Monday, 6 April 2009

Snake Village

I wasn't really sure what to expect when I got on the bus on the way to Snake Village. I had been in Hanoi just over 12 hours at this point and had only just checked into my new hostel when Tommy and I got signed up to the trip. Drinking a beating snake’s heart was not something I thought I would actually end up doing during my time in Vietnam. However when the opportunity to experience this local tradition came up I obviously jumped at the opportunity.

Snake Village was just a short 15 minute bus ride from the center of Hanoi and to be honest wasn't so much a village of snakes but more a farm where snakes where being breed for feasting upon. When we arrived the place was split up onto 2 different sides of the road. One side had a bar type area on which had a display cabinet with lots of snake wine, as well as lots of snakes in cages. On the other was the main restaurant built around a small pond. I never found out whether or not snakes lived in the pond but the whole place was pretty cool.

The first thing we did was to get the opportunity to take a few pictures of some of the snakes on display. We also got given the opportunity to pose with a snake over our shoulders. Now I am quite scared off Ollie's little snake Monty and feel a little weird when it starts coming towards me, but for some reason the big massive black snake the Vietnamese guy gave me to wear didn't seem to phase me at all. Maybe the fact I was possibly about it eat it didn't make me feel like such a scardy pants.

After the snake based meet and greet we where then all ushered over to the other side of the road to the restaurant. We all sat round a table and were all asked if we wanted to try the beating snake’s heart. Obviously no one said no as that was the only reason we were all there. All of a sudden a big old bag of snakes appeared and two Vietnamese men started dissecting them in front of us all taking out their hearts, draining the blood and squeezing out the stomach bile. It was quite a gruesome display but didn't really bother me actually. I guess being someone who loves eating meat I’d just accepted that that’s what being at the top of the food chain is all about.

One by one we are all given our shot glasses with a mental cocktail of rice wine, snakes blood and a beating snake’s heart in it and on the count of 3 we all saw them off. It was the easiest shot I have ever done and slipped down like a charm. I just felt like a shot of rice wine with a bit of sweetcorn in it. I then started going around telling people the fact that the heart will remain beating inside them for another 6 minutes or so, unfortunately this didn't make anyone throw up, just look a bit uncomfortable. No sooner had we done that but another shot supposedly to "settle" our stomachs appeared which was a mixture of rice wine again and snakes stomach bile. Once again a very easy shot and did actually settle my stomach. Looking back both shots were major anticlimaxes both being annoyingly easy and also the fact no one in the group threw up. However it is great to be able to tick the "shot a beating snakes heart" box. I think I may even but it on my C.V.

Once the shotting ceremony was over we were then all told to sit down and a number of snake based dishes were brought out to us. There was crushed snake rib bones with some sort of crispy stuff, 2 types of snake spring rolls, friend snake skin and snake ribs. This was all prepared using the freshly killed snakes whose hearts we had just scoffed. It was nice to know that the rest of the snake wasn't going to waste either. The food they brought out was so nice and some of the nicest food I had tried for a while. It was carefully seasoned and brilliantly present and I really did feel like I had got my moneys worth. The only dish I wasn't to keen on was the fried snakes skin as this did actually take me 5 minutes to chew and didn't really taste of anything. Along with this we had some snake wine to wash it down with. This was just wine that had been fermenting for a month or 2 with a snake inside it. This was horrible and made me shudder a bit with every shot. Thankfully a round of beers was produced and the drinks kept flowing for the next hour or so as we all discussed what we had just put digestive systems through.

It was a quality afternoon and was a great experience I’m sure I will bring up multiple times when I get back. The only down side was that after all the shots and beer that was being consumed by 4pm that day I was drunk and being drunk during the daylight hours is not one of my favourite times to be drunk. This was complicated further by the fact when we returned to the hostel at 4.30 happy hour had began in the bar. It was a struggle.