Chin to Chin chronicles my explorations of Vietnam and Hong Kong with Mikey (from @ZeroWritingCredits). This is the fifth part of the story. My apologies for the excessive delay – the updates flowed the road, but since returning to Hong Kong the real world has intervened.
While Mikey is on the record contending that his indelible memory from the trip is 25 cent bia hoi from any random streetside bar in Hanoi, day one in De Nang contains my moment.
After disembarking from our night train, Mikey and I started a long walk to the Brilliant Hotel by the riverside. We had googled it and memorized the directions, but had failed to account for it being about ten degrees hotter in De Nang. Navigating the train station’s exit wasn’t as bad as we thought with only a few hassles from cab drivers and other transportation services. We were worried about getting ripped off, but after many pleasant experiences with cabs in Vietnam, it probably would have been okay and only a few dollars.
Still, despite a bit of sweat, it wasn’t a terrible walk and in about half an hour we were in the friendly confines of the Brilliant Hotel. This was by far the nicest hotel we stayed it – big, clean and comfortable. We both enjoyed a hot shower and then hit the town. Our pre-prandial destination was a cool market where pretty much item could be found, and indeed Mikey picked up some swimming trunks.
Our dinner destination – a hole in the wall bun nam shop Mikey had found on the internet – was quite a hike, but it gave us the chance to explore the city a bit. De Nang is a tough place to categorize. There are tourists, but it is hardly a tourist destination yet. Much of the time we were the only foreigners around. It’s a very easy city to get around, mostly grid-patterned. It’s big city of nearly one million, but not at all corporate with a somewhat sleepy vibe.
The bun nam we had for supper was an incredible experience. Located at the end of an alley, patrons regularly drove their motor scooters into the restaurant, alighted, barked out an order, and not long after an affable lady behind a counter dropped off a masterful bowl of bun.
There was definitely a language barrier here, but the chef-owner seemed to understand we were here for her specialty (I’d wager the English language article Mikey found brings in a steady stream of foreigners). We both got the bun nam – noodles, herbs, sauce and juicy roast pork, and crispy crackling. These two bowls and two Pepsis cames to less than five dollars. It was remarkable. The only downside was we never figured out which of the sauces to use (we tried one and were chided) and never figured out what the banana leaf wrapped goodies on the tables were for.
On the way back, we were still a bit peckish and so we stopped at a streetside operation serving “ram,” which it turns out is freshly fried spring rolls that can be wrapped in rice paper with herbs, garlic and chili. There were loads of these that night but this one was an appealing family business with a girl who couldn’t be more than ten busking for customers, taking orders and serving the food. We asked if she had beer and her mom sent her over to a corner store to buy it and then serve it to us. The implications of children buying alcohol aside, this was just an incredible experience and really made our night.
The ram was also well executed – freshly fried, highlighted by exotic herbs and doused in a spicy sauce – and conceived. I started putting whole raw chilies and garlic in mine, garnering a rare mumble of approval from Mikey.
Sitting there drinking beers, eating incredible food, and watching life in De Nang I had one of those all-too-rare moments where I realized that there was no where I’d rather be. Once again, this meal with beers was less than five dollars, plus a generous tip to our young server.
Bellies finally full, Mikey and I headed back to the Brilliant’s well-stocked gym to get some exercise in. Mikey got a full on lesson from the staff there and had a swim. I finished my workout and then had a nice banh mi. We hit the hay early to gather our strength, for our next day would include a day trip to Hoi An and a midnight flight to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).