A Quiet Day in Da Nang, Vietnam, 2013

hyatt regency danang

We strolled along the beach of our hotel, the Hyatt Regency Danang, early in the morning before breakfast. There wasn’t a morning call (usually they’re at 5am or 6am…), but we wanted to make the most of our time anyway.

tiny sand crab

Almost stepped on this little guy! He blended in too well with the sand. Watched him quickly scurry back into his hole after a close call with my foot.

gardener at work

hyatt gardens

A gardener was hard at work on this peaceful morning. We were the only guests walking through the hotel.

Breakfast was still mostly vegetarian-unfriendly, but nonetheless tasty to look at! There were fresh baguettes buttered and grilled that we ate plain, since we couldn’t use most of the bánh mì ingredients. We also had some of the rice noodles with scallions and fried shallots, as well as a “sweet and sour” bowl of dry pho noodles that I improvised.

hyatt danang breakfast

For most of the trip so far, my mom and I were rather disappointed with the famous Vietnamese coffee. But that morning we noticed that most people were ordering iced Vietnamese coffee. We had only been drinking it hot. We quickly flagged a waiter and asked for two glasses of iced Vietnamese coffee — they were almost running out! — and boy, it was a world of a difference.

This was coffee enlightenment. Drinking it cold somehow reveals the layers of flavor in the melange of sweetened condensed milk and dark roast coffee grounds. Sweet and bitter, muted by the heat when drunk hot, become vibrantly complementary when cold. Love.

cham museum pot

We stopped at the Museum of Cham Sculpture, a moderately small museum featuring the world’s largest collection of Cham artifacts. The Chams are an ethnic group in Southeast Asia, concentrated between Cambodia and Central Vietnam. At the height of the 9th centruy, Champa controlled what is essentially two-thirds of Vietnam, from Hue to the Mekong Delta.

Champa worshipped fertility and sexual organs through the Hindu god Shiva: linga is the male organ, and yoni is the female organ. The two are commonly featured in the sculptures at the museum, and are supposed to represent Yin and Yang.

entering hue

Our next destination was the city of Hue, where we would visit the tomb of Tự Đức, a Vietnamese emperor of the Nguyen dynasty. Since the road to Hue from Da Nang was a long one, about a 2-3 hour trip. Vietnam officially has no highways, even to this day. The only highway runs through its dense forests and mountains, which makes maintenance difficult. As a result, the highway is not used by the common people, but has instead been adopted by cows and sheep herds.

The roads we drove on were a roulette of paved pothole paths or dirt roads under construction. Sometimes there was only one lane, for two-way traffic!

Vietnamese coast

But the coastal scenery was beautiful. Wang taught us how to catch fish with a water bottle:

  1. Cut the top of the bottle off
  2. Put a rope through the top
  3. Put a metal plate at the bottom for weight
  4. Drop a piece of bread at the bottom for bait
  5. Catch fish, and reel it win with the rope!

Rice fields of Vietnam

The Vietnamese countryside scrolled past us, as Wang continued to illuminate with details of life in Vietnam. Apparently a sizable source of income for the rural Vietnamese is finding the remains of Americans from the war, and turning them over to government so that they can be returned to their families in the US. About $200 USD is paid for every batch of American — a significant amount of money for people who live on $1-3 USD a day. But many have taken to gaming the system by manipulating cow bones to look human, and turning those in instead.

You can also earn monetary rewards from the government by reporting homeless people or robbers. The homeless are taken in and fed, and given an allowance too! A win win for all. 🙂

Tam Tam Cafe: Hoi An, Vietnam, 2013

tam tam cafe

Dinner in Hoi An was at Tam Tam Cafe, a trendy and spacious restaurant in the heart of the village. i’m not sure if tapas-styled meals is typical at Tam Tam, but all of our plates were limited to a few bites each.

Our meal began with a few sips of vegetable soup with choppy, short belts of rice noodle. It erred a bit on the oily side.

rice noodle soup

Then came bánh xèo, Vietnamese crepe: crispy, savory pancakes stuffed with corn and bean sprouts. Lettuce served on the side to wrap the crepes in.

banh xeo

A plate of crispy vegetable spring rolls was next, with alfalfa and carrot flowers plated on the side.

spring rolls

Green papaya salad was a pleasant surprise. I had always thought of this as a Thai dish; the generous sprinkle of mint petals was a sweet twist. We each had our own bowl of deliciously crackly flatbread. It broke apart like brûléed glass with a gentle press of the thumb.

papaya salad and flatbread

Rice noodle dumplings topped with a healthy dose of deep-fried shallots.

rice noodle dumplings

Then a marriage between dainty, mixed greens, lime, red chili, snow peas, and thick, deep-fried wonton strips.

wonton salad

Dessert was chewy, Vietnamese macaroons. Coconut fibers stretched as you pulled the cookie apart. And the perfume of almond.

macaroons

And vanilla and mango cake to celebrate a group member’s birthday to boot(this wasn’t on the menu ;).

While I don’t know how traditionally Vietnamese the food served at Tam Tam Cafe is, I certainly still enjoyed it. Good food is good food. Some places encounter difficulties with creating a well-rounded vegetarian dish — monochromatic and serving only tofu or only stir-fried vegetables — but this wasn’t the case at Tam Tam. The dishes were well balanced: a centerpiece, a twist of orange, a spike of red, and ribbons of green.

If you’re hungry in Hoi An, drop by Tam Tam Cafe!