Once in a while I get the question:
What’s your favorite country?
My answer has typically been: ‘the exact place I was in, or the last new country I had drifted to’. Sheer newness elevates optimism.
Fresh surroundings breed content and enhanced excitement.
Now, after traveling to several countries, I still feel warmish and fuzzy from being in a whole new place.
Many people have the potential to travel anywhere on earth, while a few can travel to outer space. Nevertheless, it doesn’t matter how far or where we drift, because we cannot separate from ourselves, not in this dimension of existence. Wherever we go, we are still there with ourselves.
LIving in the Moment
Living and thinking in the moment means embracing the here and now. The best place is here. There is no other place. ‘Then’ cannot be now. ‘Then’ doesn’t really exist.
Is Vietnam My Favorite Land?
Vietnam is fascinatingly fresh, and new. I’ve spent the vast majority of two months on the peninsular section of Da Nang, on the central coast. With a wide river on one side and ocean on the other, the air quality is superb.
For me, cuisine is important in how much I like a country, especially when I don’t have a kitchen, which has been 100% of the time in SE Asia for the last year.
While this high-end, gorgeously green salad stretches the barriers of mass-conventional wisdom, it can be part of a logical lifestyle.
Remove the scoop of basil pesto from the little cup and smother and mix it around. Then enjoy the flavor-smacking sensations as you intensely chew and feel the raw, green blend go down. Focus only on the green goodness. Meditate on every chew and feel the deliciousness. Give gratitude.
When you eat something so green, ask yourself how it feels going down. Check again five minutes after consumption. This verdent, whole-food display brought joy to my digestive tract. And how happy is my ‘gut microbiome‘, aka, deep stomach? Ecstatic!
Raw-green food must be the most practical.
Da nang is a tourist center so there are plenty of whole vegan choices. Other than a handful of restaurants dedicated to plant-food, there are infinite spots where the elimination of meat and eggs from traditional dishes can be negotiated. However, the potential is 50/50 at best, and depends on two factors:
- Persuasive ability.
- The server’s potential to think beyond her immediate routine, while being able to convey the potentially bizarre concept to the chef.
This way I eat traditional Vietnamese food without animal flesh as I’ve consciously chosen to give up eating anything that moved, had a heart beat, and was slaughtered, or boiled!
Slaughter is not a matter of laughter.
There will be no more compromises, no more eggs, no more 98% plant and 2% animal food consumption. There will be no more fleshy food! This lifestyle choice must be permanent!
It behooves us to create personal rules for ourselves.
I’ve discovered three bakeries in short walking distance. One does a raw vegan bánh mì by request since the industrious young women can shift their mindsets away from the ordinary if the customer desires.
This worker at ‘Anh Quan Bakery’ is on-the-ball, friendly and polite, and knows exactly how I want my banh mi.
While I haven't found plentiful night markets like in Thailand, Da Nang seems to have more eateries and cafés than any place I've been.
Every time I pop into ‘Meet Bánh Mi & Café’, I try to negotiate a vegan bánh mì. It depends on who’s working. Some can and some can’t fathom that it’s easy to omit the egg from the egg and vegetable bánh mì on the menu.
Contrary to wide-spread belief, egg has no chance of qualifying as a vegetable.
I’m always calm, laughing and smiling. One time the lady who made the sandwich laughed at me, not with me. This was perfectly OK since it’s part of the game of life that must be embraced.
PSYCHE TIP: If a person laughs because of another person's 'different' eating preferences, it's perfectly OK. Don't take it personally. For enhanced psychological integrity, tell yourself it's fine and don't hold animosity because of a person's laughter. Let them think what they will. Let them laugh.
On my way out I was sure to pop my head into the kitchen to say how good the sandwich was. This time there was no laughter, just a genuine smile.
No egg? No pâté?
That’s right, no egg, no pâté. ‘Ang Chay’.
She couldn’t help her laughter. She was older and set in her ways, unlike the younger lady who was all business and wanted to accommodate me, the odd-foreign food nazi.
No egg and no pâté is criminal in her eyes.
Egg and pâté are criminal in mine.
We all live in our own subjective world.
Should I condemn the French for spreading pâté around the world? No. But I’ve always found the taste repulsive.
There’s another bakery that has a smooth and delicious chocolate tart. Shout out to the French colonizers for introducing their delectable desserts. This little baking establishment also does a bánh mì with vegetables as long as I’m firm while observing the stoic, attractive young woman as she carefully assembles the quintessential Vietnamese sandwich.
If she attempts to put ketchup, mayo or sad looking, mysterious cold cuts in, I say:
A little bit of Vietnamese can go a long way towards getting what you want. In instances like this, a second or two is not enough time to muster up an electronic translation. In 2023 and beyond, learning a language or chunks of it, is just as benefical and rewarding as ever.
There’s a spicily nice homemade red sauce that I motion to with a ‘thumbs up’ sign. Body language can be effective, too.
‘Vera Cakes’ is a bakery that employs a young woman who doesn’t appear dulled and burnt out. Instead, she moves with grace, smiles and likes to practice her English.
Vera has a passion fruit mousse cake that’s fresh, creamy, and one of those after-dinner comfort foods that can create lifelong travel memories.
There is no limit to how creative humans can be with fruit. While the photo doesn’t do this luxury-food item justice, Vera’s passion-fruit mousse is a tropical-dessert delight, a piece of gastro heaven on Vietnamese earth.
There are a couple of places that I go for ‘kem bo’ (Coconut ice cream with fresh avocado blended together), another Vietnamese gastro-dessert-dream. Like at most establishments, I can sit down with my laptop. Now in late 2023, Wi-Fi access is virtually ubiquitous.
The woman at one of these ice cream shops is always looking down at her phone in melancholy. But she can be pleasant and helpful if need be. This little lady taped a ripped bill for me.
Reality check: I have no right to judge others. But I wish people would be more pleasant. Her English is good, probably because she's been running the small establishment for a while. She's clearly jaded. I see this burn-out all over the earth.
Vietnam Provides Exceptional Value
This banana flower salad from ‘Loving Vegan’ proves again that gastro Gods are among us! How else could this rainbow-colored concoction have been created? This is a Vientamese specialty and easily one of the best salads I’ve had. I eat one at least every other day.
MANTRA: Eat the Rainbow.
This rainbow-like salad is easily one of the best food values on the planet.
I’m thrilled to have a hotel room for $158 a month. It’s small and far from perfect but $5 a night for an accomodation is an ideal way to help stretch one’s drifting dollars.
Having a monthly rental enables me to focus less on travel logistics.
Vietnam issues a three-month, single-entry, e-visa for $26. That’s the longest visa stamp in the region. Multiple-entry is available for $50.
Vietnam currenly enjoys one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Smartly, this relatively easy e-visa is open to all nationalities. So come to Vietnam and celebrate these boom times.
A standard one-hour Vietnamese-style body massage costs between $9 and I suppose the ceiling is high. Cost can depend on how plush the place is, what you want, and what they may or may not offer.
There must be hundreds of massage parlors in the city, this is the only one I’ve seen shown in dollars with the price included in the establishment’s name. From a promotional standpoint, it’s an unorthodox, but effective approach. Subconciously for a westerner, $9 is easier to decifer than 200,000 VND.
I twisted an ankle the first morning in Hanoi while stepping off a curb and not looking. The sneakers I had on were worn from copious walking during four months in Laos. I figured it would be easier to wait for Vietnam to buy new sneakers. That is probably where I went wrong.
There are so many variables to every day life. Something had to go wrong at some point.
During the fourth and otherwise best massage I had in Da Nang, the sore, healing ankle was turned too much, causing a setback. So, I took a few weeks off off from massage therapy and now tell them to please go softly on the ankle and foot.
There’s Plenty to do in this Laid-back Beach City
There are endless places to order something and use Wi-Fi. I get around, I just don’t power walk to all corners of the city like I might usually do. Although I still pass slow, tropical walkers.
Vietnamese Coffee Culture
The coffee culture and its sheer amount of cafés had its effect. I was sipping on a few strong, warm, black elixirs every day. This reinforced my desire to stop this ever increasing dependency on the world’s most consumed drug, caffeine.
Extreme Vietnamese café culture triggered a spontaneous coffee hiatus. Since I went cold turkey, everything has changed. I eat more. I don’t frequent shops that only offer coffee. At the time of writing this first draft, I had a ‘watermelon bingsu’.
Back up a month and a half ago and this cozy Korean concoction would have been a deep, rich, dark, strong, Vietnamese black coffee.
I loved going to the little coffee joints that are all over the city.
After immensely enjoying Vietnam’s frenetic coffee culture, a voice, a calling, prompted me to give it up. I didn’t want to be dependent on a stimulant anymore. I’m five weeks into this coffee abstinence, yet there are still mild cravings.
Like in many tropical areas, there are too many mosquitoes. With two big bodies of water, this is no surprise.
There are pros and cons to every place and everything. It's all what we make of it in our own unique, biased, inner world. Our universal blueprint didn't include utopia. It's impossible.
Other than a few days in Hanoi with a bum ankle, and over two months in Da Nang, mostly on the peninsular section, I’m not yet qualified to talk about the whole country or if it’s necessarily my favorite on earth, but I can discuss this coastal jewel, which has grown on me for several good reasons.
Da Nang boasts value lodging options, excellent food, good air, and a laid back vibe, save for the frenzied motorbike actvity on the roadways. But even that has its tranquil qualities. Like in neighboring countries, there is virtually no road rage.
I am grateful for the opportunity to get to know an interesting and completely new place where great gastronomy is always a short walk away.
Might it be possible to have a favorite country? Personally, I think it’s best to focus on the positives that every place and situation bring.
Life is like those waves. There will always be ebb and flow wherever we go. Whichever country it is, favorite or not, we can’t escape ourselves. The only favorite place should be the one in the moment.
As I click publish, I can confidently say that Vietnam is my favorite country right now.
The copious collection of Da Nang photos.