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Beauties of Hoi An
The City of Hoi An
Going to Hoi An was one of the best things I ever experienced. On my first day in Vietnam, I took a trip to the An Bang Beach, which is beautiful and ful of sand. Swimming there is a treat, with no rocks to hurt your feet. Cua Dai Beach used to be another example of a large beach, but it's not possible to swim there right now. There was a lot of coastal erosion, which mudded the beach and made it a very dirty swimming experience. I still decided to check it out, because it's vast and kind to the eye. It's very dry from March to September with temperatures passing 30 degrees Celsius. October is the first month of the dry season, which is very empty in Vietnam. I like heat, so I didn't mind going there, although I do mind crowds of people. It wasn't that bad after all and people turned out to be very friendly.
The Ba Le Well is one of the main historic attractions for tourists in Hoi An, so I had to pay a visit. The myth goes that it once had a key to the town's most famous type of noodle- cao lau noodle. The water from this well is rich with aluminium, which gives a sturdy texture to the noodles. A restaurent with the same name is located close to this wall. I went there for lunch one day and I kept coming back. The people are very nice and the noodles have a unique feeling to them, unlike any other pasta I've tried before. It's seasoned with local spices and shrimp, at least that's my favorite dish.
I took the city tour after a day of rest. I knew the city had a lot to offer, but I had no idea how lovely this culture would be. I've seen the local museums, reliving their culture of ceramics, warring, folk culture and so on. Another site is Quan Cong Temple, which is famous all over the world. You have to cross the Japanese bridge to access it, In the centre, you can enjoy musical performances throughout the day. Another excuse for an adventure are the Japanese Tombs. They can get quite scary, but they're worth paying the visit. There's three of them remaining now. After that I took a swim in the local waters, cooling my body after a hot day.
The next item on our list was Highway4, a traditional viatnamese restaurant with excellent taste. The place was very ambient, with floor cushions, bamboo furnishings, big dinning rooms and local paintings on the walls. It has been open for fifteen years and it's one of the most established restaurants in Hanoi.
The tables are far lower than usual, which is a standard vietnamese tradition, with the floor cushions to make you more comfortable. Their menus are designed for bigger groups of people, so this is a great bar to use for all kinds of occasions. The local spices are present in all of the dishes to represent the city. The dishes are also separated into different groups like wood, metal, fire and water. These names come from the way they prepare the food, like boiling it or cooking it on fire.
My friends told me to try the catfish spring rolls, which were to die for. After that we had some grilled pork hanger steak, which was tender and moist with meat juice. It was cooked mid-rare, so the meat was actually pink on the inside. One of my friends is pretty used to the local food, so he likes to order the crickets with roasted lemon leaves or a frog steamboat on special occasions. That night was one of those, so I tried my first circket and I must admit they're not that bad, they're very crispy.
They've had some wines, although they pride themselves on their Sonh Tinh flavoured liquors. They have a big selection of those. We left with smiles on our faces and our bellies full.
There are also many perserved houses throughout Hoi An, which are basically a museum piece, because they are very old. I visited the most famous of these houses, Tan Ky house. It is over two hundred years old and has been maintained by seven vietnamese generations until now. Imagine that! There's a sitting are in the house, ceiling with three short beams and the Chinese and Japanese culture, embedded in the architecture of the house. The beams are placed one on the top of the other, not parallel, like it's traditionally done in the USA and Europe. Being from a different country, I found that interesting. There were some Chinese poems written on the columns along the walls, which of course meant nothing to me, but they look aesthetic.
There's a courtyard next to the house to bring nature closer. This way, the light gets inside the house and water can be collected, which was important in the past. The back side of the house faces the river, which is pretty cold. I noticed lines on that side of the wall, which show that the river used to be much bigger. Locals told me that the house almost drowned in the river 50 years ago during a devastating flood. The roof is made of tiles, with wood being the ceiling inside. The design is smart, because it keeps the house warm in the winter and cold in the summer.
I was very hungry after all of that sightseeing, so I decided to go to banh mi Queen. They serve the famous banh mi, which is delicious. It's a baguette sandwich with pork, eggs, salad and local spices. The spices are quite hot, but it's worth it and it's cheap. It's street food, which is very common all over Vietnam, providing local people with daily fresh food. Hoi An is also known for its fabric- they sell a lot of clothing. I bought quite a few for my girlfriend, because I know she can't get them this cheap back at home.
Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation was fun to see as well. It's exactly what you imagine, when you think about China- the typical roof, the bamboo, the red round lights with jingles, colourful walls, it's look elegant. It's basically a temple, which you could use for movies, because it's stunning to look at. There's a statue of Thien Hau, a famous historic figure inside the temple.
The Hoai River is one of the most famous canals, it can be compared to Venice, for instance. It's a great site for tourists, providing you with numerous backstreets beside the canal. I rented a skateboard to move around the city, simply to avoid accidents. At first I wanted to rent a scooter, but then I heard about the locals not knowing any traffic rules and the sheer number of accidents- 30 people die each month over this. This means each day is a chance for someone, so I decided to take it slow and use a skateboard.
I heard good things about La Verticale, so I decided to give it a try. La Verticale was our first stop, located in the Hanoi French quarter. The french influence is obvious as they pull influences from architecture, food and so on. It's an elegan restaurant with strong prices, but they really have a lot of cool features. It's run by the infamous Chef Didier Courlou, who adds a french flavor to their dishes. They're not a mixture of foreign alnd local food- instead he separately makes french and local dishes.
This place was actually a villa, turned into a restaurant and it's beautifull to observe from afar. The walls are white and the floor is luxuriously lined. Being inside and eating was still better, though. We took the stairs to the second floor to enter the magnificent dinning area with an open kitchen. The ornaments are made out of wood and they make you feel at home. The chefs were friendly and they were glad to show us how they make our duck terrine and rillettes with 5 local spices. There were three of us, so we also ordered Dalat artichoke leaves with clams, Ha Long curry sauce, veal in tamarind, and Mekong fruits sorbet for the dessert. It was pretty expensive for a single meal, but we didn't regret it. The French wine was delicious, we had an opportunity to choose from Figaro, Moulin de Gassac, and South West of France. We decided on Figaro and it accompanied our food very well.
There was a cute little spice shop in the main floor and we took a quick look. We bought a couple of local spices and headed to my friends place.
Many good restaurants are close by, so it's a very popular spot. It's practical to rent a bike, too, if you're looking to experience more in you time there. You can bike through the local villages in the morning, seeing what the markets have to offer and feeling the heartbeat of the city. You can get to the beach instantly as well, which is great after biking for a while to cool you off. Swimming is truly a pleasure in Hoi An, the beaches and the clean water are a wonder.
Culinary experiences in Hoi An can be very healthy, because most of their food is not processed. They rely on the natural and try to make the best with simple, available vegetables. It took a couple of days for me to get used to all of the strong spices, but it's much better than what I normally eat. My metabolism actually grew stronger and could process food very quickly at the end of my trip.