Our second fortnight living in Hoi’An has been simply wonderful. I’m growing more concerned about how we, especially I, are going to return to a life back in Australia. We’ve been up to many different adventures – meeting both locals and expats, and continually enjoying the Vietnamese cuisine that’s on offer. I’m totally addicted to Pho (pronounced ‘fur’) and it’s become a daily must-have for either lunch or dinner and for the occasional authentic Vietnamese experience, breakfast time.
And although Vietnam has some of the best cuisine on the round the world trip, this type of Kit Kat wholeheartedly gets the thumbs down from all of us!
We’re also making good use of our own kitchen and making meals at home. Steve continues to get up early each morning and visit “his ladies” at the local Cua Dai market where they all look forward to seeing him with their bigger than life smiles.
We’re still riding our bicycles and exploring all over Hoi’An, which we’re enjoying as another form of exercise. We looked into hiring ebikes (electric bikes), but at the moment we’re keeping it simple with the human pedal variety (although the kids are hoping for ebikes). Plus where we’re living in Cam An which is well situated to everything – only a 10 minute bike ride to reach most places we access regularly. It’s just when it rains it becomes slightly more problematic. But purchasing a colourful rain protector we call the ‘sweat shirt’ is an easy solution to keeping dry (and sweaty) while still getting out and about in the rain.
It’s also been a fortnight highlighted with a health concern that involved Steve swallowing a drill bit at the local dentist (which I wrote about in my last blog post). He was in for a root canal but got more than he bargained for with the dentist dropping a 3cm drill part down his throat at the first session! And unfortunately, he swallowed it. It’s a funny story now since it’s all over, but during the ordeal it was a little nerve wracking to say the least. But all the dental work is complete now.
This fortnight completes our first month living in Hoi’An, Vietnam and leads into our school holiday adventure with Steve’s parents Sue and Baz coming over to visit us for the first time since we departed for our year-long travel journey on 19 December 2016. It also leads into our family trip to neighbouring Laos during the school holidays which we’re very much looking forward to experiencing as it’s been 18 years since Steve and I first visited Laos and the towns of Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. Sue and Baz plus out girls will experience their first time in landlocked Laos. Can’t wait!
So here are some snippets of what’s happening in our travel life this fortnight:
Finding Hidden Beach
Steve and I head down to a section of the beach aptly named Hidden Beach. We’ve heard it’s a better beach than the main Cua Dai beach as it hasn’t yet been washed and eroded away from over development by large sprawling resorts.
This is Cua Dai beach early morning. It’s beautiful but ruined from sea erosion.
And this is Hidden Beach towards sunset. A much better beach to hang out on.
When we finally locate the access point to this hidden beach, we ride toward the beach along the downward concrete pathway that leads us straight to the South China Sea. We take a stroll along the beach and then sit down at a little beach shack to share a cold beer.
It’s a quiet life here on the beach. We pass the local Vietnamese fishermen tending to their boats and nets, repairing their round fishing basket boats and detangling a never ending supply of fine netting. They’ve obviously untangled this plenty of times before. The view out to the South China Sea is magnificent and the tranquil sea is both mesmerising and calming to the soul. We look out to Cham Island which looks more impressive from afar with a haggle of white clouds gathered around the island’s peaks. What a place to live.
I connect with a young Vietnamese girl called Wen who had been searching on the Hoi’An expats Facebook page for English speaking expats or visitors to meet up with her each week to help her improve her English language skills by having conversations with her. I’ve responded that I’d love to assist and we’re going to start having conversational English when we’re both free.
And what better time to start than today!
We agree to meet this afternoon at 4pm. She arrives to our house half an hour late as she gets lost finding our address, but when she arrives we instantly hit it off and enjoy a chat at the table in our lounge room. I discover that Wen is just 15 years old, quiet but a little dynamite of a learner. We chat about her family and her parents and her life in Vietnam. She’s taken on also studying IELTS (International English Language Testing System) which is used by many foreign language students to determine their proficiency for higher education and global migration opportunities. Wen wants to study abroad.
Taking one look at her school schedule looks more like a fast-paced travel itinerary! It’s full of early starts – I’m talking 4:30am wake up calls (although that is common practice here in Vietnam) and a taxing daily schedule that progresses well into the evening with tutoring. I’m gobsmacked at the hours that she puts in to study. It’s really scary actually.
She tells us that she attends school but if she wants to get good grades she also has to attend tutoring performed by subject teachers at their homes. If she doesn’t attend the extra tutoring, she tells us that teachers may not give her good grades. It’s a completely corrupt system.
Young Wen is a lovely Vietnamese girl with a heart of gold. She wants to know what my charging rate is for conversational English and I tell her that I don’t want any money, but rather we could do a trade – English language conversation for Vietnamese cultural understanding. It’s a deal and we’re both excited.
Hoi’An’s Old Town
With the famous Old Town easily within reach, Steve, Billie, Dacey and I take a taxi to the Central Market to see both the Old Town as well as meet up with young Wen. Wen’s mother operates a juice stall at the market. However, she’s closed for the night we visit but we do meet up with Wen who is more than happy to wander around the Old Town with us and have a chat.
The Old Town is teeming with tourists. It’s making us claustrophobic and although I enjoy seeing the ancient town with all its lanterns and old world charm, I’m more than happy to stay out of it too. We really enjoy getting to know more about Wen and her life and return to the Central Market to try some tasty market food for dinner.
The Central Market has stall after stall of food under one large market roof offering the same, or similar, food options. Talking about the roof, its a series of exposed wooden beams that are beautifully warm to look at and impressive.
There’s lots of Cau Lao, and rice noodles, and strips of thinly cut meat, fresh spring rolls and seafood. It’s a hard decision as to where we sit and who we order from as all the ladies of the Central Market know Wen and her family and want her to take us to their stall. But we can’t eat at all of them tonight! We have to choose just one. It’s getting personal now and it puts Wen in an uncomfortable position. So Wen tells us to choose a stall on our own as she bikes off home to complete more study.
We sit down at a stall that has enough room for the four of us and order Cau Lao, beef noodle and seafood noodle dishes and roasted chicken with rice. It’s the cheapest meal with drinks around coming in at 230,000 VD (A$12).
Return to the Dentist
Many people wouldn’t return to a dentist that accidentally drops a 3cm drill part down your husband’s throat, but I did. I originally went to have a check up and to sort out my broken molar that chipped off while I was living in Cyprus. The reason we didn’t go to the dentist in Cyprus was because many of the shops and health service facilities were taking leave for the summer.
After a couple of visits for filing and fitting, I now have a new porcelain molar. And it cost a fraction of what it would back home in Australia. All up two fillings and a porcelain molar cap cost A$280.
A friend of ours Darren who is married to a Japanese woman sent Steve an email after finding out about swallowing the dentist drill bit. His father in law, a long time dentist in Japan, mentioned to Darren that it was quite common to drop parts down throats! I mention this to the dentist in Hoi’An and they were no way! In all their years of operation both here in Hoi’An and Da Nang they have never had something like this happen. Anyway, all is well, Steve got a discount for the trouble caused and they paid for all the scans and procedures in search of the missing drill bit.
Trivia Night Fun
There’s a weekly expat Pub Quiz held at 3 Dragons Sports Bar each Wednesday night. Steve and I decide to go and check it out. We try and hail a taxi but none are free. It doesn’t take long before a man on a motorbike approaches us as we’re walking across the bridge and asks if we need a lift. We’re on the Cua Dai bridge and jump on the back of his bike. I’m piggy in the middle and we enjoy the air rushing through our hair and the exhilaration of the bike. It costs us some Dong but a fun ride into town.
Now I’m not the best asset on trivia teams, and generally trivia and quizzes are not my usual go to activity for fun, but hey we’re in Hoi’An so I’ll give it a go!
We meet a couple of expats there, Keith from USA and Peter from Australia, and together we form part of the losing team! But we enjoy the trivia, white wine and the expat conversation although we stay way beyond the last question chatting to the guys who have made Hoi’An their home. They have some interesting stories to share about their lives and lifestyle with their families here and many insights in living and working in Hoi’An. Bonus: Steve discovers that Peter is also a keen tennis player and they swap contact details and agree to meet up for a hit some time.
We finally get a taxi home. It’s starting to rain and I’m feeling more than a little seedy from enjoying one too many vinos. The town of Hoi’An pretty much closes down at 10:30pm so hailing a taxi does take some time and the place that is usually brimming with people is ghostly and vacant. But still beautiful. We agree to come along to the trivia night next Wednesday when Sue and Baz are in town for some more trivia fun.
A Stroll to the River
Just one street down from our house off Cua Dai Road is the river. Steve and I take a stroll down there to check it out.
Welcome Back Ash
Ash returns from her one week visit to Australia for Piper’s 16th birthday. She’s not overly happy about being back in Hoi’An but the others, especially Dacey who is waiting out the front for her to arrive in the rain, are happy have her back.
Ash also returns with some treats from home – Twisties, Tim Tams, Hubba Bubba and Tiny Teddies. Plus, some calming chamomile tea for me. We sit and chat with her all afternoon about the week back in Australia and all her friend and family catch ups. She’s had a wonderful time and is now trying to get back into the life we have created here at Hoi’An. She’s also missed some school, so needs to catch up with that.
It rains all day and into the night but that doesn’t stop us from venturing out for some dinner to celebrate Ash returning to Hoi’An and our traveling family. This is a rare (ie. teen girls approved of the shot being taken) cute and colourful family shot.
Well-Being and Mindfulness Workshop
I’m attending a free Well-being and Mindfulness Workshop with French/Vietnamese/Australian My Holland at Almanity Resort and Spa in Hoi’An. My is the Founder and Director of EQ at Happiness Quotient. It’s been pouring cats and dogs all day, so I’m forced to catch a taxi into town to attend the workshop and on our way in the roads are flooding and parents are all picking their children up from school which is causing road blockages on Cua Dai Road. Cyclone Doksuri is approaching off the coast of Vietnam and it is expected to hit landfall in central Vietnam so no bicycle riding today.
The workshop goes over four days for two hours per day held inside a room at Almanity Rosort. My has written a book called Happiness is the Way and has thanked global spiritual leader, poet, peace activist and bestselling author Thich Nhat Hanh with his quote “There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way.”
It’s fantastic to attend and meet likeminded people who are all exploring what positive psychology is and how to bring it into their lives. I get Steve to come in on the Sunday and attend the session.
- Wellbeing 101
- Mindfulness & Myths
- Exploring Gratitude & Happiness
- Mindfulness & Thinking Mind
- Why do we need optimism?
- Informal mindfulness practices
- Working on our strengths (my top three strengths are 1. Fairness, 2. Honesty, 3. Zest)
- Mindfulness & Compassion
It’s a wonderful opportunity for me to get back into positive thinking mindset, meditation and reconnecting with me. I love this stuff. When I do courses like this with others, it just refills my tank and ignites my curious nature about the world and life.
I meet many other people at the workshop over the four days – Mai from Australia who spends eight months in every year for the past 10 years here in Hoi’An at her hearing impaired school, Andrew and Kate from New Zealand who are in Hoi’An on a two-week holiday without their two kids, and Quay who lives in the capital Hanoi and has established her own NGO (Non Government Organisation) which brings disabled people and fully abled people together with the aim of educating people on disabilities in Vietnam.
I feel so grateful for attending this workshop and igniting my passion for positive psychology learning and development. Thank you to facilitator My. It was a lovely four days.
Who is Thich Nhat Hanh?
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Zen Master. A Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist who lives in Plum Village in south west France. He travels internationally giving retreats and talks.
Thich Nhat Hanh has been a pioneer in bringing Buddhism to the West, founding six monasteries and dozens of practice centers in America and Europe, as well as over 1,000 local mindfulness practice communities, known as ‘sanghas’.
He has built a thriving community of over 600 monks and nuns worldwide, who, together with his tens of thousands of lay students, apply his teachings on mindfulness, peace-making and community-building in schools, workplaces, businesses – and even prisons – throughout the world.
Thich Nhat Hanh, now in his 91st year, is a gentle, humble monk – the man Martin Luther King called “An Apostle of peace and nonviolence.” The media has called him “The Father of Mindfulness,” “The Other Dalai Lama” and “The Zen Master Who Fills Stadiums.” Read more about this amazing monk here.
And you know how I adore inspiring and uplifting quotes! Here’s one that I love from Thich Nhat Hanh:
“Letting go gives freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”
This is a great quote that is Thich’s personal hand-written trademark of quotes. I love it:
And here are some used within the course, author is Osho:
- “Courage is a love affair with the unknown”
- “Be – don’t try to become”
- “Life begins where fear ends”
- “Be realistic: plan for a miracle”
But I especially love this one too:
- “Sadness gives depth. Happiness gives height. Sadness gives roots. Happiness gives branches. Happiness is like a tree going into the sky, and sadness is like the roots going down into the womb of the earth. Both are needed and the higher a tree goes, the deeper it goes, simultaneously. The bigger the tree, the bigger will be its roots. In fact, it is always in proportion. That’s its balance.”
The positive psychology must have played its part as it’s led us to The Happy Buffalo!
The Happy Buffalo
The former renters of the house we are currently living in got in contact with me via social media and gave us a couple of suggestions of local favourites around Cam An and people to meet. One they recommended is The Happy Buffalo. It’s a recently opened bar just down the road, and is run by a very friendly and funny Canadian couple.
Steve heads to The Happy Buffalo solo to check it out and vows he’ll bring me back. And so we do straight after gym and enjoy a drink at the bar. The sunset is glorious as it comes down on the green fields and fish farms at the back of their place. It’s a perfect photo opportunity too. This place has become more like a second home to us.
Just look at that sunset!
We meet the friendly Canadian owners Evan and Lindsay and enjoy drinks and tales of travel and setting up a business in Hoi’An. They’re both former advertising executives from Toronto, and when they travelled to Vietnam they fell in love with Hoi’An (which we can completely understand as we fell in love with Hoi’An in 1999 and again in 2012). Anyway they’re an awesome couple and I’m sure we’ll be back many more times to The Happy Buffalo for a chat, a drink and of course to devour those macaroni cheese Cau Lao noodle triangle thingies with a chilli dipping sauce. YUM! They are to die for!
So why is Cau Lao so special in Hoi’An?
Cao (or Cau) Lao is a local Hoi’An dish which you can only find here in central Vietnam’s Quang Nam province. The secret lies in how the noodles are made. To make Cao Lau noodles, the rice has to be stone ground and mixed with ash and water. The ash is made with firewood from the Cham Islands, around 19 km from Hoi An. The noodles are cut and then cooked three times with firewood. The water to cook the noodles is also very special because it only comes from specific wells in Hoi An. This is why Cao Lau is a dish that can only be prepared in Hoi An.
Anyway back to The Happy Buffalo and eating Cau Lao noodles in one of their special signature dishes…Charlie rides her bike down to meet us, and towards the end of the night asks Lindsay and Evan if she can work with them to gain some work experience. She starts Monday! Charlie’s on a high and looks great wearing The Happy Buffalo singlet and cap!
Sue and Baz arrive for a 6-day stay in Hoi’An and then we’re all off together on a two week trip to neighbouring landlocked Laos. We all excitedly bicycle to the Golden Sand Beach Resort where they’re staying for the next six nights to meet up with them after enjoying dinner with a New Zealand couple Kate and Andrew (who I met at the Well-being and Mindfulness workshop). We meet them in the foyer and head up to their room to finally catch up with them. Steve, me and the girls are ultra-excited about seeing them here and spending time with them as it’s been NINE long months since we said goodbye last December. Since we’re members of the Golden Sand Resort gym, we can also hang out with them at the pool which makes it easy to catch up and hang out here together.
We enjoy taking them out to meet Evan and Lindsay at The Happy Buffalo and we drop by to see Charlie in her new uniform working with Lindsay and Evan for some experience. She’s learning all the Vietnamese ingredients in the menu items. Thumbs up!
We also went out for dinner with our Vietnamese landlords Mr Chuong, Dao and their cute little boy. We enjoyed authentic Vietnamese cuisine at a fresh seafood restaurant called Quan Gio Bien. It was also our 9-month anniversary of round the world travel. Lovely night out together.
Of course we meet up regularly at the Dingo Deli for a latte (or two) during the week when the kids are at ‘Mia School’. Steve takes Baz for a bike ride out the back to the rice fields, An Bang beach and then Hidden Beach for a cool ale, while Sue and I enjoy an hour-long hot stone massage for 300,000 Dong each with a mango juice and a wander down the river to see Mr Chuong’s hanging orchid garden.
It’s so nice having them here with us and catching up again after so many months of not seeing them while we’ve been travelling around the world. It’s such a special time traveling with extended family with so many wonderful memories are being created that will last forever.
Steve mentions to me that he’d like to learn Vietnamese, especially since we are possibly looking at staying here longer term. So I do some research and locate a place where Steve and I can learn the language within a group setting. It’s a beginner’s course held at the recently opened Hoi’An Hub with Vietnamese teacher Ty (pronounced Tee). And although I know Mandarin Chinese and the tonal pronunciation that’s required there, I discover that the Vietnamese language has an extra two tones (so six in total) and a variety of letters that do not sound as they are written which is just confusing the heck out of us!
But we enjoy exploring the basics of the language, and hope that when we return from our school holiday travels in Laos we will be able to attend two lessons per week for the rest of our stay in Hoi’An and hopefully master some of the basics. On the bicycle ride to the Hoi’An Hub where our classes take place, we witness the drying of the harvest. It takes up all the space on the road and we find that we are having to zig zag around the tarps that are spread out over the road with rice on them. Once dry, the rice is bagged by the Vietnamese.
Living Like a Local
I love Pho. So it makes it really easy living like a local here in Hoi’An. And although the Pho is meant to be better up north in the capital Hanoi, this Pho, to me, is just divine. The Vietnamese eat Pho for breakfast, so one morning Steve and walk down to try it out and sit with the locals. Glad I’m not having to get through that pile of dishes either! Check out the number of chop sticks there!
A Book Launch to Farewell a Baker
We have been invited to attend a private book launch function at Dingo Deli for Mexican baker Andres. It just demonstrates how much time and coffees I’ve been enjoying there really! On the night, there is a book that can be purchased which outlines all the baking secrets and recipes Mexican Andres has learnt from being a baker for a whole year at the popular expat café haunt.
There is a significant expat community loving and working and retired in Hoi’An. And the interesting thing about this community is that each and every person we meet is exceptionally interesting. They have a story to share about their life that is different and completely unique. It’s one of the bonuses living here and integrating into life – getting to know the people.
Andres grew up in Merida, Mexico and studies finance at one of the best universities in his country. His life had been meticulously planned by his family that provided him with endless opportunities for an amazing life. He says, “I was lucky, but my life my life didn’t feel like my own. I felt like there was more for me than what everyone had planned.” With a blank passport and the cheapest ticket out of Mexico, Andres left his homeland in search of an unplanned life which would provide him with an alternate narrative.
Sue and I both purchase Andres book for 450,000 VD and get it signed by Andres.
There are many expats there including Rick, an American Vietnamese veteran, who was first here in 1967 fighting in the terrible war. He lives in Miami for 3-4 months of the year to get all his healthcare and returns to Hoi’An to live the remainder of the year.
He tells us he never slept well while living in the United States post-Vietnamese war, but since living in Hoi’An he sleeps much better. He’s fundraising for a little girl who has been born without hands or feet. He’s a character alright with a heart of gold.
We also meet Darren who is on a visit to Vietnam with an Australian woman he met and although they came here together, the relationship has soured a month into his 3-month stay. I offer that he can stay at our house while we’re traveling around Laos for two weeks but I do not realise the communist protocols of signing contracts and informing police etc. It’s an offer I have to take back unfortunately.
I also quickly get to meet Andres’ girlfriend, Daton, who is an illustrator and helped create the Sour Dough book. She’s also traveling to Italy with Andres to make a new start. But what is particularly interesting about Daton is that she looks exactly what my main character in a book I started writing last year looks like. My character’s name is Ming and she is Australian born but her parents escaped from the Lao communists and resettled in Australia. Seeing her here reignites my ideas and passion for finishing the book about the secret war that occurred in Laos during the American-Vietnam War.
Then there’s retired couple Christine and Bill who have been living in Hoi’An for nearly six years. Both of them love it here, and I often see them at Dingo Deli having a coffee or up at the Golden Sand Resort gym as they too are members. They’re such a sweet couple living the retired life in Hoi’An and get about on their scooters. Lovely people.
Steve’s third tennis session with Peter was cancelled last minute due to Peter not feeling the best. But since the alarm had already gone off at 5:30am, we decided to get up and about like the locals do and bike down to Hidden Beach to enjoy a sunrise swim together in the South China Sea.
It is so quiet on the beach at this time of the day and so much cooler. We watched the sun rise while enjoying a swim in the clear warm water. There were a couple of other swimmers dotted along the long stretch of sea, but not many where we were. We had the sea all to ourselves.
Unfortunately, after we drip dry off and walk back up to our bicycles where we parked them we notice one is missing. There are no longer two bikes waiting for us to ride home on. Steve’s bike has been stolen while we were relaxing on the beach at Hidden Beach. We have rented the bikes from Miss Phuong for one month and this afternoon was our final day of renting them before heading off to Laos for the school holidays. Anyway, we obviously need better security for the uninhabited places we venture to in Hoi’An. The cost of a replacing the stolen bicycle is 5.1 million Dong (including a discount for being good customers). Lesson learnt the expensive way!
Family Travel Memories
Having Sue and Baz come and visit us here in Hoi’An has been a real treat. We’ve done lots of things together – both local and touristy, and the girls are really loving having them here to hang out with at Golden Sand Resort or back at our house.
We meet up with Paul (PM) and his wife Caroline at The Happy Buffalo for drinks and snacks. They’re late arriving to their Hoi’An hotel because the tour they’re on has decided to take a detour and visit Marble Mountain as soon as they land at Da Nang Airport from Hanoi.
But we do manage to catch up with them the night before heading to Laos and we thoroughly enjoy the time. It’s lovely to have visitors from home while we’re traveling this year.
Vlogging Career Really?
An update – I made the introductory vlog with lots of weird looks and comments coming from my tribe of teens, but I pushed through them and the steep learning curve of pulling something together. Here is it if anyone dares to watch!
I was all geared up to create another vlog about our local market, but well, the short snippets of video taken is all over the place inside my iPhone, amongst hundreds of photos and I just haven’t given the time and energy and focus required. Not sure where I’m at with my vlogging career but if it returns I’ll share what I create here.
Goodbye Golden Sand Resort
I receive an unusual email from the General Manager of Golden Sand Resort one day informing us as members that they were having to close the doors of the resort. Say what? After a meeting with the Canaian GM we discover that there is ongoing relationship issues with the owners – two brothers who own the resort – and as such the accounts for the resort have been frozen which means no bills can be paid out!
We are disappointed and hope that by the time we return from our school holiday adventure in Laos the resort will be back open. But I’m not going to hold my breath! Billie is shattered as she loves the gym the most, closely followed by Ash, Charlie and Steve. Luckily Sue and Baz didn’t book their stay here any later as they got to be here on the very last week of its operation and had a wonderful experience here.
“The gilded meet the eyes like molasses meets the tongue.”