24 October – Hoi An
Up just after 7.00am, and like yesterday, I feel okay.
Head downstairs for my usual breakfast of fruit, and decide to give the caphe sua da another try.
Both are excellent, so the day is off to a good start.
Nothing much planned for the day, well, apart from catching up with Gary, the expat Aussie who lives here.
Oh, and also to find a watch battery for Lisa. Seems to be a rather important requirement….
Back to the room to get organised, and then head out to drop off the empty beer bottles. They’re not open yet, so I leave them in a bag at the door.
Good deed done, we then have a leisurely walk up to a café around the corner, to meet Gary.
We eventually find it; not sure we would have found it without directions; and take a seat. It’s in a really good spot, where it backs onto the same small river that flows past the Ruby hotel.
Very peaceful; tranquil, if you like; and nicely shaded to help with the heat.
One of those things again, I suppose, where it’s just so different to what you’ll find a few minutes down the road.
Looking around, there’s only one other westerner in there, and because we’ve never seen Gary, I don’t know if it’s him or not.
I decide to let Gary find us, seeing as I suspect we perhaps stand out a little more than he does.
Yes, making assumptions again….
A few minutes later another westerner walks in, and sure enough, it’s him.
Starting to get good with this assumption thing!
Apparently the coconut coffee is really good here, so that’s that decision made.
And it is, so we sit and savour and just talk.
It was really interesting hearing about life as an expat in Hoi An. While it’s obviously a very enjoyable lifestyle, there are some things that make it a little less so. But then again, you get that wherever you are, I suppose.
Before we know it, it’s an hour and a half since we’d arrived. Must have been having fun, because the time just flew.
Gary offers to take us out on a motorbike ride around the countryside of Hoi An, with a mate of his, John.
Would love to, so we head back to the hotel to get ready.
Just after 12.00pm Gary and John turn up and we’re quickly on our way.
We head in towards town, and as we do, it starts to drizzle. Fortunately, it doesn’t last long.
Across to An Hoi island, and then onto the steel bridge we walked across the other day when we were on our XO tour.
I know I’ve said it before, but seriously, seeing Vietnam, or parts of it, from the back of a bike, is just the best way you can do it.
It puts you right in amongst it; including the people.
Now well and truly out in the rural area, and not for the first time, I’m more than happy being in this environment.
We pull up outside a boat building place, and no, not the one that is opposite An Hoi island.
This one is further away, and as such, they don’t sell souvenirs. I mean why would they, I doubt they see too many tourists.
John talks to a woman that lives or works there, and she says we can go in for a look.
Talk about old school boat building.
I’m sure I stood there with my mouth open for most of the time. As well as a bit of head shaking.
While the boats were reasonably big, it wasn’t so much about their size, but more about what they were made of, and how they were made.
All timber, and very large dimensions and lengths of it. So labour intensive, but so well done. You’d need to be a real craftsman to build something in that way. It really was fascinating.
I think both Gary and John had seen it before, but I got the feeling they still get a buzz out of seeing the construction.
Perhaps part of that, is none of us could work out how the hell they got these things in the water, once they’ve been completed.
With more questions than answers now bouncing around in my head, we were soon back on the bikes.
Gary led the way with Lisa on the back, while John and I followed.
It perhaps should have been the other way round, as it wasn’t long before Gary got us lost.
That actually made me feel that little bit better, seeing as he’s been here for quite some time and still manages to do what I have a knack of doing very easily, here.
Although, I normally get lost with the aid of a map…..
Eventually ‘we’ work out where we are, and not long after we find what we’re looking for: the bamboo bridge.
I think I’d heard about this bridge before, but really didn’t know anything about it. And now, kind of out in the middle of nowhere, here it was.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but what I was looking at was not what I expected. If that makes sense.
First of all, it’s aptly named. Yep, lots of bamboo!
Second, it’s long. Far longer than I thought it would be. And far longer than I thought you could build a bridge just using bamboo.
And third, it’s not the strongest, most sturdy looking, structure I’ve ever seen.
But, seeing as the Vietnamese are an ingenious race, I’m willing to trust them on this.
But not on the back of a motorbike; I’ll walk thanks.
And, I’ll walk after Gary and John have gone first with their bikes.
More to do with manners, as opposed to sending something heavier than me, first.
The guys start heading over, and from where Lisa and I are, the bridge seems to be holding up. It doesn’t seem overly happy though, judging by the sounds it’s making.
Continuing with the manners thing, as well as because I am the gentleman that I am, I offer Lisa to go ahead of me.
But she wants to walk with me.
With fingers crossed, we take the leap of faith.
And whaddya know, it stays where it’s supposed to. It ‘talks’ a lot, and bounces and moves, but it does it’s job.
It may not look like it’s been built by a ‘craftsman’ of the boat building variety we saw earlier, but it’s still an engineering accomplishment.
That ingenuity thing, I suppose.
We eventually get across to the other side; would have got there quicker had I not stopped a couple of times to make the bridge bounce a little more, just to scare Lisa; (well, I thought it was funny….) and are reunited with Gary and John.
John pays the ‘toll’ to the woman there; apparently it was built by a local family, and they also maintain it; and there’s a minor dispute on how much it should be.
Quickly sorted, we head off.
We soon find a little local café, and the question of whether we should stop for a caphe sua da, results in the unanimous decision it always should.
So, more sitting, savouring and chatting. Love it. And for me, it’s an important component of any trip to Vietnam.
Coffee done, we’re back on the bikes. Through the countryside, and honestly, I’ve got no idea where we are.
And don’t need to, seeing as I ain’t in charge of the steering thing.
The scenery then begins to change, but unfortunately, not in a good way.
Wide open spaces of farmland quickly give way to wide open spaces of construction. As well as future construction.
Yep, the resorts of Danang are making their way south to the outskirts of Hoi An.
And the size of the area being ‘developed’ is just massive.
There’s even a huge area where they’re growing grass that will be planted, I don’t know, at one, or several, of the resorts??? Or maybe it’s for a golf course? I don’t know, it doesn’t matter.
The locals don’t stand a chance, cause when the time comes, they’ll have no choice. They’ll just be shunted away.
And the whole thing annoys me.
Eventually we come to a familiar sight; well, maybe not familiar, but I was pretty sure what it was; the rather large Cua Dai bridge.
It was still under construction when we were last here, and while we hadn’t seen it up close before, we had seen it from a distance.
Now at the top, we pulled over to take in the view. And that’s just another thing I love about Vietnam. I mean really, how many bridges of this size do you reckon you could just stop for a look at the view from, in Australia?
Yeah, probably not many.
Anyway, that view?
Gives you a good perspective of the whole area. Rural area back towards Hoi An to the west, up towards Danang to the North, and new resorts being built to the south…..
Trying to forget about the south, I concentrate on the east; the Thu Bon river flowing out to the sea.
And the main part of that is the small village on the southern side. Looking at it from quite a distance, as well as with the benefit of the zoom on the camera, it looks like a quintessential Vietnamese fishing village. The countless number of the traditional, colourful boats in the water, just adds to the whole picture.
It’s a great scene, but after what we’ve just driven past, I can’t help but wonder how long it will be there.
I’m really having trouble shaking my feeling of annoyance.
View admired, we continue on down the bridge. At the bottom, with a few buses parked on the side of the road, we turn right towards the Coconut Village. Obviously a bit of a tourist attraction, and judging by the buses, I wasn’t sure this was going to be my thing.
And it didn’t take long to confirm that.
Squeezing, and I really mean squeezing, between so many buses, it was just ridiculous.
Seriously, I don’t know how many buses were actually in Vietnam on this particular day, but it seemed the vast majority were here.
John commented that it might be a bit busy, and my reply was that I’d already seen enough.
We turned around, which was no mean feat, and headed back towards the road.
Just for the hell of it, I decided to try and count the buses.
Twenty seven buses!
I’m….., well…., just speechless.
Getting close to 3.00pm, we decided to call it a day and headed back into Hoi An.
I really enjoyed seeing the countryside, but at the same time felt somewhat saddened, as well as concerned, at some of the stuff we’d seen.
The ridiculous number of buses had just added to that concern.
The guys dropped us off at the hotel, and in the process, offered to show us around a bit more tomorrow morning.
Incredibly generous, as well as just great blokes, we jumped at the chance.
Lisa and I then headed into town for a walk, as well as to try and find a banh mi. Back to Phuong Banh Mi, because it was easy, as well as good, and we order one each.
20 000 Dong times two, but for some reason it’s 25 000 Dong times two. Maybe I had it wrong, maybe I didn’t, either way, I couldn’t be bothered questioning it.
We make our way into the centre of town, slightly annoyed at the banh mi price, but perhaps more so at just seeing what’s happening to this area.
We’ve only just walked in, and it’s already pissing me off. Big time!
In hindsight, heading into tourist central, at this particular time, perhaps wasn’t the greatest of ideas.
It was madness, with people clamouring over each without a concern for anyone else but themselves.
I stop and grab a couple of cold drinks; trying to keep her happy, while trying to keep me cool; and then have an insatiable urge to get out of here.
And if I thought I was annoyed before….
Trying to get out, and quickly at that, Lisa mentions her watch battery requirement, again.
Well, that doesn’t help things, and neither does it help her feelings towards me.
The day that had started so well, was, well, not going so great now.
Noticed a jewellery shop offering money exchange just outside the Ancient Town, (probably should have asked about watch batteries there…) and decided to check the rate.
My phone was showing 17 650, and they offered 17 400, so we did the deal.
The walk continues back to the hotel, and we finally get to my beer place. My mate isn’t there, but up a bit further at the other one, there he is.
I say goodbye to Lisa; she wouldn’t have joined us anyway; and I take a seat while Lisa continues her walk.
I suspect we were both happy with that scenario….
Beer quickly turns up, the passing parade is watched, and finally, things just seem that little bit better.
Once again, it’s that down time. That time where you just need to do nothing, but at the same time, that nothing is just so much.
I sit and chat with my mate, and finally, after all our previous chats, I actually find out his name is Le.
Not really sure why it hadn’t come up before, probably just wasn’t that important, but anyway, his name is Le.
A few minutes later another guy turns up and sits with us. This time I get his name early, and it turns out Trung used to be Le’s teacher, and they’re now good mates.
I’m not sure what he was a teacher of, but it wasn’t English, as that was a little limited. But, as usual, that wasn’t a problem.
So we sat, talked, laughed, and just generally had a great time. Le told me that Trung had been married three times, and also had six kids.
I must have had a bit of a surprised, or maybe confused, look on my face, or perhaps it was my response of, “Why?”, because a big grin came across his face.
“Too many!”, I said, “Of everything!”
He laughed, and I suspect he agreed with me.
It was starting to get on a bit but they convinced me, quite easily I might add, to have one more.
Trung even bought me that last one, and as much as I protested, no, was never going to be the answer.
As far as he was concerned, it was his shout.
Seriously, I’ve had some great times over the journey doing this sort of stuff in Vietnam, but tonight was right up there.
A great couple of guys, a few beers, heaps of laughs, and just so much fun.
But damn it, I’d gone from looking forward to my final day in Hoi An tomorrow, and yes, when I say final, I mean final day ever; never to bother returning; to now thinking that perhaps we could come back at some stage.
And once again, it’s the people.
Final beer done, and unfortunately, it was time to leave. But before that, a couple of photos, and a promise that we would do it all again tomorrow night.
I headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up, almost skipping the whole way, I was so happy with the world.
Time for dinner, Lisa and I then walk up to Cua Dai road; even though we’d done the very same thing the night before without success; and turn left, which is what we’d also done last night.
Trying not to cause friction, she still seemed a little, shall we say, annoyed, with me, I decide to let her make the decision.
Which she does.
Okay, wouldn’t have been my choice, but it wasn’t about me.
Anyway, a rather large restaurant, quite busy, with a fairly extensive menu list.
The fact that it was a ‘large’ restaurant, I can deal with. I prefer smaller, but I was okay with that.
The ‘busy’ part would normally be good, except it was busy with lots of people that looked like us.
And the ‘extensive’ menu, well, that I had a problem with. The various ‘western’ dishes listed on it, also didn’t help.
Open mind, open mind, keep her happy…..
A couple of beers ordered, and finally, ten minutes later they arrive.
We then sit. And wait. And wait some more.
The skipping back to the hotel now seems a long time ago, and the level of happiness with the world was at a level nowhere near earlier.
Beer finished, and with an eye on the time seeing as I have a beer engagement with Phuc, back at the hotel, I get up to pay our beer tab.
Be stuffed if I’m waiting around any longer when they haven’t even taken our food order.
The owner / chef is apologetic, but nowhere near enough, so I don’t in the slightest feel bad.
We head back out into the street, and we’re now in the same predicament as 24 hours ago.
And the day had started out so great….
We go through the motions, and of course nothing is suitable, and eventually we end up at the phó place from last night.
She’s happy with this; well, as happy as she’s going to be tonight; I’m happy enough, and the friendly and smiling husband / cook from last night is happy.
But his wife is not.
She’s cracked it at her husband because he welcomed us in. It’s a bit after 8.30pm, and she is of the opinion it’s too late.
We enjoy our phó, and it’s just as good as last night, while the wife huffs and puffs and bangs things around making her displeasure known.
And the day had started out so great….
Phó finished, but not too quickly as I wanted to annoy her a little longer, and I go and pay the husband.
I don’t tip in Vietnam, but I do round up on certain things. And this time, because I’m giving the husband the money, I round up a little more than usual.
Partly as a thank you to him for allowing us in, and partly to make his wife feel bad.
But there was also a third reason, and that was because I felt sorry for him for having to put up with his wife.
Perhaps he feels the same about me…..
Yeah, the night really had gone to a certain place…..
We get back to the hotel; ‘twas a pretty quiet walk home; and catch up with Phuc.
Sitting outside enjoying a beer, and just chatting about anything and everything. I know I’ve said before, but he really is a lovely guy, and he’s incredibly passionate about his family and his business.
It starts to drizzle, so Lisa calls it a night and heads upstairs, while Phuc and I head in undercover for one more beer.
Beer done, and with it now getting a little late, I too call it a night. Despite the way the day had panned out, it was nice to just sit and chat for a while.
I head upstairs, and for the first time in Vietnam, things feel a little frosty.
Yep, I’m in the bad books.
A final beer, a bit of note taking, and then I’m done.
Hmmm, and the day had started out so great….
Footnote – Unfortunately, the bamboo bridge was destroyed by floods in November 2017, just two weeks after we saw it. As at May 2018, it had not been re-built. We now feel very fortunate to have seen it.