Hello! How was everybody's weekend? Mine was great...until I signed onto facebook and saw a notification on my blog page that I hadn't posted in six days and started feeling all sorts of shamed. Like, lay off, Zuckerberg, I'm busy! But fo' real I should probably hop to, this honeymoon recap is threatening to last longer than the French occupation of Vietnam, or as it was known in those days: Indochina. But enough trivia, let's get back to the good stuff, me!
After our few unstructured days of wining and dining around Hoi An we were back on the adventure circuit with two of my very favorite days of the trip. Which I know I already said about every single other day of the trip...but this time I mean it.
First up: biking around the countryside around Hoi An with Heaven & Earth Bicycle Tours for their "Real Vietnam" tour. As with our day in the Halong Bay, it was so much better, even, than it seemed on already impressive paper! We met our group - six other bikers and two amazing guides - bright and early at 8 AM and all boarded a small wooden boat, riding about an hour to an island off the coast of Hoi An.
We weaved around fishing nets, men digging for clams on the bottom of the river and even a few people filling up boats with sand - apparently there is a black market for sand from contractors who need to landscape new developments but want to keep things on the cheap. Interesting!
Upon arriving at the island, we hit the trails. Again, as with kayaking in Halong or motorbiking in Hue, I learned that some of my favorite parts of the trip were also the moments from which I have the least photos, I was too busy actively soaking up the day to take too many photographs. And when I do look back on pictures, as pretty as they are they don't capture the feeling and essence of being there.
Not to stay I didn't still try!
The route was outstanding, winding through rice paddies, along the river, into tiny, bright villages stopping often for water, snacks and photo ops.
We rode over a number of increasingly scary bamboo bridges, each barely wide enough for a bike to scoot through. Most of the bridges were public but one was a private bridge with a toll booth on one side - essentially a bamboo lean-to with a lady sleeping inside and collecting coins.
At one point we took another wooden boat, this one literally big enough for our group of ten, a driver and our bikes...and no more. We had to strategically sit in very specific spots based on size and weight to keep the boat from capsizing! We were served an insanely delicious lunch of fresh caught fish and the whole day was wonderfully paced, adventurous and active without ever feeling rushed or stressful.
What made it the "Real Vietnam" tour was a series of visits to the homes and studios of, well, real Vietnamese, living and working on the island, many continuing to practice traditional crafts and often quite poor. We saw how they make rice noodles, rice wine, bamboo sleeping mats and bamboo "basket boats," which we then got to try our hands at paddling.
These boats are perfectly round and you use a single paddle in front, sweeping in an "S" formation to move the boat front and back. Or, like, allegedly that's how it's done. We never really got the hang. EVERY SINGLE OTHER person in our group completely nailed it, including a ten-year-old child, and Brian and I just spun the stupid boat in circles.
Our route took us all the way back into town, returning us to the Heaven & Earth offices around 5 PM, sweaty and sunburnt and happily exhausted. We had another delicious dinner in town that night, including these fried crab dumpling thingies which I proceeded to drop all over the table and my lap...and photograph just for my dear cousin Marikay who predicted I'd bring my usual table manners across the world.
For you, MK, just for YOU!! Pretend I mailed you a postcard.
My table manners were put to the test again the following day as we took an all day cooking class with Red Bridge Cooking School. Again, eleventy billion times better than our already sky-high expectations! Every single restaurant in Hoi An offered cooking lessons and we saw a number of classes taking place right in the middle of crowded dining rooms, very low on the ambiance front. Our class was held at a restaurant/school outside of the city limits, a stunning venue overlooking the river with an outdoor kitchen, crystal clear lap pool and flowering trees all along the grounds.
Again we were in a group of eight, two other couples and two girlfriends on vacation (or holiday, as the Europeans call it!) (Europeans who, btw, were horrified to hear that our two-week trip was a full on luxury, most of them start their jobs with a minimum of six weeks paid vacay. Er, holiday. Tomaytoh tomaahhhto, we're doing it wrong!)
First our chef guide took us to an herb farming village just outside of town. The farmers live along the outside of the village, with the herb gardens in the middle laid out in beautiful, tidy rows of basil, coriander, lemongrass and more. Each family specializes in a particular herb so that all are grown in equal quantities.
We then went to market to purchase ingredients for class. Hoi An has two markets, one downtown with a heavy tourist presence and this one, frequented by locals. We ran into the woman who was tailoring clothes for us buying supplies for her lunch - we were pretty clearly like, 2 legit 2 quit, shopping where the locals do!
The market was a blast, cranned with busy stalls selling fresh fish - including STINGRAYS! - veggies, meats, fruit and spices, everything bursting with vibrant color.
We got a tasty snack of rice flour balls filled with a red bean paste, #nom, and then headed out to the Red Bridge School.
The best part about group activities is that you have lots of other people you can ask to take couple photos, so you don't have to resort to selfies or those awkward solo person standing in front of a monument shot.
Once again our day was leisurely paced and relaxing. Beverages were included with the class fee so we all started boozing right away, we'd cook a little, sit and drink a little, stare at the scenery a little, eat a lot, repeat, repeat, repeat. It was glorious.
We made four dishes: beef pho, grilled shrimp in banana leaves, claypot fish with lemongrass (my favorite!) and papaya salad with chicken. The actual cooking was pretty low key - mostly we just pounded up a bunch of ingredients with a mortar and pestle and threw meat onto the grill and I don't know that we necessarily learned anything super groundbreaking, but the results were oh-so-tasty and the day was a delight so I'd recommend to anyone. We're planning to have a pho party at some point and invite friends over to show off our skillz.
You're all invited! BYO cow bone.
After scarfing all of our doofs, we swam around in the gorgeous pool for a while, feeling chic and fancy, then took a boat ride back into town. The weather had been predicting storms - our first bad weather of the trip - and as we were on the boat the sky opened up and absolutely POURED and poured and poured complete with thunder and lightening.
It was kind of scary and truly awesome in the most direct definition of the word, seeing nature at work. When we got off the boat, we still had to pick up our bikes at the dock and get ourselves back to our hotel - we debated waiting it out, but saw it was making no signs of letting up, so we just went for it. It was wild! At one point we had to pedal through a puddle so deep we were submerged to our hips! Somehow we stayed upright on the bikes (#blessed!) and didn't get washed away to sea. It was so intense!
This was the view from our room during a slight respite in the rain, I thought that skinny tree in the middle was going to blow right over to Laos.
It continued to pour for the rest of the night. We debated taking a taxi into town for dinner but, truly were feeling a little homebodyish after so many days of activities and were getting a little sick of eating at restaurants every night (ugh, exotic honeymoon travel is so hard, pity us!) so we talked to our hotel staff about room service, andddd the only food they could get us was pizza!
CHA CHING! Full disclosure: that's totally what we were in the mood for. Love me some rice noodles, oh, I do, but anything eaten for two dozen meals in a row begins to lose its luster. Sometimes you just have to sit around your hotel in matching hippie tourist pajamas, taking self-timer photos of yourself eating below average pizza, you know what I mean?
Not even lying, it was super fun (and the pizza was actually pretty delish) and I regret nothing.
(Except including my feet in this photo. I have really creepy toes...)
Up next, a little interlude on tailored clothes and the madness that is shopping in Hoi An before we hop-skip-jump over to Cambodia for a hot second. Yay! And then we're almost done! I'm sure you're thrilled. Even I'm getting a little sick of hearing myself talk about my vacation and I love hearing myself talk. But now that I've started, there's no turning back! I never quit anything! Well, except volleyball...and Girl Scouts...and every musical instrument I ever attempted...and lots of other things...but that was the old me! The new me just slogs on and on and on and on and on annnnddddddddddddd
See ya later!
Peace, Love & Pho, Liz Hott