Well it's coming to the evening of our trip, due to fly home soon.
We have been in Hoi An, mid Vietnam for the last two weeks and absolutely love the area and friends we have made.
The beaches are just stunning and the town of Hoi An is beautiful , if a little touristy, dare I say. We have stayed In two home stays with Vietnamese families and have been treated like royalty in both. We have made friends in Nhut, Hung and Mango, been given presents of fresh watermelon, home grown bananas and local corn. The Vietnamese are lovely, friendly and laugh such a lot! Especially at Westerners. They talk loads and are always willing to sit down and chat your head off or laugh at you! Mind you, they would sell their grandmas for a fair price too!
Hoi An is a delightful and atmospheric well preserved ancient port town full of Chinese shophouses, Japanese merchant houses, temples, tea warehouses and French colonial buildings. Quite unlike anywhere else in Vietnam. Hoi An was a major international port until the 17th century when the river silted up. It is now a world UNESCO site.
For the first week we stayed in Tra Que, a village on the outskirts of Hoi An where farming, in particular rice growing in paddyfields and home grown vegetables are the main source of income. It felt like going back in time to when crops were tended by hand by Vietnamese women in Non La's - conical hats made with palm leaves and buffaloe used to plough fields ready for for rice planting.
We hired a couple of push bikes and have explored the countryside lanes, receiving lots of Xin Chao's (hellos) from the locals. The main roads, however, are the usual manic state and one is always happy to get through the day in one piece.
One thing to remember in Vietnam is to always expect the unexpected and you can't go wrong. The roads are prime example, Vietnamese drive on the right but bikes and even cars ignore this little rule and drive towards you on the wrong side of the road - it's up to you to get out of the way. No one gives way at junctions, work it out when you get there. Red lights and one way signs completely ignored, why do they have them? The only road rule is if it's bigger than you, give way to it!
You order food and get something completely different, just go with it. You get whatever they decide you are going to have. We haven't drunk a lot of wine in Vietnam because frankly it's not nice, but on the one occasion we decided to have a bottle, I asked for 'white', okay I got white wine and an apology as it was warm. I said no, not good, can I have red wine then. Yes no problem, the red wine arrived as an alternative and yes you guessed it - chilled! Best to just go with it!!
We have eaten some meals in tiny local places run by families, usually shacks covered in palm leaves with a few tables and chairs. The food is very fresh. Often picked from a garden while you are waiting and then cooked by the matriarch. She then stands over you for some time checking you like the food and making sure you eat it, you have to seriously make appreciative noises to keep her happy! It is so cheap and delicious though, you cannot go wrong.
A few strange things. In the countryside loud speakers broadcast messages of how to live life to the full, local announcements and music, very reminiscent of communist Vietnam of old. Da Nang airport, our arrival airport, close to Hoi An was an American airbase during the war used to store Agent Orange. This was sprayed to kill forests and crops during the war leaving thousands of Vietnamese maimed and generations to be born with birth defects afterwards. The process of decontamination was only just completed last year! It is also possible to visit the 75 mile long tunnels in Cu Chi, a village of the same name in South Vietnam. The tunnels were used by the Vietcong during the war to surprise the American enemy, they have been widened for tourists but it is still necessary to crouch and crawl along them in the dark.
Fabulous local food include dishes such as Com Ga (chicken and rice), Cau Lau (pork or beef with crackling, noodles and a lot of green stuff), Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwich), Mi Quang (noodles, shrimp, beef and quails eggs, with a lot of green stuff!). We have also had banana leaves folded into parcels. Inside is a sticky clear substance filled with something dark green or orange. Looks a bit like a chrysalis actually. On asking what it was, the answer was 'meat' or 'shrimp', ' very sweet' 'you like'. Well whatever, we ate the contents and yes they were nice but we still couldn't figure out what it was. Ignorance is bliss.
Local beer is Larue or 333, pronounced ba ba ba. (Ba is number 3). In Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) the local Beer is Saigon Green (seriously cheap and gassy) and Saigon Red (slightly better and stronger, still cheap), as Matt says it's easy to get very drunk for £5.00!
The market in Hoi An is an incredible experience. The produce, smells, noise, it's a sensual whirlwind. A lot of local businesses buy their produce here, fresh ginger, chillies, coriander, coconut, fruit and fish by the bucket load. Live chickens are running around if you fancy a roast. A serious amount of tourist tat and tailor shops too, the hawkers are in abundance and unless you want to buy and haggle, best not to look and don't make eye contact!
Si needed to buy a book, not too many books available in Hoi An, but a small walk through the dusty streets of the outskirts brought us to 'Randys' Book Store. Shoes off and entry though a shuttered door into a dark, odd smelling cavern lined with old books. An ageing, virtually bed bound American called out and told us to help ourselves. We did and paid him for the books, whilst being regaled with stories of leg wounds. Another bizarre experience, you never know what each day will bring!
The beaches are stunning and very under developed, quite different to Thailand. Give it ten years and Vietnam will be a mass of beachside hotel resorts. We have a favourite 'Hidden Beach' we cycle to. White sand, blue-green sea, lots of serious wave action, fisherman's coracle boats litter the beach, paradise. A few palm leave covered shacks provide food such as mango salad with shrimp and banana shakes served in jars. Our favourite is run by Lien and her family, they are all there every day and have got to know us pretty well!
So our homeward flight is booked on a China Airlines flight through some unknown agent, via Beijing and through Mongolia. We may be back but who knows? We will be sad to leave Hoi An, and there is such a lot of Vietnam we have yet to discover - but we wanted to leave something for the next visit....🙂
Watch this space!
Lots of love
Steph & Si