HANOI, September 15, 2017 – Hoi An is all about tradition, fabulous food and tranquil atmosphere. It is a small town but home to endless delights waiting to be discovered.
I pushed the bow of so-called Bun bo Hue away from me as it tasted so awful. This particular bow could no way stand up to the level of tastiness of those I had in Hue. We went back to the van to continue to Hoi An. I consulted my bucket list of 5 things I must do in the town, asked Son to wake me up when we arrived and fell fast asleep.
Where we were heading is no longer an important trading post but thanks to its well-preserved state, Hoi An is now a touristy old town that has wonderfully escaped modern development. Since cars, motorbikes and any vehicles with engines are banned from the city center because of their speed and exhausted fumes, bikes and pushbikes are dominant. Son and I decided to conduct our visit on foot as the weather is mild and pleasant.
Try the tasty banh mi Phuong
We ended up in a tiny restaurant and got in the long line of people with different nationalities. I recognized Chinese, Japanese, Korean and some German as I heard them talking to each other in that language. After a few minutes, a tired-looking woman handed us our banh mi and we were directed to our seats inside. I could not regret more about my decision to dine in as the floor was covered with used napkins; empty beer and coke cans lied on our table along with dirty plates. Son and I left immediately so as not to lose our appetite. We settled under a weeping tree to enjoy our first lunch in Hoi An. The quality of our banh mi contrasted strikingly with the poor state of the diner zone. They were bulging with savory grilled pork, Chinese sausage, sauce and herbs. The meat’s tenderness blended perfectly well with crunchy fresh herbs to create an explosion of flavors in our mouth. We bought two coconuts from a gentle-looking old lady nearby to wash down our hearty lunch before making for our next destination.
Hit the beach
Between An Bang and Cua Dai, we opted for An Bang since it is less developed and visited. An Bang is a little farther south from Cua Dai and can be reached by bikes. As we arrived at the beach, before our gazes was a white sun–drenched beach fading far into the distance. It is dotted by thatched umbrellas, sunbeds and some top-less tourists lying on their towels. As we get closer to the beach, the smell of the sea went up our nostrils and hot sand heated our feet. I took off the pair of flip-flop and walked bare feet along the shore on the moist sand, feeling cool breeze all over me.
Tra Que vegetable village
This charming little village is on the edge of Hoi An. As we cycled around the village, we saw tiny bungalows strung out along our route, framed in lush green patch of vegetables and herbs. Here and there some farmers bent over with shovels and spades in their hands turning the soil. We were going pass some loofah and calabash trellises that are laden with fruit when we caught a glimpse of two women taking picture with a huge calabash; it suddenly made sense to me that those “farmers” I saw earlier were tourists on a farming tour to Tra Que. Even this was not on our initial list, I suddenly grew a strong desire to take one to lay my hands on moist soil, pick fresh vegetables and fruits to see how it feel to be an ordinary Vietnamese farmer. Son cut right through my thought by reminding me that we had other destinations to cover and we were way behind schedule. Dusk was falling as I reluctantly left the village.
Tucking in skewers of street barbecue
The north bank of Thu Bon River is home to several street vendors that offer skewers of char-grilled pork, prawn, and chicken. It did not take us long to pick one brazier that had the sweetest scent emanating from golden-brown skewers of grilled meat. The charismatic lady tending the brazier signaled us to sit down with a broad smile on her face. We sat on small knee-high plastic stools waiting for our meal while taking in the scene of Thu Bon River at night. The lady laid a tray full of meat, a heap of assorted greens, some rice paper wrappers and a small bow of dipping sauce for each of us on another stool; she invited us to tuck in by opening her palm and smiled. These grilled goodies were so terrific; after lining our stomach with a dozen of them, we said goodbye to the lovely lady to head back to the town.
Hoi An at night
The true beauty of Hoi An only appears when sunlight is off. We wandered through beautifully paved streets lit by lanterns. Merchants’ houses were converted into restaurants, café and souvenir shops without making any alteration to the original structure. We popped in a vintage coffee shop and sit in the porch as other visitors passed by chatting merrily; some even had cups of coconut with a petal of lotus in it as decoration. Vietnamese people truly have the talent to turn humble ingredients into something special; I had experienced this in Hanoi and now in Hoi An.
There were fewer tourists wandering the town center at night, which means less noise and less crowded. That was how Hoi An is supposed to be like, an ancient town with perfect tranquility.
Hoi An caters for those who are looking for something “tradition” in a world that is changing too rapidly. It is diverse, secluded and serene. Pay a visit and snoop around to find out surprises lurking in the alleys and backstreets.
Tam Tam café offers great food and excellent services
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