I was beat after boozing and eating it up at the Can Cau Market. Returning to Bac Ha, I was ready for a nap as we arrived at our hotel for the night, Toan Thang Hotel. All of the hotels in the area have basically the same set-up, a multi-functional lobby area that is used as a combination check-in, lobby, restaurant, bar, and basic hang-out area. This hotel was interesting, there was an "old" wing, complete with corrugated metal roof, and a brand new building with a faux Euro-Asian design attached to it.
In a way, this was a perfect example of what we saw in Bac Ha, a village in transition, growing quickly, a convergence of the old and new. You'd as soon see a sleek, modern mini-bus and motorbikes(with the requisite horn honking) going in one direction, and this going in the other.
Some of the streets were just dirt paths, but right outside the city, major work was taking place. The roads were being widened, and fresh asphalt was being laid.
But at the time, I had something else on my mind. Specifically, a nice leisurely nap. Unfortunately, the prospect of a visit to dreamland was to be put on hold. The Missus had caught Her third, or was it Her fourth wind, and was ready to go. I was still trying to summon up my second, or even hoping for my first wind, and perhaps some fumes. Off we went, trading my leisurely nap, for a not so leisurely walk. It's not like you can get lost in Bac Ha, it seems that all roads end up in the same place. And it was an interesting seeing the "new" Bac Ha:
Right across the street with the "old".
Yes, folks, Bac Ha is going places....where she stops? Nobody knows.
After taking a short walk we somehow, unintentionally, ended up back at our hotel. Like I said, all roads in Bac Ha, lead to the same place. I decided to stop by the "lobby/restaurant/bar" to purchase some water, and have some tea. Here's where I ran into(no pun intended) a bit of a gastro-intestinal "blip". I was sitting at one of the tables, drinking my bottled water, when the really nice Woman who ran the place decided to scurry to the back room and grab me a glass. The glass looked like there was some residue on it, and perhaps a good layer of some unknown detritus, which I tried to discreetly wipe off. But, I couldn't insult her by not using the glass, so I poured water into it and had a sip. It definitely tasted a bit off...and one sip was all it took. For a few hours, my stomach made sounds like the HMS Titanic sinking into the Atlantic, I contributed to global warming in a very unpleasant manner, and there was a toilet paper shortage in room 301. Lucky for me, it was just a passing(again, no pun intended) thing. Furthermore, there was no way I was going to miss dinner! And so with the help of a few "pepto", and the stuff being sold from this pot:
I was fixed up in no time. The pot contained sugar cane simmering in ginger water. The ginger had me back in no time.
Yes, boys and girls, I hope you see the irony....I was cured by street food! By the time we met Thinh for dinner, I was ready to go...no, not there...I was ready to eat.
The restaurant selected was where we stopped for a break on our way to Can Cau Market the previous day. Like many of the places in Bac Ha, this was another Hotel/Restaurant. In this case, named Ngan Nga.
We took a table outside and were handed menus. Going down the page I read, "omelet, Pho, fried noodles, fried rice, french fries?" Say what! I didn't make a miraculous recovery from death's door to eat french fries! Thinh just laughed and said, "one minute, I'll order the food." After a few minutes Thinh returned, and by that time, the Nuoc Mam Cham arrived, along with.......guess what? Salt&Pepper-Ground Chili(this one was really good)-Lime, of course.
The first dish to arrive was a plate of blanched than sauteed Chinese Broccoli(Gailan), which I was told was called Cải Làn (pretty close) in these parts. It really wasn't anything we haven't had before, except that this version used both soy sauce and fish sauce.
The next dish that arrived was a cold chicken dish. In this case the simmered chicken was chopped, and topped with thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves.
As I enjoy cold chicken dishes much more than the Missus, I was fine with this. The chicken was on the chewy side, as wild, roaming chicken should be. The flavor was 100% true chicken; the lime leaves added a nice citrus-sour flavor, and a dip in the chili-lime-salt concoction helped out as well.
A plate of simmered pork arrived next, mildly flavored, and leaner than what we had for lunch. The chopped pork was combined with a herb that had a basil-cilantro type flavor. Thinh wasn't able to tell us what was used. The Missus, still recovering from the pork at lunch, passed on this one.
The next dish made the dinner a success. According to Beach, this is called Cha Com:
These are fried patties or fritters if you will, made with minced pork and green rice. Man, this was good! The pork added a nice richness as only pork can; the green rice added some crunch, along with a mild nutty sweetness. Oh man this was good.
The last item was steamed, vegetable spring rolls, which we found to be on the bland side. Still, this was a pretty good meal. Of course, we had started in on the Ruou Nga(Corn wine).
Which brings us on to the next part of the night. You know by now, that magical things happen when Ruou is in the picture. At the end of dinner, our driver Mr Thang made an appearance. Already hitting the Ruou with the other driver and guides(they all know each other), he kept apologizing. Of course, this meant another refill of Ruou! Soon enough, the other drivers and guides drifted to our table, as if some unseen signal was being sent. And the Ruou was flowing! As the sun set, our loud and raucous laughter started drawing the attention of the tourists having dinner in the restaurant. But none of them wanted to have a drink with the "crazy Asians". It didn't help when Thinh actually lit a cup of Ruou with his lighter to show us "what it was made of". With tongues loosened by the corn wine(most of these guy weighed less than 50-55 kilos - it didn't take much), we started getting the "real dirt" on these normally serious and stoic drivers. Thang, who was to married in a few weeks, met his wife to be when he almost ran her over. They got into an argument which continued when they later saw each other in Sapa later that day. A few days later, Thang saw her teaching a class at a school....and was smitten, I guess it was love at third sight. One of the guides, who was one of the larger Vietnamese guys I met at 75 kilos(guess my weight was a popular drinking game), was appropriately named the equivalent of "Hero" in Vietnamese, and enjoyed flexing his muscles, Hulk Hogan style.
It seems that drinking with a female was foreign to these guys; this manifested itself in some fairly strange and humorous ways. Several times, the Guys raised their hands and asked the Missus, "madam, may I go to the WC(water closet)?" Ruou fueled regression? And then came the high lite of the evening. One of the drivers told us he had three wives! You read that right; three wives! Thinh was beside himself, almost rolling on the ground. He'd known this driver for several years, and didn't know the guy had three wives. And no, polygamy isn't legal in Vietnam. Apparently, he has a bus route that takes him to some far flung villages, and so things just kinda happened(yeah right). All was well now, for they all knew about each other....they even get together and go out to dinner once in a while(I'd love to see that)! No wonder this guy was so skinny! Since this story couldn't be topped, we decided to call it a night. It was fun seeing this bunch of guys hanging out, and acting, well...like any group of young men. Some things are universal. Our dinner, and at least 4 refills of Ruou ran 220,000 VND( a bit less than $14/US). We staggered our way back to the hotel, where we were greeted by the Owners and staff, who asked us to have dinner, and (of course) some Ruou with them. I went upstairs and shared the last of the snake wine, and we had a few toasts before calling it a night.
It had been a full day......
And we needed to get up early in the morning!