Enzo and I were happy to be able to carry on our trip starting off on a good note. When we arrived at our hotel/guest house called Aquarium Villa, we were greated by a great big white fluffy dog that seemed like it could knock me over if it put its paw on me. Thankfully, it was the nice kind.
Then, one of the girls who works behind the front desk came out to welcome us and was pleased to see that we liked her dog. She upgraded our rooms to the private suite and we got an amazing price for our stay because they were under construction next door so they gave us a discount. We were served complimentary breakfast and coffee in the mornings and were given many recommendations of local places to eat, entertainment, and even where to get clothes tailored. She told us about her mom’s tailoring shop that’s in town and told us to let her mom know she recommended it so we could get a discount if we ever wanted anything made. After talking with her for a while we headed up to our room to unload our bags and rest until dinner.
We took our motorcycle into the old town which is full of entertainment, amazing food, bars, clothing stores and last but not least, history.
We stopped into this place that was completely packed with locals and travelers because where we were lured in by the amazing smell coming from the kitchen. I thought there wasn’t going to be enough room for us, but one of the waitresses pointed right next to the door at two seats. The whole place was just community tables. We saw two guys right next to us that looked like they could speak English and were maybe travelers as well so we said hi. After learning they were from Germany and one was Vietnamese German who knew a lot about Vietnam and spoke the language, we were recommended what to eat for dinner.
Bún chả is what we ordered. It is a Vietnamese bbq dish that you get to make into a type of spring roll and dip into an amazing sauce. Delicious food at a very cheap price. Before the two guys left they invited us to hang out with them later and walk around the old town.
We discovered that we just so happened to show up in Hoi An on the day of the Lantern Festival! As tradition, we bought these candles that are held by paper holders made by some of the locals. These candles are a symbol of good luck and you are supposed to make a wish as you place them into the lake with a basket that has a long handle.
After seeing what most tourists see in Hoi An, Viet (the Vietnamese German) took us to a nearby pagoda to make a short prayer to the shrine of Buddha and then we were able to talk with a woman monk by Viet translating for us. She was happy to see westerners (Enzo and I) because it is very rare for people to visit from that area. While we were with her we learned that the government shows no support for certain aspects in the lives of the Vietnamese including: support for the poor, orphanages and health services for the underprivileged. Monks and donations all help towards these areas that are neglected by the government. It was a very eye opening experience to see something that was real and happening behind all of the lights and flourishing businesses in the area we were just walking through.
Afterwards we went out to grab a drink with the guys. Lucky for me Viet loves to dance and so he got us all out on the dance floor after a few beers at the Tiger Bar. Since then, Viet calls Enzo and I his brother and sister and we could tell this would be a lasting friendship.
We ended up driving to the tailor that was Lana’s (girl at the front desk) mom’s store. It is called La Vang (Golden Leaf). All that you need to do is show her a picture of what you would like, pick out a fabric, pick out stitching color if you want anything embroidered and then let her take your measurements. You exchange emails and put down a deposit for half of what she will charge and she contacts you when it is done so you can try it on and have her make any adjustments if needed. When we came back we didn’t need any adjustments at all, they were super high quality and fit perfectly!
Later that night we went into the old town again for some food and I got com ga (rice and chicken). We didn’t stay too late because of the weather, but we enjoyed walking around and browsing at all of the art stores for a little.
The next morning we went out to try to sell our motorcycle because we had plans to leave the next day and try to take a bus to Phong Nha and visit the caves there. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a good enough offer so we decided to hold off a little longer; however, we ran into the two guys and three of their other friends at a restaurant nearby while we were on the motorcycle driving by. I heard “sis!” several times and when I turned around it was Viet! They were taking a cooking class and invited us in to relax and try some of the delicious food.
Viet and the rest of the group were going to meet us there after to go visit an orphanage. We stopped by one that was the only one in the area for miles. Here the orphans can come in as babies and the oldest one there presently is 22-years-old. As I said before, the government has no involvement in these facilities and therefore there is little to no comfort for the children there. Sadly, part of the reason some of the kids are even in there is because the parents are too poor to provide for their kids. Other reasons are because some were born handicapped, born by underage/not married girls, or they felt as though their child’s life would be better under the care and education in an orphanage.
At first it felt a little weird being in a place like this just walking around and observing as we were getting a tour. I felt bad for the kids and didn’t want to seem like I was a tourist that just wanted to stare and observe them like animals in a zoo. Enzo and I started to play soccer/foot ball with the boys and then I felt like I had more of a purpose there. Eventually a whole game started and the kids were enjoying themselves. I got to talk with some of the girls with very little English, but they were still happy to have our company.
This little guy in the photo above was sent to this orphanage because his family couldn’t afford to give him what he needed in terms of food and an education. It is so sad because he was so loving and charismatic that it was hard to believe someone would just give him up like that. It just goes to show, the support for the poor and these facilities is not enough. At least we were able to put some smiles on a few faces that day including our own.
Later we drove by the water to see if the waves were getting crazy when we heard about the typhoon that was hitting Vietnam.
We went to get a glass of wine on one of the floating boats in the river because we heard a guitarist playing. We love music and Enzo has played guitar for years so he began to feel the urge to ask to play the man’s guitar. The man let him take over for a bit which was so cool of him!
After relaxing with our Da Lat wine on the boat we stopped by to watch the traditional bingo game that they play in Vietnam. We only stayed for a little because we actually didn’t understand what was going on at all, but it was cool to see anyway!
After trying to find some clay pot pork, but failing and accepting defeat with just a simple plate of pork and white rice, we went back to sleep and we booked an extra night at our place because we needed the extra time to sell our bikes and then our jackets weren’t going to be ready for another days. We were ok with this partly because we love Hoi An so much and on a more negative note, the typhoon ended up hitting the area we were supposed to bus to next and ended up flooding the area and streets going up north. I am sorry for any families who lost loved ones that day because many civilians in the area died from the damages done by the typhoon.
On a brighter note… the next morning we woke up and went to one of the restaurants recommended to us called Bich. It serves some of the best and cheapest cao lao (pork broth with fat noodles that are cooked in the water from one of the ancient Cham wells hidden throughout Hoi An, pork, green veggies, and flat croutons).
After we ate we didn’t really know how to spend our last day except to just ride the motorcycle around town and see if there were any more people willing to buy the bike for a reasonable price. We needed to sell at this point because we booked a flight for the next morning to take us to Hanoi. We decided this would be the safest way for us to travel because another typhoon would be hitting if we took a 20-something hour bus ride. The flight by the way is only an hour and a half.
So we just rode around and explored the area a little more until our jackets were ready to be picked up at the tailors!
We found this area that seemed abandoned, but when I looked into the windows I saw what looked like a classroom full of chairs and then fresh water bottles stocked up. We left the eery site and went back to our guesthouse.
Did I mention our girl at the front desk was amazing? Well, here’s another reason why. She realized that we were not successful at selling the bike for a price we thought was fair so we asked if it would be possible for her to keep it and try to sell it for us for our asking price and she would obviously get some compensation for it. She agreed to help us out and so the bike problem was finally off of our hands and we could take our flight in the morning. She also booked a taxi for us immediately to come get us in the morning.
After a long day our jackets were done by 9pm. We were so happy with how they came out and the cost was $45 for each.
After picking up our jackets we heard that our other American Vietnamese friend who we met in Quy Nhon was in the old town of Hoi An at the very same floating bar where the guitarist plays. We stopped by to surprise him there and touched bases before we left for Hanoi.
Please look out for my experiences in Hanoi, coming up soon 🙂
~ M + H