NOTE – partway down, things get a little icky. If you’re weak-stomached or vegetarian you may want to skip the later parts of this posting. The beginning and end will be clearly marked in capitals and photos available on request only.
Today I started off doing precisely naff all. Give or take.
A lie in until 9am *gasp* and then I borrowed Munich from Seth – a guy in my dorm. The back of the sleeve lied. It said that the running length was 112 minutes. Erm. It was over 2 1/2 hours. And very, very dull.
The first “new” thing today was seeing a Vietnamese funeral procession. On Thursday I saw a pedallo driver lugging an adult-sized coffin up a street, but this was a whole different affair. The sound was deafening as the bus/hearse carrying the coffin was preceeded by a traditional band. Horns, flutes, drums (or the eastern equivalent) played loudly while mourners followed behind wearing normal clothes covered with a white cheesecloth shawl. Obviously, I didn’t take pictures.
Breakfast consisted of a small loaf of French bread. As did lunch. Finally, Barry (one of the staff) drove me to a place round the corner which does a noodle dish he rather likes. 16,000D and it was rather filling. A small amount of water/soup at the bottom, thin noodles, some veg, fresh herbs and crushed nuts on the top. It was a little dry, but tasty. I managed about 3/4 of it and I was stuffed. I’m also getting strangely good with chopsticks – something I never thought I’d be able to do.
5 drinks later, we congregated at the hostel for a trip to the Snake Village. Laura had found out about it and tried to get a big group together. We managed seven, and filled a large cab (legally, strangely enough).
THIS IS WHERE IT STARTS TO GET YUCKY. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. Look for the next load of capitals if you want to skip this bit.
At the snake village you don’t get to see little snakes gambolling in fields, playing with their brothersw (or whatever snakes do when they’re not gulping down impressively sized meals). Nope. At the Snake Village, you pick your meal and eat it. It’s like seafood with venom and a slightly harsher outlook on life.
We arrived and stared at the jars stacked on shelves. All contained some kind of pickled snake, or snake spinal column, or gecko or somesuch. We haggled over a price, ending on 50,000 Dong for three cobras. Of the seven of us, three wanted to eat the heart of the snake. I wasn’t one! Apparently it contiues to beat shortly after death, and gives some kind of power to the devourer.
The first cobra was retrieved from a cage and toyed with by a rather insane man while two 3-year-old children watched, pretty bored by the whole thing. The children did come in handy when Seth screamed like a girl and used them to hide behind at one point. I think the snake had moved about 2 feet in his direction. Admittedly, it had done this in a tiny fraction of a second, but hiding behind children… shame on you, Seth!
After getting the cobra to open its hood, the handler struck. Squeezing its head, he milked the venom onto the floor (which I thought was a bit of a waste) and carried it over to a table. There lay three glasses and a small, but very sharp, knife.
With one cut, the cobra’s neck was slit and a glass put beneath it to catch the blood (apparently good for virility). As soon as the blood was drained, the knife was used to slit down the animal and its heart found and pulled out with the aid of another slice or two. This was put into a shot glass, covered with rice wine (or vodka, or something) and handed to the first nutjob. Down in one. Urk.
Another two snakes were brought out and we noticed that they weren’t cobras. They were “house snake – cheaper”. But we didn’t want house snake, we wanted cobra. The staff took some convincing (during which time, one snake was twirled like a baton – I don’t know whether it was shouting “weeeeee!” in Parcelmouth), but the above ritual was repeated for Laura and for Seth (who held the heart in his teeth for one of the grimmest photographs I’ve ever taken).
We were directed to the restaurant area upstairs, past a scary amount of Catholic imagery, and sat down to await dinner.
YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO START READING NOW IF YOU SKIPPED ANYTHING. ONLY A LITTLE BIT YUCKY FROM NOW ON.
Gradually, the food appeared. We had snake soup (delicious – and, yes, chickeny. It’s pictured at the top and was very gloopy), deep fried snake, snake spring rolls, sauteèd snake, snake spare rib, sticky rice with snake… There was also a chance at cognac or rice wine with snake penis in. The price was a little steep, though. I was hoping for snake ice-cream, but no joy.
The one remaining yucky bit I did not partake in. Each of us was given two shotglasses. One with snake blood, one bright green with bile. Bile’s supposedly good for the health. Not the snake’s obviously. Everyone else downed theirs, I confess I just wasn’t trusting something that had not been cooked.
DEFINITELY NO YUCKINESS NOW.
The entire meal, including a couple of beers, came to around a million Dong. This is only about £33. Not bad for 7 people, and we still had food left we just couldn’t finish.
Two taxis eventually found their way back to the hostel and unloaded us for a short break before a reduced party of four headed for Bia Hoi.
Shame upon shame – we’d just missed closing time. There was a bar just around the corner which we settled in, partly as the beer was 20,000 Dong and cocktails half price. The music was also good and it was heaving with foreigners.
Twice the shutters were closed and padlocked while the staff hushed all the patrons. The police were looking for out-of-hours drinking establishments! We got away with it once, but the second time I guess they heard us and we had to leave. The staff asked the crowd to disperse and come back in ten minutes as the police wouldn’t leave until everyone “went home”.
I actually headed back to the hostel myself at that point. The other three did as they were instructed and kept drinking. I believe they got to bed around 4 or 5am. I’m glad I hadn’t stayed as I needed to be up at 7!