Reflections of the American-Vietnam War

For the much of my youth I have only heard one side of the story, the story of the Vietnam war. Being in proximity to the USA, this is understandable as much of their culture makes it up to Canada trough media.

Today I walked to the War Remnants museum that are collecting the atrocities of the American war, but also statements for the insistence of peace because of the hurt of war. The Vietnamese view the war as an effort of imperialism much like the French had once occupied their country. The Americans supported the Diem regime, which was so unpopular that his own soldiers killed him.

They did not view it as the North fighting the South so much as it was against the Americans.

Yet no where did I actually grow to understand the point of the war. The excuse was to rid the world of Communism. Yet ironically the Vietnamese and Asians in general appear to be the most entrepreneurial people I have seen.

Everyone runs a business here it seems. The most simple is selling street food. At the bottom of homes is often some kind of business, like repairing motorcycles or selling goods. Capitalism is well in the works here.

I can’t help but wonder what this country would look like if the Americans won. I can’t help but think of wars in my lifetime and wonder what Afganistan, Iran and Iraq will look like. Vietnam/American war lasted 17 years. How long will the war in the Middle-East last and what will the American people gain? You can’t get rid of terrorism by commit in acts of terrorism. So all the tax payers hard sweat and efforts are being burned up at an incredible rate in the war effort – for what?

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Sàigòn at Night

Sàigòn at Night

It is:

  • glitzy,
  • fast,
  • noisy,
  • home to 9 million people,
  • economic engine of Vietnam,
  • Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh (HCMC),
  • formerly known as Sài Gòn.

At first it did not wow me.  It felt like any other big city, almost like Bangkok – except with more motorbikes that ease gridlock.  We walked the streets, saw the iconic Bến Thành market, Caravelle Hotel and Notre Dame.

At night, under guidance of a local, we saw the city open up and see how differently the Vietnamese live along the back of a restored antique Vespa, once a status symbol when the country was closed to foreigners. We raced past the lights of buildings, light decorations hung from trees, lights from other vehicles, and traffic lights – no matter if they were green, yellow or even red.  The sweltering 40˚C heat of the city disappeared with the sun and the added breeze of racing through the streets.

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People gather at restaurants for meals in the evening before they go out. We had some grilled crab, mussels in soup, honey-garlic frog legs, Vietnamese crispy pancake (bánh xèo) and fresh spring rolls.  It was all delicious.

Dinner in Saigon

Dinner in Saigon

Then it was off to a cafe or bar to listen to some live music. Many kinds can be heard off the street, from classic music, to acoustic cafe music, punk rock, and Vietnamese techno. You can find something to your liking in this city.

Whitenoiz playing at Acoustics - Emotion Talks

Whitenoiz playing at Acoustics – Emotion Talks

As I relax back and let my senses take it all in… it really is not that different in Vietnam after all. The Vietnamese people live like we do and seek the same things we do. Self autonomy and freedom from imperialism. Peace and the absence of war. Love. Family. Friends. Health. Good food. The sum of all efforts equals to the vision of a good time and a good life. It is something all humans strive for.

Thanks to Vietnam Vespa Adventures for the great night out and changing our minds about Sàigòn.

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Cao Lầu

Cao Lầu

If there is one thing you will hear on the streets on Hội An, Vietnam besides the ‘come into my shop’ and ‘please look’ then it is ‘Cao Lầu’. Fair enough because that Cao Lầu is Hội An regional specialty.

What makes it particularly special is the chewy noodles that is made regionally using its natural local water. (Think like San Francisco sourdough bread.) On top of that, only one family holds and knows the secret recipe for these noodles. Rumor has it that the government wishes this recipe shared so it will not be lost with the family if disaster strikes.

The dish is fairly simple and quite healthy. For the local Hội An person, it is comfort food.

As for who makes the best Cao Lầu, you may have to live here for a while to judge properly. We managed to find the same Cao Lầu stand owner who served Anthony Bourdain in his No Reservations show. Her gravy is velvety and bursting with flavour. The crispy pork rinds really add texture and crunch.  And oh, that bitter flavour?  That is morning glory. I despise the taste so I actually ate around it and enjoyed it without it.

If you have limited time and only enough stomach room for one Cao Lầu, you should find her.  It was tricky to find her based on a few pictures on the internet because she has moved (and aged)! She is now in the market Cho Hội An and the hygiene queens will be happy to know that there is running water, sinks and soaps there. It is now easier to find her. Just look for stall 034.

Hai Chien, the chef of the best Cao Lao in Hoi An

Hai Chien, lady who served Cao Lầu to Anthony Bourdain

She certainly doesn’t quite enjoy the same notoriety as Phong due to previously being hard to track down.  She is a wonderful lady who is actually quite humble. She didn’t show us the sheet informing you that she’s actually famous until we asked if she is the woman in the picture from the show.

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Huế-style rice cakes

Huế-style rice cakes

If you are thinking sweet, then you should know Vietnam doesn’t really do deserts dispute the French being famous for it. Somehow that never stayed. Vietnam follows the Asian principle of a balance of sweet, salty, bitter and sour. So savoury is the name of the game.

And despite the name, this was found in Hội An and I did not run into them while I was in Huế.

It appears to be a rice cake at the bottom, topped with two distinct secret sauces on top and finished with crunch deep fried onion bits. Ashley wanted to marry into the family just to learn how to make this dish. I had to break it to him gently that it is the girl that marries into the family and inherits the knowledge of the family secret recipe. Secondly, it appears that the daughter-in-law is already at the stall learning the reigns from her mother-in-law.

Like all street food stall vendors, they run at a certain time of the day.  You can find them at:

2:30 PM – 6 PM every day.
Opposite 1 Duong Hoang Van Thu, cross street is Tran Phu. (They don’t have a sign up.)
Hội An (Old Quarter), Quảng Nam Province, Vietnam

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Báhn Cân

Báhn Cân

Something is odd about eating amazing street food opposite a restaurant catering purely to tourists who want to experience ‘authentic Vietnamese food’.  Here I was sitting on a plastic stool on the street, enjoying amazing Báhn Cân made by Taut and the tourist pedestrians had no idea what they were missing out on.

Báhn Cân is a reclusive street food item in Hội An and very regional to it. I may have only spotted one other vendor selling it on the streets, but this lady does it really well and I have returned here several times over.

It appears to be shallow fried rice flour batter with spring onions and carrots, poured into something like a Yorkshire pudding cast iron pan.  Magically a magically crunch nest like shape forms. She cracks an egg into a few of them, which leads me to call them ‘quail egg nest’.  It’s served with grilled pork patties, a herb basket containing the likes of mint, watercress and others, and the usual pickled daikon and carrots. You need to smother it with a generous ladle of fish sauce with sliced chilies.

Báhn Cân @ Taut – 3 PM – 5 PM
Opposite Mermaid Restaurant on 2 Tran Phu St, Hội An.

Many thanks to the tip off from Travelfish.

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Bánh Mí in Hội An

Bánh Mí in Hội An

We found the little bánh mí shop that was featured in Antony Bourdain’s No Reservation. It is called Phong on 2B Phan Châu Trinh in Hội An.

This place did not disappoint! The sauce in the bread was just delicious.  The bread is warm and crispy on the outside, but soft in the inside.  It is best eaten on site after ordering for the best experience. If you take it away, the bread will become soft and somewhat soggy.

I was so disappointed in my stomach. I really wanted to eat more.  I don’t know what to say but for you to take a look at these pictures instead!

#9 Bread with pork, ham and pâté

#9 Bread with pork, ham and pâté

#6 Bread with grilled sausage

#6 Bread with grilled sausage

Menu for Phong’s.  We also the the #3 supposedly Queen lander burger.  We didn’t know what it was… besides delicious and our favourite out of the three sandwiches that we ordered.

Menu at Phong's, Hội An

Menu at Phong’s, Hội An

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Huế

Huế

We made it to Huế, which was once a capital of Vietnam. We were here for the music festival as well!

The best way to explore Huế, in our opinion, is by renting a scooter for $5 USD/day. Other options such as a tourist boat that will take you from place to place is available, but you are always among a tourist horde rather than meandering at your own place away from the crowds.

Although that being said, we experience some harsh squealing from our rental and we weren’t sure if we were going to make it home!  Make sure you get the name and phone number of the place you get your rental from in case you need assistance.

Mel at the Imperial Palace

Mel at the Imperial Palace

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Crawling Through the Vịnh Mốc Tunnels

Crawling Through the Vịnh Mốc Tunnels

Vịnh Mốc tunnels turned out to be worthwhile to visit, and easy enough too!  The Phong Nha Farmstay organized a regular mini bus service with the Hue Backpackers that does a stop at the Vịnh Mốc tunnels and Bến Hải River Museum.  It is the best way to go between Phong Nha and Hue.

The villagers dug tunnels and trenches in order to protect themselves from the American carpet bombings. The Americans wanted to scare the villagers and force them to leave the area as they were supplying the North Vietnamese Army’s garrison on Con Co island.  The Americans were interested in that parcel of land because the garrison was hindering the bombers on the way to Hanoi.

The tunnels were a success as they limited the loss of life to the villagers.  Babies were born in the tunnels.  The villagers continued their farming despite the bombings.  Each family only had a 2 square meter room for their living.  There were wells with clean drinking water in the complex, one shared washroom, along with medical and maternity ward, a multi-purpose hall used for school, village meetings, dining.

Maternity Ward in Vịnh Mốc Tunnels

Maternity Ward in Vịnh Mốc Tunnels

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Paradise Cave in Phong Nha National Park

Paradise Cave in Phong Nha National Park

We did a 7-km hike into the Paradise Cave in Phong Nha National Park.  It was fantastic. We were the only two people that booked the tour that day, so we had a private tour!

It is $125 for the tour and it includes:

  • transportation to the park
  • two guides
  • lunch
  • headlamp
  • clothing so yours do not get dirty
    • jacket
    • pants
    • shoes (don’t count on your shoe size if it is a large group)

The first kilometer is a boardwalk through, very easy. All the caves are lit up. The fun begins once we stepped off the boardwalk and started hitting the cave floor.

Easy walking on boardwalks for the first kilometer of the Paradise Cave.

Easy walking on boardwalks for the first kilometer of the Paradise Cave.

The guide pointed out the different type of rock formations, the extra minerals that may give the formations their colouring, such as sulphur would give it a yellow tinge, iron would give it a black tinge. We got to play some music on some of the drapery style formations since they were flat blades that rung after a tap.

After we exited, we surprised several people since we came out from ‘nowhere’.

Us with our caving guides.

Us with our caving guides.

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Train to Đồng Hới

Train to Đồng Hới

We boarded the train to Đồng HớI to visit the Phong Nha caves. It reminded of our train to Europe except the Vietnamese train was more worn for wear.

It is air conditioned and has two toilets on each end of the car along with a row of sinks for brushing your teeth and washing faces. Provided are pillows, blanket and bed sheets in the soft sleeper. There are also 3 power plugs accessible from the lower bunks. Berth (giuròng) 1, level (tâng) 1 has two plugs and there is one more plug point under the table that is accessible by berth (giuròng) 2, level (tâng) 1. They accept both North American and Europe/Asia style.

The best berths are the bottom ones. If it wasn’t for the power situation, you should know there is no ladder to get to the top beds, just one foot hold to hoist yourself up.

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A food cart will come around once in a while but the coffee was terrible and the chicken must have been sitting there for a while. We would recommend you buy food ahead of time and snacks are available for purchase at vendors of the train station you are departing from. There is not enough time to leave the train and get back on mid journey in order to purchase anything.

Compartment space is limited. If you are looking for luggage storage, book the bottom bunks.

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Bromptons bicycles will have no issues here but I think our Bike Fridays bicycles would be just as cumbersome as in Europe. We managed to fit our bike friday on the top compartment with difficulty in Europe with a ladder. You would not want to hoist your bicycle to the top storage compartment without a ladder. How comfortable you are being separated from your bicycle is up to you. It is possible to lock up your bike to the foot of the bed.

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