There’s a cafe that also claims to have Wi-Fi. Sounds like the perfect place to stay until it’s time to catch our train. We’re greeted by a woman who immediately brings us two free ice teas as welcome drinks. I ask her whether they have food. I can see she has trouble understanding me, so I make an “eating from a bowl” gesture with my hands. She nods and disappears in the Karaoke section of the cafe, from where a cacophony of wannabe singers is heard.
The woman returns with a drinks menu. I reiterate my question about food, supporting it with a more vigorous version of “eating from a bowl” performance. Finally the woman understands my questions and shakes her head “no”. We order two Pepsis to be polite and leave in search of a food-equipped cafe (aka restaurant).
The story repeats itself almost to the letter in the next cafe. I inquire the waitress as to their food arrangements with my bowl-routine and get a nod. We receive two more free welcome ice teas. Then a man shows up and reveals that they don’t serve any food after all. It appears that cafes in Dong Hoi specialise exclusively in ice teas and bad singing. Maybe I should work on my “eating from a bowl” miming skills.
At long last we find a street with a rather fancy place called Coco’s Cafe. It’s a basically a big bamboo pavilion. An artificial lake runs along the perimeter. Our waitress has a decent command of English, so my by now perfected “eating from a bowl” move is unnecessary. We get a pretty extensive menu with English translations of most dishes.
It is now 18:30 and we haven’t eaten since morning, yet neither of us is excessively hungry. Despite the array of choices in the menu we’re informed that the only two dishes they actually have are pasta bolognese and sautéed beef with noodles. Katka orders the fomer, I the latter.
We’re currently the only customers. A total of seven employees are gathered around a large flat screen TV in the middle of the restaurant. They’re watching the same soap opera we’ve witnessed before, with little dialogue, tons of close ups of people’s faces and even more crying for no apparent reason.
Once our food arrives we find that the dishes are jazzed up exotic versions of their traditional counterparts. Katka’s pasta bolognese has no cheese in it, but is instead filled with ginger, nuts and coriander. My sautéed beef is also swimming in coriander. Since neither of us are coriander fans, to say the least, we spend a good deal of time picking it out of our dishes to make them edible.
After we’re done with the food we wait for someone to come by our table. The soap opera has by now reached a scene with multiple people crying simultaneously, so the staff are understandably distracted. Finally, Katka raises the menu in the hope that we’ll get noticed. It works. A young guy walks over to our table. He speaks no English and for some reason doesn’t call over the original waitress. Utilising my sign-language skills along with a trick called “pointing at the menu” we order two coconut ice creams (to be served inside a coconut) and two Bailey’s coffees.
It turns out that Coco’s Cafe is also out of coconuts (which could be the perfect definition of “irony”, depending on what “Coco” stands for), so we get our ice cream on regular plates. What Coco’s Cafe has in abundance, it seems, are rats. I’ve already described how rats are found around most moist places in Vietnam and this restaurant has plenty of water for them. We get our personal rat buddy, who sticks around our table and makes occasional runs to and from the artificial lake.
The place slowly fills up with people as the working day draws to a close. The table by the TV soon gets empty as the staff scuffles to serve the new arrivals. We order two Yomosts from the menu and this is where the most horrible thing happens. They don’t have Yomost! Now, I was fine with the fact that they only had two dishes out of the whole menu. I didn’t mind that our coconut ice creams didn’t come in coconuts. But you never. Ever. Mess. With. My. Yomost! I will show them exactly how this makes me feel…
…after ten minutes of my uncontrollable crying the waitress takes pity on us. She makes us two fresh Yomost-wannabes by blending cold yoghurt with mango (for Katka) and orange (for me). The drinks are actually quite delicious.
The toilets here have a separate room with a shower, so we take the opportunity to wash our feet of sand. As we leave the restaurant some local kids take a few pictures of us. Damn, where’s my King Kong suit when I need it?!
Right outside of Coco’s Cafe we see a restaurant with a very unsubtle name – Czech Beer Restaurant. Katka, being Czech, is of course both confused and proud, so she takes a picture.
For a town this small and untouristed it seems Dong Hoi has a pretty high proportion of rather up-scale places. Coco’s Cafe actually had Hennessy cognac on the menu for 4,000,000 dong. To put this in perspective – that’s four months’ worth of room rent for the trainee from Rising Dragon III hotel in Hanoi. So you can either choose to have a place to live for one third of a year or just get shitfaced in style!
Back at the hotel we pay for our tickets and, while waiting for the cab to arrive, plan our upcoming adventures in Ninh Binh. We’re considering to rent a scooter to explore on our own. The alternative is to take a few one-day tours to the many great places around Ninh Binh.
Our cab drives us to the station at 22:50. The train arrives at 23:20 and we climb inside. Here we discover that ours is a 6-berth sleeper cabin. We have the two middle berths and both of them are already taken up by people. They’re apparently catching a quick nap before the rightful owners (us) arrive. The train conductor wakes them up and changes the bed sheets. We climb in, anticipating a good night’s sleep ahead of us.
The diaries continue right here.
As always, I suggest you check out Katka’s Flickr page for some fantastic pictures from the Vietnam trip.