Sunday, November 23, 2008

The heat is on

Eh-ehm...anyone still out there?

It's been a busy few weeks, and I have to apologize for my recent silence. I'm already woefully behind with my updates and will therefore be continuing to post about my holiday when I'm back in the States for Christmas. Oh well, a girl has to be out having adventures in order to post about them, doesn't she?

Onward then.

My next bus ride down the Vietnamese coast brought me to the town of Nha Trang. Laidback, touristy, very very beachy. The weather was perfect, allowing me to play in the clear blue waves until sunset the day of my arrival.

My second day in Nha Trang was spent on a boat trip around a few of the neighboring islands. We were able to snorkel, drink fruity Vietnamese wine while floating about in inner tubes and enjoy entertainment in the form of our our crew's very own boy band (drumset, electric guitar and all).

As an extra bonus, I even met some sweet American girls who were equally crazy about musical theatre, so we played "name that tune" games throughout the day. Selections from Miss Saigon and Spring Awakening featured especially.

Foodwise, eh, Nha Trang's not exactly known for it.

I must admit that after a delicious lunch of clear vegetable soup, fish cooked in a clay pot with tomato sauce and rice...I gave in and had a goat cheese salad for dinner. I know, I know! I promise, it's the only time I've had Western food since I arrived, and, well, it's goat cheese, people! You know how I feel about that. Forgive me?

After basking in the Nha Trang sun, I hopped on yet another overnight bus (they're a staple of travel here) down to Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City, as it's officially known.

Now, Saigon wasn't particularly inspiring visually. It's a fun, busy, motorbike-filled city like all of the rest, but the architecture's nothing to write home about.

Two of the more memorable visits were to the War Remnants Museum and the Cu Chi Tunnels. The War Remnants Museum talked about the Vietnam War, or the "American War", as it's known here. It's the sort of gut-wrenching experience that's best left without description or outside commentary, but let me just say that propoganda played a role, and my eyes were not dry while walking by the photos of disfigured victims nor the deformed fetuses preserved in formaldehyde on display.

The Cu Chi Tunnels was possibly even more disturbing, mostly because the tour guide was laughing the entire time that he demonstrated how all of the booby traps left for American soldiers worked.

On the positive side, I had some fabulous food in Saigon. It would be hard not to. I had an authentic version of bun cha, or what we probably know as vermicelli with spring rolls. Fresh rice noodles held up fresh herbs and newly fried spring rolls. On the side was a sweet dipping sauce that I just tossed on top and mixed in. Absolutely delicious, and refreshing when the temperatures are through the roof...which they were every day.

The other interesting things I tried were on the recommendation of a waiter. Since I tend to ask servers back home for their favorite menu items, it's been hard not to be able to while travelling! Happily, this waiter spoke English well enough to understand me and steered me towards another fresh rice noodle dish. This one was interesting, because it involved mixing the typical inside parts of a fresh spring roll (fresh rice noodles, vegetables--cucumber here, herbs) and dipping them into shrimp paste. Tangy, to say the least, but delicious after you got over your initial shock.

After my tangy main course, I decided to even things out a bit with a sweet treat: taro mixed with purple sticky rice, drizzled with coconut milk. I cannot even begin to tell you how delicious it was. Think of a taro bubble tea, take out the tapioca, and substitute in sticky rice and a hint of coconut.

I promise to figure out a way to recreate it at soon as I figure out where to find proper sticky rice and a good method for cooking taro. Too bad I won't have all of my neighborhood San Francisco Asian grocery stores. Guess Houston's Hong Kong Market will have to suffice. Oh, and if you know of any good Asian grocery stores in Chicago, please let me know!

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