Another milestone day for me to reach day 150. Again, where has the time gone? As far as I have come I still haven’t even reached the halfway point of my trip!
Since the task of managing two people on my bike was too troublesome, Irene and I split with her taking the local bus back to HCMC while I spent a couple extra hours to see the morning life of Ben Tre including their market. At first, the market in Ben Tre was like any other I had seen with bountiful displays of color through their varied vegetables and fruits as well as the severed carcasses of animal remains hanging all about in the most unsanitary until the added layer of motorbikes zipping through what should be pedestrian walking lanes added further chaos to the occasion. Also, I had never seen so many unusual things for sale. They seemed to sell every kind of unique (for a market that is) animal imaginable dead or alive, such as chickens and ducks tied up in groups, chicks fumbling over each other in tight quarters, fish and eels swimming (a very generous term) in shallow water while fighting for space, mice, and snakes. The most comical bit that I am so grateful for witnessing was a sale of a snake. A man grabbed the snake by the tail and tried to aim into the bag the old female shopkeeper was holding. The snake was twisting and wriggling as is natural for them while make darting efforts in the direction of the poor old woman. She was freaking out letting out whispered shrieks as she eyed the reptile. She teetered back almost ready to fall over to avoid an errant attempts by the snake. After a second go around, he slipped the snake in the bag upon which those old hands became anew by deftly tying up the bag in a moment’s notice. After eating some pho at a restaurant (the family, especially the old man, was very gracious to me as if it were a great honor for a Westerner like myself to enter what was essentially his home and business), I went in search of what I had read was their famous coconut candy. I wrote the name on my available notepad since they couldn’t understand my phonetic interpretation of the word. Little by little I found the stand with each person pointing me further along. They put past any attempts to sell me on their product since they genuinely wanted to help me out. Even for a bigger town or city, they haven’t been spoiled by the greed of the dollar and the Western presence, which is always a welcome relief. I never did buy the candy since it came in too large a package and I was not about to recreate my addiction to Burmese crack again. Once again I merged back onto the road but had to first fill up on oil. In my attempt to unlock my seat to the gas tank, the key hole collapsed in on itself so I had no way of unlocking the contraption. Seeing my dismay, the Vietnamese gas attendant came over to help me out and solve my conundrum, including my baggage itself which was in disarray thanks to a broken bungee cord. Without some kindness from strangers I don’t know what I would do. The road back to HCMC was quite boring since I had to mainly take the A1 highway which is the Ho Chi Minh trail route that runs basically the full length of the country north to south. After finding my way back to backpacker street and my hostel, I had the mechanic fix the lock to the gas tank. After a day like this with all that riding, I had no plans to do much of anything. I chatted with my roommates who just began to start their day after a wild night. After talking awhile, the group of us, which included three Canadians, a French, and German joined two others, one from Germany and another from Philadelphia, for some food but not just any food. We were headed for a restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet as an amalgamation of street food favorites, which was right up my alley. On the way, I spotted those same banh trang nuong tacos/pizzas getting grilled up out of the corner of my eye while walking through the park so I couldn’t say no to a nibble. The park had a lot of energy with people playing badminton under the lights and this football-juggling game in which they kick a shuttle cock from person to person. At the restaurant we turned it into an all out feast choosing to order a variety of dishes that we could all share to get a sampling of as much as we could. We went through banh xeo (properly put together with individuals clumped of banh xeo pieced in between a bitter lettuce and further spiced with holy basil and mint plus the accompaniment of nuoc mam – a spiced fish sauce with carrots, garlic, spring onions, chilies, sugar, and lime – what has now become a fan foodie favorite of mine), fried spring rolls, tender and heavenly spiced chicken, noodles with chicken and veggies, grilled squid, and a hot pot (a soup composed of a well prepared broth with ingredients cooked into it right before our eyes including prawn, fish, and clams as well as a type of leafy green and the boldest, meatiest mushrooms I have ever tasted). Boy did we kill it with not a crumb or spoonful of that broth to go to waste. For $6.50 a piece for a gourmet meal, I have it was a job well done, mission complete. We went back to Bui Vien for drinks and to soak in the energy of the much more tamed down version of Thailand’s Khao San Rd. (God I am so happy to say that!). Beers hover around 50 cents a bottle thanks to the competition and the fact that the sinful devices of drink and smokes aren’t taxed. Before checking out for the night since I had already planned to Skype the fam back home early tomorrow morning I shared in another foodie experience with Nick the boy from Philly. So many carts, for reasons I will never understand, sell dried squid. The rolling cart owner further flattened it before grilling. With a spicy chili sauce, it was actually surprisingly good for almost an Asian version of jerky. Food in Vietnam is simply just toooo good.