Hoi An and Cafe 43

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May 7th 2009
Published: May 13th 2009
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Longest Forty-Five Minute Flight Ever

We flew Vietnam Airlines a lot during our trip. Generally the flights were fairly pleasant. Coach seating is way more spacious than the US carriers. The flights are quick, always less than an hour, and the flights are generally on time. We also get a little bottle of water and a refreshing towlette during each flight. Moreover, the flights are cheap, even last minute. We have been able to book flights only a day before and they are only about $35 a person. Incredible. We left Hanoi to fly to the ancient town of Hoi An, about a one hour drive from Danang, famous during the War as a military base and the location of China B each. Our flight from Hanoi to Danang was not quite as pleasant as our other Vietnam Air flights. Before I start, I apologize to my friends and family with children - don’t take this personally.

Our flight was a later flight, leaving after 7pm, which meant most children on the flight were getting a bit tired. And, we were sitting in the romper room section. We sat behind a French father and his two children, about 4 and 6 years old. At first the little kid speaking French was cute, until he decided not to be quiet - the entire flight. They must not have the concept of inside voices in France. At first his requests for candy from his dad was adorable. I mean, a four year old saying “papa” and “chocolat” in his little French accent is classic. But, the boys did not keep quiet. And, as our flight became delayed before takeoff, and we were sitting in a window and middle seat, I started to feel claustrophobic. When one kid kept turning around and staring at me, I became quickly annoyed. Annoyed turned into pure frustration and a wicked headache when at least four other children, some fairly young and some old enough to know better, started screaming. They were all sitting within a few rows of us. All of them were screaming on the top of their lungs, the entire flight, with repeats of “papa” and “chocolat” from the little French boy, which no longer seemed cute. I could not wait until we landed. Then, when I saw we needed to take a bus from the tarmac to the terminal, I told Eric I wanted to deplane slowly to allow all of the kids on the first bus. It felt like the flight took three hours and not just an hour. I was desperate for a drink at that point.

Ancient Hoi An Town

Hoi An is a riverside town known for its art galleries and tailor shops. It reminded me of a quiet, Asian version of New Orleans. There is definitely a French influence to the older architecture, which luckily survived the War. Hoi An also has a river running through it, which tends to flood each year, sometimes drastically. I was amazed that the street level is only a few meters higher than the surface of the river. I am surprised the town has survived at all. Due to the constant flooding, many of the buildings in the old quarter suffer from mold and dark stains from moisture and age. This also reminded me of New Orleans. The old town centre is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so it is protected to the extent that there is limited traffic and some areas are marked pedestrian only. The streets are lined with hotels, restaurants and cafés, and shopping. It is a fairly quiet and relaxing experience to wander through the town, both during the day and in the evening as the sun sets along the Thu Bon River.

What was most interesting to me was that I was reading When Heaven and Earth Change Places by Le Ly Hayslip. I had planned on reading the book while in Vietnam, but it was happenstance that I read it while in Hoi An. Le Ly was from a small village outside of Danang. Her book referenced Saigon, Danang, Hoi An, China Beach, and the local Marble Mountains. Her tale of the destruction of most of her family and her childhood during the war was harrowing. Reading it while in her neighborhood and imagining how the area changed was enlightening. The tale of the debauchery of Danang with its brothels and black marketers is contrasted with the current multi-million dollar construction projects. Currently, the road from Danang to Hoi An has several golf courses and some large Western style resorts. There were many more resorts being built, including a Crowne Plaza and Hyatt Residences, where you can own your own villa from only $340,000. It is amazing
Cheapest Beer EverCheapest Beer EverCheapest Beer Ever

About .15 a beer, pretty cold, and served with a friendly smile!
to see how empty the restaurants and hotels were in Hoi An, and knowing there is not much to see in Danang. The stretch of beach between the two is beautiful and pristine, but it seems the government is not controlling the burgeoning tourism industry. I hope people start coming to fill up all these mega-resorts.

We spent an afternoon at Cua Dai beach. We rented bicycles in Hoi An and rode about 30 minutes to the beach. Again, this was a much more pleasant experience than Sihanoukville in Cambodia. The depth of the beach was amazing, with nice beach shacks set back along the road. The shacks offered beach chairs and umbrellas for rent. The white sand beach stretched about fifty meters to the water. The beach itself was fairly empty. There were no mega resorts on this stretch, offering a free public beach. It was a relaxing afternoon. Although the waves were strong, possibly due to a tropical storm near the Philippines, we were able to swim a bit. There was a nice cool breeze too. Although there were some sales woman and touts on the beach, it was much less aggressive than in Cambodia. I wonder
Tuon's DogTuon's DogTuon's Dog

He looks to be thrilled about his bath.
if the beach will continue to look as pristine once all of the mega resorts open to the north.


Hoi An is known for dozens and dozens of tailors and clothing shops. The shops are of varying degrees of quality, from higher end Yaly couture, to the cheaper places lining almost every street. You can take a look at suits, dresses, skirts, and shirts on display to chose and then pick a fabric. You can browse through catalogs containing clippings from various fashion magazines. You can draw your own designs or can bring a sample of a shirt and ask them to make copies. This is what Eric did. He bought a shirt from the night market in Luang Prabang, and wanted a duplicate. It is tough for him to find shirts in Asia that fit him, particularly after a washing. When Eric brought his shirt they asked if he wanted more than one, “like two or five.” I think Eric was tempted to get five, but I don’t think he has enough room in his backpack for five. Every shop also had great looking wool coats on display, for fall in Chicago, or winter in places warmer than Chicago. They were nice, and cheap, and I was tempted, but could not even imagine trying on a wool coat in the hot Asian weather!

I took a different approach. I wanted some fun dresses that I could buy cheap, and buy to fit me. So, I bought a strapless, orange silk dress, a brown, cream and red, short satiny dress, and a long black evening dress. I also bought a fun red, Asian inspired top for nights out. All of my purchases were for when we return to the States. I have no use for a floor length evening dress while on the road. It became both fun and bothersome to shop in this fashion. It was fun to pick out a design and a fabric and make any adjustments to the design I wanted. It was fun walking through town and peering into each and every store looking for ideas or fabrics I liked. It was the second fitting that was more problematic, when you tried to explain to them that the top was too tight, or a seam needed reworking, or it was too low-cut. In the end, though, I think it was worth the repetitive trips to the old quarter. I could imagine if I actually had a job right now how much more damage I would do, on purchasing shirts and suits, and even great wool coats and jackets, all at bargain basement prices. Now, I just need some fun jewelry to match my new dresses!

Creatures of Habit

As much as Eric and I love traveling, experiencing new places and new people, to some extent we are creatures of habit. When we find a restaurant or café we like when we travel, we continuously go back. When we were in Marrakech, Morocco, we went to the same café every morning for mint tea and a view of the market before us. In Barcelona, we returned to the same tapas restaurant each night for a quick beer and a few nibbles. In Hanoi, we hit the same beer garden three nights in a row, and don’t forget about revisiting Madame Hu in the Old Quarter. In Hoi An, we turned the art of the return visit into a masterpiece.

We were staying at Phouc An Hotel, which was about a 5 minute walk to the
Best Coffee in VietnamBest Coffee in VietnamBest Coffee in Vietnam

Tasty drip coffee. Mine is dripping into condensed milk - called White Coffee
start of the old town. The hotel was down a winding narrow road, only slightly more than an alley. The hotel was fine, with a pool and free breakfast, but we had some problems with the room, namely with leaky air conditioners and musty smelling rooms. We switched rooms after two nights and still had a problem with the air conditioner. We did not care, however, because we did not want to move from our street. Creatures of Habit.

When we were in Ho Chi Minh City, we met an Aussie couple with a young daughter named Bailey. They had just been to Hoi An and could not remember the name of their hotel to recommend, but remembered the restaurant they ate at each day - Café 43 - right next door to their hotel. They said a nice family ran the place and served cold beer and good food. The Lonely Planet guide agreed. We arrived late to Hoi An, not checking into the hotel until 9:30. We were hungry and hoped something was open. When we left the hotel we saw Café 43 sitting about 50 meters from the hotel, and it was open. We ordered to fresh beers, only 3000 VD (about .15), although they were smaller than the beers in Hanoi. We ordered a pork fried wonton, which was incredibly crispy and topped with tomatoes, onions, pineapples, pork, and a great pork broth. I knew I had to have the wontons again. We also ordered bbq pork, which was served on a skewer with rice paper, greens, and a tangy sauce to create our own fresh spring rolls. We were hooked, mostly because of the hospitality. The owner, Toan, was so friendly, always with a smile on his face. Over the next four nights, we returned, and continued to get to know Toan and his wife the chef. When we asked Toan for his wife’s name and he replied with what sounded like “cook.” We tried to say we understand she is the cook, but what is her name. Turns out her name is Cuc, pronounced cook. We were entertained each night by their little Chihuahua puppy, who Toan loved as much as his restaurant. Café 43 also introduced us to a nice Dutch couple, Ap and Stine, who we became friends with. We agreed that Café 43 had some of the best food we
Heavenly PhoHeavenly PhoHeavenly Pho

Tom (on the left in front of the chilli sauce) with Pho and all the trimmings - chilli, soy sauce, hot sauce, greens, and pure yummines
have had in Vietnam, and we had great interactions with Toan and Cuc, making us want to return each night. We also continued to run into Ap and Stine throughout town, and even at the beach. We even spent our last few hours in Hoi An at Café 43 prior to our flight. We had easily the best Vietnamese drip coffee in the country and a fantastic seafish and saffron baked in a banana leaf. Our experience at Café 43 was enough to make us want to return to Hoi An, and even return to our not so spectacular hotel. It really made the trip to Hoi An feel less touristy than the town itself was.

Another habit became an almost daily visit to Madame Pho. We did not learn her real name, but we had beef pho our first full day and went back numerous times. Her pho was some of the best we had in Vietnam - fresh noodles, tender beef, and a fantastic beef broth with chopped nuts and scallions. And, this was the first pho place that had a full run of extra condiments - always served with a basket of mint, cilantro, and other herbs, with hot chili sauce, dried chilies, fresh chilies, picked onions, soy sauce, and more. For a little more than $1 a bowl, we rubbed our bellies and cooled our lips from the spiciness of our pho numerous times, becoming friendly with both Madame Pho and her husband. Madame Pho’s shop was directly across from Café 43, and in fact, we had no reason to actually leave our little street. If we moved to this street in Hoi An, we would never leave Café 43 and Madame Pho. It was magical.


14th May 2009

Best thing is to use ear plugs , quiets the kids down to a tolerable level. I always carry a pair with me. Well, maybe not the best thing, there is duct tape.. :) :)

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