#HottsinVietnam Days 8 & 9: In Which We Bike, Cook and Wear Matching PJs

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. 

fishing nets

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!

island house

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! 

bike trails!
fishing village
ride paddies, yo

The route was outstanding, winding through rice paddies, along the river, into tiny, bright villages stopping often for water, snacks and photo ops. 

dragonfly

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.

bridge uno
bridge dos!

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. 

paddleboat failure

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.

stupid boats!!!

Fail!

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. 

dumpling time!

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. 

Red Bridge Cooking School
cooking buddies!

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. 

herb gardens
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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!

to market, to market
stingray!!!
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The market was a blast, cranned with busy stalls selling fresh fish - including STINGRAYS! - veggies, meats, fruit and spices, everything bursting with vibrant color.

bean ballz

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. 

red bridge lovebirds

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. 

cooking class hottie

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. 

PHO!!!

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.

rain storm on the river

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!

stormy sky

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!

'za

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.

 

we are idiots

 (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

ON. 

See ya later! 

Peace, Love & Pho, Liz Hott 

 

 

Honeymoon Days 6 & 7: The Hai Van Pass and Beautiful Hoi An

And we're back. At this point your intrepid honeymooners have travelled by plane, boat and motorbike - next up: private car! The next leg of our journey took us from Hue to Hoi An, another city about 90 miles down the coast. There are busses and such but the easiest (and prettiest) way to get from A to B is via private car which sounds fancy but cost like 50 bucks, which I've definitely spent on a night of taxis so perhaps quite not as bougey as it seems. Also you can stop along the way at sites, making your journey into a sightseeing trip. 

We booked a tour through Stop and Go Tours and it was meh. Our tour guide spoke basically no English and we, of course, speak zero Vietnamese and he just kind of drove us around and deposited us at various sightseeing locales and we'd take a photo, read whatever info we could glean from our Lonely Planet Guide and then hop back in, always uncomfortably aware of having another person with us but being unable to communicate with him. So, less "Tour" and more "Automotive Transport With Sightseeing Pauses plus Bonus Class and Race Anxiety."

Good times!

A few of the stops felt kind of arbitrary and pointless, but for the most point the views were spectacular and it did get us where we needed to go, in comfortable, air-conditioned fashion so worth it in the end.

First Stop: Lang Co Beach which was pretty but sort of underwhelming and not really worth the 20-minute detour it took to get there. We parked at a run-down resort that was essentially deserted, save tourists like us, briefly stopping off on bus & car trips and a group of Chinese people doing karaoke on the patio. It was 10 AM. They were, presumably, sober as a judge. Of all the major cultural differences between the United States & Asia, the ONE THING we kept getting caught up is karaoke. Asian people fucking love karaoke!! On the beach there were tents set up, I guess as some kind of museum to the war - all of the signs were in Vietnamese and we didn't want to get suckered into spending any money so we kept our distance. We pretty much just like, used the resort bathrooms, took a few pictures and bounced.

beach weirdness

What's with the tents?! Why do Asian people love Karaoke so much??? Why are we even HERE? The view was neat, though, I'll give 'em that. 

Lang Co

But I'm pleased to say the trip DID get more awesome, as we headed onto the Hai Van Pass a coastal highway that snakes up, up, up into the mountains. At the top of the peak was an old fort, first a French outpost during their rule of Vietnam in the early 20th Century and then used by US & South Vietnamese troops during the American/Vietnamese War. 

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photojournalist

You can see the pass in the back. Brian says he thinks I look like a photojournalist in this picture. I think I look like a goofball but he's nice! This juncture was sort of the halfway mark of the country marking the change between the cooler mountain climates of the North and the tropical winds of the South. Coming down the other side of the mountain was incredible, the hills behind us and ahead, the brightest blue sea and untouched white beaches. 

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We saw this little cove and begged our driver to pause and let us take some photos. There were a few fishermen rowing around in traditional, what we might even call primitive, boats but otherwise nothing but pure nature. It was like stepping back in time! It often feels like there's not an inch of land on the whole earth not being scooped up for development and it was breathtaking to see this spot still so preserved. 

beach views

It'll be interesting to see how long this remains intact. Our trip then wound us through DaNang, a city on the rise in Vietnam. Once a major port and hub for revolutionaries during the war, it's now the "Silicon Valley of the East" with rapid urbanization and industry and lots of sprawl on either end, every inch of coastline now giving way to skyscrapers or increasingly opulent seaside resorts. We paused at My Khe Beach which was a famous spot for R&R for American soldiers stationed around Da Nang and again, underwhelming. A beach is a beach, I guess? 

my khe

Unless, of course, the beach has us because we are adorable.

Also, while in DaNang, we stopped at a random store for several minutes and our driver left us idling at the curb while he went inside and...did something. It may have involved his cell phone? Or it was a drug drop. Whatever he was doing it was very weird and very much not on the itinerary. 

He did not just abandon us there, as we feared, and after his little errand, we stopped at the Marble Mountains, a cluster of marble and limestone hills just south of the city. Originally a source of marble mining, Vietnamese Buddhists turned one of the mountains into a series of natural shrines, carving statues of Buddha, temples and other religious icons right into caves on the mountanside. 

Marble Mountain
buddha stuff
more buddha

This stop was surprisingly beautiful and home to one of the most bizarrely memorable interactions of the trip. To get to the entrance to the mountain you must pass rows and rows of vendors selling trinkets and marble sculptures, which we learned were not even mined on the hills but instead imported from China. We navigated our way through the sellers to the restrooms, walked past what we assumed was a pile of rags when all of a sudden from under the pile leaped a human being who jumped right in front of us, held out her hand and yelled "MONEY!!" She was collecting fees to use the bathroom (not an uncommon occurance abroad) and both of us were so incredibly startled. We realized she probably lived in that pile of rags and this yucky job was her whole life but it was SO weird and kind of hilarious how she just BURST out and screamed MONEY! The whole experience was strange and sad and scary and funny all at once. Kind of a perfect encapsulation of traveling in the third world, I suppose! 

Fi-yi-yiiiinally our trip reached its end destination and what was to become our very favorite city on our trip: Hoi An! 

Hoi An River

Hoi An is an impeccably preserved old port city, now a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is definitely touristy, more upscale and sanitized, with a a bit of an Epcot Center feel which might be off putting to some, but we were all in. After the bustle of Hanoi and sleeping on a boat and the pork and the barfing we were ready for some comfort. 

We checked int our charming hotel, the Ruby Villa, grabbed some bikes and headed into town, about a 10 minute pedal. There were still a number of motorbikes around the town, but lots of pedal bikes, too and the historic downtown area - about 10 square blocks or so - was blocked off from motorbike traffic. And no one locks their bikes, either. Every day we'd just abandon them somewhere in town, wander all around and come back nine hours later to find them unscathed. Ok, I maaaaay have panicked a few times and gotten worried they'd been stolen and made Brian go back with me to check but sure enough, they were always right where we left them. You can take me on vacation but you can NEVER make me chill! 

We spent that afternoon and all of the following day doing what we most love, wandering a new city, popping into shops, stopping for meals and drinks and just soaking it all in. Hoi An is THE cutest of all the towns in the world, windy narrow streets, brightly painted storefronts, boats bobbing in the river, trees bursting with vivid pink bougainvillea flowers and lanterns strung up everywhere. It was hard to make it four feet without me pausing to snap just one more photo. 

Hoi An Streets
Hoi An more more
adorableness
Japanese Covered Bridge
so EFFING CUTE GUYS
boats boats boats
bougainavilla is a hard word to spell
cute bikes!

We had several meals at Morning Glory Restaurant, where I discovered my new favorite food, cao lau -  a noodle dish specific to Hoi An. YOM. Another favorite spot was the Reaching Out Teahouse. Reaching Out is part of a local organization that provides job training and life skills for locals with disabilities. In addition to classes, they run a craft shop (pictured above) that sells artisan goods made by their students, with a focus on fair trade practices and have a tea shop operated entirely by deaf or hearing limited students. They encourage patrons to sip tea in silence, give cute little blocks with writing that you can show to the staff to make requests and teach sign language for some basic queries. All in a gorgeous, restful setting. We loved it!

reaching out teahouse

All proceeds from the tea and craft shops go back to the organization and if you'd like to learn more about it, their website is below, check it out!! 

http://www.reachingoutvietnam.com/public_html/index.html

As an old trading city, Hoi An has a lot of foreign influence, notably Chinese and Japanese. On our day of wandering we visited a few Chinese Meeting Houses - essentially like a church social hall - and also got to see some of the old homes of merchants, dating back to the early 1800's. 

Chinese Meeting House
Inside a merchant home
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The ceilings of the meeting houses were all hung with these beautiful red coils, we learned they were incense ropes. Families would buy lengths of coil and burn them in remembrance of deceased family members. Usually I hate incense and it makes me sneeze, but here all of the incense was cinnamon based and smelled warm and delicious.

But that was pretty much the extent of our culture, we basically just ate and drank our way around town! We ended each evening with beverages on various patios, watching dusk fall over the town, before biking back to our cozy hotel. 

evening in Hoi An
Hoi An Golden Hour

We were pretty much charmed by this city the second we arrived and so glad we decided to spend the longest amount of time here. It was nice to be able to unpack and chill a bit. While in Hoi An we also had some custom clothes tailored which was a wild experience I can't wait to share, did a bike tour, took a cooking class and shopped a LOT! Those tales and much more ahead. 

I loved this little town so much, now I'm scrolling through these photos and getting so nostalgic! We have to go back, Kate. 

we have to go back!

Maybe someday! 

But until then, I'll just enjoy this Monday in the real, non-vacation world. EW! Have a great one, peeps.

xoxo Liz Ho