Can you tell we really loved Vietnam? Who knew such a short vacation that was mainly spent lazing by the pool would amount to 4 posts! God help me if we ever go away for a month… you would never hear the end of it 😉
The last full day in Mui Ne was an unexpected adventure and my favourite. It was not what I wanted to do, but I am so glad I did because it made the trip so much more enjoyable. John inquired about cooking classes and they were offered at the hotel. He wanted to sign up, but for some reason we could not at that time and had to come back the next day. It was nearing the end of the trip and panic was setting in that soon I would be back at work and up to my eyeballs in things as the school year was winding down. I wanted to savour every last minute of relaxation and sunshine that I could. We didn’t go out to the dunes as we had hoped -couldn’t give up an entire day of R’n’R for an early morning and long day in the oppressive heat. The last day I planned to go to the spa for a massage and read and John would do a cooking class. That was until they signed us both up. Quickly I jumped in and said NO I am not interested… just John. They informed him the class either couldn’t go ahead as planned with only 1 student, or he would have to pay double (for 2 people). He was going to pass on things since he knew getting away was a much needed escape for me. I didn’t want him to miss out, so I agreed to join. The happy employee signed us up and gave us the details in where to meet and what time the next day. I was very touched that John was willing to so easily give up what he wanted for me 🙂 He is such a keeper!
The next morning we finished our breakfast (more pho -yum) and went off to the lobby to start our cooking adventure. We waited for the cook to arrive and then we would be off. First they would take us into town to buy the ingredients and then return and cook. We had a private car with driver to take us, the cook and a tour guide. I felt like royalty with all the attention… Our tour guide pointed out things along the drive and answered questions about what we saw. She informed us of the building going on at a large development on a hill overlooking the sea just before getting into the beach area (in which a cemetery had to be moved to a new location!), pointed out some places of interest and asked us about our home country. Soon we were in town and left to walk in to the wet market. Our guide told us to watch our belongings and they helped us cross the chaotic street as we entered the crowded market area. Vietnam is a very safe place, but like anywhere pickpockets are always on the lookout for an easy target and foreigners are viewed as rich and good prey.
Immediately we saw fluffy little yellow chicks for sale at the entrance. I was falling behind and didn’t want to get lost in the maze of stalls, so I missed a great photo-op. Inside the dimly lit market stalls were crowded in every available space with produce, meats, cloth and other necessities. The ground was stained and soiled from years of debris. We squeezed through the narrow aisles and followed our cook who knew where to get each ingredient. As she went our guide kept a look out around us to keep us safe and explained things as we went. Locals often sat on their table tops squeezed in with their wares since there was just no space to spare and allow them to stand. It was hot and humid outside and inside the tarps and thin roof the heat was oppressive, but they didn’t seem to notice with their long sleeves and pants. Before going I had read that they are modest and don’t dress in tank tops and low-cut outer wear and frown against those who do. Many of the locals wore brightly coloured patterns of matching pant outfits (t-shirt like top with short or long sleeves and pants) in the same pattern/colour or sometimes mismatched pattern or colour. Younger Vietnamese wore jeans and more modern t-shirts.
This is what I imagined the Chinese Wet Market to be like but wasn’t. This one was crowded, smelly and somewhat dirty with scattered bits of produce, blood and guts tracked into the floor. I was SO glad I opted for the running shoes today and not the flip flops! The market was a hive of activity where people were buying and selling their daily needs and moving goods in and out. When we stopped to buy some meat and shrimp. As the cook asked for what she wanted, as the guide told us she knew this stand was of good quality. The seller pulledout a large knife and quickly slammed it into the meat and cut off the requested amount. I was glad to move on from the meats and into the spices and vegetable section.
The colours were so vibrant and the smells much more pleasing. Actually the smell wasn’t as bad as the fish market I went to in Granada, Spain if memory serves me correctly. That stench was unbearable and lingering everywhere, and this was just a bit unpleasant as you went by the meats. As the cook bought some carrots, cucumbers, taro, mint and other items I snapped up pictures and took it all in. We became the tourist attraction as we did not fit; I felt like an example of ‘what is wrong with this picture?’as people did a double take on us.
After our whirlwind tour through the market we were back outside in the sunshine. Our driver had to drive around to meet us, so they took us to a temple to get out of the hot sun and see all the worshipers. It so happened this was a Chinese temple, or many Chinese worship there. Our guide told us today was busy because it happened to be a full moon, a day for them to pray for good fortune. Later I remembered it was also Qing Ming Festival and this may have also been areason it was busy. Many people were inside the temple with incense which they held near the middle of their foreheads and rocked their heads back and forth as they prayed. Certain statues were spread throughout and people gathered near them and touched them, which was a ritual we didn’t understand. You could see the worn areas from many hands caressing the statues. I felt like we were intruding and I didn’t venture far past the door and took a few pictures before our air conditioned comfort was waiting for us.
Back at the hotel we were given a break while cook prepared the ingredients. We sat by the pool for a few minutes before heading into the restaurant. To our surprise everything was cut and ready for us, we just had to do the assembly! We were making 2 style of Vietnamese Spring Rolls (yum!) Cook cut some large rice paper into triangle shapes and we added our ingredients and rolled the spring rolls up like little cigars. We made some with pork (for me) and others with
shrimp(for John). These would be deep-fried slowly in a warm oil. When we used that up we turned to cold spring rolls which were more vegetable with cucumber and mint and would not be cooked. As time went on I got better at rolling – cook who did not know English laughed at my first attempts and even made me do a few again. John on the other hand did well first try -show off! As we worked on the cold uncooked rolls our guide fried up the first batch and by the time we were done we had our meal! They treated us to a table for 2, an amazing cold iced tea (chamomile maybe?) and we ate our creations. Oh they were delicious! As I write this my mouth waters. I really enjoyed the cold ones, so refreshing on a hot day. Fully stuffed we enjoyed the rest of our day by the pool.
The next day we were checking out and heading back to Ho Chi Minh City. We spent our last hours by the pool catching the last rays before a long drive. Back in Ho Chi Mihn we wandered the streets and alleys near our hotel and bought a few souvenirs. We learned that many things are made locally and provide people with work and much-needed income. I bought a lovely woven yarn scarf, John a few t-shirts and an interesting purse with embroidery. There was other handicrafts and art work, but we packed light and had nowhere to put it without the purchase of another suitcase, so we had to pass.
The next day we had to leave early so we turned in for the night. The next morning we checked out of the Liberty hotel, the same place where we stayed when we arrived. It was a simple hotel, cheap, without frills and good enough. Breakfast was included and we had to check out before breakfast began so we thought we would have to forgo our free meal. They were kind enough to offer and pack us a little meal to go! Loaded into the taxi we wove through the dark early morning streets as the city began to come alive. Motorbikes loaded down with supplies and materials were being transported to the local markets before opening time and large blocks of ice sat on doorsteps to help keep meats and other items cold. As the sun started to rise we reached the airport and it was time to say goodbye to Vietnam.
Vietnam is considered third world, and doesn’t have all the frills that other international big cities may have, she certainly isn’t as sophisticated and rich as Shanghai… but there is a hidden beauty, an inner light that shines through that made me fall in love with Vietnam and definitely want to go back and see more…. the terraced rice patties, historical tunnels from the war, the floating markets and revisit the beautiful beaches.
Stay tuned for more next time…