Slipping comfortably into life in Hoi An, Viet Nam

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.)

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Our street at night lined with lanterns, for which Hoi An is famous.

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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.

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Walk down a narrow street which leads to the Thu Bon River and turn right to get to our apartment.

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Strolling down our lane, which has small double story homes and a couple of charming river view restaurants.

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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.)

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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.

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Peta has a perfect spot to perch on, on our balcony, to gaze at the river at sundown.

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The view from our balcony.

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View from the bridge near our apartment, looking down the river toward the South China Sea.

 

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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.

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img_7179 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.

 

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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.

img_7149As 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.

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Sweet reunion ~ so much to catch up on. We were last together in Puerto Rico a few months ago.

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Ha cha cha!

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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.

img_6928Our 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.

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Fresh bean sprouts aplenty… piled high in bamboo baskets. An important part of the Vietnamese diet.

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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.

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Hats and the variety thereof, provide another unusual set of visuals. Hat fashion is noteworthy here. Vendor with fresh scallops, and shrimp for sale.

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Rolled branches of fresh cinnamon bark for sale in a red bucket. Great for making tea.

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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.

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These are all large wooden fishing boats, which go out on fishing excursions almost daily.

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A fisherman fixing his fishing nets, while we sit in a cafe and sip our Vietnamese coffee.

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Cafes are an integral part of Vietnamese life… this one is located on the river and frequented by fishermen.

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Boats are often painted with eyes, to ward off the evil spirits and keep the occupants safe.

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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.

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Okay, we will take this one. Little house tucked in behind the greens, overlooking the river.

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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.

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Getting into the Yin of things. It’s good to be back in Asia.

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Never one to lose a good opportunity for a yoga stretch.

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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.

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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…..

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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.

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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!

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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.)

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Rice paper drying on the side of the road. Rice flour, the base of many a Vietnamese dish.

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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.

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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

 



Tam Biet….!



















 

 




46 thoughts on “Slipping comfortably into life in Hoi An, Viet Nam

  1. lexklein

    OK – question onslaught coming: Have you totally left your Chicago place? Is this an interim place until the Sri Lanka place is ready? If so, how long will that be? (Sorry for the inquisition – I’m just so curious about – and impressed with – your ability to be so flexible with your home base.) This place looks wonderful, and you definitely look like you belong here!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Haha we have no problem with “question onslaught” Lex ~ bring it on…

      Yup we have totally left out Chicago loft. We were there for 1.5 years, primarily to be near family (my parents and two of our sons.)

      We will have two home base nests… one in Sri Lanka and one in Viet Nam. So far Ben’s work is in Sri Lanka, but because we love Hoi An so much and it is such an inexpensive place to live, we realised we could probably live in both places until it becomes obvious where we spend most of our time. But in the meantime there are aspects to each place and country that are super appealing to us.

      For two years ( before Chicago ) our home base changed almost every few months, we were totally nomadic without one place being our “base”, so narrowing it down to two was the result of two years research and exploration in SE Asia.

      We DO feel like we belong here!

      Peta

      1. lexklein

        How perfect and wonderful. We still have our place in Chicago but I’m beginning to think we may not get back there. Not sure how I feel about that yet …

        Your two locations sound idyllic, and I so admire your nomadic, adventuresome, creative natures!

        1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

          We were in Chicago for a year and a half, spending quality time with family. And prior to living in Nicaragua for six years, we lived in Chicago for many years, it’s where my sons grew up. It’s a terrific city, except for the long winters.

          These are two of our favorite locations…. so yes we are looking forward to more time here.

          Thanks for the compliments…I like that “nomadic, adventuresome creative natures!” 🙂 Gracias.
          P

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Caroline. The color palette is something that amazes us every day we are here. From the architecture to the wooden boats to the clothing and the beach.

      Yes you must get here! I agree.

      Peta

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Jeff, that is a perfect assessment. It is so chill, especially compared with bigger cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. And there is absolutely no shortage of things to do.

      Peta

  2. badfish

    Where’s your “like” button?…OK, make that a “love” button. A marvelous post guys. I am now in the throes of deciding where to go in December. My choices presently are Madagascar, Vietnam, Cuba, or just back to Bali. I think it’s rainy season in Madagascar, it’s Xmas and high tourist season in Cuba. So it may come down to Vietnam and Bali. Do you know a place I can rent for three weeks? Nice form on your Double-Half Moon poses!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Badfish. Press the “love” button here **

      Ooh, nice choices. Let’s see… Madagascar sounds enticing (that’s close to my home country South Africa, I believe) but I have not been there (yet). Cuba might be rather tourist heavy lately since the “lift” and as well over the holidays, but it’s fabulous ~ especially if you speak Spanish. Bali is a personal favorite, as is Viet Nam.

      We will probably have our apartment available for rent over December! If you are interested, shoot me an email: petakaplan@hotmail.com

      It’s a great time of year to be here as the rainy season will be over. I think you would love it here!

      “Double half moon poses” ~ I like that. Thanks!

      Peta

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Johnny. We have indeed.

      We have really been “nesting” ~ getting the house comfy and acquiring small but essential stuff like drinking gkasses, salad bowls, coconut oil and peanut butter.

      P

  3. Frank

    Getting a good taste of the place from the above – reminds me a lot of Nong Khai in Northern Thailand (we stayed there for 4 months) with the river views, boats, and the general tranquility. And the food…we had a great Vietnamese restaurant there and overall we really miss Asian food. It’s something we could both eat every day.

    Ha cha cha! 🙂

    Frank (bbqboy)

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Ahhh, the food. That’s what got us here in the first place. 🙂

      Glad you like the ha cha cha photo.

      Peta

  4. Alison and Don

    Oh this all looks so wonderful! I can see why you decided to set up a home there. Will you keep it after your place in Sri Lanka is finished? I totally get the love of Vietnamese food! One of my favourites.
    Alison

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Alison.

      We have this river home for at keast six months. So in answer to your question…yes we probably will keep it. We might rent it out while we are in Sri Lanka and vice versa.

      Vietnamese food is definitely addictive. The fact that they use so many fresh herbs and greens with almost every meal, makes it not only delicious but healthy as well. (It’s rare to meet a fat Vietnamese person.)

      Peta

  5. estelea

    This place looks so peaceful, I loved the way you are describing it. After almost 3 years in the Philippines, I totally forgot the meaning of silence 😉 Plus the food … Yoga, great food, great company, looks like you got the perfect combo!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Estelea. It IS a good combo and for us the quiet on the river is pretty novel too, after living in a loft in one of the busiest corners of Chicago’s urban jungle.

      Peta

  6. Danny

    What a beautiful collection of colors, landscapes, architecture, and food – and all of that so close to your new home. I can definitely see why Hoi An is an attractive place to live. Hope you continue to settle in smoothly!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Danny.

      There is good reason Hoi An has been a Unesco World Heritage site since 1999. At first glance it can seem touristy, as of course it attracts many visitors… However, once you get away from the main tourist streets, the authentic rural Vietnamese charm is abundant.

      We wrote extensively about Hoi An in 2013, check out our archives 🙂

      http://www.greenglobaltrek.com/2013/09/adventures-off-the-beaten-path-hoi-an-dry-fish-and-bamboo-boats.html

      Peta

  7. Laurel

    What an incredibly exotic life you are living!

    I’m intrigued by your passion for adventure, beauty, color, delicious food, and yoga. All things I love, as well. I remember the first time I had Vietnamese cuisine—in Washington D.C., almost 30 years ago. I vividly remember being enthralled by the flavors.

    Very inspiring blog. 🙂

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Laurel thanks for the lovely comments.

      The first time I had Vietnamese food was also in Washington D.C. and it just blew me away. I just wanted to keep going back for more and more of it.

      Peta

  8. Darlene

    Sounds like a great adventure.

    Like you, we relocated from North America to experience life in Spain. It is so good to be part of another culture and learn new things.

    Love your blog!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Darlene. I love the huge learning curve one goes through when living in a new country rich with cultural differences.

      Peta

  9. Joanne Sisco

    I like the feeling of your posts that the reader is actually there with you. Since I’m hungry right now, the food jumped out at me. I realized I’ve never had Vietnamese food and that’s something I could probably fix rather easily in a city like Toronto 🙂

    Nor have I ridden a motor bike since crashing my brother’s a million years ago. It looks like a great way to get out and explore!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Joanne, that’s a nice compliment. Oh you must must have Vietnamese food…. you are missing one of the greatest cuisines in the world. That’s what lured us here in the first place!
      (Start with Vietnamese pancakes ~ Banh Xeo.)

      The motor “scooters” are a terrific way to get around. In 2013 we spent a week driving the Ho Chi Minh trail with our son. It was an incredible experience, even though we did take a spill, which definitely shook me up a bit, but was well worth it!

      http://www.greenglobaltrek.com/2014/04/day-4-and-5-ho-chi-minh-trail-road-construction-and-spills.html

      Peta

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  11. Liesbet

    “It is good to be home” is the impression I get after reading your blog post. It is obvious to me that you both love Hoi An and I am looking forward to reading more about your life there. It seems to click and tick all the boxes. I love the food and the cost of living, and the culture and the lushness of it all. The main thing I remembered from my few Hoi An days fifteen (or more) years ago is the dense motorcycle traffic and the business on the roads and the side walks. It looks like you found a quiet area to enjoy your Vietnamese expat life, until the dream house in Sri-Lanka is finished.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Yes, Hoi An is and will forever be “home” ~ in our parlance a “nest”.

      The perception of Hoi An as a busy hub is interesting because when one lives here, the feel is very different. Of course regarding motorcycle traffic it is nothing in comparison with Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh city. We approach the traffic as a droplet of water in a flowing river. The busy time on the streets is always early evening, but for the rest of the time, it is a low steady hum..

      We are currently weighing the pros and cons of life here in Viet Nam and wondering what it will be like in Sri Lanka for us.

      B&P

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