Vietnam Food Tour - Part 2 (Central)

After leaving the Northern Vietnam town of Ninh Binh, we embarked on one of the least comfortable legs of travel in recent memory.  We decided to take the overnight train from Ninh Binh to Danang, but given the short notice of buying our tickets there were no more soft-sleepers available.  We were going to take a hard sleeper buuuuut decided to save $50 and sit in soft seats, thinking it would be just the same as a flight.  I mean, really how bad could it be?  Its just 12 hours, we've flown longer than that!  Answer:  it is NOT the same as a flight.
It wasn't dirty, but it was just slow, bumpy and very cramped.  Several people decided to take it upon themselves to sleep on the floor under the seat.  After reaching Danang we were happy we paid for a direct to hotel transfer to Hoi An and passed out upon arrival from sleep deprivation.  Initially we were planning on spending only three nights in Hoi An, but added an extra night pretty much as soon as we arrived because the hotel was so nice (at a whopping $35/night might I add).

Hoi An is an extremely well preserved coastal fishing town that has developed into an enormous tourist destination.  While the number of tourists can be a bit daunting the city really is worth a visit. The architecture  and ambiance on the Thu Bon river is really breathtaking.   Unfortunately the majority of restaurants in town are very touristy (leading to the least impressive food in Vietnam overall), with tourist flavors and prices, but we did manage to have some really delicious food nonetheless.
First, was Cao Lau, a Hoi An speciality.  Cao Lau is a noodle dish with stir-fried pork, greens, and some pork crackling on top (obviously amazing).  While it doesn't sound special, the noodles are unlike anything we have had before.  They are fat wheat noodles that absorb a lot of the flavorings of the pork and soy/fish/chilli sauce on top.  We had this twice and both times was fantastic.
Another memorable dish was some pretty barbecue basic pork spring rolls we had on the street.  It was simply pork barbecue with greens in a rice paper wrapping you made yourself.  These was so good, we had it on two separate nights.  Additionally, it was pretty far off the main tourist drag by a local bar (or rather, some random family who has capitalized on their great location with plastic chairs), right on the river.  Two nights we had an amazing lighting show on the horizon while sipping on cold Saigon beers.
Two days in Hoi An we actually spent at An Bang beach, which was not something we expected to do but were so amazed by the warmth of the water, the white sand, and comfortable sun chairs, we had to go back.   Most of the restaurants own chairs on the beach and only let you use them if you have lunch in the restaurant (otherwise its $2 per chair for the day).  The first day we had a great local grilled fish lunch, but the second day were disappointed with a fairly below-average stir-fry and burger.  Its hard to complain though with the view and the lounge chair drink service.
As mentioned previously, it is unfortunate of the tourist nature of the town because its clear that most businesses only operate to extract the tourist dollar.  On the last night we wanted to find a local place to eat and while we think we found that in the form of a little boat restaurant about a mile away from downtown, we were disappointed to find out that they printed separate menus with different prices and items specifically for tourists.  The things on the menu were almost double the price of the Vietnamese menu, and some items we got were clearly different than the things the locals were getting at other tables.  If going to Hoi An, be vigilant about prices and menus.  If it looks touristy, it probably is and you should expect higher prices, but it if seems local, and you get a menu in english where everything is over 100,000 dong, you are probably being scammed.   


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