So Central Vietnam….is….uh…. ok? Hanoi was super fun and we love Saigon and the middle is just sort of…. not as cool.
From Hanoi, we took another overnight train (we are champions of the overnight train) to Hue (which rhymes with “gray” [or as the hilarious old Malaysian lady we met on Ha Long Bay called it, “Huey”]). We shared our cabin with a French couple on their honeymoon who managed to sleep from 7:30pm until our arrival at 8am. We were impressed with their ability to take Ambien while still in a a previous Ambien fog.
Hue is the old Imperial capitol of the Nguyen lords and felt very Chinese to us. We explored the Imperial City.
It was neat! But, we just weren’t feeling it. It was cold and drizzly. We were tired. We went home and had a nap and then spent a few hours wrestling with the crappy hotel wifi which put us both in rather broody moods.
There was good food to be had in Hue, including Bun Bo Hue, a spicy noodle soup which was probably our favorite thing about Hue, all the sights included.
The hilarious granny who we ordered from in our broken, infantile Vietnamese was so tickled that we were so tall, and so white, and so dumb laughed at us with kindness when we ordered and hugged my arm in praise that we had chosen the right thing. Bun Bo Hue was awesome! Dave ate it with relish. So much in fact, that he was done, our affable granny took a forcible handful of Dave’s now soup-filled belly and JIGGLED it forcibly with pride that he was a good eater and liked her soup. Then our granny became our favorite thing about Hue and then as quickly as we arrived, we were gone.
We then took a bus ride to Hoi An which our hotel organized for us. We did not fit in the seats — our knees were crushed against the seat in front of us — and we winced every time our neighbors in front of us shifted their weight.
Hoi An was not what we were expecting. Our main deity, Anthony Bourdain, loves Hoi An. We walked the streets of the old city charmed by the architecture (it is a UNESCO heritage sight for architecture, after all) but mostly just sort of.. bored?
There are over 450 tailors in Hoi An but we weren’t getting clothes made. There are hundreds of restaurants but we enjoy eating on the street with the locals. We had seen all the pagodas, temples, and stupas we could already, thank you, and weren’t in the place to see any more. We ended up spending time on our cute balcony on our overpriced hotel room and then biking to the beach the next day where we had a fantastic meal of grilled squid, grilled scallops, rice and spring rolls for a real bust of our normal lunch budget: $12.
What redeemed Hoi An in our eyes (aside from the beach, which redeems just about everything [read down for our time in Nha Trang]) was this:
The best banh mi we ate in all of Vietnam. Trust us! We did some thorough market research and this was the je ne pas ultra of sandwiches. As a gal who likes a sandwich (it’s the Philly in me!) this was IT. The right balance of spice, the herbs, the pork, it was incredible.
Dave of course, had his with a fried egg on top.
He is all about excess (his gastronomic motto is: more is more). We made pleasant small talk with an older Australian couple when I would have rather just savored it in silence — which I know many of you who know me in real life would find surprising given that I am not one for shutting up. It was rad.
After we were done with eating and avoiding touts for tailors/dvds/lanterns/massage/shoe shine/eat here/cold drink/coca colca we were done with Hoi An and set off for our journey to Nha Trang.
Dave was extra excited for Nha Trang because we would be celebrating Dave’s 31st birthday there. We splurged and cashed in points to stay at a 5 star resort which supplies bathrobes, a variety of in-room amenities, and a free cocktail hour with the management.
But before we could get there, we had a 10- hour train ride ahead of us. We pooh-poohed the length of the ride to each other. After 12 hour bus rides in Burma and overnight trains what was a pleasant day ride with some of the most beautiful scenery in Central/South Vietnam?
We underestimated that we would be some of the few people in the car who were not making the long journey from Hanoi (maybe even the full 26 hours to Saigon), where our train departed, so our car smelled like failed attempts at a night’s sleep, fish sauce, and un-brushed teeth. Our seat was only really half connected to the floor so each rattle shook us to the point of wondering if our seat would collapse.
Then there was rude Granny. Rude granny was in the uniform of a pajama set, conical hat on her lap, a few missing teeth, and absolutely zero volume control. Even other Vietnamese passengers on the train were giving Granny the side-eye. She also needed to get comfortable while she yammered away with her (we presume) daughter and drank the local beer so she jammed her tiny foot in between the cushion of the bottom of my seat and the seat back.
So yes, a granny had her foot up my ass for 10 hours. What could I do? It’s rude to correct old people. I can’t expect in another country for the same standards of personal space when that doesn’t apply here.
Every time she sank her foot deeper into the seat or reshuffled her feet, I yelped. She’d cackle and take a swig of her 333 beer. I spent 9.5 hours harnessing my power animal. A penguin and a french bulldog with a cleft palate kept me from going to Vietnamese jail.
When we arrived in Nha Trang, we took a cab to our fancy resort, ordered expensive room service (a burger! a steak sandwich with blue cheese!) and promptly decided to not be in Vietnam for a day or two.
Dave turned 31!
We laid on the beach (I am at my most tan since working outdoors every summer in high school. I bet I will regret this mightily in 10 years). We were on vacation! It was great! We went to the gym. We laid in the sun (Kat) and read in the shade (Dave). We had barbeque, seafood, and sushi!
Mostly though, we watched all the misbehaving Russians on the beach. We’ve marveled at the Russians before, but in Nha Trang, I think the Russians really let loose. Signs everywhere are in Russian. Everyone around you is Russian. It is a total mind game to think you are still in Vietnam. We don’t have any kind observations to share about the swim suits they chose to wear, the baffling age/attractiveness inequality among couples vacationing there, or their hilarious insistence on just speaking Russian to non-Russian speakers and then wondering what was wrong with you.
After 5 nights in luxury, we left Nha Trang on a 40 minute flight instead of an 11-hour bus ride (with an American captain, no less!) on Vietnam Airlines and then central Vietnam was just a memory, full of Russians, pork, people yelling, bellies jiggling and the slow rattle of a long train ride.