GROUNDED IN VIET­NAM

Lonely Planet Magazine (US) - - Journal - Jack Pal­frey As­sis­tant edi­tor, lone­ly­planet.com @jpalfers

Whether it was the re­pul­sive whi‹ of an­other cock­tail bucket or the sight of a young back­packer show­fully set­ting fire to a del­i­cate part of his anatomy, at 9:30 p.m. on a Tues­day evening I de­cided it was time to leave Nha Trang. Sal­va­tion, I was sure, awaited me in Hanoi, but when I ar­rived at the train sta­tion I was in­formed that all overnight trains were fully booked. With a dogged de­ter­mi­na­tion that bor­dered on de­range­ment, I jumped in a taxi and headed for the town’s air­port.

An hour later, I ar­rived at a re­mote fa­cil­ity that had ev­i­dently closed for the night. Curs­ing my stupidity, I curled up in the de­serted park­ing lot to sleep, only to be prod­ded awake by a se­cu­rity guard un­der­go­ing his rounds on a di­lap­i­dated bi­cy­cle. Aban­don­ing his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, he spent the night chat­ting with me. His name was Duc. He was a chain-smok­ing Hanoian who had moved to Nha Trang to pur­sue a ca­reer in se­cu­rity. Between drawnout drags he ex­plained that his fam­ily still owned a restau­rant in his home­town, where he in­sisted I dine upon my even­tual ar­rival. He even called his mom so she would ex­pect me.

Aer land­ing in Hanoi the fol­low­ing day, I fol­lowed Duc’s di­rec­tions to his fam­ily’s rus­tic restau­rant, bur­rowed deep within the warren of Old Quar­ter al­ley­ways. Here, I was treated to the best – and largest – meal I had dur­ing my whole time in Viet­nam. The best part: not a cock­tail bucket in sight.

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