Tag Archives: Hoi An

Banana-rama and other scenes around Hoi An

We’re back in Vientiane, but I realized I had written a couple posts and never actually posted them! So here are some parting shots of Hoi An…

Walking around Hoi An the other day, we saw this poor guy, who had to jump off his banana bike and pull it up a hill.

Carol and I strolled through town, popping in to art galleries and other cultural sites.

Orchids and scorch marks from the incense that burns as an offering at every home and shop.

This is a detail from the “Old House of Quan Thang,” built by a Chinese sea captain in the 18th century.

Cool roof.

The riverfront road.

This lady took us for a short boat ride on the Thu Bon River.



A Hoi An snack vendor.

We all went out for a fancy dinner at Mango Rooms, where Nikki and I sucked down a carafe of delicious mango sangria. Everyone knows friends don’t let friends shop drunk, but it sure was funny.

Nikki starts a hot new fashion craze – lantern earrings.

Carol plays the traditional “Folk Game of Breaking Pot.”

It was dark, so the video’s not great.

We had planned to eat at Casa Verde, which Carol and I had spotted earlier in the week on the river road. But we could never find it again despite walking up and down that road at least 38 times! After Nikki and Carol returned to Laos, Tony and I found it. And ate there. And loved it!

We saw these birdcages a lot because they hang on a balcony directly across from the Cargo Club restaurant, where we sat nearly every day. Amazing coffee, sandwiches and desserts!

Another pretty balcony.

What is it about bikes and mottled walls? Can’t get enough.

The Japanese bridge, originally built in 1593.

Tony got a pair of prescription reading glasses made by this pre-pubescent “optometrist.” They turned out surprisingly well!

Maskonfusion – the story of how my funky-shaped head nearly led to my early demise

This post was written on April 11 … just a little slow to get it on the blog.

Yesterday we hit the high seas with high hopes for an interesting scuba excursion.

We climbed aboard the Cham Island Diving boat with our friends Carol, who would earn her PADI Open Water certification by the end of the day, and Nikki, who experienced some mediocre snorkeling. Tony puked for most of the 45-minute boat ride to the dive site, so he was happy to finally squeeze into a wetsuit and strap on the BCD (buoyancy control device). I warned the divemaster that I always get cold underwater, even on dives that other people report as “like bath water.” He tossed a second wetsuit to me.

Little did I suspect that hypothermia would be the least of my problems on this day.

I may have mentioned in the past that my head is shaped like an upside-down lightbulb, and I have yet to find a dive mask that can seal those little divots at my temples. For my first dive in Hoi An, I wore an old dive mask that belonged to my sister Megan when she was a kid. I figured a teenager’s mask might fit better than a full-size adult’s mask made for normal full-size faces. I was wrong.

From the minute we descended (which actually took longer than usual because I didn’t have enough weights on my belt, so the divemaster had to slip another weight in my BCD pocket), my mask (a) leaked and (b) fogged up. I spent the whole dive taking off my mask, wiping off the fog, putting it back on, blowing out the water and then catching up with the group. I don’t even remember seeing any fish.

In addition to my mask misery, I was freezing! Back on the boat, it took a good 20 minutes before my teeth stopped chattering. For the next dive, I got a new mask and put on a hood and a THIRD wetsuit. I could barely bend my arms to put on the BCD.

The hood and third wetsuit made a huge difference – I felt warm and cozy. Unfortunately, my new mask immediately filled up, and the divemaster tossed it back on board to trade it for yet another. I thought it was sealing better, but shortly after descending, it filled again. I cleared it a few times and figured I could dive with a partially filled mask. Suddenly, it filled up completely and no matter how hard I tried to clear it, the water rushed back in. I panicked momentarily when I couldn’t see anything. I couldn’t read my gauge, so I didn’t know my depth. I couldn’t tell if I was bobbing back up to the surface (and risking “the bends”) or sinking to the bottom (and risking the explosion of my ear drums).

Later Tony explained that he saw me sinking, so he quickly grabbed my buoyancy control valve and pumped a little air into the BCD. Then I started to float up. By then the divemaster realized I was in trouble, so he pulled my fin down until I was level with him. At first I was desperate to get out of the water, so I made the thumbs-up gesture for “Back to the surface!” I cleared my mask and could open my eyes for just an instant to see him pantomiming, “Calm down, silly.”

He tried to push all my hair away from the mask in case it was creating gaps, but by then my panic had subsided and I knew the stupid hood was the problem. I whipped off the mask, pulled the hood down around my neck, put the mask back on and cleared the water by blowing air out of my nose. The mask sucked on to my face like it was permanently attached.

For the rest of the dive, I didn’t have any problems with water leakage. The pressure on my face was quite uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to equalize it for fear of creating new leaks. As a result, I now have a nice fat bruise right above my nose. Pretty.

No longer obsessed with my mask, I was able to focus more on the dive. Too bad the visibility was poor. Our group had six people, and we often couldn’t see further than the fins in front of us.

When I climbed up the ladder to get back on the boat, my three wetsuits suddenly compressed like a corset and squeezed all my internal organs up into my throat. I barely wriggled out of the BCD before leaning over the railing to barf my breakfast into the sea. I felt like a pig in the coils of a boa constrictor and couldn’t get out of those wetsuits fast enough!

As for the dive itself, we encountered a few interesting fish and rolling coral terrain, but probably the best thing I took away was the reminder to stick with my dive buddy. Poor Tony. He always tries to stay close, but I’m so easily distracted. I tail the divemaster but often lose track of Tony when I spot a cool fish. Sometimes I snap back to reality and whip around to find him, only to discover he’s floating right above me. When I had the mask problem, he was right there to help me. But who would help HIM if he got into trouble? Chances are, I would be mesmerized by some colorful sea anemone while he signaled for help. So this was a big wake up call.

After our second dive, we anchored off Cham Island and piled into a little boat to get to shore. We ate lunch and played cards till it was time to take the dive boat back to Hoi An. Despite the equipment malfunctions, chilly water temperature and post-dive pukefest, diving always rocks. Plus, it was fun to be with Carol when she earned her PADI certificate. So, all in all, not a bad day.

Shots in the water were taken by Nikki or Carol with an underwater camera.

Carol, Nikki and Tony on the boat.

Pulling away from the dock in Hoi An, we passed fishermen in boats and baskets.

Carol’s ready to jump in.

Getting ready to descend.

Alex, the divemaster, trying to help me with my stupid mask.

Whew! Finally got it to stop leaking.

Some nice scenery despite the poor visibility.

Playing cards at Cham Island.

Heading back to town.

Love these fish nets!

Pulling in to the Hoi An port.

Countryside Cycling

We had such a great day yesterday with the guys from Phat Tire that we decided to hang out with them again today!

Despite our sore muscles from Marble Mountain, we hopped on bikes and hit the road bright and early with Khanh and Thao (who, coincidentally, was the smart-ass who made the “piece of cake” comment at the rock wall yesterday!). They were fantastic guides and showed us “real Vietnam” away from all the touristy attractions.

We caught a ferry, along with many other commuters, and crossed the river to the village of Nhon Boi.
Standing on the ferry with Thao.

Disembarking at the village.


We pedaled through villages and past vast rice fields.



Rice plants turn the most gorgeous shades of green and yellow.

We watched people drying peanuts on the road,

walking a pig,

and hanging up fishing nets.

Pausing for a snack, we played with this little cutie.

Khanh and Thao cuddled and coddled him, begging for kisses before giving him cookies. I commented about how we are so overprotective of children in North America. Khanh laughed and said our little friend probably wanders into all the neighbors’ houses and throughout the village, and his mother can be assured that he is safe and well fed.

Khanh demonstrated how to walk from land to the boat on the bamboo pole. “Easy!” he said.

Soon after our snack break, we came to a rickety bamboo bridge. Thao rode ahead with my camera to take shots of Tony and me. But once I got on the bridge, I chickened out. I jumped off the bike and walked it about half way. Thao chided me and suggested I switch to low gear, so I bravely and tensely cycled the second half. I asked if anyone ever falls off. “Sometimes,” he said. “when they have too much beer.”




After awhile, we stopped at a home to see women weaving traditional mats from coconut fronds. They peel the fronds into strips, dry them, dye them with natural and chemical pigments, and then weave them on this traditional loom. The warp “threads” were thin fibers from a coconut tree trunk.

One jovial young woman twisted a strip of coconut frond onto a shuttle and then whipped it through the loom. An older woman used a wooden beater to push the strip tight and then knotted the loose end. They worked quickly and cheerfully, and I couldn’t even tell what their hands were doing.

Of course, they encouraged me to give it a go, and I was completely idiotic. I slammed the beater too hard. I didn’t tie the knots properly. The old woman kept swatting my hand, as though that would remind me of the proper way to tie a coconut frond knot. A little crowd of villagers gathered to watch me mangle the mat. We all got a good laugh out of it.


The rest of the bike ride was rich with scenery and smiles. Highlights included villagers who shouted “hello!” as we passed, school kids heading home for lunch, a palm farm, a chat with a mama water buffalo and her baby, an organic farm (where they fertilize with seaweed), a Viet Cong cemetery, a duck crossing, another ferry ride and many fishing traps and nets.

Ducks out for a bike ride of their own.

Tony, Khanh and Thao on the ferry back to Hoi An.

Viet Cong village cemetery.

Palm tree fronds drying in the sun.

Fish traps.


Traffic jam.

Waterfront property.

“Take your bike over by the buffalo, and I’ll take a picture,” said Thao. Then she charged me. Baby nearby. Duh. Wish I could say that was the first time I’d made THAT mistake.


Year of the Cat?

The other day, I blogged about the floating light sculptures on the river here in Hoi An. I expressed confusion over this basket of cats, which seemed so out of place.

Fortunately, my friend Diana, who lives in Saigon, cleared up the mystery. Although China is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit, Vietnam is celebrating the Year of the Cat!

Wanting to know more, I did a little search and found this interesting article:

How the Chinese rabbit became a cat in Vietnam

HANOI – While much of Asia celebrates the Year of the Rabbit, Vietnam is striking a note of independence from the dominance of Chinese culture and marking the beginning of the Year of the Cat.
The two communist countries remain ideological allies and have endorsed a similar transition to a market-oriented economy.
But their relationship evokes strong emotions and contradictions in Vietnam, where many bitterly recall 1,000 years of Chinese occupation and, more recently, a 1979 border war.
While the smaller nation has held onto many Chinese words, customs and traditions, it still feels a strong need to set itself apart from its giant neighbor.
The two countries share 10 of the zodiac calendar’s 12 signs– the rat, tiger, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. But the Vietnamese replace the rabbit with the cat and the ox with the buffalo.
Exactly why they opted for different animals remains unclear, but several scholars say the split can be traced back to the founding legends of the zodiac calendar.
One of these stories goes that Buddha invited animals to take part in a race across a river and the first 12 to reach the shore would have the honor of appearing on the calendar.
Unable to swim, close friends the cat and rat decided to hitch a ride on the ox’s back. But as they approached the finish line, the two-faced rodent allegedly pushed the cat into the water — and the pair have been sworn enemies ever since.
The Vietnamese tell the tale somewhat differently. According to them, it was the Jade Emperor, a Taoist god, who organized the race. And in their version, the cat knows how to swim.
“There are anthropological and cultural explanations,” said Philippe Papin, an expert on Vietnamese history at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris.
But since many of today’s Vietnamese have Chinese origins, the most likely explanation lies in linguistics, he said.
“The Chinese word for rabbit is ‘mao’, which sounds like ‘meo’ in Vietnamese, where it means cat. As the sound of the word changed, so did its meaning,” Papin said.
Regardless of how the split came about, the Vietnamese today have no interest in bringing their zodiac signs into line with the Middle Kingdom.
“For the Vietnamese, it’s a matter of national honour not to have copied China completely,” said Benoit de Treglode, from the Research Institute on Contemporary Southeast Asia in Bangkok.
“This form of distinction in imitation can be found throughout Vietnamese culture,” he added.
Politics play a role too with Beijing and Hanoi increasingly at odds over a number of long-running territorial disputes.
“We don’t know exactly how the selection of these 12 animals happened,” said Dao Thanh Huyen, an independent journalist based in Hanoi.
But “now that the words ‘China’ and ‘Chinese’ can become a source of controversy or even lead to arguments, many Vietnamese are happy not to be like their neighbor, even if it is fairly silly to take these things too seriously.”
Hoang Phat Trieu, a retired Vietnamese actor, says his compatriots simply prefer cats to rabbits.
“Most of the Vietnamese people are farmers,” the 76-year-old said. “The rabbit has nothing to do with Vietnamese farmers, while the cat has always been a very good friend of farmers, trying to kill the rats that threaten their crops.”
As Vietnam marks its Tet Lunar New Year on Thursday, those born in the Years of the Rat, the Horse or the Rooster will be careful not to be the first to enter a house — as this is said to attract bad luck.
“This year is going to be an average year according to fortune tellers,” said Huyen. But she hopes her husband and son, both Dogs in the zodiac calendar, will make the year more interesting than the disappointingly dull prediction.
“Everybody knows how cats and dogs get on,” she said, proving that the desire to make astrological predictions work in your favour is universal.
In that, at least, the Chinese and the Vietnamese are alike.

Marvelous Marble Mountain

On the recommendation of our divemaster Alex, we booked a day of rock climbing with a local outfitter called Phat Tire.

According to the Phat Tire website:

Marble Mountain is 25 km (15 miles) away from Hoi An to the North, and stands out from the landscape as majestic granite mountains adjacent to the shore. It was rumored that this was an eggshell of the dragon king left behind after the birth of a beautiful princess. At the beginning of the 19th century, King Gia Long, when passing by this region, named these mountains after the five elements: Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth.

Uncharacteristically, I did a pathetic job of researching Hoi An before we got here. I mean, I really didn’t research anything. So I had no idea what to expect at Marble Mountain. I figured we’d strap on our harnesses, play around on some limestone rock formations and call it a day.

We climbed up a LOT of stairs (which were, in fact, marble) and then sat on a ledge with a LOT of tourists while our guides, Tinh and Khanh, sorted out the equipment. As we waited, I walked around the site a bit, checking out a grotto with a Buddha statue. From another spot, I could see the beach. Very pretty, but nothing that seemed to justify the throngs of visitors.




In all, I went up the rock five times on four different routes. The first was a “warm-up” climb, which was actually quite tricky; nevermind the “piece of cake” comment tossed out by a passing climb guide. The handholds on these karst formations were essentially serrated knifes carved into the rock. By the end of the day, my hands were shredded.

Chalky hands!



My crowning moment was mastering a 28-meter (91-foot), grade 5.9 climb, which may seem wussy to some of you, but whatever. I climb MAYBE once a year, and my body is trained for yoga and teaching English, not pulling my lard-ass up some big rock face. Oh, did I mention there were freakin’ cacti in my path? Yeah, I nearly got impaled. So give me some props, people!


Anyway, it was super fun. I loved it. LOVED it. I really need to do this more often.

A couple notes:

(a) Khanh served us lunch – baguettes with a selection of peanut butter, soft cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and liverwurst, as well as a variety of fresh fruit. As he prepared the feast, I asked him for all the Vietnamese words and tried to reproduce them (badly, apparently, judging by Khanh’s reaction). Tony and I nearly choked on our bananas when Khanh prepared his own sandwich with EVERYTHING on it. Yes, peanut butter and cheese and liverwurst. But, hey, to each his own.

(b) Marble Mountain is – wait for it – legendary! I had no idea! After we finished climbing, Khanh took us around to some of the caves and grottoes. Remember I mentioned that grotto with a Buddha statue? Tourists kept climbing up there and taking FOREVER to come back down. I couldn’t imagine what they were doing. Well, there was another passageway behind the Buddha, and we climbed up on top of the “mountain” for a spectacular view of the sea. Who knew?! Then Khanh took us to Dong Huyen Khong (still on Marble Mountain). We stepped tentatively down into the darkness, turned a corner and encountered a cloud of sweet incense before realizing the narrow walkway opened into a huge cave lit by sunlight streaming through holes at the top. People lit candles and prayed at several Buddhist shrines, and a massive Buddha carved out of the wall stared down from above. We also visited the smaller Dong Linh Nham cave, which featured several Buddhist shrines and offerings to ancestors.






At the base of Marble Mountain, we encountered shop after shop selling enormous statuary carved from marble and other stone. Tony clearly wanted to buy one of these lions, but our shipping allowance to India simply wouldn’t cover it.

Marble Mountain map.

Poolside Hoi An hottie

Check out this hottie bo-bottie, who swam up to me today while I was lounging poolside and reading Bossypants by Tina Fey on my kindle.

Too bad he had to burst my bubble by putting on what may be the world’s most hideous sunglasses.

Ring, ring… Ummm, Tony … Tom Cruise’s character from the 1983 movie “Risky Business” called, and he wants his Wayfarers back.

The key to happy traveling: lower the bar

Imagine this scenario in North America:

You and your husband enter a fine wine bar/restaurant and get seated at a window table upstairs overlooking the quaint town and bustling riverfront. You order an overpriced glass of wine and a selection of appetizers that reflect the region’s eclectic cuisine. As the waiter dashes off to place your order, you stand up to find the restroom and wash your hands … but you immediately notice a roach the size of your face now occupies your chair. When you emit a little shriek, the bug drops to the floor and scurries away.

Of course, you would grab your husband and run out the door, possibly pausing at the hostess station to cancel your order. Then you would blog and tweet and post in the name of all that’s holy urging everyone to AVOID THAT RESTAURANT.

Now, imagine that same scenario in Southeast Asia:

As you stand up to head to the restroom, the bug makes a break for it, but you stick out your foot to block its path. You’ll be damned if that vile voluminous insect is going to get away without posing for a picture first.

After taking a couple snapshots, you casually wander downstairs to the restroom where you stare in awe at an even LARGER roach with one missing leg that is hobbling across the wall. Emerging from the restroom, you can’t help but notice the gaggle of roaches hanging out near the stairs. Your waiter, who appears at that moment, catches your eye and you both smile and shrug as if to say, “Whatcha gonna do?” Then you head back up to your table, do a quick roach check under your seat cushion and enjoy your wine.

For the record, the White Marble Wine Bar & Restaurant in Hoi An, Vietnam, is a lovely place in an elegant setting with delicious food, a fantastic wine list, friendly staff and a freakin’ crazy collection of mutant ninja cockroaches.

Here’s the one that shared my chair with me.

Hoi An nightlights

After indulging in delectable desserts at The Cargo Club last night (mine was a mango tart) …


… we stepped out of the restaurant’s back door to see the riverfront illuminated with lanterns and lighted floating sculptures.

Carol took most of these shots.
This was a lovely little restaurant adorned with lanterns.


These were floating on the river.

I understood the big floating dragon, turtle and fish. I mean, those are all creatures that could potentially – or mythically – live in the river. But a basket of cats? What was that all about?

We wandered to a collection of lantern shops.

Tony barely fits in the shop.

Tony went back to our hotel, and Nikki, Carol and I enjoyed a nightcap at Bazar, where Carol shot pictures of passing cyclists.

Welcome to Hoi An Ancient Town!

Although the 200-some tailor shops detract a bit from Hoi An’s well-preserved architecture and quaint alleys, I have enjoyed meandering through this little city on the Thu Bon River.

UNESCO added Hoi An to its list of World Heritage sites in 1999 based on two criteria: “Hoi An is an outstanding material manifestation of the fusion of cultures over time in an international commercial port.” AND “Hoi An is an exceptionally well preserved example of a traditional Asian trading port.”

Check out the UNESCO website for a history lesson on Hoi An.


Interspersed with the tailors are temples, traditional houses, shrines, museums, bridges, art galleries, and other attractions. At night, the city glows with the light of colorful silk lanterns hanging from trees and shopfronts.

The Phuk Kien Assembly Hall

These spiraling incense sticks hung from the ceiling.


Wacky Chinese-esque sculpture? Sacred fountain? Dog’s water bowl? All of the above.

A few street shots …


Siesta! Can you spot the napping veggie vendors?




In addition to getting clothes made, you can design your own Nikes or other stylish shoes.


Carol at the Hainan Temple.

Tony and I walked across this bridge to Cam Nam Island.



This guy pedaled Nikki back to her hotel.

Happy in Hoi An

I simply can’t overstate how happy I am at the beach. Any beach, really. Today’s bliss is brought to you by Cua Dai beach outside of Hoi An, Vietnam.

Here’s where we are:

View Larger Map

As soon as we arrived at our resort last night, I dashed into the darkness and waded in the East China Sea. I let the water splash over my Chacos for a few minutes before heading back to our room to unpack. What is it about the salty air, the pounding surf, the spongy wet sand that trumps all the frustrations and little annoyances in life?

This morning, Tony and I enjoyed an early breakfast outside, overlooking the ridiculously long pool and the crashing waves of the sea, followed by a walk up the beach. We sauntered for about an hour, trying to decide which sand we preferred: the hard wet sand where the cold water doused our feet and legs, the mushy aerated sand that gave way under each step, or the dry powdery sand that worked our toes and calves. Mmmm … can’t decide. I love every inch of the beach.



During our walk, we encountered these round basket-boats. We watched two fishermen drag their basket-boats down the beach and into the water, where they each stood precariously on a little platform inside the boat and used an oar to paddle. They bobbed on the waves for a bit, eventually anchoring and tossing their nets.



“We totally need one of those for our lake house,” Tony said. Then we had a good laugh picturing ourselves paddling around Lake Orion, Michigan, in our basket-boat. We figured we’d be too stupid to work the thing, so it would just spin around like the teacup ride at Disney.


It’s a little overcast, but the temperature is perfect.


The water here is colder than Thailand but warmer than New Jersey. Nice on your legs, but I’m not sure I’ll immerse my whole body. That’s why God made swimming pools. We stepped off the beach and right up to our hotel’s pool. They even have a little coconut-shell scoop for washing sand off your feet.