Hoi An vs. Noul

See our gallery of photos tagged with “hoi an”.

After our brief visit in Hue, we reboarded the Reunification Express and headed south along the beaches and through the mountain range separating Da Nang from the north. Upon arrival in Da Nang, we took a taxi to Hoi An, the next stop on our journey.

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Thu Bon River, central Hoi An

Hoi An is a beautiful town that feels as if it is stuck in a bygone era. French colonial buildings and preserved 19th century houses, many with strong Chinese and Japanese influences, are scattered about. Silk lanterns and wooden & silk crafts are for sale at many of the local shops that line the narrow streets joined by even narrower alleys. There is also a river that runs through the heart of the city’s old town, so there is a wide selection of river-front cafés, as well as atmospheric footbridges and walkways. Between the bicycle, motorbike, and pedestrian filled streets are narrow alleys that wind between buildings, often just a few feet wide.

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Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street

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Tan Ky House

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Silk lanterns for sale

Aside from its wonderful atmosphere, many people come to this town for the many tailors that line the streets. As you walk through town, touts frequently approach you asking if you’d like any clothing made. After some research online (as these places vary widely in quality), Abby and I decided to have some clothing made at A Dong Silk, one of the more reputable places in town. We picked out styles and fabrics, got measured carefully, and came back for several fittings. In the end, I ended up with a new suit and dress shirt, and Abby got a shirt-dress and trench coat. All of these fit and look great, and cost significantly less than even the non-tailored versions back home. All-in-all a great experience.

The only unfortunate part of our visit in Hoi An was our encounter with Noul a tropical storm / depression that wandered into town for the last two days of our stay. On the day that we were scheduled to visit the nearby My Son ruins, we woke to a torrential downpour that unfortunately led us to cancel the day-trip. Instead, we outfitted ourselves in heavy-duty raingear and ventured into town for more sight-seeing and coffee-shop-visiting. By the end of the day, the passageway underneath the river’s main bridge had been reduced to a few inches and the surrounding streets were flooded. This is apparently not too unusual in Hoi An, however, and none of the shop-owners seemed particularly fazed. Fortunately, it had no impact on our flight out of there, which brought us to much drier weather.

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Noul

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Crispy like a broken bubble

See our gallery of photos tagged with “hue”.

Crispy like a broken bubble – This is how the menu at our hole-in-the-wall lunch spot in Hue described the dish on the bottom left, part of an elaborate Hue-style meal:

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We’ve had some amazing food here in Vietnam, ranging from the ever-popular Phở (very popular in Seattle these days as well), to tasty regional dishes like the ones above that we had not experienced before. We were directed to Hang Me, the restaurant listed above, after asking our hotel staff for tips on a good neighborhood eatery. The waitress did not speak any English, but understood that we wanted to sample some local specialties. She brought out a laminated pamphlet that looked like it may have been part of a travel guide, and pointed to the food we were about to eat. The first dish consisted of 10 shallow saucers, each lined with a little bit of rice noodle and topped with some dried shrimp and some sort of crouton. We were instructed to pour sauce on them, and then use a spoon to scoop each bundle out into a single bite. Delicious! Four more courses of food followed, each being something new for us. Meanwhile, a woman in back was preparing more food, in this case putting meat onto a rice noodle to be wrapped in a banana leaf:

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Many restaurants in Vietnam are quite different from what we’re used to in the United States. Rather than being enclosed air-conditioned store fronts with bound menus and a kitchen in back, they’re often open-air eateries that spill out onto the street. Here’s an example of such a restaurant in Hanoi. The plastic tables and chairs, as well as the outdoor cooking, are all very common in this country. Note the woman preparing chicken feet.

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Another difference is that some restaurants only serve one dish. For example, when we walked into Bun Bo Nam Bo in Hanoi, we sat down at two of the few open seats, and within minutes were served the following dish without any questions asked:

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It was great — a finely crafted bowl of Abby’s all-time favorite dish!

And other restaurants take on a completely different form… In Hoi An, we went to an outdoor restaurant near the river and noticed that the waitstaff was very aggressive. One waiter would tell you to sit down at a table on one side of the restaurant, while another would be trying to steer you towards their table. It turned out that this place, which had about ten tables, was actually a bunch of separate restaurants, with each owner running two tables. No wonder they were fighting over customers! We decided to eat at Mr. Rin’s fine two-table establishment:

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One last thing I feel obligated to mention. Vietnam is one of the few places where you can still buy a beer for less than 25 cents. Mr. Rin’s was only 4,000 dong, and was ISO 9001 certified to boot! What a wonderful country!

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