Vietnam – Hoi An

Good evening Vikki,

We have had a wonderful first day in Hoi An. The head cold persists and The Newby is coming down with something too, but as usual I haven’t let it stop me. Armed with our map we headed out to the Old Town for a look around and to get our bearings. The weather is very steamy, so one of our first stops was to get The Newby a few loose fitting, cooler shirts. Fortunately he had his personal dresser with him, who spotted the right thing and a few minutes later he was more suitably clad in “hand made by my sister” cotton shirts.

After a refuel with coffee we bought our sites ticket and headed for the first, The Assembly Hall of The Cantonese Chinese Congregation. Don’t ask me why. But it did give us the chance to sit and regroup by the water feature of dragons and carp. An odd mix, but apparently dragons are formally carp. They go through 3 main challenges, and progressively transform to dragons, if they pass each stage. Given how hard the challenges are, it’s easy to see why there are many more carp than dragons in the world. Further into the Hall we found more dragon statues and a huge statue of a huge goat with huge male parts. That may sound like another odd thing for me to note but there is more to this. The area of Tam Coc, where we last were, is renowned for goat meat dishes. All the cafes and restaurants advertise their goat dishes, con dê, with pictures of goats with huge dangling sacks. I mean, how those goats walk is beyond me. The goat statue was exactly the same.

Moving on … our next stop was a look at the Japanese covered bridge. This little bridge links the busy side of the Ancient Town to the quiet side. It has a Pagoda inside it! It’s the most photographed site in Hoi An, as well as one of the busiest by the looks of it. We crossed it although we didn’t get a look into the Pagoda part but we did see the dogs guarding one side and the monkeys guarding the other. Sight seeing is a hungry business so we stopped for lunch at Bup Cafe. It is a busy little spot, in a lane way, serving a specialty dish from Hoi An called Cao Lau. The rice noodles are cooked with water from the Bale Well. When in Rome. As we were leaving the owner was very proud to show us how he was mentioned in a Vietnam travel feature in The Guardian newspaper. I think that is pretty cool. It’s a big country but this little cafe got a one liner.

After lunch we headed to our next site, the Old House of Phung Hung. It depicts some of the way of life of people who initially lived in Hoi An, when it was a busy port. Without a guide it was impossible to know much about it, but we did find a balcony to stand on and watch the world go by, as well as grab a few pics of a old lady sitting across the road. I think she spotted me! We wandered through another old house that had the flood marks on the wall. By our calculations the floods are becoming more frequent and are certainly high! We couldn’t reach the top most marker. Fortunately they have a pulley system to yank everything up to the next level when the water rises.

Finally, with very sore feet we toddled back to the accomodation for a well earned rest and to freshen up before walking back into Town for dinner. The town holds night markets on the weekends, the lanterns are all lit, the boats look so pretty and everyone is out in force. We eventually found a spot to have a bite to eat before we wandered the very long way home. I think we have to hit the bikes tomorrow. The Newby is going downhill fast …

Hi Vikki,

What a day we have had today! Because of the distance of our accomodation from the town and the beach, and because The Newby is sicker than yesterday, we decided it was time to get on the bikes. Our homestay host rents them for 30000 dong per day ($1.80) each so its not going to break the bank. Mind you they aren’t the greatest bikes you’ve ever seen. Mine has handles bars that aren’t lined up with the front wheel, while The Newby’s is rusty. But both go and they go well. We decided to ride to the beach for a look and planned to come home through the vegetable village.

We found the beach easily enough and no skin was lost although there was ample opportunity. It’s hard to describe how to ride in the traffic. I think it’s like this. Slowest goes closest to the kerb. Fastest and in most cases biggest, goes in the middle of the road. Seems logical. But when fast and big want to turn they don’t wait patiently for little and slow, they just turn. So little and slow wants to go straight through the intersection but big turns straight through their path. Not just big that is going in the same direction, but also big coming at you from in front. The most important thing is to hold your nerve and your line (something that is hard to do when your handle bars and front wheel aren’t in a line).

Turns out the beach isn’t so nice this time of the year, so we went for a pedal along the coast to see if there was a nicer spot. We found the touristy spot. I don’t know if you have been to Byron Bay but it reminded me of that except there was no one there! The vendors were clambering over each other to get to us. We even succumbed to the bike parking lady. We both wanted coffee so we requested a beach front table and ordered juices as well. There were sun lounges on the beach, a few hardy English people on them and a couple of brave souls in the water. I can see the vision of something like the coast from Coolangatta to Southport, but they aren’t quiet there. Yet.

After coffee we decided to ride home the quicker way as the weather looked like it might turn. Sure enough, within a couple of minutes the drizzle started, so we moved off the main road onto a parallel street. The further we went the heavier it got, with nowhere to shelter. Quite suddenly I saw a small eave overhanging the back of a house, so I pulled in there and called The Newby back. We both just fit in and could get the bike seats under too. With our backs to the wall, literally, we surveyed the scenery. A quiet back street in a development block, with no one around. In the distance we could see the river. Time to regroup. Checking the map we could see there was nowhere close to go. Checking our surrounds we could see no one. A single truck went past and the passenger did wave, but that was it.

Closer surveillance suggested the shelter was temporary. The increasing rain was starting to produce little leaks. Puddles were forming at our feet and there was one other ominous sign. Remnants of food on the road suggested the occasional bucket of washing water gets tipped over the back veranda. We could hear voices above us but we didn’t really want the occupants to know we were there, so we kept the conversation low. After 40 minutes and with the rain showing no signs of relenting, The Newby started his helpful commentary on others who have historically been stranded on Christmas Eve. Phrases like “no room at the inn” were used. He also seemed to be getting sicker. Wet clothes don’t help. And then, almost without warning a few litres of rice laden water were unceremoniously thrown over our heads (fortunately not onto). We looked at each other, tried hard not to laugh out loud, jumped onto our bikes and took off in the direction of the main road.

Needless to say we quite quickly found not one, but many larger shelters and a place to have lunch once we were back where most people go. We had a nice lunch before heading home to dry out and spend the rest of the day in Hoi An old town. I have ordered The Drummer a leather satchel from one of the shops recommended by our host. I just have to remember to pick it up on Boxing Day. We have just finished a bad pizza in a crappy restaurant on the river front. You think we would have learned that pizza in Asian countries is never good. I can assure you we won’t make that mistake again. It’s now time to say goodnight as Santa makes he annual global loop.

Hi Vikki,

Merry Christmas from The Newby and I. We hope you are your family had a great day. We certainly have. We are currently doing the Aussie thing and having an afternoon rest but everything else about the day has been so non-Christmas!

We booked with Hoi An free tours to go to Kim Bong Island on a cycling tour. When I say free, I mean we had to pay the boat man, the people who showed us how to make sleeping mats and the people who showed us how to make noodles. The three of those costs together was 50000 dong ($3) each. Hanoi Free Tours is offered by university students who want to improve their English. Anyway, I have jumped ahead.

We got up early for us. The tour started at 8am so we had breaky outside our little room at 7. Hieu’s Mum came out to say good morning and was excited to see us in Santa hats. She asked if she could have a photo. I had just told The Newby off for wanting a photo so early in the day but I smiled at her and agreed. She disappeared for a few minutes and came back without the hair rollers but with her phone and took our photos, then took my hat and made me take a photo of her and The Newby, then took his (Celtic Football Club) hat and made him take a photo of us. Too funny.

After breaky we headed off to the tour office. When we got there it seemed it would be a bit of a case of too many people but we so got lucky. The first group of maybe 8 people left. Then a family of another 8 left. That meant there were 4 of us and 2 guides, Ruby and Vinh. Ruby is a student studying tourism and Vinh studies mechanical engineering. Ruby is the experienced guide, while Vinh is learning to become a guide. The other couple were Canadians.

Ruby lead us off through the madness of Hoi An traffic, to the boat. The boat was a simple one, not a touristy one. The boat man got us safely onto the island, our bikes offloaded and away we went to our first stop, a boat building yard. The boats are built with wood brought here from elsewhere, soaked in the river for a year, made over a few months, painted (with eyes) and christened with a temporary alter and beer!

Next stop was a home where two ladies were making a sleeping mat. People here sleep on the mat, either on the floor or on a bed (without a mattress). I don’t mean just people outside the city. Our young guides, kids who are at uni, sleep on these. They are hand woven, in preference to the plastic, mass produced ones. The ladies dye the straw and then weave the mats. It takes 2 people, two hours to make a mat of about 1.5 x 3m and it costs the purchaser almost nothing (in our terms) depending on the size. We all got to have a go at weaving. The Newby threaded the straw, while I worked the loom. I suspect they unpicked the bit we did after we left. I wanted to buy a mat but getting it home would be a challenge.

Next stop was a family temple. Unfortunately the caretaker was off for the day and didn’t leave it open, but we had a wander around. The interesting things about this temple were the that it’s Uncle Ho’s mother’s family name. Nice connection. The other thing I liked was the small alter the family has for homeless people. If someone dies without family, this family look after them in death. A nice touch. Ruby also explained what the Vietnamese unicorn is. It’s the lion-like statue. It’s actually part lion, part dragon, part unicorn. It doesn’t need a horn because it doesn’t harm people. There is a female on the left (as you face the temple). You can work out which one she is because she has the baby under her left paw. There is a male on the right. He has a ball under his right paw.

Our next stop was the home of the family who make noodles for others in the community to purchase. This was a great place to see how they make this food staple. First they soak the rice for a minimum of three hours. Not a portion in the size we think. They process 40kg a day here! Then they grind it, thankfully using modern technology, although the old manual grinder was there. Then they use the liquid, spreading a thin amount over a cloth that is strung over boiling water, fuelled from rice husks. The layer of rice liquid is steamed for a minute or so, before a second layer is added and steamed again. Then the edge is loosened, a long stick is passed under it and it is lifted off the cloth. When it cools slightly it is unfolded, ready to be sliced manually or through a machine, like spaghetti.

Finally we headed to a local wood work artisans outlet where we bought some souvenirs. We each bought great wooden puzzles. Mine is a dragon that will match my table and the piece I got in Tassie last year. The Newby got an elephant. The man that makes this craft is the last in his family to learn it. A dying art. This was the last stop on our tour. The boat man took us back to Hoi An and then we headed for coffee. Our guides are now new friends and they seemed to enjoy the morning as much as we did. And that Vikki, is how we spent Christmas morning. We kept reminding it each other that it was Christmas and we all were surprised when someone mentioned it. I can’t say I am missing the Christmas we normally celebrate. Today has been a great day.

Our Christmas lunch consisted of com ga, chicken rice, in a shop that only does com ga, served with 2 beers. Total cost $6. We posted my postcards and then came home here to rest. The Newby’s dose of this cold came and went in 24 hours, while it has now been with me for 8 days. I don’t feel sick now, just can’t get rid of the runny nose and cough. Not looking forward to our flight out of here in a couple of days …

Happy Boxing Day Vikki,

It’s raining here in downtown Hoi An and we are due to go kayaking this afternoon.

Today our host cooked us some great pineapple pancakes for breakfast. She suggested we try the banana pancakes that are on the menu, but when we said that neither of us like bananas, she changed them to pineapple. We have been very well looked after here.

After breakfast and a slow start we headed into town this morning to have a coffee and pastry at Cargo Cafe. The Newby has been asking for a sweetie for a while, so he had apple pie with a scoop of passion fruit sorbet. I finally had egg coffee. It’s a black coffee with whipped egg yolk. It didn’t taste at all like egg. I also had a caramel pie (of course). We then did some bargaining for a new cap for The Newby (he bargained a whole 30 cents to get his cap for $1.50 instead of $1.80) and I bargained a whole $3 to get my glasses for $9 instead of $12. Ray Bans too 😉

Full up with good things and bargains , we used another of our site tickets to visit the local museum, which does a good job of capturing Hoi An history. It starts with the relics that have been found during archaeological digs, covers the resistance against the French and the Americans, as well as presenting some art pieces and photographs. It is a small display but just enough. As The Newby says there is only so much of looking at Uncle Ho’s pencil that is required. There were a couple of good stories on the audio guide though, including one about a man who moved papers and other things across the river for the resistance. He was shot on one occasion and in retaliation embedded a stack of mines into the embankment, lured the enemy there and detonated the mines. His boat is on display, the boat in which he ultimately died. The audio tour is voiced by an Irish man. I am guessing that was a neutral choice but it sounds very funny when he talks about how “we” had a bigger force than the enemy. The “we” he is referring to is of course the Vietnamese! In his Irish accent.

The rain stopped around the time we went into the museum and we received a message that the kayaking was all go, so we went home to get organised and await our pick up. Right on time the guys showed up to pick us up. On motorbikes! Neither The Newby or I have risen pillion before and we were hoping to avoid it in busy places and without a briefing, but we put the helmets on and looked brave and away we went. Actually it wasn’t too bad and given that our 6 day motor bike tour starts in 2 days, a little taster was ok. At the boat shed we were given a briefing, a life jacket (the most safety equipment we have had in Vietnam) and a water bottle, before hopping into our kayaks and paddling off into the coconut palm plantation on the opposite island. There were 6 of us on the tour, along with our guide, a young Vietnamese guy called Huy.

After paddling around the islands we floated into the boat harbour. Huy told us again about the meaning of the eyes on the boats. They believe the boats have souls, eyes can attract the fish that also have eyes, and eyes can see the weather and keep the fishos safe. Apparently white people paddling is a bit of a sight to see, so a few neighbours came out, including an old couple who shouted out to me. “What’s your name?” And “how old are you?” They we’re giggling and playing up for us. Very friendly and funny. They let me take their picture, although the old girl didn’t look too keen on the old fella having his arm around her. From here we paddled into Hoi An and alongside the colourful boats, to the mainland for a beer to reward our hard work. I stayed dry until I was being assisted out of the kayak, at which point a small wave lapped into the boat and soaked me!

After a quick change at home we headed into town to pick up the hand made leather satchel which I think The Drummer is going to love. It’s a big size, so it should suit her need to take everything she owns, everywhere she goes. We then went for our last dinner in Hoi An at a local restaurant. Within 5 minutes walk of where we are staying there are 3 of the top 5 restaurants in Hoi An. We had another local specialty, rice pancake. It comes out as a piece of crispy rice pancake with other leaves and some pork or shrimp. You take a piece of the pancake, and lay it on rice paper, add your leaves and meat, roll it up and eat it. Yummo. The beef skewers were also really yummy, as was the chefs special fried rice. The Newby thinks this was the best food we have had in Vietnam.

Hi Vikki and Tricia,

Today has been another travel day, as sadly we left Hoi An. We have both really enjoyed it here, perhaps because we were slightly out of town, perhaps because it’s quieter and perhaps because of the great home stay. We have even talked about the possibility of coming back here to live for a while. There is a school here that is always looking for volunteer teachers. Who knows, maybe The Newby could help out. (Sorry about the font difference. It’s frustrating but not something I can fix via the app or mobile version of the website. I could retype it, but I can’t be bothered).

We took it slowly this morning to get ready to leave and I helped Heiu with drafting some website wording. We decided to make the most of the day and so we hired a car with a driver to take us via a few sites, to the airport in time for 5.30. After saying our goodbyes we were off up the road the Marble mountain. This is the home of a huge limestone hill with 5 peaks and 5 temples on it. We walked up to and around the top, admiring the temples. In behind a tiny temple we found a huge statue that must have been made there because there is simply no way it could have been put in the cave. There were also 2 statues playing a board game. We spent over an hour on the mountain before we headed back to the car.

After lunch we went to the Lady Buddha Pagoda. The lady Buddha looks over the city of Danang and the sailors and fishermen who leave the city. She greets them when they return. She is simply massive. I did ask The Newby to stand there for perspective but I don’t think you’ll be able to make him out. The whole area is filled with temples and statues as well as the huge Pagoda. The lady Buddha is the most enthralling attraction at this site though. We also saw our first Vietnamese monkeys which were swinging through gum trees!

With the day rapidly turning to evening we drove over (and back over) the dragon bridge where I jumped out to take a photo. This very cute little boy said hello to me. I said hello back and he said ”my name is Cong”. So I introduced myself, to which he replied, “I am fine”. He has clearly been learning English at school. The standard “hello” and “how are you” and “I am fine”. I remember when The Piper was learning Japanese. He could rote introduce himself and tell you where he lived. Little Cong made me laugh, so I went and got him a koala from the car and walked back to give it to him. He was very happy and kept saying “I am fine. I am fine”. Very funny. Even the driver was laughing.

For a travel day, we squeezed a lot in before flying out of the city. Our flight to Dalat was fine, although delayed. The taxi ride to the city from the airport was not so fine. I think that has been my most terrifying 30 minutes in Vietnam. On wet roads, winding through hills, doing 100km/hr our driver was making calls and texting. The temptation to slap him with a $400 fine and 10 demerits was very high. But we made it to our accomodation alive and headed out for a very late bite to eat. We don’t have much time here so we’ll be busy tomorrow. If you still want to follow us as we head onto the 6 day bike tour, head over to the next page. If you just want to find out how it ends, wait a week and log back in. I’m hopeful we’ll survive …

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