The lotus season in Hanoi

I woke up at 5am and rode my motorbike to the West Lake. Around that area, there are many flower villages. I went to one of them which is located near the West Lake Water Park, in order to take photos of a lotus lake and some activities that only take place in the early hours of the morning.
The lotus season in Hanoi starts from June and lasts 3 months. Every morning from 5am to 7am, the local residents, who own the lotus lakes, tour around the lakes on very small boats (in Vietnamese, we call them “thuyền thúng”) and pick both flowers and leaves, following the orders from their clients who are waiting on the bank. This is a wholesale business. Any business people, who want to buy lotus flowers cheaply, go there to buy flowers directly from the lake owners, then sell them at their shops in Hanoi. We also can see lotus flowers on the back side of street vendors’ bicycles. Some Hanoians also go to the lotus lakes in early morning and buy flowers for their houses. The lotus flower is not only beautiful, but also has a very good smell. 

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So I got into the lotus lake at around 6am. I watched a local man standing on a very small boat and touring on his lake. Later I found out his name was Mr. Quang. Sometimes he was back with flowers and handed them to the women waiting for him on the bank. I also watched how people covered the lotus flowers with the leaves, then packed them with bamboo strings and put them into their bikes before leaving for Hanoi’s markets. 

A woman and her son were sitting on the road and taking off the inner parts of the lotus flowers. They will be mixed with tea, as a result, the tea will have a very good smell, in Vietnamese we call it “chè sen” (lotus tea). I asked the woman whether it was possible for me to join the boat with Mr. Quang. She said certainly I could, but I should wait until he finished working. I wondered how it would be, if I could rent a boat and get out on my own. She said it would be impossible, since the boat and long pole may be stuck inside the roots of those lotus trees, 

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When Mr. Quang was back, I told him I wanted to join the boat with him and he agreed. His house (a 3-storey building) is located by the lake and he also has a small tent right on the lake, so I went to his tent and waited for him. I changed into a white Áo Dài (Vietnamese traditional dress) and Mr. Quang’s wife gave me her conical hat and a bunch of lotus flowers. Problem is that I went there alone, so we needed to find someone to help me take photos. The boat is too small, so close-up photos would not be good like a great view of the lake, when someone stands on the bank or sits on another boat to take photos of me. 

As soon as I stepped my foot on the boat, Mr. Quang smiled and said “Look at the crowd!” who were standing on the other side of the lake. I wondered why suddenly there appeared so many people (more than 20 people) watching every move of our boat and taking photos. It turned out that they were 

Japanese tourists passing by the place and saw my Áo Dài and the boat. It must have been a beautiful Vietnamese sight for them. 

We were moving toward the bank, where the Japanese tourists were standing. Mr. Quang saw his friend there and asked him to help me take some photos. Mr. Quang also thought that was the best place for taking photos, as the leaves are high and large, I could stand up and be surrounded by green color of the leaves. I handed my camera to his friend, but when we moved far away from the bank and I stood up, his friend struggled with using my camera and there was no way I could be back and explain him how to use my camera. I said “Please help me!” in Japanese, and a Japanese girl offered me a help with some shots by my camera. 

Mr. Quang said that some brides and grooms also went to the lotus lake for taking their wedding photos. My photos were not as good as I expected, since there were only 2 people on the bank who could help me take my shots and they were too far from 

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me. I should have been there with a photographer or a friend, but I didn’t want to bother someone to go with me at 5am in the morning. At the end of the boat trip, I gave Mr. Quang VND 100,000 as a tip. 

The boat ride on the lotus lake was the most interesting experience for me, when comparing with the boat rides on the bay, river or stream I’ve done. Imagine you are sitting on a very small and light boat controlled by a long pole, managing to keep the boat balanced, finding your way among the leaves and flowers (sometimes your boat hits them), holding flowers in your hands, having some worms sticking on your dress and the mud made your white dress dirty. 

I said to Mr. Quang “This beautiful place in Hanoi should be preserved. We should not make this place become a land of concrete buildings” and he agreed with me.

Hanoi _girl 

(http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/Vietnam/Red-River-Delta/Hanoi/blog-287912.html)

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Hanoi Youth Hostel – No.5 Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hotline: (+84) 972004080

Email: kellyyouthhostel@gmail.com

Vietnam Beauty

I’m so glad I came to Vietnam. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it: so many of the people I’d talked to beforehand had very negative things to say about the country. I’d heard that the people were unfriendly, that it’s polluted and confusing and that everyone wants to scam you. Luckily I tried to view the country with an open mind, because I completely disagree. Vietnam is great! It’s easily as the top of my list, one of my very favorite countries I’ve been to.

Traveling in Vietnam wasn’t always easy, there were definitely huge moments of frustration: things like being forced to wait 3 hours for a mediocre meal during Tet. There were setbacks like broken cameras and lost ATM cards. There were hard lessons to be learned about traveling as a couple in a stressful environment, although I like to think we came out on top of that one.

Still, there were really rewarding moments that made me love travel, love my life, and love Vietnam.

Some of the things that made traveling here so worthwhile:

The People

More than one person has confided in me that Vietnamese people have been the most unfriendly of all their travels. I really don’t get it. It’s true that up North people are more reserved (unless they want to sell you something), but we met some of the nicest people ever down south. Vietnamese people have beautiful smiles and even when they don’t speak English will give you a wave and a greeting. They can be shy, but many love to talk to you with a friendly curiosity.

The little kids are the best though. I never get tired of them waving and shouting hello. Or staring up at me with total puzzlement. One of my favorite moments this month was at a famous temple in Hue. I was trying to take a picture next to this impressive dragon staircase, when an older woman appeared and insisted I take a picture with her very bewildered grandson:

The Food

Holy cow, the food in Vietnam is second only to China in cheapness and deliciousness. After a month in Thailand we were getting pretty tired of eating green curry (no matter how good it is), and luckily in Vietnam there is an almost infinite variety of meals. The cuisine is influence by Thai, Chinese and french cuisine. We liberally ate from restaurants, street food stalls and even took aVietnamese cooking course to hopefully reproduce some favorite dishes at home (of course giving my cooking skillz this isn’t very likely). My favorite dishes were fried tofu in tomato sauce, rice pancakes and crispy noodles. Oh and crispy french bread. Can’t get enough of that.

street food!

Could have passed on the artichoke tea though. Blech.

The Electricity

Vietnam is one of the fastest growing countries in the world, both in terms of population and economy. It has a very young population, which makes the place pretty exciting. Constantly dodging motorbikes drove me nuts, but I loved the feeling of walking down the street and discovering something new each day. From a new street food stand, to a group of kids playing kick the can, to a group of old women drinking beer and gossiping, there was always something going on. The people watching was unparalleled.

The Beer!

From Saigon Beer in Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi Beer in, you guessed it, Hanoi, Vietnam had a huge variety of cheap and good beer. Most beers were only popular regionally, so we kept discovering new ones. My favorites were probably Saigon, Huda Beer in Hue and Halida in Hanoi. Best of all was the “fresh beer” in Hoi An that sold for 3000 dong a glass. At 15 cents, that’s got to be some of the cheapest beer in the world! Yummy too.

Yesterday I put Mike in a plane. He’s back to work in China for another semester. This afternoon I’m hopping on a bus for Vientiane (a 24 hour ride “if I’m lucky” the travel agent told me). I’m flying solo once again, and kind of nervous but psyched for the next couple of weeks in Laos, a country I’ve only heard nice things about. Still, I’m definitely a little sad to leave Vietnam. Something tells me I will be back at some point though, I’ve barely scratched the surface of this big and busy place.

(By  )

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Hanoi Youth Hostel – No.5 Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hotline: (+84) 972004080

Email: kellyyouthhostel@gmail.com

Poodles & Noodles: A Gastronome’s Guide to Vietnamese Food

By Steve McDonald in Backpackology

Going to a Vietnamese restaurant and ordering Pho is like going to a French restaurant and ordering a baguette. Sure, it’s a tasty meal, but you can do much better.

Vietnamese cuisine is one of the finest in the world, but also one of the most under-represented. For the uninitiated, this makes Vietnam the culinary equivalent to a glory hole—it might look shady and you wont know what you’re getting, but the adventurous shall be rewarded.

From the succulent seafood of Haiphong, to the dainty steamed rice cakes of Hue, to the soft summer-rolls of Saigon, Vietnamese cuisine emphasizes light, vibrant flavors with fresh, local ingredients. This makes writing a foodie guide extremely difficult, as the cuisine is insanely regional. For example, one of the dishes below can only be made in one small city, using water extracted from only one specific well.

The following guide contains what I believe to be the twenty-five best, most distinctively Vietnamese dishes, arranged by region instead of course, as a culinary roadmap to Vietnam.

To understand Vietnamese food, you must first understand Nuoc Cham.

NUOC CHAM (DIPPING SAUCE): Nuoc Cham is Vietnam’s national condiment, a heady mixture of garlic, sour lime juice, salty fish sauce, sweet palm sugar, and spicy chili. The Vietnamese pour the stuff on e-ve-ry-thing. Nothing is holy. Nuoc Cham is to the Vietnamese as ketchup is to people who laugh at Larry the Cable Guy.

Northern cuisine closer resembles the cuisine of China than Southeast Asia, with noodles, soy sauce, and sour vinegar shaping a rustic flavor profile.

BUN CHA (BBQ PORK & NOODLES): The Vietnamese have discovered the meaning of life and they call itBun Cha. It’s basically a giant cereal bowl filled with Nuoc Cham. And just when you thought things couldn’t get better, you discover that there are delicious patties of grilled pork submerged in it! Your Oh-Great-Bowl-Of-Sauce is served with sides of vermicelli noodles, fresh herbs, and fried crabmeat spring rolls, which are dunked in the sauce and eaten with the pork.

NEM RAN (FRIED SPRING ROLLS): Despite the lies you were told by Panda Express, Spring Rolls are as Chinese as Freedom of Speech.
Vietnam’s most famous export involves deep fried rice paper rolls stuffed with vermicelli, pork, shrimp, crab, vegetables, oil, oil, and oil. Sometimes they’re transcendent. Other times, they’re just soggy tubes of grease. The best ones are wrapped in thin vermicelli paper, fried extra crunchy, wrapped again in fresh lettuce or herbs, and dipped in Nuoc Cham.

BAHN CUON (Stuffed Rice-Noodle Roll): Some people describe Banh Cuon as a “Vietnamese Crepe”—but they deserve to be slapped in the face by a Frenchman. Instead picture a giant, square sheet of rice-noodle wrapped around seasoned meat (usually pork) and buried beneath a handful of fried shallots. It’s very tasty, especially when doused in Nuoc Cham.

PHO (VIETNAMESE NOODLE SOUP): You could say I’m not “bowled over” by Pho (pronounced fuh). It has nothing to do with the taste—the broth stewed with cow bones is hearty and delicious, and the noodles and meat are perfectly accentuated with herbs and fresh, crushed peppercorn. My problem with Pho is my blanket hatred of all noodle soups. I enjoy noodles and I enjoy soup, but when they’re placed in the same bowl, it offends me on an elemental level.

THIT CHO (DOG MEAT): There’s no better way to start the morning than eating a whole basket full of puppies. While the littlest ones have tiny bones that are crunchy, their meat is wonderfully tender, because they’re so innocent.

In all seriousness, if you can get your head around the fact that it’s Mr. Fluffy you’re picking out of your teeth, then you’ll find dog meat to be surprising delicious, with all the richness of pork and all the gaminess of venison. For many, dog meat raises the ethical question of which animals are acceptable to eat and which are not. Does such a line exist? Eating dog is slowly losing popularity in Vietnam (especially amongst the younger generations influenced by Western culture), and is usually only eaten at the beginning of the lunar month, when its considered good luck.

BANH GOI (Vietnamese Fried Dumplings): Vietnam’s response to Indian samosas. It’s basically a pork spring roll made with fried dough instead of rice paper. It’s as super awesome and bad for you as it sounds.

Central Vietnamese food is perhaps the most sophisticated, drawing culinary inspiration from France, China, Japan, and its Southeast Asian neighbors to produce a flavor that’s uniquely Vietnamese. The portions are small, the flavors are bold, and the chili is fiery.

BANH HUE (Royal Rice Cakes): While most chefs would accommodate a picky eater with a plain noodle soup or a sandwich, this never occurred to the royal chefs of fussy Emperor Tu Duc. Instead they decided that the most logical course of action would be to fossilize individual shrimps in glass-clear cubes of pounded glutinous rice, like Dr. Grant’s mosquito in Jurassic Park. Perhaps they were fucking with the Emperor. Either way, their dimsum-esque creations are popular in the old capital of Hue, where you can choose from a wide gamut of visually beautiful, delicious ‘Banh’ rice cakes. The most delicious are Banh Khoai, Banh Beo, Banh Loc, and Banh Uot.

CAO LAU (HOI AN-STYLE SOBA NOODLES): CAO LAU WILL BLOW YOUR FACE OFF AND YOU WILL WEEP WITH JOY. Take chewy Japanese-inspired noodles, add mouthwatering Cantonese-style char-sieupork, sprinkle it with Southeast Asian herbs and spices, and then top it off with a French-inspired reduction sauce and crispy fried “croutons.” Just trying to describe it, I nearly cream my boxers. In a unique twist, the dough of the noodles is made with timber ash, imbuing a smoky note. Might that be carcinogenic? Absolutely! But holy hell, is it yummy.

Sadly Cao Lau is only made in the old port city of Hoi An, using water drawn from one specific well. The universe is cruel.

CHAO TOM (SHRIMP PASTE GRILLED ON SUGARCANE): Who doesn’t love a tasty shrimp paste Popsicle? Not this guy. Chao Tom involves rich, decadent shrimp paste grilled on sugarcane. You’re supposed to roll it up in rice paper with herbs and veggies, almost like a tortilla, then dip it in a spectacular Vietnamese peanut sauce. DO NOT attempt to eat the sugarcane skewer like I did. I managed to bite off and swallow two large chunks of it before my waitress ran over to laugh at me.

NEM LUI (PORK & LEMONGRASS SKEWERS): The same thing as Chao Tom, except with delicious grilled pork and lemongrass instead of shrimp paste. The skewers were made of wood, which was much harder for me to swallow.

CAO LAU AGAIN!!! CAO LAU, YES! CAO LAU ALL OVER MY BODY.

MI QUANG (SPICED NOODLES WITH PORK, SHRIMP, & PEANUTS): There seems to be a correlation between the amount of soup in my noodles and the scope of my rage. Fortunately, Mi Quang only uses enough broth to moisten its tasty ingredients, which include rice noodles, pork, shrimp, peanuts, banana blossoms, herbs, and a tangy annatto sauce. I might go as far as to say I recommend this noodle soup.

BUN BO HUE (SPICY BEEF & PORK NOODLE SOUP): Goddamn noodle soups! This was probably the least interesting of the ones I tried, but some people lose their shit over it, so here it is. Noodles, beef, and pork mingle in a reddish broth flavored with chili, lemongrass, shrimp sauce, and annatto. Pffffffff. Shrug.

BANH BAO VAC (HOI AN “WHITE ROSE” DUMPLINGS): Perhaps in retaliation for China stealing the spring roll, the Vietnamese hijacked the Cantonese steamed dumpling. It’s obscenely tasty. The only innovation is that you dip it Nuoc Cham.

The South is the breadbasket of Vietnam and its abundance of fish, herbs, and vegetables means you’ll find bigger portions. Local ingredients emphasize freshness, color, and flavors that veer on the sweet side.

BANH MI (VIETNAMESE-STYLE SANDWICHES): I don’t recall the last time I’ve been so enchanted by a sandwich. This southern specialty is a glorious pairing of French and Chinese colonial influence: a crispy baguette is stuffed with various manifestations of pork, vegetables, cilantro, pork crackling, and chili. Mayonnaise moistens, soy sauce imbues ‘umami,’ and the flavors are anchored with a generous slathering of pork paté. Some people are put off by the abundance of fatty pork. They’re stupid.

BANH XEO (VIETNAMESE RICE CREPES): Banh Xeo is like sad, make-believe Mexican food. It’s still very tasty—I just wish it were buried in cheese and sour cream. The dish involves bean sprouts, pork, and shrimp fried into a crunchy shell made of rice flour and turmeric.
Resist the urge to eat it like a taco. Instead, place it in your rice bowl and mutilate it beyond recognition with your chopsticks. You then roll the fragments in rice paper with vegetables and herbs and dip it in Nuoc Cham or glorious peanut sauce.

BUN BO NAM BO (NOODLES WITH BEEF & PEANUTS): Bun Bo Nam Bo crams all the most iconic flavors of Southeast Asia into a single bowl; it can’t decide what it wants to taste like, so it decides to taste like everything all at once. Dry noodles are seasoned with mangoes, fried shallots, lime, garlic, lemongrass, pepper, tender beef, and just enough sour tamarind broth to moisten. Aside from having a having a cool name, Bun Bo Nam Bo is absurdly tasty.

HU TIEU (CHINESE-STYLE NOODLE SOUP): I take back what I said about Bun Bo Hue—this is my least favorite noodle soup. Soggy vegetables and cheap cuts of pork float unattractively in a boring, generic broth. Sometimes they use better cuts of pork or fresh seafood, but no one’s writing songs about it. Allegedly it’s a Vietnamese interpretation of a Chinese dish. I can’t think of any dish I had in China that resembles this, but for that I am thankful.

BUN THIT NUONG (NOODLES WITH GRILLED MEAT): Grilled marinated pork skewers with herbs and vermicelli noodles. It’s like a southern Bun Cha, EXCEPT DROWNED IN CREAMY, DELICIOUS PEANUT SAUCE HURRAY FOR PEANUT SAUCE.

GOI CUON (FRESH SUMMER ROLLS): Southern-style “summer rolls” emphasize fresh flavors. Unfortunately, these flavors are all quite boring. Unseasoned vermicelli noodles are wrapped in rice paper with bland pork and boiled shrimp. It lacks the glorious calories of its deep fried, northern cousin.

Ha Long Bay might draw the crowds and historic Hanoi may feature on all the postcards, but anyone can tell you the real highlight of Vietnam: Caffeine, Sugar, and Alcohol.
Save room for dessert.

CAPHE SUA DA (VIETNAMESE COFFEE): Vietnamese Coffee is strong enough to power a motorcycle, or at least get your hands shaking uncontrollably. While the grounds used aren’t special (typically cheap Robusta beans), the coffee is brewed to cocaine-like potency and sweetened with condensed milk. I’m not a coffee drinker, but this stuff is like chocolate-flavored crack. Perhaps I just like condensed milk.

BIA HOI (VIETNAMESE “FRESH” BEER): A Bia Hoi joint is a ghetto, Vietnamese beer garden, except the ‘garden’ is a dirty sidewalk strewn with litter and everything is in miniature. You sit on a tiny, plastic kiddie stool at a tiny, plastic table and purchase $0.25 pints of beer with colorful Vietnamese Monopoly-money. The experience feels perversely infantile. It’s like Fisher Price’s “Baby’s First Dive Bar;” the fact that the locals are always shitfaced only enhances this illusion of a kindergarten.

CHE (SUGARY ICE DESSERT-THINGY): “Che” is a word used to describe many dishes—from pounded rice cakes to syrupy soups to icy dessert cups. If you order Che Thap Cam, you’ll get a bowl of crushed ice topped with mixed fruits, syrups, coconut cream, pandam leaf, a parade of gelatinous mystery-items, and best of all, sweetened condensed milk.

I realize I’m only staying in Asia so that I can drink condensed milk everyday without seeming strange.

Vietnam boasts an enormous cuisine whose variety dwarfs the likes of Thailand and rivals the great kitchens of India and China. While it can’t compare in size, it compensates with ingenuity and regional flair. Inspired creativity is the hallmark of the cuisine. To indulge a trip along Vietnam’s coast is to indulge in an innovative and ever-changing menu.

So the next time you find yourself in your local Vietnamese restaurant, consider giving Pho a pass. Dig deeper. Travel your taste buds. Feast on rich Bun Cha noodles with pork. Explore the exotic fusion flavors ofCao Lau. Try asking the server for a nice basket of crunchy puppies. Most likely, the flavors will astound you. And in the unlikely event that they don’t… just dip it in some Nuoc Cham.

(http://backpackology.org/2013/10/24/poodles/)

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Hanoi Youth Hostel – No.5 Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hotline: (+84) 972004080

Email: kellyyouthhostel@gmail.com

Why You Need to Visit Vietnam

by AUDREY

If you only have time to explore one country in Southeast Asia, choose VIETNAM!Let’s admit it, when it comes to travel, Vietnam gets a bit of a bad rep. Before coming here all I heard were stories of travel scams, robberies, aggressive touts, and warnings that I’d be treated like a walking dollar sign. I was beginning to wonder whether I even wanted to spend a full month in this country, but 31 days later as my Vietnamese visa is about to expire, I am sad to leave Vietnam behind.

I’ll admit I’m relatively new to Southeast Asia, and have only covered three countries in the past three months, but Vietnam has left the strongest impression on me by far.

So what makes Vietnam so special?

A woman carries a yoke basket down the streets in Hoi An, Vietnam

The People

The people are warm, kind, and love to laugh and smile. It is in this country where I have met some of the most caring locals.

When I was sick in Hoi An, it was the woman who runs the Green Moss restaurant who took it upon herself to get me all better. She prepared ginger tea with honey for me, gifted me with a mint balm to rub on my neck and my chest, urged me to wear a scarf to bed, and then checked up on me daily whenever she saw me cycling around town or eating at her restaurant.

In Vietnam people have helped me when I looked lost, locals I met on a train have offered to show me around their hometowns (for free! Further proof that I’m not just a walking ATM), and business owners have been courteous to me even when I didn’t eat at their restaurant or didn’t take their tour.

The central market in Hoi An, Vietnam

The Food

Vietnam has been an explosion of flavours! Most dinners Sam and I have eaten in this country have been silent because we’ve both been gorging on local delicacies like the food in front of our plates is about to disappear. We’ve been known to order four different dishes in one go because there’s just so much new food to sample.

Spring rolls and grilled meat at Bale Well in Hoi An, Vietnam

Whether I was learning to cook Vietnamese food in a dim lit kitchen with no ventilation (picture beads of sweat running down my back and hopefully not onto my food), or enjoying a meal at a local farm in the outskirts of Hoi An, the food was spectacular.

Some of my favourite dishes in this country have been bánh xèo (a rice flour pancake stuffed with pork, shrimp, onions and bean sprouts) and fresh spring rolls. Fresh, flavourful, healthy, filling – what else do you need in a meal?

The floating market in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam

The Options

Then there is the diversity that comes with travelling in such a big country. I can guarantee that Vietnam will not bore you with its possibilities!

Want to travel down the banks of the Mekong Delta and experience the chaos of vendors at work in a floating market? Do you want to get lost in Saigon’s back alleys as you go in search of the best pho? How about getting clothes custom made in Hoi An? Or can I interest you with a cruise of Ha Long Bay where you’ll be waking up to jagged karst mountains outside your boat? You could also spend your time in Hanoi drinking bia hoi at a little street side bar equipped with plastic children’s furniture? Or if you’re feeling a bit more culturally inclined, go for a hill trek in Sapa where you can do a home stay with the ethnic tribes that call this place home?

If any of this sounds interesting, then you need to come to Vietnam already!

The scenic karsts of Halong Bay, Vietnam

I’ve spent the entire month in Vietnam saying things like,

“I could totally live in Saigon. Sam, how would you like to come back to Saigon?”

“I could totally stay in Hoi An longer. Sam, wanna stay in Hoi An longer?” (We extended our stay.)

“Sam, wouldn’t it be fun to spend more time in Sapa? I think living here might be fun. No?”

I can’t sing Vietnam’s praises high enough!

I’m not saying that this country won’t pose its own set of challenges – you’ll encounter that wherever you go. However, if you’re glossing over Vietnam because of the negative things you’ve heard in the past, then you’re doing yourself a huge disfavour. Vietnam is one of the top destination to visit in Asia.

Give Vietnam a chance, and it may just blow your mind.

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Hanoi Youth Hostel – No.5 Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hotline: (+84) 972004080

Email: kellyyouthhostel@gmail.com

Eating Snake Hearts and Drinking Blood in Hanoi, Vietnam

 By  Jess Damerst 

Upon our arrival in Hanoi, we’re immediately encouraged to sign up for the big event of the night hosted by our hostel: the Snake Village Tour. The sign-up sheet was complete with an ominous looking red on black logo of an undoubtedly poisonous snake.

“What’s this?” Dana asks.

“Oh! It’s our snake village tour. You get to eat snake heart and drink snake blood! It’s really fun!” replies the broad gentleman in the cut-off shirt.

Eating snake hearts. Sounds fun. 

But, Dana is enchanted by this idea.

“Oh wow! We have to do that!”

I can think of better ways to spend my evening and 18 USD than watching someone inhumanely kill snakes (one of my favorite animals). Of course, in the end, I’m out numbered and we decide to go. Looking back, I wouldn’t change this decision for the world.

Our hostel van rocks up in front of a deserted and somewhat underwater outdoor restaurant (you can thank the recent typhoon) where we are greeting by what looks like three generations of this family. My reservations are growing by the minute. First they show us the snake cages and let us hold them if we like. I’m trying not to picture them as my next meal. 

After the show, we are led to an open, traditional room with plates for 16 set out and countless bottles of snake infused rice wine. First things first, the hearts. They get a quick count of who wants to give it go (eight). And return shortly with a bag of live snakes. **I have to warn you, this is anything but humane, so if you’re an animal rights activist, you might want to stop while we’re ahead.** 

We’re given a quick explanation on the do’s and don’t’s of snake-heart-ripping-out. It’s a method they seem to have down to an art. DO: Wait 5 seconds before swallowing. DO: Breathe. DON’T: Chew the heart (I’ll explain why in a moment). DON’T: Hesitate. 

The first guy is up. Our snake wrangler squeezes the snake to locate the heart and makes a swift incision while simultaneously popping out the heart (mind you, it’s still functioning and attached to the snake). The first brave snake-eater kneels down and viciously rips the heart out. I notice that they are careful to catch the blood and bile in cups below. No wasting here.

The first guy was a big spectacle, with everyone shooting pictures and making noises of excitement. I also notice at this point that Becky, Dana, and I are the only girls present. The reason becomes apparent as after the first heart is eaten, both girls begin taking steps back. For some reason, a gripping sense of curiosity overcomes me and I end up watching all 8 hearts get pulled from the live, writhing snakes with intensity. Clearly, I’m a bit twisted. 

I know what you are wondering. No, I didn’t eat one myself.

One gentleman ended up chewing the heart (as promised, an explanation). Within about one minute he passes out. In the confusion and upset, the reason behind the “no chewing” rule is explained. Turns out, the heart contains a poison that can be broken down in our stomaches, but not by the saliva in our mouths. So, if you chew it, it goes straight to your brain, causing you to pass out momentarily. No worries, he comes around in a matter of seconds, wondering how he ended up on the floor. The night has only just begun.

After the heart-eating event, we sit down and are served two shots: a bile green shot and a blood red shot. I’m not even kidding. I took both without reservations, but I will say that the blood shot burned unlike any alcohol I’ve ever had before. Then, we all take shots of rice wine and the snake feast begins. We are instructed to take a shot before each course. Which, ends up being a problem as there are 7 courses.

The ones I can remember are: a rice pilaf with snake bits, snake spring rolls, snake meat balls (I later find out these were snake testicles), and snake ribs (definitely my least favorite, as the bones were too small). Mind you, we ate lots of other interesting, snake meat infused dishes, but after my 5th shot, things began to blur. 

We eat, drink, and make merry for about two hours. After our delicious and incredibly filling snake meal, we drag our drunken party of 16 back to the hostel. Not before, of course, accidentally letting out a few snakes in an attempt to get snake skin from within the cages and angering the snake village. Obviously, I wasn’t involved at all.

For anyone with a stomach that can handle it, I highly recommend this. Despite feeling really terrible for the snakes, I enjoyed the experience immensely. I do take comfort in the fact that every last bit of snake is put to use. That said, if you ever get the chance to do this in Vietnam, absolutely, no questions asked, do it.

( http://thegirlintranslation.com/2012/10/18/eating-snake-hearts-and-drinking-blood-in-hanoi-vietnam/)

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Hanoi Youth Hostel – No.5 Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hotline: (+84) 972004080

Email: kellyyouthhostel@gmail.com