Sunday, August 24, 2008

Vegetarian Buffet

When The Boyfriend and I first arrived in HCMC, we saw a restaurant that offered a vegetarian buffet. It was for a limited time around Tết (Vietnamese New Year). I thought it would be fun to go to a buffet where The Boyfriend could eat anything. However, when we finally decided to go, there was a wedding reception and the buffet offering was over.

Talking to my Vietnamese teacher, I learned that the 7th month of the lunar calendar (around August) is when many Vietnamese eat vegetarian all month to honour ancestors - I think... So I suggested we go check out the restaurant again to see if the vegetarian buffet was being offered. Luckily for us, it was!!

At 120,000 VND each (about 7 USD), it is not a cheap meal in Vietnam. There were two separate floors and we were assigned to go to the third floor. There were not too many people when we arrived, but it was full when we left. The offering was quite extensive: soups, salads, noodles, sushi, spring rolls and all sorts of faux meats. We ordered something to drink, not realizing there was also a drinks buffet, including tea and lemonade!

Everyone checking out the selection with festive green decor.

Some vegetable offering.

Some vegetarian gỏi (salads) served with bánh phồng tôm (crackers, usually shrimp flavoured). Our favourite was the lotus salad, minus the faux shrimps.

Faux meats under a heating lamp.

"Chicken" curry.

There was even someone making bánh xèo, filled with mushrooms.

Fruit offering, including peeled rambutans.

Desert offerings.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Death in an Alley

I have been meaning to have a post about life in the alleyway or hẻm, where I live. I was going to write about knife sharpeners and recyclers in the morning, crowds gathered in the alleyway watching a soap opera or singing karaoke on a tiny television in a house and white-collar workers sitting on plastic chairs eating lunch. There are also chickens running around (The Boyfriend likes to warn "bird flu, bird flu" when he sees them), rice and onion being dried out in the sun, and rats scurrying around at night. However, I did not think I would include anything morbid.

My Vietnamese teacher came in today: "Did you see THE body?". I actually did see someone lying on a cot in the alleyway, head covered. Someone was massaging the person's feet so I assumed maybe it was someone who felt ill. I was SO VERY wrong. It was a dead body. I have mentioned that there are many homeless people in the city, people who come from rural areas to make money but cannot afford housing. They usually sleep on cots and hammocks at night. My guess is this was such a person or the body would be indoors.

My Vietnamese teacher is very amusing because she is very superstitious. I think this is characteristic of many Vietnamese people. She warned me about not looking at the body ("Did you already look at it?" she asked in panic) because it is bad luck. She was worried about The Boyfriend coming home tonight and walking by the body. She was also worried that the body would still be there on Friday when I have my next lesson.

Honestly, I have never really thought about how I feel about bodies. I don't usually like open caskets at funeral. I am not superstitious but I have to admit that it is rather creepy or morbid to have to walk by this body whenever I go out. I'm not sure also how a body will fare in this heat outside. I might try to minimize my outings until the body is removed...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Mũi Né - Part II

The Boyfriend and I booked an excursion to go see the sand dunes. It cost $22USD and took over three hours. I’m sure this can be done cheaper by taxi but we got to see a lot of interesting sites by jeep: the Fairy Spring, red canyon, the farther white sand tunes and the yellow sand dunes nearby. I had heard that the sand dunes were spectacular but I did not realize how big they would be. It really did feel like we could have been in the Sahara desert, without the heat (we went in the late afternoon for that reason).

Our jeep.

Our first stop was the Fairy Spring (Suối Tiên). Our tour guide, really just our driver, dropped us off and told us we had 40 minutes. A young teenager acted as our impromptu guide even though it was very obvious where we had to go: just follow the stream! At the end, he asked for money. I don’t think so. I already paid for a tour…

We passed by big vats of stinky nuoc mam (fish sauce).

The Boyfriend is following our "guide" in the Fairy Spring.

There were very nice and interesting rock formations.

Next we stopped by the fishing village of Mũi Né where little fish (anchovies?) were laid out to dry in the sun. I’m not sure if they were the same fish, but The Boyfriend and I encountered little jumping fish when we were swimming in the ocean. They were just jumping in and out of the water, even into my swimsuit.

View of Mũi Né village.

Fish spread to dry.

Working the fish.

Not only does Mũi Né have sand dunes, it also has a canyon. So many interesting sights!

Red Canyon.

The white sand dunes were far out but well worth the trip. At the bottom of the sand dunes is a nice lake too.

Lotus lake with the white sand dunes in the background.

At the other end of the lake were some horses. Some tourists rode the horses up the sand dunes…

White Sand Dunes. Can you belive this is Vietnam?

This little boy followed us, trying to convince us to slide down the hills. Although we didn’t, we gave him 10,000 VND because he was so persistent (and cute!).

The boy slid down the hill himself!

I like the temporary trail left behind.

Finally, we hit the yellow sand dunes, which had more of a golden colour. The yellow sand dunes are much closer to Mũi Né and so had much more tourists than the white sand dunes.

We encountered a herd of cows.

Many tourists, hanging out and flying kites.

The Boyfriend from afar.

These dunes were very big too.

By a sand bank with the sun behind me.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Mũi Né - Part I

The Boyfriend took a couple of days off work so we could hit the beach before I go back to Canada. We decided to go to Mũi Né, having heard that it was very nice and due to its proximity to HCMC. It also was a less costly option than Nha Trang or Phú Quốc.

We booked bus tickets through Sinh Café: 100,000 VND (about 6 USD) each way. The bus ride was not as bad as we heard. It took about five hours each way. The way back felt much longer than the way there.

The Boyfriend wanted a hotel with a pool because he does not enjoy his eyes stinging from the salted sea water. This was a good call since the water was rather choppy. I found an affordable option with a pool, Sunrise Resort, for 35 USD a night (it costs 50 USD for a beach view bungalow). This included breakfast (options were limited); there was also wi-fi so you can surf the net by the pool and cable TV. Our whole trip costs about 100 USD each for 3 nights. A trip to Mũi Né can definitely be done even cheaper; we saw rooms as low as 6 USD. It can also be done on the more expensive side; we saw some very nice bungalows on the beach.

Our days were spent going for dips in the ocean and then the pool. It seems we ate a lot, read on the beach and chill-axed as The Boyfriend likes to say. We also went to see the dunes – I’ll cover this in part II!

View of Sunrise Resort.

Most resorts are on the beach side of coconut tree lined Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, a 15 km stretch.

View of the pool from our sliding door. It was nice to have the pool at our doorstep until we got woken up at 4 am by drunk (I’m assuming) girls splashing in the water and then at 7 am by kids swimming… The beach was just at the other end.

View of the pool and beach in the background. Our room was clean and basic.

Some of the décor has a hint of "fromage". The little boys’ statues seem to be peeing into the pool...

We spotted this little guy near the pool, hiding from the sun.

We enjoyed fruit pool side. Only the pineapple was good. The mango was SO tart; it must be the end of mango season. The dragon fruit should have been good since we saw fields upon fields of dragon fruit nearby, but it was too ripe.

The beach was very nice and we had nice weather. Supposedly, Mũi Né has the least rain in South East Asia because of its microclimate created by its location near the sand dunes. As I mentioned before, the water was choppy due to the strong waves. This is perfect for wave jumping. Mũi Né is also a choice destination for windsurfing and kitesurfing destination. Having attempted to surf in Costa Rica at Witch’s Rock Surf Camp, I would not even think of trying kitesurfing but it was cool to watch others do it.

Views of the beach on each side.

Kite boarders jump seriously high, with the help of the wind!

There were a lot of stray dogs on the beach.

We spotted a few jelly fish washed up on the shore. Don’t they have an alien quality about them?

Fishermen set out around 5 pm and come back in the morning.

One night, I got grilled shrimp, freshly caught that morning. There were about 10 very big shrimps for 50,000 VND (about 3 USD)!! What a steal! Delicious!

A salamander fell, from the sky it seems, while we were eating . Can you spot this one?

We got a full moon. I wasn’t able to take a picture but it was amazing to see at night so many lights out at sea from the fishing boats.