The penultimate stop on our 14 month around-the-world travel sabbatical was Hoi An, Vietnam. From Hanoi, we took a short flight to Da Nang then caught a van to our hotel in Hoi An.
Hoi An was an important trading port in the 15th century and features a preserved old town that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.
At night the town is lit by countless colorful lanterns. For a few dollars you can ride up and down the river on a lighted boat.
Breakfast in Vietnam is always a delight. Most hotels offer a mix of European and Asian fare, along with local fruits. Our youngest son took a liking to passion fruit and gobbled up several of them every morning.
After breakfast we borrowed bikes from the hotel and biked into town.
The old town is closed to motorized vehicles for most of the day, making it a pleasant place to cycle around. Some of the streets were crowded with throngs of tourists though!
In town we stopped by Phin Coffee, a specialty coffee shop that is owned and operated by our friend Thinh who guided us through Vietnam the first time we visited a dozen years ago.
Thinh showed us the traditional way of making Vietnamese coffee, using metal pour-over filters.
The coffee beans here are sourced from Vietnam and roasted on site. The coffee was delicious!
A local specialty is “egg coffee,” which is iced coffee topped with a frothed mixture of egg whites and coconut.
After finishing our coffees we strolled over to the Japanese covered bridge, which was built in 1590 to connect the Chinese and Japanese communities.
Later in the afternoon we took a taxi to the beach where we met up with another family that we had met on our Lan Ha Bay cruise.
The kids played until sunset and then we walked to a nearby beach side restaurant for dinner.
The following day we went on a bicycle tour of nearby Cat Kim island with Hoi An Cycling. Our tour started with a boat ride across the river to the island.
On the island, we rode along narrow paths bisecting huge rice fields.
Our first stop was a local home and rice wine production facility. The family that lives here grows rice, which they use (in part) to produce rice wine. The rice grains are steeped in hot water to remove the starch, which is fermented to create the rice wine.
After the rice is steeped, the leftover rice is fed to pigs that live in the same room. The pig waste is placed into an underground pit where it ferments, producing methane, which is in turn used to create the flame that is used to cook the rice wine. We were impressed by this ingenious system!
After tasting some of the rice wine we were invited to the family room, where the homeowner told us a little about his experience as a soldier in the war against Cambodia. Then he sang us a song as he strummed his guitar.
Our next stop was the home of an older couple who earn their living making sleeping mats. The kids got to join in making the mats and afterwards we bought a placemat sized version for a couple of dollars as a keepsake.
After cycling for most of the morning it was time for lunch. We stopped at a third home where we got to help prepare our meal.
The first step was to make rice noodles. We spread a rice flour paste in a thin layer on a piece of fabric that was stretched out over an oven fueled by burning rice husks. After about 30 seconds the noodle pancake was cooked.
Next we used a slicer to cut the noodle sheets into thin strips.
Finally, our hosts added vegetables, chicken, shrimp, and seasonings to make the traditional noodle dish called ” Mì Quảng .”
The kids are always more receptive to trying a new dish when they helped make it!
We finished our tour with a boat ride back to Hoi An. The bike tour was an awesome experience and it was especially educational to visit the homes of locals to see how they live and work.
The following day we did some more cooking, this time at the Green Mango restaurant in the old town.
Our menu included fresh springs rolls, a banana flower chicken dish, and pho.
Preparing Pho – a noodle soup that is probably the most popular Vietnamese food export.
For dessert – our favorite – mango sticky rice. Mango sticky rice is a common dish across Southeast Asia and it was interesting to learn how it was prepared differently in Vietnam from the methods we had used in Thailand and Bali.
What a feast! Did I mention we all loved the food in Vietnam?
The narrow alleyways of Hoi An are popular places for snapping photos, especially for brides and couples.
Our next activity was making lanterns at “The Lantern Lady“. These lanterns would make an appropriate keepsake for our visit to Hoi An.
We started with lantern frames and chose the fabrics we wanted to use, glued them to the frames, then trimmed the edges.
Here’s the finished product. Even though the lanterns were somewhat collapsible they still took up a lot of room in our luggage. Fortunately we only had a couple more plane trips to make!
Walking back to our hotel we saw that fisherman had spread shrimp out on the sidewalk to dry. We wondered why there were no sea birds around to steal them.
On our last evening in Hoi An we met back up with Thinh, who took us on a walking tour of town, including a stop at the Quan Cong Temple.
Later we went to a recently opened restaurant that had a rooftop patio, the highest point in town. Here we had some drinks and snacks and enjoyed the view of the setting sun.
Our pleasant meal was interrupted when our youngest son fell from his chair and hit his chin squarely on the corner of the seat. This opened a gash on his chin which began bleeding profusely. Servers and other guests rushed over with tissues to stop the bleeding.
Unlike the time that our oldest cut her chin while attempting a backflip in Oslo, it was clear that a bandaid was not going to be a sufficient treatment. Someone from the restaurant offered us a ride to the emergency room. Wes and our patient climbed aboard the motorbike and we made our way to the ER.
At the ER a nurse examined the cut and confirmed that stitches were going to be required. A few minutes later an English speaking doctor arrived, took out a bundle of surgical tools (which appeared to have been sterilized properly) and put the first stitch in. There was no anesthesia but our son did a good job holding still. The doctor examined his work and determined that “just one more” stitch was needed. After the second stitch, “just one more.” By the third stitch our son was starting to lose his composure but fortunately we were done.
We paid our ER bill (about $40) and made our way back to the restaurant (again by scooter) to meet the others, then caught a cab back to the hotel. We’d definitely had enough drama for that evening.
The next morning we were off to the airport to catch a flight to our final destination, Hong Kong. Despite the traumatic end to our stay in Hoi An, we had some wonderful experiences there and were glad that we went!