Tom and Tessa

South East Asia 2016-17

Hoi An part one

We said goodbye to John in Quy Nhon at 6am and boarded the sleeper bus to Hoi An. As the name suggests, sleeper buses have much longer seats than a regular bus which are reclined (liegend) to allow you to sleep. Unfortunately (Unglücklicherweise), any chance we had of sleeping was ruined by the fact they insisted (auf etw bestehen) playing Vietnam’s version of Strictly Come Dancing (Let’s Dance) at full volume. Quite why they thought anyone would want to watch that particular (speziell) show at that particular volume (Lautstärke) at that particular time is anyone’s guess. Anywho, five hours later we were dropped off, tired, in the driving rain at Hoi An bus station where we were immediately (umgehend/ sofort) approached (sich jmd nähern/ ansprechen) by two fellas on mopeds asking where we were going. Their price for the 5km journey was 100,000 dong each which was quickly reduced to 50,000 dong each when we refused. Despite their claims (Behauptung) that taxis won’t drive us all the way (why would a taxi drop you off half way?!), we hailed a cab which then took us directly to our accommodation – Coco Riverside Homestay – for 60,000 dong.

The discomfort (Unannehmlichkeit) of our journey was immediately forgotten as we checked into what has been our favourite place of our entire trip so far!

Hoi An is a small city of 120,000 people slap-bang (ganz genau) in the middle of the Vietnamese coast. Historically, it was a very important trading (Handel) port (Hafen) but, from the end of the 18th century, nearby Da Nang became the main centre of trade (Geschäftszentrum) in the region and Hoi An became largely forgotten (vergessen) and untouched (unberührt) for most of the next 200 years. This included (beinhalten) nearly no damage (Schaden) to the city during the Vietnam War and, in 1999, it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

Coco is run by Thao and her husband Hung and only opened in September 2016 after they added an extension (Erweiterung, in dem Fall: Anbau) to the back of their riverside (Flussufer) home. The room itself was spacious with a big comfortable bed and a Western-style bathroom with a separating (trennen) shower screen – unusual (ungewöhnlich) in Vietnam. But the real beauty was in the garden which our balcony overlooked (überschauen). A nicely kept area with a jetty (Anlegestelle) and deckchairs (Liegestuhl) at the end looking out over the Coco River where the sun set every evening providing a beautiful scene. We’d struck gold! And all for $20/£16/18.50€ per night!

After Thao bought us each a complimentary (gratis) banana shake and showed us a map of the area, we took two of the free bicycles (see how great this place is!) they provided into Hoi An Ancient Town – just ten minutes ride away – to have a look around.

We ate some street food at the main Hoi An market and I also bought a Vietnamese drip coffee filter for 20,000 dong (70p, 0.85€) from a lovely old lady tending a stall. We also walked to the famous Japanese Bridge; a unique (einzigartig) covered (überdacht) bridge that used to separate (trennen) the Japanese settlement from the old Vietnamese town. There we found a lovely small gallery and Tessa bought a nice little rice paper painting.

We cycled back to Coco and, after changing, wandered down the street looking for somewhere to eat. We came across a small place with the familiar red plastic furniture (Möbel) and sat down. Little did we know but this would be the site of “Life-changing rice” (Lebens-verändernder Reis)!

We ordered some chili-cooked chicken, spring rolls (Frühlingsrolle) and the most delicious fried rice I’ve ever eaten! It was fried to perfection (not too greasy (fettig)) with vegetables (nice and crisp) but the pièce de résistance were small pieces of fried breadcrumbs (Brotkrümel) which gave the whole dish a crunch, completely changing (ändern) (and improving (verbessern)) the texture (Textur). It was a real life-changing moment for me. Tessa didn’t seem to agree but she’s from Germany and we all know their food is crap 🙂 (Tessa: “At least we know how to brew proper beer!”). I loved the rice so much that I dragged Tessa back (zurückschleppen) there two more times on our stay in Hoi An to drink in the historic happening! (Tessa: ”Not that I minded it a lot, as the spring rolls were excellent!”)

Next day, Thao made us Cau Lao (pronounced “cow low”) for breakfast; a local Hoi An dish (Gericht) of noodles and beef in a soy and peanut (Erdnuss) soup served with fresh salad – delicious!

We’d planned a proper day of sightseeing around Hoi An Ancient Town and set off on our bikes. We visited too many places to give a detailed account of each one (and some were pretty similar or not particularly noteworthy) but the full list from our day was:

– Trieu Chau Chinese Assembly Hall
– Minh Huong Ancestor Worship House
– Temple of Quan Cong
– Phuoc Kien Chinese Assembly Hall
– Museum of Trade Ceramics
– Old House Tan Ky
– Quang Trieu Cantonese Assembly Hall
– Old House of Phung Hung

Our two particular favourite buildings of the day were Phuoc Kien Chinese assembly hall and the Old House of Tan Ky. Phuoc Kien was built in 1690 and serves the large Fujian Chinese ethnic group. The gardens in the front of the assembly hall (Aula) are beautiful and features many amazing sculptures as well as trees and flowers. The main hall is a fantastic example of Chinese-Vietnamese architecture. Unfortunately, a bus-load of middle-aged Western tourists arrived at the same time as us and noisily (laut) walked round the hall, touching some of the artefacts on display and taking pictures of people praying in the temple. The lack of respect (fehlender Respekt) and obliviousness (wenn man nicht wahrnimmt was man macht) was very disappointing (enttäuschend).

The Old House of Tan Ky is a merchant’s (Händler/ Kaufmann) house that was built (erbaut) in the early 19th century and backs onto the riverside quay. It features Japanese and Chinese, as well as Vietnamese architectural influences which were explained to us in a short guided tour at the start of our visit. On one wall, there are markings (Markierung) showing the level of flood water (Überflutungslevel) from various years up 1.5m high and it was revealed (verraten/offenbaren) that the house floods every single year when the river water level rises. We later asked Thao if they have similar problems and they said their garden floods (überfluten) every year and comes up to the back steps of their house! Flooding is a constant worry (konstante Sorge) for the residents of Hoi An as the topography of the area is very flat.

During our city exploration, we came across a series of 30 or more easels (Staffelei) on the riverside with large printed photos on them. These turned out to be samples (Muster) from an exhibit of a French photographer living in Hoi An called Réhahn. He had just opened up a studio on the edge of the Ancient Town so we called in for a visit on our way home and were not left disappointed.

Réhahn has converted (verwandeln) a traditional Vietnamese house into a gallery housing his “Precious Heritage” project. Over five years, he has travelled all over Vietnam and documented 40 of the 54 Vietnamese ethnic groups and has brought back traditional clothing and other items which he has put on display (ausstellen) along with stunning (eindrucksvoll) photos of the people he has met. Some groups, such as the O Đu and Brâu tribes number just a few hundred people so Réhahn’s project is an important cultural record (Aufzeichnung/Nachweis/Protokoll) as well as a remarkable photographic collection.

Alongside the “Precious Heritage” project, Réhahn has produced two books called “Vietnam: Mosaic of Contrats” volumes one and two which each feature three categories of his works: old people, young children and landscapes. The books contain outstanding pieces of photography and, it turns out, Réhahn is – in the words of Ron Burgundy – kind of a big deal (‘ne große Sache). He has been featured countless times (es wurde unzählige Male schon über ihn geschrieben) in National Geographic, Conde Nast Traveller, BBC Travel, LA Times, The Independent, Forbes and many other major publications, and has also been ranked (klassifiziert/einen Rang einnehmen) as one of the best portrait and world travel photographers in the World alongside Steve McCurry of Afghan Girl fame.

The gallery was a real highlight for us and all the more special as we just stumbled across (drüberstolpern) it.

The weather hadn’t been so great for us since arriving in Vietnam but on our second full day in Hoi An, we had our second full day of blazing sunshine so we took the opportunity (Gelegenheit) to work on our tans at the beach.

We’d been told by Thao and also the attendant at Réhahn’s gallery that we should give the main Cua Dai beach a miss and head further along the coast to An Bang beach. We hopped on our bicycles and headed east out of Hoi An and spent half an hour cycling through beautiful Vietnamese countryside (Natur/Landschaft) on our way.

As we cycled down the main street to An Bang beach, all the shops on the side had signs outside saying “Park here. Buy big water. 10,000” which left us a little confused (verwirrt) as to why you would pay to leave your bike when surely you could just park it up against a wall at the beach front? How silly of us. We reached the end of the road and a sign told us “no vehicles” past this point and onto the beachside. Right before the barrier, there was a covered (überdacht) area with lots of other bikes and as we stopped, the lady in charge came up to us with a ticket in hand for parking. “20,000”, she demanded. “No no, 10,000”, I replied. “Ok, 10,000”, she agreed, “for each”. “What? Why would we pay 10,000 for each bike to park here when we can pay that next-door AND get a free bottle of water?”, I countered. She didn’t like that. She got quite mad that Tessa and I didn’t just go along with her little scam and shooed us away (verscheuchen). So we walked next-door, where we parked our bikes, took our bottle of water and walked towards the sand. Sometimes this country makes no sense. The whole thing is a typical bit of Vietnamese ‘entrepreneurship’ but I don’t have a problem with people making a bit of cash as long as they’re not ripping people off.

After a couple of hours sunning ourselves at the beach, we had to head back because, that evening, Thao and her family had invited us (and the other Coco guests) to a special Tet meal in the garden. We were very excited!

Earlier in the day we’d bought some flowers and Danish biscuits (they’re really popular over here for some reason!) as a present to bring to the dinner and, as we handed them over to Thao and An, they ushered (etw einführen/anleiten) us to sit at the garden table. There we chatted to Herbert and Petra, a couple from Heidelberg, and Anja, a woman from Berlin (bloody Germans are everywhere!). We’d briefly met them over the last couple of days but hadn’t had a chance to properly chat and they turned out to be good company.

Before too long, Thao and Hung emerged carrying many plates of food and, once all on the table, we surveyed (untersuchen/begutachten) the feast in front of us. There were plates of all kinds of meats cooked in all kinds of ways as well as plenty of rice and noodles, of course!

We started with a solid pork paté-like snack with garlic pieces as well as strips of duck with ginger soup sauce. This was followed up by pork with noodles, pickled vegetables, garlic soup and a special Tet dish called Banh Tet which are fried rice cakes with a pork centre (which Tessa actually helped prepare). As we expected, every dish was absolutely delicious!

We all chatted about our travels and our countries while sipping some of Hung’s local white wine which had to be accompanied by the Vietnamese version of cheers/Prost; “YO” (said very loudly).

Afterwards, we retired to the smaller garden table for dessert of guava slices with salt (Vietnamese people often eat fruit with salt), fried sweet rice cake (which Tessa fried) and green tea. Then An got the Uno cards out and we had a few games of Uno. Unbelievably, with four Germans at the table, we somehow managed to agree on a set of rules (Regeln) and had a lot of fun!

We were so so thankful to Thao, Hung and An – not just for the wonderful food but also the insight (Einblick) into Tet and the Vietnamese culture at such a special time of year for them.

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© 2021 Tom and Tessa.