difficult to see, harder to contemplate.

A whole room of these images, difficult to see, harder to contemplate.

The Aggression War Crimes and Historical Truths sections, in addition to containing the Agent Orange room, included displays on the My Lai massacre, the founding of the National Front for Liberation (what we know as the Viet Cong), the bombings in Laos and Cambodia, and the airlift of Americans in Saigon in 1975.

The Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam

There was a special display on photographers of the war, especially American and French photographers who trained their cameras on the atrocities the Vietnamese suffered at the hands of the American troops. A couple rooms held displays of shell fragments, different kinds of guns, and in a display on the total destruction of villages in Son My, pots and baskets to show what the lives of the villagers were like before the attack.

Part of the Photographers of the War exhibit

Part of the Photographers of the War exhibit

war remnants museum hcmc

Pottery from the Son My massacre. We know it as the My Lai massacre, but that was just one of several villages in the area that was destroyed, and the Vietnamese call it the Son My massacre.

Pottery from the Son My massacre. We know it as the My Lai massacre, but that was just one of several villages in the area that was destroyed, and the Vietnamese call it the Son My massacre.

Visitors look at the guns on display

Visitors look at the guns on display

The first floor was split between two displays: one on the education the young Vietnamese received under the Viet Cong during the war, and one on the worldwide anti-war protests held during the ’60s and ’70s. The education display was dated, a magazine spread for people to read during the war. It showed children in obvious poses, smiles plastered on their faces as they shouted dedication to “Uncle Ho,” with captions like “Children tried to study well and work hard to make the contribution to the people’s movement defeating American aggressors.” I don’t mean to undermine the importance of the teachers during this time, though; they taught children in tunnels if they needed to, never sure of where or when the next bomb might go off.

Part of the "Children During War" exhibit

Part of the “Children During War” exhibit

The anti-war display was the opposite of dated; seeing the accumulation of anti-war and pro-Vietnam support from all those different countries, over many years, brought home how much this war meant to people around the world. People were not only concerned for the lives damaged and lost on both sides of the war, but also for what this kind of unofficial but all too real war meant for the world they lived in, and how it might affect their future. Seeing large posters declaring “Solidarity with Vietnam” in German, only 20 years after the end of World War II, was affecting. A man in Japan wore a sign saying “US Withdraw from Vietnam” during his commute, every day for 8 years. Several tribunals were convened on the “war crimes of the US” in Norway and Sweden. Thousands of people in South America, Africa, and Europe signed letters denouncing US intervention in Vietnam. Massive protests were held on every continent.

Before and after the war, from places around Vietnam

Before and after the war, from places around Vietnam

war remnants museum hcmc

I’m so used to the American version of the story, even the anti-war story, that I was surprised by these global actions against the war. I’d let myself be insulated, seeing everything through a particular lens, and it was good to be reminded how narrow that view is. Especially in light of the anti-war protests in 2003–those didn’t come from nowhere, they have a lot of historical precedent.

Let there be peace

Let there be peace

Outside the museum, captured American tanks, heavy artillery, and a bomber plane were on display in the sunshine. A group of children deformed by Agent Orange played musical instruments for a growing crowd of Vietnamese tourists. I stuck a flower in the gun of a tank, smiled and flashed a peace sign, consciously re-creating several historical photos of hope reaching out into violence. Behind me, the band struck up a folk song, and the gathered Vietnamese began to sing.

Outside the Peace Room

Outside the Peace Room

Down in the Mekong Delta

The Mekong River is long and wide, starting in Tibet and flowing out to the South China Sea. I traveled on it by boat in Laos, which is about the midway point, and again in Vietnam, in the massive Mekong Delta where the river meets the ocean. The Delta is a huge area, a totally different landscape from farther north; it’s flat and steeped in water. I took an overnight trip to the Delta from Ho Chi Minh City, with a tour group of about forty people.

The flatlands of the delta

The flatlands of the delta

The bus ride took several hours, out of the city and into the watery flatlands, and our guide, Mr. Ky, spoke to us for the first half hour, telling us about the foods grown in the region. Our first stop was in the canals off the river. We listened to a few songs performed by musicians who must do this for at least ten different tour groups a day, so it’s not surprising that they sounded a little tired. We ate a few fruits and then followed Mr. Ky down the concrete paths between canals to a little spit of land used as a dock. While we waited for our boat, Mr. Ky told us how the rivers and canals flood up to two meters every year, which is essential for the rice the delta produces–90% of the country’s rice export.

The canals of the Mekong Delta

The canals of the Mekong Delta

Family gravesites in the canals

Family gravesites in the canals

Then came my favorite part of the day; we climbed into tiny boats in groups of four, and drifted down the estuary. The boats were piloted by men and women standing up in the back, using long poles to propel us gently along. Unlike everywhere else I’d go in Vietnam, it was almost silent here. I could hear some traffic in the distance, but mostly it was quiet and peaceful, floating along the brown river, surrounded by bright green foliage and the occasional chirp of a hidden bird.

On a peaceful boat ride

On a peaceful boat ride

At the end of our far too short ride, we watched villagers making coconut candy, which involved putting it through a grinding machine, then stirring it into a thick paste over a wood-burning fire, and finally cooling, stretching, and cutting it on long tables. It was a lot like the process I’ve seen at fairs, to make caramel.

Cooking up coconut candy

Cooking up coconut candy

After a boat ride along the Mekong, we had some lunch, then stopped off at a temple for a few minutes. Huge buddhas in various states of repose loomed over ornate buildings and blooming bougainvillea. Shards of pottery were made into mosaics on the gateways.

Painted houseboats of the Mighty Mekong

Painted houseboats of the Mighty Mekong

Reclining buddha

Reclining buddha

The mosaics were small but lovely

The mosaics were small but lovely

That night, I had dinner with a couple on the tour. Chrissy’s from Germany and Nicolas is from France. They were doing almost my exact itinerary, in reverse, so we shared a lot of tips with each other on what to do and where to go. We wandered around the food market, checking out the many different kinds of seafood on display, and purchasing palm juice for our walk. We had some pho and an elaborate, delicious dessert assembled by a woman who laughed when we came back for seconds because we liked it so much.

Showing off some fruit we bought together--me, Chrissy, and Nicolas

Showing off some fruit we bought together–me, Chrissy, and Nicolas

They look so cool

They look so cool

Anyone know the name of this dessert? It involved a waffle, bean paste, and several other tasty ingredients.

Anyone know the name of this dessert? It involved a waffle, bean paste, and several other tasty ingredients.

The next morning, we went to the floating markets of Cai Rang. There are other floating markets in the delta, and I think those other ones are what most of us were expecting to see. We thought we’d see lots of small boats, propelled by those same poles used in the estuary the day before, filled with people selling fruits and vegetables to one another in the pre-dawn light.

Housing along the river

Housing along the river

Fly your fruit flag

Fly your fruit flag

Instead, we saw lots of little boats come up alongside much larger motorboats, and exchanged dozens of fruits. The large boats put up huge poles topped with the fruit they had for sale, so that you could tell from a distance which boat to pilot to your small boat to. Many longtail small boats pulled up alongside ours with people hawking lottery tickets, flat pop, and snacks.

Coffee service on the river

Coffee service on the river

Business completed before 6am

Business completed before 6am

Mr. Ky then took us to a small operation where people made thin, stiff rice paper. Afterward, we went to a fruit farm, where we saw all sorts of delicious things growing: mangosteens, jackfruit, rose apples, pineapples, dragon fruit. Fines for picking the fruit were severe, since this was a working farm, but I won’t say it wasn’t tempting.

Rice paper drying

Rice paper drying

Fruit farm

Fruit farm

I did not eat that fruit right then

I did not eat that fruit right then

The tour was a little too managed and a little too big for my taste, so next time I’ll do more research and probably pay more to hire a guide and take more time meeting people. Still, I’m glad I went.

Goodbye Saigon, Hello Ho Chi Minh City

I liked Saigon. I’d heard a lot about about moto thieves and grime and crowds, so I was wary. But the streets were wide, and there were several big green spaces I could walk to from my hostel in District 1, and the buildings were colorfully painted. They’re all very narrow, tall buildings, and the ones along the canal remind me of Amsterdam, but brighter. The boulevards and main streets were wide, but as soon as I ducked down any alley, I found myself in a narrow passageway packed with people, goods for sale, tiny stools to perch on while eating, bicycles and motorbikes. These alleys are the main entrances to the homes of the 9 million people who live here; the main streets are lined with shops and eateries. 

Alleyway in Ho Chi Minh City

Alleyway in Ho Chi Minh City

Every time I left the guesthouse, the employees would implore me to hold on to my purse, not just let it hang by my side. I met up with a friend of a friend, a Vietnamese woman born and raised in Ho Chi Minh City, and she looked concerned when I showed up by myself–did I walk here alone? Did I feel safe? I never witnessed any muggings, but one of my friends from the elephant camp had her bag snatched as she crossed the street. A motorbike zipped by, the driver pushed her down and pulled at her bag, and next thing she knew, she had a bruise and no phone or wallet. So it’s not all good news there, but I was fortunate and only saw the good side of the city.

Intimate moments in large parks

Intimate moments in large parks

What’s with the name change, you might be wondering. The city was called Sài Gòn, part of Gia Định district, and when the French invaded in the 19th century, they Westernized the name to Saigon. It was known as Saigon until 1975, when the last American forces left the country and the new government branded this stronghold of Western influence with the name of the late Ho Chi Minh, the late communist leader. However you feel about the politics of the war, that was a canny and cutting move. The central part of the city is still called Saigon by most residents.

A swarmed gas station

A swarmed gas station

The Cinemax TV channel I got in my guesthouse advertised all the movies it would play in Southeast Asia in the month of April, with a note that The Hunger Games wouldn’t play in Vietnam. I wonder if that’s because the areas of Ho Chi Minh City are split into district numbers, and there are districts in the movie; or if the anti-government sentiment of the film is too much for the Vietnamese government to condone (although there wasn’t nearly enough of the book’s anger in the movie, I thought); or if it’s a more prosaic reason, like a distribution rights issue. You do start to notice the tiny things after a while on the road, I suppose!

A wall in the Catholic cathedral of Ho Chi Minh City, which I saw on Easter Sunday

A wall in the Catholic cathedral of Ho Chi Minh City, which I saw on Easter Sunday

Mostly I spent my time in Saigon visiting museums and sites about the Vietnamese-American War (which I’ll write about next week), but I also found time to have a feast of a meal with my friend’s friend at Mon Hue, and bia hoi with a new friend from my guesthouse.

Bia hoi

Bia hoi

Bia hoi is the beer that’s brewed daily at many places throughout Vietnam. There’s a “beer corner” in Hanoi that’s become a tourist destination, but there are plenty of places in District 1 of HCMC that sell the stuff too. It wasn’t great beer, but that’s not the point. We sat on tiny red plastic chairs on the sidewalk, surrounded by others spilling out onto the street, and we watched food hawkers and fellow tourists wander by in the noisy neon night. When I was ready for bed, I went back down the alley to my room, where it was several decibels quieter.

No Need for Panniers

I know a lot of people who love to bike everywhere. I’m freaked out by the many distracted drivers out there–both in the city and in the suburbs–so I don’t really like to bike unless I’m on a path made for that purpose. But I admire the cyclists I know, especially the ones who use their bikes as their cars, carrying things in panniers hanging off the sides, or in adorable baskets on the front. But I gotta say, after seeing the massive loads teetering on the backs of bikes in Vietnam, maybe US cyclists need to step up their game!

Hue

Hue

Hoi An

Hoi An

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City

Hanoi

Hanoi

Hanoi

Hanoi

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City

Hue

Hue

Feasting in Vietnam

Since everyone enjoyed my Singapore foods post so much, I thought I’d give you another update on the tasty things I’ve been eating in Southeast Asia. I still have another week in Vietnam, but I’ve already eaten so many delicious foods that they deserve their own post. I’ve copied the names from Wikipedia when I can (to get the accents right–there are a lot of accents in written Vietnamese), and if I can’t remember the name or find it online, I just describe it. Grab a napkin to catch your drool, and enjoy!

Pho; Ho Chi Minh City

Pho; Ho Chi Minh City

I’m getting slightly better at chopsticks, and it’s worth it to try, when there are foods like pho to shovel in my mouth.

Pork in coconut milk curry and sticky rice; Ho Chi Minh City

Pork in coconut milk curry and sticky rice; Ho Chi Minh City

Delicious and creamy.

Bánh xèo; Ho Chi Minh City

Bánh xèo; Ho Chi Minh City

Pork and veggies in an egg pancake.

I don't know what this was called, but rice, bean paste, sugar, and a few other things were wrapped up in a waffle and consumed with relish; Can Tho

I don’t know what this was called, but rice, bean paste, sugar, and a few other things were wrapped up in a waffle and consumed with relish; Can Tho

We ate one of these sweet snacks, went to a pho place for dinner, and then on the walk back to the hotel, my friend had another.

Bún thịt nướng with pork spring rolls; Can Tho

Bún thịt nướng with pork spring rolls; Can Tho

This was a refreshing cold dish for lunch. Cold noodles, lots of fresh veggies and herbs underneath, and warm fried spring rolls on top.

Coconut candy; Mekong Delta

Coconut candy; Mekong Delta

We ate the candy warm from the machine and freshly cut, as part of our tour of a small village in the Mekong Delta.

A very spicy Bún bò Huế soup, a delicious pork satay-wrapped-in-veggies dish, fresh spring rolls in a peanut dipping sauce, jackfruit salad; Mon Hue Restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City

A very spicy Bún bò Huế soup, a delicious pork satay-wrapped-in-veggies dish, fresh spring rolls in a peanut dipping sauce, jackfruit salad; Mon Hue Restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City

I met up with a friend of a friend in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) who wanted to introduce me to the foods of Mon Hue Restaurant, which focuses on the regional specialties of Hue (which is in the middle of the country). She ordered way too much food, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

Che ba mau (green mung beans, white black-eyed peas, and red azuki beans in coconut milk); Ho Chi Minh City

Che ba mau (green mung beans, white black-eyed peas, and red azuki beans in coconut milk); Ho Chi Minh City

A substantial dessert drink.

Sweet breads, Ho Chi Minh City

Sweet breads, Ho Chi Minh City

A tasty breakfast that my friend found on his walks around the alleyways near our hostel.

White rose; Hoi An

White rose; Hoi An

A small amount of shrimp in a dumpling, topped with fried onions. The woman who served me said she could give me pork white rose because shrimp generally makes me ill. I’m not convinced what I ate was pork, but I didn’t get sick, so it doesn’t matter.

Pork belly and coconut sticky rice; Hoi An

Pork belly and coconut sticky rice; Hoi An

I celebrated my birthday with friends from the Elephant Nature Park. We went to Morning Glory Street Food Restaurant, which is fancier than its name implies. This pork belly was rubbed in five spices and lighly layered in a caramel sauce. The sticky rice was mixed with shredded coconut. I’m even learning to appreciate cabbage over here, since it often arrives mixed up with carrot but not turned into coleslaw.

Cao lầu; Hoi An

Cao lầu; Hoi An

Apparently the noodles (which you can barely see in this picture, sorry) are only made by one family in Hoi An, so you can only get authentic cao lau here. The noodles are thick and chewy, and you mix it up with greens and pork.