Hội An 11/02/17 – 16/02/17
Arriving at Hội An in the dark meant I saw nothing of it’s quaint beauty but was pleasantly surprised how quick it was to get from the airport to the guesthouse and how smooth the road was. Such a nice end to a rather boring time in Saigon Airport with delays. The boys had booked at RedRose Villa which was gorgeous. In a beautiful colonial building, it was a family run place and they were awaiting my arrival, fresh towel and plenty of hospitable greetings which was more than welcome! We had a big room with a nice balcony around the building and I think Manuel was playing about with the drone when I arrived and there was talk of chasing a gecko from the room but I missed the drama. A shower and bed for me.
In the morning we went down for a lovely breakfast with a memorable passionfruit juice! I got laundry done and we tried not to be loudly disrespectful when a teenage girl was playing pop-y Asian covers of songs on YouTube in the lobby. We made use of the free guesthouse bikes and headed in to town.
The done thing in Hội An is to get tailor made clothes. I wasn’t that way inclined as I wasn’t really in the position to be precious about what I wore on this trip – so while the boys headed off to get fitted I enquired across the road about a new leather rucksack that would fit my laptop. I paid around $90 and I got to customise the pockets, fastenings, lining and choose which leather. I wanted something that would stand a bit of rough and tumble and went for a soft brown that takes marks really well. I paid a deposit and was told to come back in a few days for collection. We left the bikes outside the tailors when the boys had finished in there and walked into the old town.
I kept hearing not to pay the entrance fee for Ancient Town as it is just for tourists and locals don’t get asked. There is quite a lot of that in Vietnam, you know it is difficult because on one hand you are feeding an economy but if it is one rule for one group and another for some other group of people then I can’t get on board with it. Even though I bet it is relatively, ridiculously cheap. There are woman at some of the entrances looking for ticket money. They don’t squirm too much if you just say no, which makes you think it isn’t really regulated and it is just a mild bit of racketeering you’re witnessing.
Lots of beautiful boutiques, galleries and a tonne of coffee shops. Hands down, Vietnam has the best coffee I’ve had in my life, not that I claim to be a connoisseur at all, but by golly it is delicious. So coffee break and I find a temporary replacement charger for my camera as I left mine in the last hostel in Saigon! Rookie mistake.
We headed up the river to fly the drone for a while, it’s funny that Manuel has such a rehearsed speech about it. Everyone that is interested and approaches seems to ask him the same questions about it! We laughed as a tall American man in a gang of people shouted out that he had the newer model towards us – hey man, shut it go and Top Trumps somewhere else.
Hunger strikes! So we wander along towards the main street on the left of the river and find Morning Glory Restaurant. It was busy and a bit more expensive than I had been eating bit it was really great food if I remember the service wasn’t so good but I think they were closing to prepare the dinner service. I bought some fantastic coconut treats from a lady outside. They are just various versions of sugared and dried coconut and are so unbelievable! Keep your eyes out for them!
Then we head back to grab the bikes and freshen up for Cassandre arriving that night. Sun sets super quick, she arrives and we head straight out for a meal. Something different this time, a bit of a cocktail place called Q Bar. None of us were in the cocktail mood however and the boys got pizza, I think I got pasta or Cass did, anyways wasn’t blown away and there were a load of English lads watching the football on a big screen. Not the best night of my trip for sure! We hang around for the rain to go off which it did rather quickly and then we walked home which was the highlight of the evening. Cass and me just buzzing about what is to come, all the way home!
Next morning we were separating, the boys heading to Da Nang for a few nights and Cass and I were hanging around in Hội An to see some more of the place. First stop was LIDO Homestay, a lovely woman Hong greeted us with tea and we checked in. We shared a bungalow with a garden and bathroom and we hid from the wet weather and worked a little. Cass on her photography and me on a couple of small projects. The first night we decided to head into town to collect my bag so we got a scooter from Hong’s mum and some fetching helmets. We had a bit of an issue parking, again with the tourists have one rule thing… A woman just started raising her voice saying we have to pay to be there, yet there were people dropping of bikes around us that she was ignoring so we just moved on, down a bigger road and set the bike against a wall.
I was so glad that we did, a little hole in the wall place and the best chicken, rice, chilli and broth I had had to date. A beautiful family who Cass was desperate to take picture of. She is putting together a collection of smiles, watch this space for updates! We ate our food and went to collect the bag! I couldn’t be more happier with it, great work. Then we headed back to LIDO for an early night.
Next day was Valentine’s Day. Not that it bothered us two, unattached woman so we worked, Hong made us food and we went out for a romantic dinner in the cold not too far from the sea and a short walk from the bungalow. We shared a bottle of Vietnamese red and had fried rice.
I was surprised when my French friend didn’t have any complaints about the wine and we walked up the beach on the way home which was cold and stormy, a taste of the weather to come but I can imagine it is nice when it is a better time fo a year there. We checked out the next morning having completed the work we wanted to do and moved to another part of town on the other side of the river from where we had been staying. We got a very reasonably priced taxi to take us and he was super sweet! As we had splashed the cash on LIDO we decided to go somewhere cheaper and we got an excellent price for the Apricot Homestay it was a double room, basic but had a fridge and was clean. Trang on reception was really helpful and although the place could do with a little modernising it was just fine for the price. Trang booked our bus to Hue for the next afternoon.
We checked in, dropped our bags and headed to wander around town. We went to markets, Cass got custom shoes made, we popped in traditional galleries, a French patisserie and had a stonking chocolate tart. I can tell you, I’m not so much of sweet tooth but by golly you notice how little of that kind of dessert is done really well going across Asia. I had been let down so many times with delicious looking tarts, cheesecakes and pastries only to find them seriously lacking in flavour or texture or both. I have tried in vain to find the name of that bakery as I sadly didn’t make a note of it. I hope you stumble on it too.
We went there after we were in the Réhahn museum. His iconic portraits are instantly recognisable and we came across his gallery earlier that day and were glad when we found out there was more to see. Highly recommend a visit to any/all of his places.
Then suddenly as it always does here the sun was set and we headed to a standard sports bar. Made friends with a heroic dog and a waitress. The younger woman here are refreshingly open and confident compared to the generations before them. There has been many people I met that felt a stand-off-ish-ness with lots people from the older generation.
Countless reasons why that is the case but it was apparent that we weren’t welcome some places. Girls I knew from home told of a rather crap scenario while in a clothes shop in Hanoi, if I remember rightly, the staff just wouldn’t serve them – “we not sell, we are closed” repeated at them. Again, I can’t comment on their reasons but its an interesting turn of events to be in a country where white Westerners are looked down upon.
A couple of beers and I think actually one from free with a coupon we had in some tourist booklet we picked up somewhere, kind of like a Snapfax if that translates?
Then it was food time. The joyous cao lầu is supposedly only made in Hoi An but I did see it elsewhere. It is a Chinese style, although not in origin dish and is much different to the usual spicy, citrus flavours in Vietnam or Thailand. The signature cao lầu noodles are fat and round and made from local fresh rice to be right, not old dried rice. Slices of Chinese 5 spiced, sweet barbecue pork, pork crackling, bean sprouts, lettuce and herbs, it is then finished with a spoonful of stock. I am salivating currently.
A real stand out dish for me from the whole trip. The kind of food that would keep me happy for a lifetime. We tried it for lunch on the way into town by chance, then that night I had to replicate it. I did try a few more after this first day of introduction but it they were perfect and sadly nothing I could do at home would come close to it. I must return.
We decided to visit a few bars but wasn’t in the mood for the backpackers, even though in a place called Rango we could put on our own music which is right up my street! We headed back to pack for moving on.
The bus wasn’t leaving until later that day so Trang at the guesthouse let us leave our stuff and take a couple of bikes out to see the rice paddies. First stop was a roadside local breakfast and the pile of food we were given was just incredible. For less than 1 dollar, perfect fuel for us for the day.
Then we cycled down some back roads amongst the rice paddies, surprised to notice that these fields were graves too. I’m really interested in what different cultures do with their corpses.
It is a bit morbid but it is interesting to challenge how I was brought up and what my environment thinks about things and death is one of those taboo things that makes you wonder, you know they can’t have treated all the dead across the world like we do in the UK now. There would be no space for anything! So it seems that near the road is as good a place as any to bury your loved one, maybe it is their families land. I was unsure and my British politeness refrained me from asking.
Wonderful to see people at work, small time farmers, back to basics and it made my heart swell. One day I want to eat off only this kind of farming. Plastic bags ripped up as scarecrows and minimal, if any chemical influences. Was a dream, some of the greenest grass I ever did see.
We cycled on meeting a cow and her new calf, a left, a right, a back yard coffee shop. Now here, in a secluded spot amongst some farm land was the best coffee I had EVER. I mean it this time. It was thick, no sweetener required.
Always served with cold tea in Vietnam. It was perfect as the temperature as rising into the day. An expat was showing people around, probably lived in Hoi An many years and seemed a little annoyed to find two white girls in his secret spot but we smiled, played with the kids a little and moved on home to get ready for the bus.
The bus was leaving from town a shuttle came and collected us as is customary. It was a night bus during the day so meant plenty of room to get comfy. There was a young girl, maybe 17 at most and her young son in the bunk to my left. He was engrossed with our cameras, she was all for a selfie and he made my journey. By the end of it she has me on facebook to give her the pictures and we are “sisters”, a common term amongst the young women we met. Some really great beef fried rice at the stop and some cute puppies to play with before arriving late afternoon in Hue for the next adventure.