Tastes Like Chicken

At an alley restaurant in Siem Reap, this plate of ginger snake was somewhat uninspiring — tough and chewy, not-so-gingery — and, yes, tasted like chicken. On the bright side, before leaving the restaurant I purchased a plate of fried rice for a dusty, barefoot boy who had been going table to table begging, unsuccessfully, for money. His hunger was tangible, a queasy pang in my gut. When his simple meal arrived, he called over another beleaguered-looking boy and the two of them ate with a diligent intensity reserved only for the truly famished. Strangely, the act left me simultaneously buoyed and weighed down: happy to have a couple dollars to help out, but helpless to do anything more practical than purchase a plate of rice.

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Bowl O’ Blackened Chicken

What I thought was a blackened whole baby chicken (but which I later found out was a blackened whole old chicken) turned out to be delicious (and supposedly good for my virility): falling-off-the-bone tender, earthy and packed with flavor. The standard condiment of salt and pepper, squeezed fresh limes and chili peppers was the perfect complement to this traditional dish. And, no, despite encouragement from my dining companion, I didn’t eat the head or feet.

Epic Journey: Stage Two: Dalat to Mui Ne

At a roadside shop outside of Dalat, a family finished their midday meal, helped us with directions and told us the proper way to pronounce chicken — ga — in Vietnamese. Their mutt was too cute not to photograph.

Descending from Dalat treated us to some amazing scenery, and the ride was much easier going down than climbing up — though once we hit the lowlands again it was one pothole-peppered dirt track after another. At one point Arron got squeezed off the road by a large construction vehicle and had to execute a graceful crash landing in a fortuitously placed pile of barley. And thus our adventures in Vietnam continued.

By the time we hit the streets of Mui Ne — after a final stretch of gorgeous winding, well-paved road — it was well after dark and we were beat. By the time we actually found our hotel, hunger and fatigue had fully taken hold. We grabbed a quick bite across the street — one of the best cold beef salads I’ve ever had — and headed back to the hotel.