HCMC Dining Guide

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Rain Drive

Back in the U.S., I always defended Vietnam whenever someone made a crass dog meat joke or some other stereotypical comment. I would argue that most people have little interest in eating dog, and you don't see it very often. If you don't know Vietnamese it would actually be very difficult to find any trace of a dog meat industry here - the restaurants serving such dishes don't advertise in English. As much as I would like to think that the popularity of dog meat is fading, there is no doubt that a fair number of people still demand it.

There was a truck stop at the bottom of the Hai Van pass, and as I approached it I noticed two trucks - one to the left of the road, the other on the right. I saw that the right truck was full of live pigs and thought nothing of it. Then I looked left and was horrified: dozens of terrified, yelping dogs were packed into stacks of crates on the bed of the truck. There isn't any logic in seeing one type of animal being treated terribly and not reacting; only to react viscerally at the sight of another, but that's just how it is. I've seen dead dogs being butchered before, but seeing this many live ones - and they clearly knew what their fate was - was extremely difficult. A few minutes later, while eating lunch at an open-front eatery in Lang Co, the truck drove past on its way north. The dogs were still howling. I lost the rest of my appetite.

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After lunch we mounted our bikes for the final 60-ish kilometers to Hue. It was a straight shot up Highway 1, and we thought it would take no more than an hour or so. However, shortly afterwards a light rain began. We weren't prepared for wet weather (all I had was a rain jacket), and we hoped it would pass. However, the sky was darkening in every direction. Heavy rain began a few minutes later so we pulled into a cafe. The highway was in the process of being expanded and there was no shoulder; the prospect of dealing with psychotic bus and truck drivers in pounding rain with no room for error wasn't a pleasant one. The rain slacked off a bit later, so we carried on.

It didn't take long, though, for the intense downpours to resume. We took shelter under a shack and considered our options: Hue wasn't far off, but in weather like this it would take much longer than anticipated. Da Nang was even further away, and there was nowhere nearby to wait things out. Plus, it didn't look like the deluge would be stopping anytime soon. This is where the difference between weather in the north and south is most noticeable: it rains a lot down south, but the storms are usually short and intense; no more than an hour or two. Up north it can rain (or at least drizzle) for days on end. The only real option was to do our best to protect our electronics and passports and continue on the road to Hue.

The ensuing 50km to the city became one of the most miserable experiences of my time in Vietnam. The rain didn't let up for a single second. I could barely even keep my eyes open with the heavy raindrops blasting them, so I eventually decided to put my sunglasses on, choosing poor visibility over no visibility. It was freezing; our hands numb and teeth chattering. The aforementioned lack of a shoulder meant trucks and buses came screaming by with inches to spare while washing walls of water over us. Potholes became invisible thanks to standing water, and stretches of flooded road made hydroplaning a real threat. We carried on, jaws clenched, with nowhere to hide and no choice but to soldier on. We neared the city, with lightning cracking across the sky, large vehicles bellowing their ocean-liner horns, the incessant rain pelting our helmets, and suddenly an airliner taking off directly overhead as we drove past Hue's airport; invisible in the deluge. I was nearing sensory overload, and it took all of my experience and instinct not to just go insane. I had already decided that I would get very drunk that night.

Finally, mercifully, we entered the city, and I was able to remember my way around. We entered our hotel like a trio of miserable wet dogs, and in no time our room was covered in soaked clothing. All told, the 100km (62 mile) drive from Da Nang to Hue had taken over five hours. However, we had survived, and the proper thing to do was just laugh about the drive. No point in complaining. Plus, there was much beer to be drunk!

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