At the conclusion of our cruise around Ha Long Bay, the sojourn of No. 1 son and I through Southeast Asia continued with our return to Hanoi, and an evening spent on a “Street Food Tour” of Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
Our guide was named Cherry, although she was so friendly and affable that I think she should consider changing it to Cheery. She remained upbeat through some interesting moments, such as having to constantly herd along a couple in our group who spent more time filling their mouths with each other’s tongues than with tasty street food – it was quite the “Get a ROOM!” experience.
She also kept cool that time when I inhaled a bowl of mixed rice noodles – and I don’t mean “inhaled” as in “ate really fast,” I mean “inhaled” as in “breathed them three-fourths of the way down my esophagus.” Cherry perkily gave me a friendly bum’s rush into the street to hack and gasp my way back to a relatively normal condition. And at this point, I must extend sincere apologies again to that restaurant for the bad optics of hacking and gasping in front of their establishment (insert sheepish emoji here).
I also inhaled (this time as in “ate really fast”) green papaya salad, rice noodles with vegan rolls, steamed rice rolls, sticky rice with ice cream, Banh Mi, local beer and egg coffee. It was all very memorable, and super-easy to recall thanks to the tour “diary” Cherry e-mailed to all of us. And of course, we made an impression on Cherry as well, as she closed her e-mail with a promise to “always remember you as my beloved friends.”
If it’s Monday, this must be Da Nang.
The city of Da Nang, the third-largest in Vietnam, located in the central part of the country, was not originally on our destinations list, except as a place to pass through on our way somewhere else. But we wound up spending one night there, and ate some truly amazing pizza at a very popular place called Pizza 4 P’s, which is the only Vietnam-based Japanese Italian pizza restaurant that I’ve ever heard of. It was m’mmmm good! Their mission is to deliver “wow” and share happiness, thus fostering global harmony, and the name really means “Pizza for Peace.” Really.
Our next stop, and one of the best destinations on our trip, was the small city of Hoi An. It’s about a 20-25 minute drive from Da Nang, but has a whole different vibe, appealing to the traveler with historical sites, French Colonial architecture, a bustling riverfront and nearby rural countryside and beaches, all blended rather smartly with shopping and dining.
As we did in Hanoi, we traipsed around the town our entire first day there, and had dinner in not one, but two restaurants – I told you, No. 1 is a foodie!
Our target on this evening was a Hoi An specialty called Cau Lao. It’s a combination of pork and greens on a bed of rice noodles, which supposedly can only be made in Hoi An, because the well water used in the preparation of the noodles imparts qualities that no other water can. This might be nothing more than good marketing, but hey, that’s how I talked the Republican in to running these dumb columns! (“My columns impart qualities that no other column can!” I just never said they were good qualities.)
If this is Tuesday, this must be Mỹ Sơn.
Not to be outdone by Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, Vietnam boasts, not far from Hoi An, the UNESCO World Heritage Site called the Mỹ Sơn Sanctuary (pronounced by our guide as “My Son”), a complex of Hindu temples, structures and sculptures dating back some 1,500 years.
We took an enlightening tour of it, made all the more interesting by our guide, a ball of energy who declared in a loud theatrical voice as the tour bus got underway that he was the best Mỹ Sơn guide in all of Vietnam.
But more than that, he loudly proclaimed that he was also the manliest guide at Mỹ Sơn, saying “Yesssss! Look at me! Very sexy! Other guides?! — NOT so sexy as me!” This might be nothing more than good marketing. (But I used this on the Republican too!: “Choose my column! It’ll be Rushville’s sexiest!”)