Hoi An festivities were drawing to a close, a day and a few hours to go. The buffet got another going over, the highlight being deep fried eggplant. I’m not one to usually subscribe to fried vegetables to start the day but these were calling my name (albeit with a Vietnamese accent). To stave off early onset caronavirus I attacked the tropical fruit with the single-mindedness of an osprey.
Had to go over the road to Miss Hong to grab my washing. She is paid by the kilogram ($1.50/kg) so as she grabbed the bag she let out a fake straining noise for commercial gain. If she is straining picking up four kilos of washing maybe she needs to go across the road and bulk up at the buffet? And it wouldn’t be a trip across the road without a coffee and some choice expletives directed towards that bloody rooster. Now I don’t know the name of Vietnam’s leading washing detergent but whatever she used did the trick. Those clothes were bright you could see them through the bag. If my calculations are correct I won’t have to wash again until I land back in Australia. My plan is to ditch the old shirts after one final hoorah and make way in my suitcase for some Vietnamese souvenirs.
When I return home the first question (for some reason) is about the accommodation. So consider these photos a preemptive strike:
The walk to the centre of Hoi An from my hotel is five minutes where I need to navigate seven requests for massages and a stray dog or two. Because my eyes are always focused on the traffic which can attack you from every direction I can miss the odd shop here or there. I had failed to previously see the convenience store but noticed it today because of the excited shrills from the local kids who were clambering around the skill tester out the front. One of them had just won a stuffed toy when the claw came down and grabbed Elsa from Frozen by the head and hung on long enough so that she could make her escape. In this excitement kids and adults alike emerged from the buildings, all keen to offer advice. Like a poker machine that is paying out everybody wanted a piece of the action. Unlike the Australian machines that give you only one chance to go forward and one to go sideways, this was more forgiving. The arcade machine equivalent of a bad parallel park the driver was given endless opportunities to get it right, the only restriction is the impatient people waiting behind.
Quickly the group got together and realised if they all work together there was more than enough prizes to go around. Even the store owner gave up her post behind the counter to give her two cents (1,000VND) of local advice to the future generation. Kids many only half the size of the machine, their noses pressed up against the glass with dreams of fluffy toys in their eyes, one couldn’t help get caught up in the excitement. Unfortunately this excitement is the reason I committed the unforgivable sin when it comes to taking video on your phone – DO NOT SHOOT IN PORTRAIT.
Being my last day here I had to make a final visit to the bahn mi shop to get one final hit. These things have not disappointed me yet, I fail to see how you could get sick of them. I believe they sell 1,000 of these a day. To wash that down, a local beer 333. Local legend (or pure mathematics) suggests two of those and it brings the devil out in you. I had good intel that there was a highly recommended chicken and rice shop that I needed to poke my head into the door. They do just two things, you guessed it chicken and rice. The one thing I remember about this was the chilli that went with it had the perfect amount of heat that you could spread it on toast like marmalade.
The bridge that connects my part of Hoi An to the mainland which I mentioned previously, could not be described as “pedestrian friendly”. At least during the day the cars can see you can you can see the bolts jutting out of the side on the bridge while you are tiptoeing along the walkway.
I had toyed with the idea of getting a hat made while I was here. While there are a ridiculous number of tailors in Hoi An, all willing to make you a bespoke suit/shoes/leather goods in less than twelve hours, there is only one man that specialises in hats. For someone with a massive head I was keen to see what he could do to help. Something fetching to keep me sunsmart and attract the ladies back home? The familiar pattern with me clothes shopping ends in disappointment and frustration, this one being no different. He wanted to go in a Elmer Fudd hunting direction while I was envisaging something between Pharrell Williams and David Beckham. What happened to “the customer is always right?” That dream dashed I needed some comfort food, at least that won’t make my head any bigger.
The markets were still taking shape so I found a cafe that does egg coffee. It’s a craze that started in Hanoi and like a bad case of shingles headed south and now if on most of the newer cafes in the country. Egg yolk is mixed with some condensed milk and then beaten until the whisk snaps. This is then piled on top of the black coffee and is sometimes referred to an “Vietnamese cappuccino”. Some cafes add condensed milk in the bottom of the glass to give you three distinct sections of the drink. It wasn’t bad and I did try more than one over the remainder of the trip. I am not sure whether the uncooked egg in the tropical heat is the best thing to be putting into your system but I live on the edge. There were various other coffee types which I didn’t try (purely for lack of time) such as avocado coffee and coconut coffee. Not only was the coffee good, but when I saw the seating outside the cafe I had to pick up camp and take in the view.
Along with cau lao there is another dish that is only made in Hoi An. White Rose Blossom is a rice noodle dish, Hoi An’s take on shrimp dumplings. My understanding is that only a few places are allowed to make them as they are kept in such high regard. My verdict, worth trying once but not as good as bahn cuon or other dishes where rice noodle sheets are the leading actor. What do you pair with this to drink? If you didn’t say Vietnamese coffee I don’t think you have been paying attention. Across the way I had to induldge again and squeezed the most artistic shot I could out of my phone which was complaining that is was starting to run out of memory.
Other than that, the food stories kind of end there in Hoi An. There was the nightly che visit and there may or may not have been another sneaky banh mi run. If you ever contemplate a trip to Vietnam, Hoi An should be on your list. It’s only small but it punches well above its weight. And if you go let me know beforehand and Mr H can organise some dried fish and that sweet, sweet corn for you.
On the way back to my room for a sunscreen reapplication, I noticed that the kids had a fairly productive day. With the fear of a coronavirus pandemic schools had been shut but it is good to see that the kids are putting their learnings about physics and probability to some real world scenarios.
An super early flight out of Danang meant I stayed 150 metres away from the airport. My only knowledge of Danang prior to me landing there a few days earlier was from the film Good Morning Vietnam where Robin Williams says, “Danang me, Danang me, why don’t you get a rope and hang me?”. Now that’s a bit harsh but I wasn’t impressed during my half day there. It didn’t really have a character like each of the other places I visited, but then again it was only one night so I shouldn’t jump to conclusions. The only thing I could do before the sun went down was to walk from the hotel to the arse end of the Dragon Bridge. I will spare you the photo of the dragon colonoscopy, instead here is my only meal in Danang, a chicken Mi Quang. If you are the type who loves picking the meat off chicken bones this one is for you. If you are like me and don’t want to put in the effort, pick the low hanging fruit, slurp the broth and noodles then call it a night.
The room cost $17AUD and the saying, “you get what you pay for” has never been prophetic. The room was undesirable but I knew that going in so there were no real complaints. It’s all about location, location, location. The 24 hour check in desk was also a selling point to me, knowing that I had a ungodly early start. The front desk attendant was sound asleep when I checked out. At least one of us got a decent night’s sleep. My body clock worked that well the eight alarms I set on my phone, all with different alarm tones were made redundant. I didn’t want to wake him but I had a plane to catch so I made a bit of noise, he opened one eye, grunted and I threw him the keys. Walking to the airport the hum of my luggage wheels woke every animal up in a one kilometre radius. I did get to the airport with plenty of time, all of which I needed when Jetstar decided to cancel the flight and put us on an earlier one with Vietnamese Airlines.
Thankfully I made it to Hanoi which is the final stop on my Vietnamese travels. Five nights in the capital before I head back to reality.