Category Archives: DESTINATIONS — not in U.S.

Amazing street food (and restaurant) recommendations for Vietnam and Cambodia

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Tuna tartar at Mie Cafe, Siem Reap, Cambodia

One of the smartest things we did during our recent Vietnam trip was to start our adventure in Hanoi with a street food tour from Australian expat expert Mark Lowerson, of Street Eats Hanoi. streetfoodtourshanoi.blogspot.com. We spent a great morning with Mark visiting vendors we never would have found on our own, eating great food and learning about Vietnam’s food, culture and customs. It was a very helpful introduction to the country. Beyond that, Mark gave us recommendations for where to eat during our next stops in Vietnam and in Siem Reap, Cambodia — and we ate at several of them. Not a dud in the bunch. Sharing them below (I’ve put in red the ones we ate at.)

Here’s Mark’s social media:
Instagram: stickyinhanoi
In HANOI:
Bun cha (grilled pork) – at 34 Hang Than, slightly north of the old quarter just beyond the old water tower. Get there for an early-ish lunch, at 12 but they’ll still be serving at 2.30ish: http://stickyrice.typepad.com/my_weblog/2011/10/where-there-is-smoke-there-is-bun-cha.html
Pho Ga – 42 Quan Thanh St –  v good chicken pho, mornings and evenings, also just north of the old quarter, near the old water tower  – right near your hotel!
Pho Suong – Trung Yen Alley – beef noodle soup at the start of the alley – mornings and evenings 
Bun rieu (crab broth noodles) – 11 Hang Bac, 7am-2pm.
A great coffee shop where they do this amazing special, yoghurt coffee (and you can also buy beans/ground coffee) is called Cafe Duy Tri at 43 Pho Yen Phu – a tiny narrow building in West Lake District. They have a menu in English, too. Go in, order from the little yellow menu and then go sit upstairs somewhere – second or third floor. 
Egg Coffee at Cafe Định – 13 Dinh Tien Hoang St. through a little tiled passageway and up a set of dodgy steps to an iconic Hanoi coffee house 
You can buy really good coffee at Oriberry in Au Trieu St near St Joseph’s cathedral in the Old Quarter – in the street which runs along the right of the church.
SomeHanoiEveningOptions

Cha ca Thang Long – Hanoi’s grill your own fish dish

State Run Food Shop 37

Excellent French: La Badiane
Excellent pizza: Pizza 4Ps

Drinks with a view at The Summit, located at the Pan Pacific Hotel.

A cocktail bar – Unicorn Pub 2A, at 

The Pasteur Street Brewery at 1 Au Trieu behind the cathedral is a great Saigon outfit which just opened here…out on West Lake there is a great one called Turtle Tower, too – v nice setting on the water.Glass of wine: Tannin Wine Bar in Hàng Vai – great happy hour 4-7pm

In HUE, one VERY GOOD street food recommendation – go here: Bun thit nuong Huyen Anh (grilled pork with noodles and herbs – lunch only): Address: 52/1 Kim Long – a km or so out of town along the river – VERY worth the taxi ride! ❤

Bà Đỏ restaurant – 8 Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm St
Nu Eatery, 10 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai is great!!!! (reservation required – don’t be late!)

Com ga (chicken rice) Ba Buoi 22 Phan Chau Trinh

Banh beo (Hue style rice flour cake w/pork/prawn) opposite1 Hoang Van Thu

Banh Mi Khanh (Vietnamese sandwich)

115 Tran Cao Van
Ms Ly Restaurant22 Nguyen Hue (warning: can be crowded with long waits)
A tailor in Hoi An – tell them Mark and Tu sent you:
Sunny  – 9 Tran Phu St
In SIEM REAP:
If you’d like a similar experience in Siem Reap, our friends Lina and Steven run food tours there. All the info is here:

Our favorite restaurants in Siem Reap: Chanrea Dom Makara, Cuisine Wat Damnak (v special  –  must make a reservation – very difficult to get in at short notice!) and Mie Cafe.

In SAIGON/HCM City:

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Grilled pork and clams at Quan Loan, HCM City

– Quan Loan – cooked to order local food, really delicious – Cnr Hai Ba Trung St and Ly Tu Trong St

– a couple of good local restaurants:
The Secret Garden – in a little lane at 158 Duong Pasteur – great home-style cooking in a very cool setting on the rooftop of an old apartment building. I love this place! ❤

Secret Cottage – through a bag/basket shop and upstairs at 12 Nguyen Thiep St

Also great cafe/shop called L’usine – 1st fl 151 Dong Khoi – but hidden in the back through a painting shop.

Great speakeasy bars:
Drinking and Healing – 25 Ho Tung Mau St
Snuffbox – 14 Tom That Dam St
And don’t forget the great craft beer place Pasteur St Brewing Company

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“Korean Traditional Culture Experience” at Incheon Airport — Seoul

Sadly, this Airport is the closest we will get to Korea this trip but we got a small taste of the culture, thanks to the airport’s concerted effort. Ultra modern and ultra spotless, the international transit center has a Korean Traditional Culture Experience Center with an otherworldly art installation, craft displays and hands on activities and a periodic floor show. We watched a man sing (well) opera in Korean and Italian (“O sole mio” in Seoul!) and a woman do expressive modern dance to Korean and American songs (including Sinatra’s “My way.”) If only we were not half awake. O’Hare and Healthrow, take note!!

We also ate some very good, albeit pricey (especially after Vietnam) Japanese/Hawaii food – chicken Katsu/udon noodles and poke salad — (bypassing the Quiznos option) and browsed in the higher quality than usual shops. I also enjoyed the Japanese style (or is it also Korean style?) spraying toilets. The art installation is a giant glass mosaic globe that you walk into and see yourself in many refracted glass pieces, sort of like being part of a kaleidoscope. The sound was odd in there too.

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Cholon, Chinese restaurant, pagodas, facial, secret cottage – saigon

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Restaurant view

Playing some serious catch-up, blogging on the long slog plane trip home and trying to remember what we did in Vietnam two days ago before it all becomes a dream. We took two buses (which was an adventure – cost about 80 cents each) to Cholon, which is what’s left of Saigon’s Chinatown in District 5. First stop was the market, of course, which was overwhelming — so much commerce. People were refreshingly uninterested in selling to us, a nice change from the big tourist mark Ben Thánh, which we quickly dipped in and out of on our first day.

We wandered around the crowded streets and stumbled into another great meal, this one Chinese food ( we think, sliced char sui pork, bumbling tofu with sautéed ground pork that arrived in a very hot clay bowl, fresh off the fire at the entrance to the restaurant ) at  jam-packed Com Ga Dong Nguyen, which according to the waiters clothing and the menu has been around since 1943.

Sizzling tofu with spicy ground pork

Next stop two of several pagodas in the area (Phuoc An Hoi Quan; Thien Hau) and then the hunt for a functioning ATM. Vietnam is a cash society (unlike Scandinavia where we were last year), especially for purchases on the street. Upscale restaurants aren’t an issue. But we had trouble using Dirck’s ATM card in particular, which has a chip. That may be the issue. But sometimes the machine wasn’t in the right network or was out of cash.

I returned to my neighborhood spa for a facial and foot massage, technically, although I three women worked on my legs and arms and shoulders, as well, in a small dark room. Again, cheap…cost $14…and the women were so sweet. They insisted on taking photos with me including one where I had shocking red lips — thanks to an app called snow, I believe.

We made one final trip to District 1 and finally found another Hanoi Mark recommendation, The Secret Cottage, which we reached by walking through a long narrow basket/scarf shop and up two flights of scuffed up concrete steps. Suddenly we were in chic land, in a dining room with old plaster walls, cool wood furniture and contemporary art. The food was cool too – sort of groovy updates of traditional food like Bánh mi and Bun Thit. We finally got caught in a downpour but had our coats (which we’ve toted everywhere and rarely used. We got to talking with a guy from Utah as we waited out the rain under a shop awning. He is a supply chain developer who has been traveling more often to Vietnam rather than China, given the trade tariffs, working to switch manufacturing to VN.

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En route to Seoul

Bar at The Secret Cottage

Listening to a little K-pop (“RBB –Oh my god he’s a really bad boy, a really bad boy” And “sassy me” by Red Velvet, a girl band, are my fav so far) on our flight from Saigon to Seoul (when in Rome) and just discovered some decent smoked salmon among the otherwise unappealing breakfast fare from Korean Air. Also scored a travel toothpaste-size tube of gochujang (Korean hot pepper sauce) although I have a big tub of it at home. Good souvenir. And there’s French perfume, cologne and toothbrushes for the taking in the bathroom. I am reading a paper version of what used to be the international herald tribune, now the nyt, available free as we boarded. It’s very old school – broad and squat. (Note to self: check out the band The Foals; and new book about the Lakota.)

I may have witnessed Saigon asleep when I stepped onto our hotel balcony at 4:45 am but by 5:30 when our young handsome braided epaulet hotel helper (dressed in more casual sports gear so early in the morning) lugged our suitcases through the adjacent courtyard and narrow alley. The woman we saw washing raw chicken in a plastic tub was back at it. I could see a man in the more prosaic cement concrete building across from our French colonial manse in his bathroom. In our “grab” car (akin to uber) we passed people power walking in the park and doing group stretches/exercise routines at 5:45 am.

We got to the airport in 15 minutes, much quicker than when we arrived in HCM cityapparently we just missed the crazy rush hour.

The check in line moved slowly, with so many people checking so much luggage – big plastic tubs, huge cardboard boxes (some wrapped with cellophane and packing tape on site…not a welcoming sound at 6:30 am), giant hard suitcases., headed for destinations including Texas, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

We decided the Korean female flight attendants have the loveliest garb, including a crisp teal colored bow tie that is so starched stiff that the end sticks up beside the left ear and a pretty large stiff teal bow in their tidy hair bun.

Sad to leave Vietnam but it’s been a great trip. Thoroughly enjoyed the people, sights, food (!!), lodging, nonstop (almost) street energy and action. The extreme heat and humidity was challenging but it hardly rained, despite dire forecasts. Last night as we walked in district 1 after yet another superb dinner at a hidden hip restaurant (the secret cottage, found after walking thru a narrow basket shop and up some shabby concrete steps, which we have learned is always a sign of good food ahead) the sky finally dumped sheets of water on us all. The motorbike drivers calmly opened up their seats, pulled out rain gear, put it on and resumed zooming wherever the heck they are going.

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Markets, Massage bliss, pancakes, Cuc Guan Quan – Saigon

My massage ladies

We learned our lesson yesterday and today took taxis frequently, given the heat and distances and price ($4-8 a ride). On a Sunday morning, we wandered around two more local markets where we seemed to be the only westerners, which is the way we like it. (The morning market at 287 Nguyen Dinh Chieu; Cho Tan Dinh market, 1 Nguyen Huu Cau St.)

It is astonishing to see how much commerce and activity there is here. On a Sunday, no less. Never seems to stop, except for a few holidays. Leo, our Vespa guide in Hoi An, works 28 days a month. With a few holidays. And despite taxes, people don’t get much help paying for kids education or health care, apparently.

I asked our taxi driver where everyone is going on their motorbikes, on a Sunday, no less, and he said with a laugh “I don’t know!” (Once we let him know that we were not Trump fans, he shared our disdain. He talked about how Trump went to Hanoi, in and out. Obama came to Saigon and explored, eating at various restaurants.)

After the markets, we went to an outdoor Vietnamese pancake restaurant (46 Dinh Cong Trang) down a little street near the famous Barbie-pink Catholic Church that our hotel owner Mr. Ha suggested. The Vietnamese pancakes look like a huge, lighter, crispier omelet, folded over and packed inside with sprouts and shrimp, served hot off the charcoal fire, with lettuce for wrapping and dipping sauce. We also had fantastic hot off the griddle fried soft shell crab. With a beer and water, it cost $14.

We wandered through a nearby park and sat on a park bench watching two groups of teenagers, boys and girls, practicing dance routines. They were pretty good. Not sure if this was exercise or practice for a performance. this music was sort of Vietnamese hip hop but at our hotel in Siem Reap, the playlist included our favorites like Regina Spector and an Afro pop song I have on my playlist.

Back to L’Usine for a refreshing coffee slush and then to a few shops nearby on Dong Khoi Street, where we bought more gifts – embroidered purses, t-shirts, a $5 silk tie for Dirck (how is that even possible?) and bracelets made from water buffalo horns. Things are crazy cheap. I’ve bought enough gifts for several holidays and birthdays.

Back at Ma Maison, our host arranged for me to have what turned out to be the best massage I’ve ever had. I had two women working on me for an hour, pretty much covered all the body parts except the private ones. Even were massaging my ears. Cost $12. I gave a tip although I gather it’s not expected. They seemed surprised.

Dinner was at Cuc Gach Quan, one of Saigon’s finest (Mr. Ha was impressed that I’d reserved a table there), in a relatively quiet and high-rent bit of District 3. It’s in a beautiful old home that the architect owner has transformed into a culinary oasis. You walk through an opening in a wall into a lush courtyard garden and into a country rustic building with contemporary art, old wood, an interior atrium with a tiled pond with a few koi swimming around. There are little dining areas on various levels and you have to bend your head to walk through the opening into some of them (one poor waiter forget to do this.) The food is based on the country fare of the architect owner’s grandmother. Standouts were homemade tofu sauteed in a chili and lemongrass sauce served with shreds of something (onion?) on top and fish stewed in a heavy clay pot. It was so moist and flavorful, a rare treat with fish. We tried the traditional sour soup but it was a bit too strange. Sorry to report that we have not eaten Pho during our trip, despite ample opportunity (our hotels serve it for breakfast). We just find it too hot and humid to have soup. (Vietnamese disagree.)

One thing that has struck me is that we’ve seen a lot of Asian 20- and 30-somethings at the more expensive, more cutting edge cuisine restaurants…lots of young foodies. Last night, I watched two 20-something Asian guys eat at Cuc Gach Quan and spend much of the meal looking at their respective cell phones. Cell phone use is ubiquitous — we’ve seen monks on their cell phones, motorbike riders, a rural villager with water buffalo and cell phone, an elderly woman on the bus. They also start their conversation with “hello.”

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Kandal village, mie cafe, Vietnam Air, VISA reflections — Siem Reap

Tuk Tuk ride to town

Playing catch-up here, two days after we left Cambodia. We decided to kick around Siem Reap on our last day. We walked around the small rural village that is outside the gates of our resort and as expected, it is poor. Little kids yelled hello to us, taking a break from playing in a rough looking pond. Some houses were fixed up, wood, with metal roofs on stilts. We later learned that the liquor bottles filled with yellow liquid displayed in front tiny shops are not full of liquor but instead gasoline, so people don’t have to trek into town on the deeply rutted red dirt roads to the gas station. We also noticed fancy modern apartments being built in a grassy field near grazing cattle but learned they are not for people in the village.

Sojourn Boutique Villas is apparently designed to help ameliorate some of the poverty by hiring local villagers. (Thx to my London friend Carole for recommending this place and other great suggestions in Vietnam, which I consulted frequently.) The women working at the hotel, who were incredibly sweet, are from the village and have worked at the resort for several years, we were told by a Chinese man who appeared to be the manager. Our tuk-tuk driver Bros lives in a nearby village, is 38, married and has an 11-year-old son. His wife works in a local supermarket and starts work at 5:30 a.m.

Bros drove us to Kandal Village, a one block stretch of nice shops — some way too expensive for us, with designer clothing and jewelry but fun to see what people are making and selling (or trying to sell). Lunch was at another Hanoi Mark find, Mie Cafe, a white tablecloth fusion restaurant with grey poured concrete walls and a lovely landscaped courtyard. We had the best tuna tartar I’ve ever tasted, big chunks of tuna, little pieces of avocado and mango, followed by a very light green curry and a beef or pork dish (I’ve already forgotten but it was all excellent.) Dessert was a refreshing , palate-cleansing frozen lime pie that reminded me of a hard key lime pie. Delicious. Desserts aren’t common in these parts, except at fancy restaurants., although in Vietnam I do see creme caramel being sold by street vendors. It’s inot refrigerated so I haven’t tried but I did try it when it was served for breakfast at our Hanoi hotel) and French pastry shops in Saigon with real-deal looking croissants. It’s hard not to be obsessed about the food in these parts.

Our Vietnam Airways flight to HCM City/Saigon was a quick 45 minutes and uneventful. I probably could have bought the less expensive Cambodian Angkor Air flight back to HCM City but at the time, I worried about that airline’s reliability and wanted to make sure we got back to Vietnam for our return trip home in a few days. 😢

The Cambodian visa I bought online in advance worked fine. There were a few peculiarities. We had to fill out a customs form and submit it when we arrived even though we had nothing to declare. And we were instructed to print two copies of the visa (to hand in when we arrived and left) but the second one was never collected. Speaking of visas, all my angst about the Vietnam visas was for naught. Our multi-entry visa bought in advance worked fine (it should…it was pricey). I did see “visa at arrival” signs when we arrived in Vietnam and Cambodia but was glad we didn’t have to deal with that — especially when we first arrived in Vietnam and were exhausted after almost 24 hours of travel. Last thing we needed was another line to stand in.  I was struck by the stone cold expressions of the immigration officials, especially in Vietnam. These guys are never welcoming but still…such a contrast with the warmth of the people we met after clearing immigration.  Also was very glad that I arranged pickups at the airport for 4 hotels…it made a huge difference not having to hire a cab or figure out where our hotels are located (we tend to pick hotels in out of the way locations).

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Ma Maison, L’usine, the (not so) Secret Garden, War Remnants Museum, Quan Loan — Saturday in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

Our walk thru District 3 on a Saturday morning

Dirck reports that we walked 20,000 steps today. Add to that 90 degree heat/humidity that the weather report accurately described as “feels like 100.” We attempted to walk from our sweet little French hotel Ma Maison (in somewhat out of the way District 3 but a real neighborhood!) to the tourist hub of District 1 and managed to get lost and over-walked. We ended up in a cab and my T-shirt dress was so drenched with sweat that I bought an $8 saffron-colored gauzy top (that I later realized made me look like an overfed female monk) at the famous but chaotic Ben Thánh market. soon that was drenched too. (Dirck does not perspire.)

Walk up these steps

We saw bits of chic Saigon, tourist Saigon and real life Saigon today, a great mix. As promised there are an astonishing number of motorbikes in the streets, some with up to four people, sometimes mom, dad and little kids, sometimes grandma, mom and kids. There aren’t many stoplights in our neighborhood (and no one seems to honor the crosswalks) so you just have to walk in front of two way moving traffic slowly but confidently with your arm somewhat extended.

And up more

For food well worth the walk

Fortunately we got some practice in Hanoi, which seems tame compared to here. Here we also often have to walk on the side of the street because the sidewalk is filled with people eating, drinking or displaying wares, plus parked motorbikes. In District 1, navigating the traffic is a little easier — there are stoplights and wider sidewalks.

 

Our Hanoi street food guide Mark came thru again with fantastic dining recommendations, just in time. We were sitting in a very cool cafe called L’Usine, when his email arrived with suggestions including L’Usine (which I got from a NYT 36 hours story.)

We’ve learned that some of the coolest places tend to be hidden. You have to walk through a worn alley and up several flights of worn steps, sometimes past what appears to be someone’s home and suddenly you enter chic land and the restaurant, cafe, brewpub or boutique is packed, mostly with well-heeled Asians (hard for me to tell where from) but also some western tourists. That was the case with The Secret Garden, on an open air fourth floor terrace festively decorated, with views of nearby skyscrapers. We heard a rooster crow and realized there was a caged rooster among the many wood tables. The food was amazing. We shared stir fried beef salad on shredded morning glory (a type of green) and little discs of deep fried sticky rice topped with bits of shrimp and pork and crunchy bits of fried battered (I think).

Tonight we went to a completely different place, Quan Loan, a tiny street food outfit with a guy cooking pork and beef skewers on a little grill and groups of men dining at low tables in plastic chairs, drinking a lot of beer. The chunks of grilled pork served with a salty sauce were to die for. We also had some clams in lemongrass broth, served with a chili sweetish dipping sauce and lots of fresh herbs, was refreshingly light and delicate. Oh and we went to groovy Pasteur Street Brewery and had ice cold craft beer, sitting with lots of younger folks.

When we weren’t eating, we did do some sight seeing. The most dramatic was the War Remnants Museum, which recounts what we call “the Vietnam War” from the Vietnamese perspective. needless to say, the U.S. does not come off well and that was an interesting experience in of itself to see our country painted as the bad guy, sadly with good reason (although none of the brutality of the VC was mentioned.) For the first time, I felt like today’s Germans must feel, regarding their past.

On the first floor we had a choice of an exhibit on war atrocities or on agent orange. We went to it all. There was also a moving exhibit about the many war photographers killed on assignment, with examples of their work, and an interesting temporary exhibit on the anti-war efforts of U.S. Soldiers, which I had forgotten about. The portrayal of the soldiers was a mixed bag – there are scenes from My Lai and another atrocity that later Senator/presidential candidate John Kerry was involved with (that I don’t remember hearing about) but also some poignant shots of young soldiers in awful circumstances, many drafted to fight and some who later resisted. I still find it amazing that the Vietnamese are so welcoming to American tourists although I get the economic reasons for this.

Our hotel, Ma Maison, has only a few rooms and is in an elegant old French colonial building completely hidden from the main street and surrounded by much more ordinary buildings. The cab dropped us off in front of a little alley (off of a larger alley or “hem” that looks like a street) lined with the occasional humble house or bodega that  opened into a small courtyard, bordered by a motorcycle shop, a modern tower block and a few single story houses. As is often the case with the places we stay here, you step in off the teaming streets and you are in a world apart, a rarefied world, in this case with a Provencal armoire, plush mattress, a wrought iron balcony, heavy curtains, water bottles hidden in shiny gold cloth sacks and even the toothpaste in a little cloth sack. The young boys who work here are dressed in old-fashioned bellhop shirts, with braided epaulets (they like a Broadway costume) and the manager is an older man who takes his job very seriously and sat us down with several maps to explain the lay of the land and doted over us at breakfast in the sweet little courtyard where we ate under pink bougainvillea.

Tonight, after a taxi back to our neighborhood, I got a smoothie (made with some unfamiliar white fruit that looked a bit like a lychee) from the busy shop on our  Hem (alley) corner and we sat with locals, enjoying the night and watching the motorbikes buzz by. Almost felt like a night at Snookies, our neighborhood ice cream shop in DSM. But very different too.

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Angkor Wat/Thom, Sojourn boutique Villas, Cuisine Wat Damnat — Siem Reap, Cambodia

We arrived at the lovely secluded Sojourn Boutique Villas in the rural countryside outside Siem Reap at about 9:30 pm, tired after a 2 hour flight from DaNang. Cambodia (or at least this part of it) feels less developed and prosperous than the big and touristed Vietnamese cities we have visited. Even the cattle look a little scrawny. The roads are deeply rutted. The housing along the road is basic concrete and metal. As expected, the people are handsome and couldn’t be nicer.  Despite our late arrival (two men from the hotel picked us up in a worn van), the women here rustled up some delicious Cambodian food and fruit drinks (beer for Dirck) and brought it to our one-room villa (there are 9 total, my idea of a resort) where we ate outside in view of a pretty blue tiled pool shaded by many tropical trees and under the watch of one several kittens roaming around.

We left at 4:30 a.m. to visit Angkor Wat at sunrise (this was recommended in Macu Picchu too.) wise idea. one of the men who picked us up in the van appears to be our designated tuk tuk driver, a very nice young guy named Bros. The tuk tuk also reminds us of the contraptions we traveled in in Peru but more pleasant. It’s basically a two wheeled open air carriage with a roof pulled by a motorcycle. Bros sorted out our Angkor Wat game plan which we much appreciated.

View from inside and atop Angkor Wat

We went to a big building that looked like a multi plex/mall in the dark and was already packed at 5:30 am with tourists but the lines moved quickly. We bought a one day tix for $31 each (they have our photos on them) and then we tuk tuked to the Angkor archeological Park which I read is the worlds largest religious site, four times the size of the Vatican. We got to the main temple, the exotic and famous Angkor Wat as the sun was rising, making the 3 strange conical towers even more other worldly. We walked in the soon-to-be searing heat to the massive complex and wandered around, marveling at the extensive carvings in the sandstone, often of nubile young women in various poses. Wandering all the way to the top of one of the conical towers, we had One beautiful view after another of the complex, surrounded by bright green junglish vegetation. definitely not ADA assessible, with lots of big stones and steps to navigate but fairly easy assess and it was fun to largely be able to wander willy nilly.

Bros dropped us off and picked us up at various stops which was a huge help (only $25 although we paid him more) — the distances between various other temples and gates are vast. My other favorite was “the tree temple” or “jungle temple” in Angkor Thom…enormous trees with their roots curled in and around the crumbling remains of another ornately carved temple.

Words (or my words , after 6 hours of touring in heat, humidity with little sleep and initially no food) don’t do Angkor justice. There was a lot more to see but we had our fill after 6 hours.

Bros also dropped us off at an open air restaurant for breakfast in the park and kept us hydrated with cold bottled water he plucked out of a cooler under our Tuc-tuc seat (he also had frozen wet wipes — much appreciated. ) It is about 90 degrees and humid but no rain — our luck with the weather continues although we expect rain in Ho Chi Minh City.

We also had a few unexpected encounters with wild life. Dirck with a bee (no sting just a lot of buzzing) and me with a rather pushy monkey who started pulling on my trousers until I realized what was happening and shook him off. Several elephants with multiple riders atop shared the road with us. We returned about 2:30 pm to cool washcloths from the staff here, a light lunch (lemongrass shrimp skewers and a delicious salad of shredded banana leaves, other veg and slices of chicken in a tangy light sauce, a delicious mixed fruit drink.)

Then we had the pool to ourselves, mellow music, a cat or two, a few mosquitoes/flies (none in Vietnam) and one of the lovely women here brought us tall glasses of ice cold water, placing them poolside.

Crispy rice crepe with prawn, sweet corn and rice paddy herb, Makassar fruit and chili dressing at Cuisine Wat Damnak

Dinner was at the sophisticated and oft-recommended Cuisine Wat Damnak, which is in an elegant two-story house on an otherwise humble looking street. We had a choice of two tasking menus. The food was extraordinary and full of  ingredients I have never heard of, let alone am able to spell (Makassar fruit, Samai rum, fermented cabbages). The chef is French and the restaurant had several touches you’d find at restaurant in France – An amuse-Bouche with bits of dried fish in a salad and about three extra tiny after dinner treats including two little tamarind candied fruit gelee balls and a selection of tiny bits of four fruits we’d never heard of (except the green banana) served on a slate board with a streak of seasoned salt.

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More shopping, heat, Miss Ly Restaurant, DaNang Airport, Cambodia AngkorAir — Hoi An

Photos courtesy of Vespa Adventures, which arrived a day after our great ride

We are in the huge gleaming ultra modern DaNang Airport waiting to board a Cambodia Angkor Air flight to Siem Reap. Yet again, we encountered no bag fees – we checked two bags and are carrying on our spare roll up bag that we broke out today (yes, we are buying lots of gifts.)

Our last day in Hoi An, we wandered around in the heat and humidity (reminds us of Kyoto but no one uses cloth washcloths to mop up, except what appears to be the occasional female Japanese tourist), popping into shops, admiring the scenery, watching many couples do their glamor shots. Near one elegantly dressed couple, we got to talking with a handsome young American who was a friend of the couple. He explained that they all are college kids in San Francisco/Berkeley and the couple is getting married here. The groom is American Vietnamese, the bride is from Hoi An… The young guy showed us other glamor photos the couple has taken. (He also said somewhat nervously that he has been told he is the best man in the wedding.)

We had coffee at Cafe Công, where cute young people are dressed in Green Khaki military/viet Cong inspired gear. Strange that young Vietnamese are now serving fancy coffees to American tourists instead of serving in the military (and fighting with or against Americans.)

Lunch was at Miss Ly, staffed by many young attractive women in pink blouses. We had two Hoi An specialties that we tried earlier at the Central MarketWhite Rose dumplings and Cau Lau and another that was also delicious, almost like a crisp tortilla but a wonton, topped with a Marinated mixture of delicately cut vegetables , shrimp and chicken.

Our hotel arranged a taxi that turned out to be a big flashy van with six seats and lots of fake gold (we decided it was the Trump van) and intense AC and we drove 45 minutes to DeNang which looks a bit like Miami or Palm Springs with huge palatial resorts in various stages of completion. Our driver also pointed out some old airplane hangers that he mentioned were part of a former US Military Base. “USA number one country,” he said to us without any apparent malice. We think this is the base Dirck’s brother likely was flown to as a young soldier.

Yesterday’s coffee roaster visit in the countryside

Passion Fruit at the Central Market

Seafood at Central Market

Lots of pork here.

My sad attempt at a glamour pose

 

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Vespa ride into the countryside, Massage, Nu Eatery – Hoi An

I would say this was among the best spent $89 (per person) on this trip: a five hour Vespa Adventures tour of the rural countryside outside Hoi An on the back of a spiffy Vespa driven by a young Vietnamese guide named “Leo.” Dirck’s driver was a young guy named Nine. Not only was it fun to join the crowd of motorbikes zipping through town and into the countryside. We didn’t worry about having to navigate on our own and Leo took us to some wonderful out of the way spots we never would have found — and patiently answered any question we wanted to ask a Vietnamese person. (We even talked about contraception which Leo credited with reducing family size after the year 2000 when the government launched a pr campaign about birth control and the need to have two babies tops.)

We visited a lovely 400-year-old ancestral home overlooking a walled in water garden with pink lotus blossoms. Next stop a spot at the edge of the river where men were making large wooden fishing boats using old methods (presumably) including fire to bend the flat wooden boards to make hull. Zipping past more bright green rice paddies and little villages with simple concrete structures, bright flowers and little scruffy dogs on roam (sadly we hit one little one that suddenly ran out in front of us) we ended up inside a modern house, apparently built for a family whose house by the river was destroyed by a flood. Behind a screen blocking the sun we found two women sitting on the floor making a beautiful floor mat using an old fashioned loom. After that we went to a more rudimentary farmhouse and into a dark room with a cauldron over a fire and learned how to make rice cakes the size of a dinner plate, dipping white batter with black and white seeds onto a griddle of sorts, using a tool to smooth it out and another tool akin to a rolling pin to roll it up. You roll it onto a flat screen to dry in the sun. We also sat down and ate a cracker. From there we went to a n open air coffee roaster where we drank cafe sua under a thatched room next to a guy plinking away on his lap top. Then we returned to Cafe Zoom, on the edge of the city/countryside for a huge and delicious lunch. Five hours flew by.

This afternoon I had a one hour massage and 1/2 hour facial at a little spa the hotel guy recommended. $30 total. And tonight after stopping for a swim at our resort pool, we ended up back at the Shamrock Pub, people watching at sunset and chatting with some Aussies. We had perhaps our most creative meal at Nu Eatery, a little hole in the wall that reminded me of the East village (NYC) restaurant Prune. The small place was packed with young foodies from the US, France, England and Asia. We had a killer version of bao (steamed bun) stuffed with a chunk of succulent pork, a pickle and a yellow sauce; a noodle dish with Spicy pork ragu (which seemed almost Italian) and a Bahn Minh that was more like a pulled pork sandwich on a brioche bun with melted cheese (the first melted cheese we’ve seen here.) Now we are savoring our last night in Hoi An, sitting on our ancient second floor wooden balcony, watching the crowd thin out. Tomorrow they will be out in force again.

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