Like a deeply layered oil painting, our experience in our home base of Hoi An, builds in depth and texture over time.
We lived in Hoi An for 3 months in 2013, then travelled the country extensively (including a week by motorbike) with one of our sons in 2014, and now here we are, living here again.
Arriving at night after a long trip from San Francisco, to our Hoi An nest, makes for a magical sight. (We were here recently in June for about a week, using that time to find a little apartment on the Thu Bon river, near the historic center of town.)
Our street at night lined with lanterns, for which Hoi An is famous.
View from our balcony at midnight during a rain storm. The river is quiet so late at night but during the day and early evening we can hear the ‘put put ‘ sound of the engines of colorful wooden boats, that have graced the river and Hoi An for centuries.
First layer of the new chapter of our life in Hoi An: Our neighborhood
Literally steps away from the crowded and buzzing market place, our apartment’s location along the river front is surprisingly quiet.
Walk down a narrow street which leads to the Thu Bon River and turn right to get to our apartment.
Strolling down our lane, which has small double story homes and a couple of charming river view restaurants.
Shaded patios with umbrellas and lanterns make for quite a romantic spot for a meal. (It was just two weeks ago we were living smack in the urban jungle of Chicago, wishing we had a Vietnamese restaurant seconds away from our door.)
There is a languid feeling to life here on the river in Hoi An…. no speed boats, sirens or honking cars… just the flow of the river and the occasional melodic chatter of the fishermen and trades people as they navigate their way down the river.
Peta has a perfect spot to perch on, on our balcony, to gaze at the river at sundown.
The view from our balcony.
View from the bridge near our apartment, looking down the river toward the South China Sea.
Standing on the bridge near our apartment looking back towards it. Third balcony from the left, that’s us!
Beyond our immediate river front neighborhood is the gorgeous town of Hoi An ~ an exceptionally well preserved example of a South East Asian trading port, dating from the 15th to the 19th century. The colors of Hoi An ~ Yellow ochre and cerulean blue ~ are ubiquitous.
Teak wood remains as accents to the architecture. Once upon a time, warehouses and traders homes were entirely built out of teak. Buildings such as the one above, used to be warehouses for spices in the 1700’s when Hoi An was an active trading post, but today have been restored and converted into stores and restaurants. They do however still retain much of their original charm.
There is an eco system of wooden colorful boats. Some carry passengers and operate as “ferries” between the small islands around Hoi An (such as these), and others are used for material transportation or tourist trips. Fishing boats off all sizes and shapes are an integral part of life in Hoi An.
As we take a walk down the street, his little boy Sun, takes an instant shining to Peta. Eventually we find his father and return him to his parental unit with some relief. What a cutie though!
Second layer to life in Hoi An: Fellow Nomad and “partner in crime”
We secured this little apartment starting from August 15th, even though we knew we could only get here by late September. It was a fortuitous decision on our part as it allowed us to extend an invitation to our friend, as soon as it was available. She jumped at the opportunity (this is one of the reasons we love her) and jumped on a plane, coming here from Puerto Rico and voila was here weeks before us!
A bit of history here ~ we became fast friends in Nicaragua, spent three weeks together in Mumbai, India, reconnected in Chicago and again in Puerto Rico.
Sweet reunion ~ so much to catch up on. We were last together in Puerto Rico a few months ago.
Ha cha cha!
On our first day back, we rent ourselves motorcycles for the month, reboot our favorite way of transport and revisit some of our favorite spots in Hoi An.
Our new nest is a duplex apartment. Our landlady Pen lives next door, (with her family and is an English teacher for kids.) Ben and Brook, driving the motor scooters down the ramp from our quarters. Pen has been attentive, and very helpful to us in many ways as we settle into our new neighborhood.
Layer Three: The markets of Hoi An
There is not one market. It is more like a necklace where each bead is a micro market in a small neighborhood. We live next to the largest “central” market, but there are many satellite markets to discover and enjoy. They all seem to have a distinct character. One is predominantly for sea food, another for fruit and another has small stores with a variety of necessities.
Fresh bean sprouts aplenty… piled high in bamboo baskets. An important part of the Vietnamese diet.
Markets provide a color palette. Here the red of the chili peppers and the bright green of the limes and beans are reflected in the vendors clothing.
Hats and the variety thereof, provide another unusual set of visuals. Hat fashion is noteworthy here. Vendor with fresh scallops, and shrimp for sale.
Rolled branches of fresh cinnamon bark for sale in a red bucket. Great for making tea.
Finding a source for coconut oil and coconut shavings (to make fresh coconut milk). It’s great living in another tropical country where there are fresh coconuts!
When we lived here in 2013, this little fishing village, a mere ten minutes from Hoi An, was one of our very favorite spots for a ride through the rice paddies, and alongside the river. There is so much open space so close to the center of town. It’s green, its fresh and it’s not a place frequented by many foreigners. The feeling is of being in rural Viet Nam.
These are all large wooden fishing boats, which go out on fishing excursions almost daily.
A fisherman fixing his fishing nets, while we sit in a cafe and sip our Vietnamese coffee.
Cafes are an integral part of Vietnamese life… this one is located on the river and frequented by fishermen.
Boats are often painted with eyes, to ward off the evil spirits and keep the occupants safe.
Great place to meander by foot or by motor bike and discover alleyways, small homes, fishermen and whatever surprise might be around the next corner.
Okay, we will take this one. Little house tucked in behind the greens, overlooking the river.
Vast sky, reflecting waters and mountains in the distance.
Than Ha also happens to be on the way to one of our favorite rural temples. Temples are a rich part of Hoi An’s architectural and cultural heritage.
Getting into the Yin of things. It’s good to be back in Asia.
Never one to lose a good opportunity for a yoga stretch.
The squat. Worth perfecting if you plan on spending any time whatsoever in South East Asia.
Layer five is An Bang beach
This expanse of soft yellow sand, sky and sea, is but ten minutes away from our apartment. Being so close to the beach allows us to be at the ocean often and at different times of day.
Sixth layer, Vietnamese food daily
Truth be told, it was the food that lured us to Viet Nam in the first place. No matter what city in the U.S. we visited, (and sometimes even in Europe) we always sought out Vietnamese cuisine.
I (Ben) said “one day we should live in Vietnamese town”.. meaning, the Vietnamese neighborhood in Chicago. To which Peta retorted, “Well in that case, why not just live IN Viet Nam?”
And here we are…..
Stopping at one of our favorite vendors, the Banh Can lady. She greets us with delight and hugs. And of course, a plate of her creation.
Banh Can is made up of a crackly crispy rice flour ‘cup’ ~ some have quail eggs inside the cup, others do not. A tart cabbage type slaw, greens herbs, and a vinegar based sauce. Delicious!
This is breakfast. MI Quang, a Hoi An specialty…. rice noddles, (some white, some with tumeric added), quail eggs, crispy rice cracker pieces, herbs and pieces of pork and or shrimp (optional) in a broth. 20, 000 dong (90 cents.)
Rice paper drying on the side of the road. Rice flour, the base of many a Vietnamese dish.
Within these metal cylinders…. home made ice cream on a stick in coconut, coffee, chocolate flavors. 10,000 dong = 45c.
It is amazing to both of us how easily we slip back in to our Hoi An lives.
It quickly felt like home when we lived here the first time around, and it still does.
Here are some earlier blog entries about our discovery of Viet Nam:
A Traditional Way of Life – Tra Que Organic Herb Garden, Viet Nam
Adam’s Iphone pics of central Viet Nam.
Bahnar village, Central Viet Nam ~ “Village of children.”
Can Tho, Viet Nam ~ The highlight of our Mekong Delta adventure