Arrived: Tues 18thth July 2017 [Day7]
Departed: Fri 21st July 2017 [Day10]
Hostel: Tribee Cotu
Hoi An… I feel like we stayed here for a good while, like, a solid chunk of time. Looking back it’s where I would say our trip really took off and we properly got into the swing of things. It’s also somewhere we got to know really well during our stay, and we loved it. Realistically, we only stayed there for 3 nights, but after staying in 3 different places in less than a week, it felt like we made ourselves at home here.
It’s also here that I let my awkwardness and uselessness shine bright [not for the first or last time of the trip]. I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post that there are a few things I’ve learnt about myself during my little bits of travel. 1 – the sea cures any hangover, 2 – I am beyond crap at remembering people’s names and faces (to be fair, I’ve always known this, mention someone we were in school with for 10 years and I probably only have a 50% chance of knowing who you’re talking about), 3 – I am one of the most awkward humans you will ever meet. I somehow manage to make any task look difficult. I have a magic gift of creating awkward situations out of the most normal things. This is something I used to struggle with, but thankfully now I’ve just learnt to accept it and get on with it, I’ve made it part of who I am, because let’s face it; it always was, I just ignoring it! When we were in Tokyo and Seoul, Kyle couldn’t quite believe how bad it was, but again, thankfully he just laughed it off after the initial frustration. Alice, thankfully, has known me my whole damn life, so she’s known this is a part of me and my personality, but, again, I don’t think she realised how bad it had become (blame China), until Vietnam. She’s a pretty laid back lass though so it was all good!
Anyway….Let me tell you about our arrival at the hostel. I’m going to put this incident down to the serious lack of sleep we’d managed to get on the sleeper-bus… that’s what I’m going with anyway.
So, after awkwardly waiting in the wrong hostel (behind a massive group of French [?] students), we finally made it to the right Tribee hostel a few doors down. We were way too early to check-in, so we sorted out some laundry at reception (thankfully there weren’t many people about), and then we sorted ourselves out a bit, changed and rented some bicycles. It was during this time that I proceeded to walk into the bathroom on two different guys, within about 20 minutes. Now, “walk in” is probably the wrong term here. I practically barged the door down, I genuinely almost broke the hinges and I definitely damaged the lock. I can’t even imagine how these 2 poor fellas felt! Someone tries the handle, they find it locked, they’ll wait. Nope. Someone shoves the door. Uses their shoulder to try and bash it in… what is this person thinking?! …. Answer? Who knows… I think I thought that the door was just stuck… no idea how or why that would be my thought, rather than it ebbing occupied. Obviously there were a couple of super awkward encounters in the reception area after this, while I sat there red faced and horrified, Alice laughing at me, and an awkward girlfriend/mate of the guy who’d just been violated during his bathroom trip….
After eventually finding some form of breakfast (I’ll give you one guess….DING-DING-DING you guessed it! Eggs and bread) we took off on the bicycles and decided to hit up old town and see what this place had to offer. We knew we were getting closer the busier and crazier it got. Again, I’m a pretty awkward person, on my own two feet, let alone on a bike surrounded by 100s of people, so it was a bit of a struggle for me, but Alice was obviously fine and cycled around like a pro! We parked them up on some side street in amongst a million others (taking a picture so we remember which were ours), and went for a wander on food to really get to see the place and the markets. The area was crazy, your typical SE-Asian wet/street markets, which work as both a tourist attraction and a necessity for the locals. The streets just back from the markets were bright, colourful, and often decorated with lanterns; it was a really lovely place and such a welcome change to the dull and dreary town of Dalat. We both got a couple of things before we retrieved our bikes and went over the bridge to the other side of the river in search of some food. This side was similar to the colourful streets on the other side, but much much quieter and “traditional”.
There was actually a photography exhibition being displayed on easels down the river bank which looked amazing with the old town and river as its backdrop! I couldn’t believe they were left there all day without supervision, unfortunately we know that this wouldn’t work in most other countries. They’d be either trashed or stolen…
We ended up getting food at some pretty fancy place where we were most upset that we got confused and ended up with a side of salad and not chips… it was heart breaking. Back to the hostel on our bikes and we could finally check-in, so off we went up to our room (4 bed mixed dorm – the biggest they offered), we unpacked, showered and napped until around 3pm, which is when the storm came and hit the beautiful town of Hoi An very, very hard… Slightly frustrated that we’d wasted what was left of the sunshine in bed, we set about trying to do some more planning and organising of our lives. As always, our thoughts eventually turned toward food, and after remembering something the overly chatty Canadian guy mentioned on the bus the night before, we took to the food section of TripAdvisor. For some reason, we were in the mood for a curry/Indian (this was to become a reoccurring theme of our trip), and Alice found, what turned out to be a great Indian restaurant called Babas down in old town. It was a pretty damn good curry and naan all washed down with a beer in a cool tankard.
During our moment of “life sorting/planning” during the storm, we’d decided we would to try and book a tour for the next day. The hostel offered many different tours, courses and such, but during my pre-travel research on countless blogs and sites, I’d stumbled upon the name Mr. Trung. He’s a local guy who takes you on his own tour of his town and Hoi An’s surrounding areas. We were a little sceptical at first but though, f*ck it. That’s what travelling is about right? Finding hidden gems, taking chances, and experiencing things first hand, in, ideally, a slightly different way to the 1000s of other tourists who come through each month… The internet told us that we could find him “over the bridge, at the curry house”. So, over the bridge we went and as the waiter asked us if we would like food or drinks, we told him we were “Here for Mr. Trung”… He gave us a nod, pointed to the back, and told us to go upstairs. It was all feeling very drug-dealery and a little dodgy, but, sure enough, upstairs was Mr. Trung who was happy to see us, and sat us down with his bursting-at-the-seams-notebook, and asked us a few questions. He told us everything that the tour would include, the price, and asked us, as it was only the two of us, how we would like to be transported throughout the day: Our own bikes (gas), on the back of his and a friends, or by car? We’d asked for the earlier time slot of 8.30am in order to try and miss the 3pm downpour, so we opted for on the back of his bike and his friends. We coughed up the money, which felt like a lot (especially in VND: somewhere around the 425,000vnd mark), but it was actually only around £15 each (back at the hostel, one cooking class was about a tenna, so this was an amazing deal!) After sorting everything out and confirming pick up times, what we do and don’t eat etc, back we went to the hostel for an early night, ready for our adventures with Mr. Trung in the morning!
The free breakfast at the hostel was served on the top floor, and, obviously consisted of eggs and bread, BUT we were also given the option of pancakes, French-toast, homemade banana spread, and even homemade peanut-butter, (as well as some pretty nice juice). Mr. Trung and his pal came to collect us a little after 8.30am, Al was on the back of his bike, and I perched myself on the metal parcel shelf behind his friend… we were given helmets each, and after a quick stop for gas, we were on our way to our first stop:
#1 – Thanh Ha Fishing Village
We hopped off the bike and Mr. Trung, (dressed in a smart white shirt and black pants), gave us a bottle of cold water each and a sun hat (which I personally loved, and I’m genuinely gutted we didn’t get a proper picture of us in them). This was where every morning between 2-6am there is a big fish market, and all the restaurants from Hoi An and a few locals come to stock up for the day. It was right next to the river where all the boats come in from the sea and their fishing trips. Because we didn’t get there ‘till around 9am, there wasn’t much left, and Mr.T apologised for picking us up 5 minutes late, and he hoped we could forgive him. CUTE. He told us lots of information about the families who fish here, sell here and what sort of thing they catch. There was also a wet market next to the fish stalls where we saw some huge chunks of pork being cooked, lots of unusual little fruits in baskets, and a woman cooking traditional Vietnamese pork and prawn pancakes on little wooden and gas fires.
#2 – Thanh Ha Pottery Village
After another (very bumpy) bike ride down some back alleys by the river, we stopped at a little pottery place where there were loads of clay pots, money banks, trinkets and statues etc. drying in the sun. Mr.T showed us the kiln which had to be bricked up each time it was used, and he explained that all the clay came from the river.
We then watched as a woman crouched down and, using a potter’s wheel which Mr.Trung was spinning with his foot, she made a couple of little lidded pots. Next up it was Alice’s turn! She did pretty damn well and, with the help from the lady, made a nice little heart shaped bowl. Mine didn’t go so well, and I basically just stuck my hands out and let the lady lead me! Included in our entry tickets (which were in on the price we’d paid Mr. Trung), we were given a clay whistle in the shape of our zodiac animal; Alice is a monkey – 1992, and I’m a chicken/cockerel – 1993, [believe it or not, we both made it home with them in one piece!]
#3 – Traditional Bamboo Fishing
This was such a strange, cool, and weird, but ever so awkward stop on our tour. I can guarantee you don’t get this experience with the typical tourist trips! My awkwardness and ability to mess up even the easiest of things came to light again here, much to Alice’s amusement (but no one else’s….) After parking up at (someone’s?) house, we crossed the road and climbed over/under some barbed wire, and then down a little grassy slope towards the river where about 5 local guys were already set up fishing. Mr.T pulled out a clever little extendable bamboo pole, popped a worm on the hook, cast it off, and handed me the rod. I stood there, still as a statue, looking like a clueless lemon watching the little white float, when suddenly the guys around me started pointing and gesturing that I had a fish! So I whipped back the pole and out came my empty hook and line, flying into everyone else’s rods and lines, causing one giant embarrassing tangled mess… Mr. T hadn’t even managed to get Alice going before I caused this scene! So he took my pole off me, I said I was sorry, and he re-cast the line, but this time, gave it to Alice and moved me a couple of feet away from everyone over to the side.
We were there a good while, not talking, not moving, simply watching the white floats for any slight movement. Alice actually caught two fish! Once teeny fella and one good sized one which I think Mr. Trung gave to the locals who were there with their own net of fish. I obviously caught diddly squat.
#4 – Mr. Trung’s Home
So next up we were taken to Mr. Trung’s family home, where his wife and daughter (and dog, 2 kittens and chickens) were waiting for us. Shoes off, hands washed, we were shown to a table where we were given a “lemon” juice drink, a cold bottle of water, and even a cold/wet flannel! Such amazing hospitality and caring for us throughout the day. He ensured we wore the sunhats while we were fishing too, just to keep us safe from the sun! After wearing a smart white shirt and black trousers, Mr. Trung changed into a baggy white vest-top and shorts, there was something really sweet about the fact he dressed up for first impressions and while taking us around, but felt comfortable enough to get into his skivvies in his own home!
#5 – Prepping the fish
Mr. Trung’s wife had bought and gutted a fish for us; she’d presented it on banana leaves and Mr. Trung told us what to do. We put a spoonful of something on the outside, then 3 inside, and a sprinkling of some stuff, and then some greenery before basting the other side. That is literally what I wrote down in my journal, I have no idea what the somethings were, or even what fish we were cooking! (Before we left his home though, he did give us an English copy of the recipes we’d cooked, so maybe it’s on there! He even gave us one each as he knew we were living in different countries.) After we’d finished seasoning it, we wrapped it up in the banana leaves “like a present”, he put it in tinfoil and took us out front to a coal BBQ fire (the “oven”). He gave us two pieces of cardboard and we had to stand there and fan it for a while… He reassured us that we would not have to do it for 30 minutes, his wife and daughter would watch it for us while we got on with the next part.
#6 – Spring Roll Making
I can’t even begin to imagine how many spring rolls we ate over our few weeks in Vietnam, but these were some of the best, and the only ones we got to fully make and cook ourselves! Using two big rustic knives, he showed us how to “mince” the pork (“You see me?”), and then Al was given the job of grating carrot while I mushed up some “little red onions” and garlic. We threw it all together, mixed it in and then it was time to start the wrapping! This was pretty fun; we took a spoonful of the mixture onto one of the rice papers, and wrapped it up. We made quite a lot which varied in shape and size!
Can I just add here, that when I was home in the summer, I tried to make these again for Sam, Dean, Dad and Nat… we couldn’t find the right type of paper, and the frying of them was a serious health hazard. They did not turn out well, but that was no fault of Mr. Trung!
#7 – Cooking Time!!
After some difficult and fiddly slicing of long green beans, it was time to remove the gloves and pour a SHIT LOAD of oil into a pan (I do believe that that is the correct unit of measurement to use here). We waited for the oil to boil, and then using super long wooden chopsticks, we carefully put the spring rolls into the pan. (He was impressed with my chopstick skills, proud moment!) After turning them until golden, we put them on some kitchen roll to dry out and get rid of any excess oil. Then we fried up some “little onions”, prawns, carrots and beans, until we finally added the noodles with a lot of seasoning and sauce!
#8 – Time to eat!!
Our favourite of all times! The table was filled with spring rolls, noodles, and fish. All for us!! We presumed that Mr. Trung and his family would be joining us, which would have been really nice actually, but nope, all the food we’d made was just for us! The spring rolls were incredible, the noodles were great (even the prawns) and we both even ate most of the fish! It turned out to be a good thing that we weren’t joined buy him and his family, as we absolutely demolished all the food by ourselves… what can I say, we’re just such good cooks… After the plates were cleared we were given some more water and a platter of watermelon and pineapple.
Everything was delicious! This is when he gave us a letter, recipe, cards etc. in an envelope and asked us to write in his notebooks of comments from everyone he takes on the tours. We both wrote a page in the notebooks leaving our names, emails and stating that we’re from Wales (obviously). We said our goodbyes, thank-you’s, and took a family picture before we were taken back to the hostel by Mr. Trung and his friend…
Our morning with Mr. Trung and his family is one of my favourite memories of our trip. It was so nice to be taken around by a local, who really knows his stuff and is so welcoming. The fact he uses his own home and his family on the tour says something about him as a person I think! It also felt really good to be handing over our money to him rather than a big corporation or organised tour etc. We felt so lucky that we were able to book it the night before, 12 hours before our pick up time, and he was happy to do it with only the 2 of us. His tour is one thing we told everyone about as our trip continued. “Oh, you’re going south? Going to Hoi An? GO TO MR. TRUNG!”… word of mouth and online reviews are how he makes his living through these tours so we were more than happy to help spread the word!
When we arrived back at the hostel we’d acquired a new roommate who stated that she was “over beaches” because she lived in Australia and New Zealand… K hun. Me and Alice shared a look, and after an attempted chill (not possible with her there), we headed out for another wander around town.
We ended up on a pure mission for some ice-cream. We must have walked around for almost half an hour, following various routs on maps-me, before finding a little hole in the wall place that did not disappoint. Something happened though, which we noticed a lot on our trip. The ice-cream place had no customers, we got to the counter, and then within 5 minutes about 4 or 5 other travellers had gathered in line! All it takes is one traveller, one foreigner to take the plunge, go to the restaurant or the shop, and suddenly, other travellers see it and think it must be good! So in they come!
Back to the hostel we had another new roommate who had just rode down from the north with a bunch of people, one of whom they’d somehow lost on the trip and hadn’t heard from him in a few hours! (Luckily he turned up good as new!) The new guy was from Chicago but had been living in Australia for 8 years, so his accent was even more messed up than mine! We chilled, chatted, read etc. while the rain came, yet again!
We got ourselves sorted later on and went down the road to the other Tribee which is where all the FREE STUFF is held. Honestly, Vietnam itself and the Tribee hostels especially offer an insane amount of free stuff! Tonight was “Free spring roll making class”, not like we’d not had enough spring rolls for the day with Mr. Trung… We grabbed a drink each (cider?!), and plonked ourselves at the end of one of the long crowded tables. On each table there were a number of trays with all the ingredients for making the rolls.
With some instruction from the hostel staff, we all got about to packing and rolling! It was a nice social event with drinks and food. It was nice to be able to mix with the people from both Tribee’s too. Apart from our roommates; we’d not had much chance to meet people in Hoi An. They were then taken away, cooked, and we were all given an endless supply of cooked spring rolls… We were taught the traditional way of eating them, which is to take a fried spring roll, and eat it wrapped in a fresh, raw salad roll with the rice paper. It was pretty good and a nice change to be fair! Every time we made a dent in the pile, another hostel lady came around and refilled the plate… HOW WAS THIS FREE?! There were even a few Australian guys who were staying in the hotel next door that came over to get in on the spring roll action! We played a few different card games, drinking games, and chatted away for a couple of hours before the hostel staff announced it was time to start the Bar Crawl.
The bars they took us to were weird. I don’t think Hoi An has quite got the hang of typical travellers bars yet, but, that’s not a bad thing! The first place we were taken to looked like someone had described the premises of a bar to someone who has never stepped foot inside a bar, and this place was the product of that… Everyone got free shots on arrival (I did not partake in this, I hate spirits at the best of times, but, if there’s another thing I’ve learnt in my 24 years, it’s if somewhere is offering free shots, trust me, you do not want that shot. It’ll either be watered down, or fake alcohol… either way, it’s a no from me)… the other really strange thing about this bar, was that on one of the tables was the game Looping Louie… a game I had never seen before but others (including Alice) freaked at the site of! [If you’re as clueless about this game as I was, please watch this video to get an idea on how strange it was that this was at a bar, in Vietnam… ] So, we played a few games while drinking and trying to pass the time before our crawl moved on to, hopefully, somewhere more interesting…
Next up was Mr. Beans Bar, which was next door to Moe’s Bar (like in the Simpsons)… There wasn’t much going on at either of these places. They were okay, but nothing amazing. We had a few drinks, a bit of a dance, and, would you believe it, we bumped into the Canadian guys from the sleeper bus!! Including the insanely chatty one! They’d all had some clothes or shirts made here, that’s what Hoi An is predominantly known for, it’s cheap but good quality tailors. We managed to leave them be and we ended up sitting by the river just chatting with a girl called Lucy who we’d made friends with, and the Aussie guys who had gate-crashed the spring roll party (and were but weren’t on a stag-do? We’re not sure). It was probably the most fun part of the evening! Lucy introduced us to the beautiful creation that is Bánh mì, which is a sandwich made from the standard bread roll we’d been seeing every morning for breakfast, filled with meats, salad, pate, and even, Dairylea Cheese! Lucy was on her 4th of the evening, so we all decided to give them a go. We sat on the curb while the street vendor guy got to work on our orders, and when I asked for the cheese, his face dropped. He looked horrified, and at lightning speed he abandoned his flip-flops, his cart and us and raced down the road to another street guy to grab us some Dairylea Triangles! Bless him, what a hero… They were amazing to be fair, and I can see why Lucy ended up with 4 in her belly haha! Our night ended with us all walking back through old town back to the hostels/hotel while we all sang and danced to “Making my way down town…” … pretty epic end to an amazing day.
The next day we had a lazy morning, a very lazy morning, before renting some bicycles and riding the 20 minutes to the beach. It was pretty damn busy, and after parking our bikes up down a dirt road (in order to not pay for parking with one of the many people who were literally jumping out at us in the middle of the road trying to grab out bikes as we rode past), we headed straight for the water to cool off! The ocean was warm. WARM I TELL YOU. It was lovely none the less, and we spent the rest of the afternoon reading, swimming, sleeping and simply enjoying having nothing to do!
The ride back to the hostel was a little crazier than on the way there, we’d left the beach at gone 4pm, so it was a busier time, meaning the roads were crazy… By the time we got back to the hostel it was almost 5 and that was the time the hostel street food tour started! We were gutted we would be missing it, but we really needed showers before we headed back out for the night!
The girl who was “over beaches” was still on her bed watching Netflix… now, I try not to judge people for their different travel habits, but she’d been in Hoi An for 2 days now, and hadn’t appeared to have even left our room… but, each to their own!! We sorted ourselves out, had a bit of a chill and then decided to head out on our very own street food tour on our last night in Hoi An! We wandered around the horribly busy streets; we walked along the river, over the bridge, marvelled at the lights, the floating flower candles, the statues, the stalls and just tried to take everything in as best we could… This list of the food we tried on the streets of Hoi An is accompanied by a drawing of a happy fat pigs face in my journal… so here’s what we had…
- “Coconut” donut (very little coconut thankfully)
- “Black” bean puff (red bean?)
- A banana, chocolate and condensed cream pancake (like the ones you can get in Thailand… heaven)
- A Bánh mì (no coriander – thanks Alice.)
- Banana and chocolate rolled ice-cream (made by some pretty cool guys)
Apart from the bean thing, they were all pretty amazing, and it’s safe to say we were stuffed and had to roll ourselves back towards the hostel after another walk around.
I was starting to get the Asian crowd stress, which is when I realised I hadn’t left Asia in over 11 months… that’s a long time! At least during my first year in China I spent the Christmas holiday in New Zealand to break it up a little! I realised I was starting to get really excited (and nervous) about heading home in a few weeks!
Hoi An was definitely one of our favourite places I think. It was just such a pretty little unique town that was easy to get around (on foot or by bicycle). We were going to be sad to leave it behind, but we were really looking forward to the next stage of our travel… something we’d both been eager to do, but also a little apprehensive… we knew our families were going to go ape when they found out… but, being in your 20’s is all about taking risks, living the life you want and making your family worry right?!