After a few short days in Bangkok, we have made our way to Saigon, Vietnam. We’re still getting finding our footing with this new lifestyle, but even less than a week into our journey, we’ve started developing some of our own “travel rules.”
The first came about the other night. After spending a day on a pretty great food tour, complete with breakfast pho, market meanderings, and street food galore, we were pretty exhausted. After a siesta and a shower, we were eventually ready for dinner but didn’t really want to wander too far. There was a somewhat chi-chi restaurant only blocks away, which had garnered rave reviews both on TripAdvisor and from our new favorite Vietnamese chef, Luke Nguyen. It was expensive (for Vietnam) at least, but promised cocktails and a setting in a former opium distribution center. So, we set off.
Minutes later, we walked into a long hallway, dimly lit and lined with elephant statues, with a set of stairs at the end. A sign indicated that Temple Club was on the second floor, and there was another restaurant on the third floor. As we ambled up the stairs, we heard an increasing cacophony of voices, and a delicious aroma of grilling meat. We reached the landing with our intended restaurant to find a quiet, gorgeous looking restaurant. But the smell and voices were clearly coming from farther up. What the hell…. let’s check it out.
And boy am I glad we did. Within moments, the aggressive, but lovely hostess, clad in a San Miguel dress motioned for 4 staff members to carry over a plastic table and two chairs. Before we knew what we were in for, we were seated with enormous beers in our hands. The restaurant was a Vietnamese BBQ joint, on the rooftop of the building. We were there early, around 6:30, and the place was nearly full, mostly from two enormous parties of already drunk revelers. The music was booming and we really had no idea what was going on. Our table had a hot plate-type thing in the middle, and we quickly saw that it was a grill-your-own type place. We glanced around and placed our order.
The food was ridiculous — bo lo lat (ground beef wrapped in betel leaves and caul fat), lemongrass beef, banana flower salad and our standard order of rau muong (morning glory). But the night was awesome mostly from the atmosphere. At one point it started drizzling ever so lightly, and the the giant galvanized metal roof started gliding into place after customers started yelling and pointing. The staff was so incredibly well-oiled; no one in the restuarnt waited for anything, and there was constant scurrying.
And then there was the birthday celebration. The two large party tables were celebrating someone’s birthday. There were raucous cheers every few minutes, with shots of rice wine, beer, and whiskey being downed. About halfway through our meal, the staff started handing out sparklers to the two tables. The lights turned off. Soon after, “Happy Birthday” – in English – was blaring from the speakers. Sparklers were lit.
Two cakes appeared (the birthday boy was turning 28), and then another server came by and put overturned bowls on everyone’s food,and turned off our gas burners. Ummm.. what? About 20 seconds later, all of the staff (about 30 people) ringed themselves around the party tables, and timed precisely with the conclusion of “Happy Birthday”, popped confetti poppers into the air, streaming shiny confetti on everything.
Smart move with those bowls… After a quick cheer, Gangnam Style started. Lots of dancing as you might imagine, even from the adorable 4 year old boy at the family table. Cross cultural madness.
So maybe we would have had better food at Temple Club (though I don’t know how), and definitely would have had a more relaxing evening. But for us, following the smell of grilling meats and the sound of loud happy voices proved to make a most memorable evening. Thus, a new travel rule was born.
Follow the smell of grilling meat and loud voices.