Hoi an: A little homestay away from home.
A farmer in a shabby straw hat sits bare-foot on his water buffalo as it slowly grazes.
A little down the river a myraid of motor-vehicles cross a small bridge leading into a bustling market town.
Further down, the river meets with the market.
Stalls and shops sway on either side, selling all sorts of Vietnamese curios, crafts, cuisines and coffee.
A straw hat, a postcard, a beaded bracelet; Some phò , bùn or a bành mi; Perhaps a banana, a mango or a dragon fruit; coffee black, coffee milk, coffee and egg. Your choice…
A place to stich a suit, design a dress, sew a shirt, a tailors town.
An old town with a constant flow of new faces.
Dad and I arrive in Hoi an after a moring motorbike ride along the coast from Da nang. The coziness of this quant little town as soon as we hit our first rice paddy on the river. We park our scooters of at our accomadation for the night, “Rice fields Homestay” ( Again shoutout to this exquisite homestay, serviced by a lovely lady who is not only a great host but a wonderful conversationalist, 5 ★).
After swapping our scooters for the complimentry bicycles we go meandering amongst the meadows.
Dad spots and pets his first water buffalo.
We try finding where the river running through the town opens up into the ocean, but we are constantly cut off by smaller rivers with no bridges to cross. So we decide to just make our own way to the sea and head coastward.
A barrage of beaches appear to the side of us as we pedal down the coastal road, but none of them give me that “fun in the sun, lost paradise” vibe so we keep cycling.
“How about this one?”
Until a sign appears. a wooden picket sign , with ‘The Beach’ scraweld across it in red letters.
“Yip, that is the one !”
And it certainly was. Tucked away in a cove between two beach resorts, it is practacally desserted with water as calm and warm as a sauna bath. A place where the sand is soft and coconuts hang from picturisque palm trees. Pretty much perfect.
We lock our bicycles next to a palm tree and spend our afternoon swimming, splashing and playing rugby with a semi-broken coconut.
Evening arrives and with it so do the pangs of hunger. We shake the sand from our soles and head to the market for some local food, as reccomended by our homestay host.
The market is located in old town Hoi an. We leave our bicycles at a tailor shop owned by the husband of the sister of ouy homestay host (Fam looks after Fam). And we walk into the mother of all markets. Not because of its size, I mean it is big, but because of its beauty and atmosphere. Instead of the traditional market of stalls upon stalls under pitched tents, there are roads and alleys of old french style buildings showcase fabric filled shops, cafes and eateries. Street food vendors set up inbetween shops just incase you need a snack.Sizzling breads, doghnuts, ginger corn cakes and fried bananas. And at the mouth of the market is an old well where everyone parks their bikes, stands in the shade or just sits and takes in the scene ( Ironically a giant sign written in English, French and Vietnamese, reads: ‘Please do not park your bikes near or sit on the well’ right next these activities, I guess if you are going to be rebelious Vietnam is the place to do it).
We go inside the giant food hall behind the well and sit down at a caffeterria style food stall called “Mrs Thu’s”.
On her stall it had a written reccomendation by tripadvisor stating that this place has the best food in Vietnam, but we just chose it because it was the first stall as you enter and we were very hungry. That sign however is certainly telling the truth.
We eat, no no, indulge, on honestly some of the best food I have ever had! I have a tomato and soy sauce fried tofu and fresh rice noodle dish with drizzled peanuts, Dad has a local favorite called a “Cau Lau” (A beef and specially prepared noodle dish with a signiture sauce). Both of us groan with pleasue at every bite. The climax of the meal are the fried wontons with a special veggetarian topping, which we share. They send us into culinary ecstasy. The crunchiness of the wontons, mixed with their rich flavorful, fresh soft textured vegetarian topping is tastebud blazingly good (I could probably write a full lenght post, no, poem, based on that single eating experience alone).
With our stomachs sated, our minds blown and tongues elated, we walk around the market in whimsy, just watching and embracing the ambience of the marvelous market and its happenings, on a cloud of cuisine inspired careless contentment.
Early the next morning we mount our motor bikes and venture out in search of Mi Son ruins, approxiamitly 1 hours drive west of Hoi an. The Mi Son ruins are famed temples and remenants of the “Cham” people, one of the first civilizations that inhabited early Vietnam. During the Vietnam war this site also fell victim to a large number of bomb blasts which damaged some of the temple land. Being both historicaly significant in war and ancient Vietnamese culture, makes this an immensly interesting place to visit.
The road to Mi Son isn’t spectacular and we keep missing turn offs, leading us a stray for several minutes, but the 2 hour ride there is fun nontheless.
At the site, the ruins encapsulate me. Although small, and what I imagine to be like a mini-mini-mini Ankor Watt, being in a place of such history, with so much depth in its constructions and lanscape put me on an adventurers high. I spend hours touching the walls, walking inside the temples, gaping at the bomb craters, trying to grasp the essence of what it was like in both the ancient times and the war frought times of old Vietnam. Dad enjoys it too, but spends a lot of time sitting on a bench waiting for me to finish “Grasping the essence” before moving on to the next site( He lives next to Ankor Watt, so for him this must be like a small county carnival compared to Disneyland).
Eventually I finish my amature and toursitic style tomb raiding, and we hop on our bikes and head back to Hoi an to pick up our bags then back to Da nang for my Dads last night in Vietnam.
On the journey back, eventhough its a short one, I realize how dynamic a duo my Dad and I make. And how amazing it would be tour Vietnam, or anywhere, with him as co-traveler. Because right now, with the wind against my face, the sun on the horizon, the road beneath my wheels, adventure still fresh in the air and my dad smiling and motoring by my side, I am buzzing with nothing but absolute bliss.
The next day, dad leaves, and flys back to be reunited with my Mom in the sunny Siem Reap. We say our goodbyes with manly handshakes, bear hugs and shoulder slaps. And I feel happy to have had this epic adventure with one of my best friends.
Thanks Fudge(Dad), for the unforgettable memories and incredible experiences, see you in Siem Reap for Christmas… Bon Voyage.