Thursday, July 05, 2007


Coming back from Hạ Long, we went straight to Hà Nội for the night. Someone was hit by a car in the busy street and the body was still on the street. A million people were standing around the body but no one seemed to be fazed by it, as if it was just another daily event. We found a place to park the van and Cha Hào took us to one of my absolutely favorite and memorable meals of all time.

A dark alley. No street signs. No label that there was anything inside that alley. But the locals call it Phỏ Thiện. Once you walk through the alley that only rapists would be in, a blast of steam blows across your face, and the kitchen appears. A woman standing behind a huge silver pot of steaming Phỏ broth, a teenage boys boiling noodles bowl after bowl after bowl, and another boy running back and forth from the 2 benches aligned against the wall further down the alley. The system ran like clockwork. One boils, one pulls noodles, one pours broth and one serves. There was only one type of Phỏ available and you either take it or leave it.

We sat down and ordered 10 bowls for 10 people. It came in seconds flat and so began the best bowl of Phỏ I’ve ever had in my life. The bench was rickety and the chair was barely a stool. The hot sauce was in a huge canister and had a ladle as its spoon. The bowl of soup shook as I ate… and ate and ate. The noodles had an aphrodisiac quality to it; you couldn’t get enough. And the broth was made form another world because it never tasted so spicy and unique. Three bowls each later, we were satisfied and happily delirious. We all fell into bed the most satisfied tourists in Hà Nội. Our hotel Cưu Long was also great. Clean, cool, and perfect for only a two star price of 15 đông a night. Perfection.


Cyclos!! Cyclos!!! That was all we heard coming out of our hotel the next morning. It was calling to us and we took them up on it. All of us piled into 4 cyclos and saw the town in a very slow relaxed manner… well, as relaxed as can be in the middle of hard core traffic driven by Việts. We went through every quarter of the city, the machinery area, the flower section, the food markets, and even the toy stores. Everything was laid out to see, the colors all vibrant and enticing to the eye. We Việts love RED. It’s everywhere and on everything.

We hopped off the cyclos temporarily to go into the shopping center. Everything from Louis Vuitton to Prada was on sale….for 5 dolla!!!! But we held off. There is more to be seen in Sài Gòn.

Our next stop was the temple that stands on one solo pole. This was a pretty cool site to see. Near the main street of Hồ Chí Minh tomb, it stands in a quaint little square. The tourist stands nearby are not so quaint, especially when you see the green hats and red flags everywhere, signaling that Việt Minh were very much present there. My mom forbid me to buy the two patches there, ones of the flags but that is still our country. If I saw a yellow and red stripped one, I’d be ecstatic but there isn’t one anymore, so the red with the yellow star will have to do.

Cha Hào again took us to a great place for lunch. I think it’s just the city itself. All the food agreed with me. We went to this place called Quán An Ngon. I love the name because it actually represents the restaurant. Normally, a restaurant that has a name that means “good place to eat,” isn’t. But this one is. We had cơm tấm bì thịt nướng. The best cơm dish ever. That ended our stay in Hà Nội perfectly but we were very sad to leave.
We headed back to Châu Sơn to spend one more night with Cha Thảo before heading out to Huê. The head father is so funny because he calls every night. The priests and students all do his bidding and every night, they give him the status of our trip, how we all are and what we did that day. He is like a mother hen, waiting at home, checking to make sure his ducklings are all right in the wild wild world.

The next morning, mom and dad actually got up at 4 am to attend early morning prayers with the abbey. From what I hear, it was one of the most beautiful sounds, like a Gregorian chant that the priests sing throughout their prayers. Next time, I would put out the effort in the morning to hear that…maybe…

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