Hué – the Home of the Vietnamese Emperors.

Hué is supposed to be a beautiful place – or rather what’s left of it after the US bombing in spring 68.

I cannot tell you much so far because since my arrival it only rained and rained – and now it’s dark and rains. I don’t know how I shall go out for dinner in this weather. But I need to do something to distract me from the desire to buy some cigarettes.

Now I am still in the “cold turkey” stage, where the physical addiction to nicotine tries to keep you focused on cigarettes. Today, I was ready several times to give in and just buy a bloody pack of fags. For only one puff or two. But then, when I was already standing at a shop checking their selection of cigarettes, that hard-boiled, die-hard Frank, that has made it to the top in life several times and that has survived each and everything and everyone, that part of me that I was not even sure existed still kicked in and made my walk away!

It is damned hard, though. My whole life is programmed around cigarettes. I sit down – I light a fag, I pour a drink (any kind), I light a fag, I pick up the phone – I light…, I sit in front of the computer, I light…and so on and so forth. So many small every day life routines are programmed to be connected with cigarettes. I certainly behave like the Pavlov dogs in that old experiment.

So, every time I do something that is usually connected to lighting a cigarette (and there were many occasions within the last two days) I am feeling that physical urge. Shit! I guess the physical urge will go away after maybe two weeks – but the “programming” will stay in my head.

Basically, I know how it all works. After all, I gave up smoking once before. On May 24th, 2004 at 14.37pm I smoked my last Camel non-filter, “my” only cigarettes for more than 30 years, two packs a day. And only those produced in Germany. I even smuggled the expensive German ones into Bulgaria (where Camel were less than 1/3 of the German price) – but they would make me cough! In the end my monthly cigarette consumption amounted to the monthly salary of my darling lady.

The reason for giving up was, of course, not the money. But health and fitness, or so I thought. Because breathing had become a challenge. Especially up in the Pirin mountains and with young people.

So I did not smoke for about 5 years or so. To my surprise, after waiting one year, my breathing did not improve, however. That was also the time when I (admittedly, half-heartedly) made a few attempts at fitness studios.  Come on! What’s that?  Still huffing and puffing like crazy? So, I went to Germany on a medical fact finding mission.

As it turned out there were certain damages (even progressive ones…) to the good old luxury body, that neither time nor medicine could heel…

So, when I started smoking again in 2009 I did this in the full awareness that it would accelerate the down trend. Well, not really, in the beginning I lied to myself that the smoking would be only “temporary” and so I even bought cigarettes I did not like not to feel comfortable with them. But that “camouflage” became obvious to me rather quickly. But I continued to smoke – till two days ago.

Should I stop again. For the second time now?  There is no way back to improve my health from current rotten levels. Smoking or not. So, what for? To live a year longer, or maybe even two? I don’t see much benefit in that.

What gives me an incentive, however, is my desire to be independent and my quest for quality of life. I know that smoking, in my bodily situation, does not give me any pleasure whatsoever. It’s all about the nicotine. There is not even one cigarette a day I enjoy from beginning to end. So, should I be an addict to this? I should not! Much better to smoke opium, when you are here in Vietnam. At least this will give you some pleasure. The fags don’t. And I can’t imagine that you can get more addicted to opium than to cigarettes…

Goodness, I started out on Hué – and now I am bitching about around my own miserable life. Sorry guys! Maybe I should cut this out from this Hue post and put it somewhere else (likely, better delete it).

And, it’s still raining and nearly 7pm now. Soon it will be too late for dinner. At least for the food-shops. They have their rush between 6 and 7 pm – and then they close…the up-market restaurants (at least those catering to foreigners as well) are open to as late as 9pm!!! But I don’t want to wander about in the rain!  OK, I will give it another 15 minutes.

If rain won’t stop soon I will stay in my room with an estimated 120 million of small ants, 2/3 of a bottle of Bacardi (one third went since I started this monologue), some coke and a bag of dried fruits (banana slices, papaya pieces and whatever), that I bought at the producers “zech” (as we would call it in Bulgaria in German language…:))

So, that’s it from me for tonight. I hope. I also hope that tomorrow the weather will be better as I have hired a local guide for a city tour for all day. He will pick me up at 7 am. Well, in principle, it’s a logistical luxury I afford. Because sights are spread out in all directions. And I should hire different taxis to get from here to there. Which would be more expensive than to hire a guide with transport  for the whole day ;-)

As I have my done my home work  I am very much aware of the features of the emperors’ city and the forbidden palace (both of whom, by the way, are a miniature copy of the same thing in Peking, Beijing, or whatever you feel inclined to call it), as well as of the magnificent, unique tombs they have built for the emperors outside Hué. All I need now is: actually seeing them – without rain :)

See you tomorrow…

 

 

It’s now or never!

When I woke up this morning I decided to stop smoking. So I did not smoke all day.

Now I am suffering. And I don’t feel very talkative right now – and I am not in a good mood…! So, just stay out of my way…

Nightlife in Hoi An

Tonight (or rather late afternoon) I ventured back to the riverside place I had been to a few days ago. To enjoy the peaceful, calm, relaxed moments of the time before sunset looking at the river. In Europe we are privileged. Because this time of the day may last up to one hour.  But here in this part of the world it’s a question of not more than 15 minutes.

I felt a bit like in Base Camp in Bansko (probably a stupid comparison) surrounded by people my own age group:

I had given my Vietnamese phone number to the German guide at My Son, living here, at the end of our excursion.

When I was just enjoying my Larue beer with ice he called. So, I told him where I was and he came to see me. Or tried to. But since he lives here only for two years he did not know where my local place would be and got my directions wrong. Eventually he arrived and we had in interesting conversation.

He is the first ex-pat living in Vietnam that I met – and to complement my picture of the country I was very keen on knowing how other foreigners see life in Vietnam (not to hear it only from Vietnamese). Well, people are different. I still invited him for dinner to my favourite seafood place (which he did not know either – but then, he has been here only 2 years). We had a tuna salad and a seafood salad and squid and prawns. And some more beers.

I got a great insight into the life of foreigners here and their problems with local bureaucracy – and the people. All from the perspective of a German, not to forget :) Fortunately, I know them well and realise how to interpret their views.

I am a very privileged person. Because I somehow have the ability to understand different people. And, given enough information, what makes them tick and what their desires are. Maybe because I love people. Not everyone is in such a fortunate position. Some people can live in a foreign place forever and still have no clue what local life around them is all about. Because they are focused on themselves. I absorb local life like a sponge :)

We got kind of kicked out of the restaurant at 9 pm – the normal closing hour for Vietnamese restaurants. My man from Berlin, whose name I still don’t know (because he did not volunteer it and I did not feel the urge to ask him) felt compelled to invite me for a drink at his favourite hangout before going home . It was, surprise, a tourist place with happy hour, pizza, pasta, burgers and the works!

They offered a “Happy Hour” deal: two drinks for the price of one (between 4pm and 7pm). And while the happy hour had passed a long time ago I did not want to stress the budget of this poor German and ordered a gin & tonic at the happy hour price :)   – Of course, they brought me two g&ts when I wanted only one at half price, but at lest they honoured the “Happy Hour” price (3.65 Leva for two). Vietnam!

And from this glorious place we got kicked out at 10 pm – the time when all Vietnamese establishments close down! Apart from some night clubs in Hanoi that stay open till 11 pm.

So, here I am now, forced to indulge in Havana Club and coke as life around me has ceased.

By the way: the Vietnamese are very early risers. When I drove to the market in the centre, the peak of the rush hour seemed to have been at 6 am in the morning!!! Can you imagine?

Well, no wonder, all soup and noodle shops are full at 6 am, lunch is at 11 am – and dinner outside not later than 6pm (at home dinner in Vietnam is usually at 7pm, because they love to watch the extensive news on TV that start at that time). And latest at 9 pm all “normal” people are in bed. Only the younger ones stay up till 10pm.

In other words: the majority of people in Vietnam seem to get up at 5am, latest!

Now it’s past midnight again, thanks to this blog. Tomorrow (or rather this morning) I will be free. No more cultural obligations. I have seen everything in Hoi An by now. Beach, swimming pool, drinks and seafood! Lowly life, I know – but then: from time to time :)

Hasta la vista, conquistadores!…

 

 

 

 

My Son

I had a rather early start and by 6 am I was in the old town of Hoi An at the market.

This is the market hall:

Despite the early hour it was bustling with life and there were loads of people having their breakfast in the “fast food” section, in the form of some kind of soup or noodle dish or other.

Here some impressions:

All different kinds of fresh noodles at about 10 stalls:

Real farm chicken – not from the factory – quite pricey but firm, tasty meat:

My department :) :

Some kitties playing under a table in the eating section of the building:

Here I stocked up on delicious bananas for the day:

 

After all the looking and walking I had earned my first ice coffee for the day :) Here are two local brides at the next table flirting with me:

They invited me over to their table – but none of them spoke a word of English. Which kind of limited our conversation :) I understood, however, that they were working in a restaurant where they had seen me as a guest – but maybe I got it completely wrong :)

After that I took off, to finally visit My Son, a UNESCO world heritage site. It was the temple city of the Cham (or Champa) empire – that ruled Southern and Central Vietnam from the 7th till the 15th century – which makes it one of the longest lasting empires in history. The temples are Hinduistic , as basically the whole of Indochina was first “conquered” by old Indian religion – Buddhism coming later (but also from India).

There were many tourist buses and it took quite some effort and patience to take a few snapshots with not too many tourists on them :)

After the fall of the Cham Empire in 1471 My Son became more and more forgotten and was reclaimed by the jungle. Only in 1895 or so it was rediscovered by some Frenchmen – and the same Parmentier who excavated Angkor Wat also excavated My Son.

Altogether there were 68 structures in the big temple compound, that was surrounded by a moat and by walls. During the Vietnam war our dear American friends managed to bomb away 48 of them – the reason for that not being entirely clear to me. They also used a lot of Agent Orange in the area. If you are too young to know what this is and what it does, have a look here and spare me an explanation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agent_Orange

Anyway, it was interesting to visit this smaller Cham version of the Khmer’s Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I just wished I had been there at 6am, when they open the gates. Because there would have been less tourists – and I would not have melted in the sun so much…

I had a guide who, of all people, was from Berlin! With a bigger belly than my own and a real “Berliner Schnauze”. He is currently planning to open a beer-garden establishment in Hoi An, in the Berlin style of the sixties, with Buletten, Currywurst, Eisbein and such stuff. Oh my god! Just what Hoi An needs! The world is really colourful!

I have retreated to my air conditioned room and will the swimming pool for the first time before I will venture out for some aperitifs and an early dinner at the river.

More seafood in Hoi An

As it got later and “wetter” last night as expected I did not hear the alarm clock in the morning. So, instead of visiting My Son I spent most of the day in old Hoi An.

Nearly all the old houses there are painted yellow. And nearly all of them have shops.

Here is an embroidery shop where the girls slave away:

A rather big house. As there is a huge Chinese community here since the 16th century I trust it belongs to one of them :)

Chilling a bit with a “Bia Hoi”  in between and watching people pass by:

The old Japanese bridge – that separated the Japanese quarter from the Chinese.

Very laid back atmosphere:

Hoi An must the the capital of tailors. There are more than 200 of them – all willing and able to whip you up a suit within 24 hours. For as little as 150$. As I am wearing mainly Bansko peasant outfit these days I have no need. Nor for any souvenirs :)

Of course, I had another of those delicious ice coffees. In the North people drink mainly green tea. Here in the centre and to the South they love coffee – me too :)

I also got my trip organised – all the way to Saigon. Next week I will move to Hue for a few days, then one day to Danang and from there I will fly to Dalat in the central highlands. And afterwards to Saigon. Flights and hotels all booked.

Then it was high time for another visit to “my” fish restaurant. This time I had a closer look at what they had to offer.

Lined up along the wall they had about 20 different basins with all kinds of different live water creatures.

Today, again, I limited myself to three different dishes.

First: sea crab

As I had no clue about how to attack a crab with chopsticks I reverted back to my archaic method: with jaws and claws :) And no one paid any attention to me, luckily :)

After the sea crab came the river crab (in the back):

At 12.50 Leva (in comparison to 7.20 for the sea crab) the most expensive item on the menu. Because river crabs are much rarer. It was definitely worth the difference in price. The river crab meat is much more aromatic and while I get all carried away eating any crab (and silently go oh and ah and hmmm) river crab makes me shift in “delirious mode”…maybe my love for crabs goes beyond the taste even. Maybe it’s also the the primitive gnawing and sucking and the fact that you first have to do some hard work before you get to little pieces of meat that excites me.

For relaxation I had some easy to eat  fish grilled in banana leaf, with some finely chopped lemon grass and chillies!

I am a master of “cutting up” fish with chopsticks now – especially when it’s a fillet :)

I am having a small rice rakia for digestion “at home” now, feeling happy and relaxed. Life is a joyful thing , if you know how to make the best out of it :)

 

Sidetrack – 3

From time to time, when I am travelling, I feel an inner pressure. Like now. This little German in the back of my head starts nagging: are you making the most out of this holiday? Have you visited all possible cultural sites and seen all interesting places to rectify the amount of money you are spending? If it’s all just about having a good time you could have had that much cheaper staying in Bansko! – I hate this little guy who is trying to make me feel guilty and miserable.

I am here in Hoi An now since the 24th. And I have hardly seen anything of cultural importance – just yet. Obviously, I am not the active sightseer. But I have found quite a few local restaurants and enjoyed different kinds of food and drinks. Now, isn’t that something as well? Can I not spend my money on things that make me feel good without experiencing guilt?

Don’t get me wrong. I do like to learn about the history of a people and to see monuments of their past. It helps understanding what made them become the way they are now. But the historical sights are just a side venue. Because the main thing for me is always the people. My interaction with them, however, is fairly limited when I am on my own and cannot communicate with them. So I am limited to watching them eat and drink – and share this with them. From time to time I meet someone capable of a foreign language which brings me a step further. But these are mainly people involved in tourism business and they look at me not as one of their own but as a “tourist”. And they want to please me which keeps them from sharing their own views and attitudes.

That’s why I have made a crazy move. I got in touch with the boy that was with me on the rice farm as my sidekick. The one with the horrible English. But with a tremendous attitude. I have invited him to join me on an expedition to the Mekong delta. And he has happily accepted. And already talked to his boss in Hanoi to get some days off.

I will pay for his ticket to fly to Saigon (about 120$). We will meet there and then we will venture to the Mekong by public transport (dirt cheap) and stay at a private guest house (even cheaper). His job is to organise the transport and accommodation business. I will pay for expenses, but that’s it. No “guide fee” or so. And he will be the one waving his fan at me when I am hot, hold up the umbrella to protect me from the sun, make sure we are not overcharged in the pubs and restaurants and generally be the link between me and the local people. And we will hire a motorbike and he will be my driver so I can sample the rice brandy, and buy street side fruits at non-inflated prices. Just as it was in the village. And he will greatly enhance my social status with the locals :) With him next to me I will be walking around like a mandarin. I will get the attention of everyone, they will look at me in awe and I will be invited to every house for a cup of tea, hehe. It will make a world of a difference for my travelling. When on my own, without the language, I tend to go for less hassle, expensive options. This solution will turn out cheaper than to hire private transport and to book hotels. More authenticity for less money!

So, while I have not seen every major sight of importance in Vietnam yet (and surely won’t) I am about to have the best trip to the Mekong delta that any foreigner ever had. On my terms. Now, shut up, little German in the back of my head! Or I’ll drown you with some more Cuba Libre :)

Hoi An – singing in the rain…

I did it! I really got up at 5 am, quickly dressed, grabbed my casket and went outside. Only to find out it was raining cats and dogs. Grrrrr…So, I turned around and went straight back to bed. Of course, now I could not really sleep any more.

Breakfast at 7. Today a slightly more interesting selection as there was a Vietnamese travel group staying in the hotel ;) Soup, fried rice, noodles and stir-fried veggies to go with the coffee. The fruit, however was not fresh (as were the pastries). I am glad I never had dinner in the restaurant here.

Some coconuts as seen from my breakfast table:

A glance out of the window confirmed it was going to be a wet, wet day. Notice the informal cemetery behind the rice fields…

Now at 9am it’s still pouring. A day in? Maybe not so bad as I finally need to start planning the continuation of my trip. Otherwise I will be running out of time very quickly. I have booked my hotel till 31.10., so I will be in this area till then.

Some ideas are taking shape.  Like, flying to Dalat in the South Central highlands for three or 4 days. Not only a very picturesque place at 1500m altitude – but also the only area in Vietnam where they produce wine. To sample it should be an interesting task in itself :)

Then from Dalat to bustling Saigon for a some days to get a feel for modern Westernised Vietnam. From there on a 4 day excursion to the Mekong delta.

Back to Saigon and a flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia with a visit to Angkor Wat for two days. From Siem Reap to Bangkok and then on to spend the last 10 days of my trip either on Koh Samui island or Phuket. I need some time in Thailand before going back. Filled with passionate Thai sea food – if nothing else.

The rainy day will give me time to do all the necessary flight and hotel research and to check if prices are within my budget :)

….continued….

I had not realised that at my advanced age even planning makes you tired and I became a little fidgety. Two times in the afternoon it stopped raining and I wanted to go out. But by the time I had my gear together and was ready to leave the room it started raining again!

At 4.30pm came my chance. I went to some travel agency to get more information for my plans. And I have to say that most people are so extremely helpful here. The lady in the shop was very professional and made an effort to supply me with info even on things where they could not make any money out of me.

I used the opportunity to ask the locals there about the best place for Pho, the noodle soup, in town. And all the four employees answered in unison: at “Lién” on Le Loi street.

I had just started to stroll the old streets of Hoi An when the rain set in again.

So, I did not have a chance, as I had no desire to sit in one of the tourist cafés, I had to rush for an early light dinner:

Pho of the better kind

I still cannot get to grips with the hygiene attitude of the Vietnamese. You have no idea! I did not want to write about this before. Because I thought maybe the people in the North and in the South are different and I should wait till I have seen the whole picture. And I will wait till my trip is concluded.But just to give you a typical example: on my table was a tray with a plastic jug of green tea and some glasses. A must in such places as the patrons like to drink a glass of green tea after eating. So, what happened? One of the women on the next table came to my table to pour themselves a glass of tea. They took a glass, filled it with tea, drank it and put the glass back on the tray. The next person did the same. Either with the glass of the previous person (by accident) or any other glass! The glasses get rinsed in cold water maybe once day (if ever). So, if you want to drink green tea  you are bound to use a glass that uncountable people had used before. Never properly cleaned since it was bought. And everyone finds this completely normal. And no one, including myself, ever seems to have any health problems with it. Imagine this in our countries!!! There are loads of other things I could tell you that might be shocking for you. But no, I will wait till the time is ripe :)

Now I am going to have an early night because tomorrow morning I want to go to My Son, another UNESCO world heritage an hours drive away…

Bon nuit,

Frank

 

 

 

 

Another entry in a sloth bear’s diary…

All day I carried through my early morning decision not to get engaged in any serious activities.

I did, however, check out local travel agents on the internet to organise a boat trip on the beautiful river here. I found one company that offered what I want and that had the best price. So, I set off to the town centre to pay them a visit. While their shingle is still up, their shop window was nailed over with wooden boards. Out of business…More checking required tomorrow.

After that unsuccessful effort I drove to a fishing village along the river. The typical scenery of ordinary Vietnamese life. No difference to the North. Just a bit more crowded. I ended up in a dead end street, stopped by the river, with the sun preparing to set at just around 5 pm:

As I did not want to drive back on those narrow, muddy, unlit lanes in the dark I turned back to find a restaurant for an early dinner. In a godforsaken place I found “Tunh Anh”, a local garden restaurant right next to the river. And it was only 5.30 pm when I arrived there. A tranquil setting with the river in the background.

At least now I was in safe territory as from here it was only a couple of hundred meters to civilisation with lit streets and did not have to be afraid of darkness any more :)

I ordered the obligatory Larue beer and a salad made from shredded banana blossom, shrimp, pork, onion, mint and peanuts (4 Leva):

Nothing complicated but because of the freshness of the products and the balance of tastes something I could only dream of back home. I was also ogling at the seafood menu – but in the end decided a salad was quite enough. Willpower, eh!

On the way back, after crossing the bridge to the old town and passing by many shops…

…it came to my mind that my “consultant”, the lady from who I rented the motorbike, had recommended a restaurant “very good” and “not expensive” on the road from the old town and my quarters. And I though, what the hell, I will check it out. Just briefly. Maybe just sit and have a beer and a look at the menu :) Which I did.

What a different world! A restaurant geared completely to foreign tourists. Lovely and smiling service, no complaint. But there were at least a dozen German couples (and a few English):After nearly 4 weeks of completely Vietnamese life the whole setup felt totally unreal to me. Just looking at these German tourists and their sodden faces and staid outfits made me wince. Fortunately, with my poor hearing I did not have to listen in on their boring conversations :) OK, here I was, seated at a table. What to do? A Larue beer and a small item from the menu: squid with lemon grass and chilli.

As to be expected they brought me not only chopsticks but also fork and spoon :) – but no bowl with fish sauce or chillies. But that was easy to order.

To my surprise (not really) the squid came sliced in rings like in Western restaurants. They were not bad, though -fresh elastic squids with the right texture – but the chillies I had ordered to be put into the dish in addition were not much hotter than red peppers :) And the rice was not of the superior quality I had in most of the purely Vietnamese restaurants.A dish like you can find it in many restaurants all over Europe (apart from the refreshing lemon grass feature).

By the time my squid arrived two young German couples had settled in on a neighbouring table. And despite my bad hearing I was subjected to their conversation. The ladies were discussing their problems at work and with their bosses in Germany. What a topic for a holiday in an exotic country!

Well, what should I have expected? The recommendation came from a woman that sees me as a tourist like all the others she deals with and she thought this would be just the spot I might be looking for. I am to blame – not she. Because I should have known better. Well, now I do. Here is the culprit, “Miss” Lan:

But I do value this experience. Because it made me aware again that I am doing the right thing for myself. Avoiding Western tourists and trying to immerse in local life – and enjoying all the marvellous experiences and things I cannot encounter back home. Why else should I have come here?!

On my way home to the hotel I was hit by a gushing shower. The joys of motorbiking :) “No problem” – my favourite Asian phrase. Comes right after “niama problem” back home in Bulgaria. Hehe.

After a shower and new clothes I strolled over to the other side of the street to have a good-night drink on the deck of the restaurant, built on stilts in the river, where I had my first evening’s dinner.A classy place! Very expensive but with a laid back but cultivated attention to details. From furniture to plants to service and low background music (Sade and Nora Jones in a restaurant in Vietnam?! Unbelievable!)

Great to chill out here – with a gin & tonic. In  fact, I felt like being Hemingway (but, of course, my ego is bigger than his :) ) I happily paid the 90,000 Dong (6.70 Leva) for the gin & tonic in exchange for an hour of complete relaxation. May all days end like this!

Well, tomorrow is another day and we will see what it brings. The weather forecast talks about rain. My idea is to get up early and go to the Hoi An fish market – if I can heave my body out of bed in time. Because the market starts at 5 am (when the fishermen come back in with their prey) and finishes at 8 am. I won’t make any prognosis at this point in time :)

Leka nosht and till soon…

 

 

Hoi An – 26.11.2012

Looks like I am finding my rhythm to make the most out of an idle day :)   I had breakfast at 6.30 am. This time the buffet was not depleted – but there was nothing that turned me on. An uncompassionate assortment of low quality stuff – like I would expect it only in a cheap Bulgarian all-inclusive hotel. Maybe tomorrow I will take a picture to show you what I mean. As I was not brave enough to stomach any of these items I stuck to some soft baguette with orange marmalade and a strong cup of coffee (at least the coffee was quite good).

At 7 am I was at the beach – the only person wide and far. There was an unexpectedly rough and high surf – and it took me quite some effort at this early hour to break through it. I got washed off my feet at least three times. If I were a beach bum I would immediately look to buy a surf board.

A somewhat less pleasant feature was that once in deep water there were strong undercurrents and I had to paddle quite a bit not to be carried away to unknown destinations. That’s not how I had imagined my first relaxed swim in the Vietnamese Sea! Alas, on the way back to the hotel I felt like the sporting ace that I have always been deep down inside – and was ready to take on the world. For whatever reason this feeling withered away while I was shaving and had a shower. So, I decided against sightseeing and other such activities and made myself comfortable on my huge bed instead…

At 11 am I rode to the centre to try the local speciality for lunch: Cao Lau. My guide book had listed one establishment as the most authentic place for this dish:

And here the Cao Lau:

A noodle dish, or course :) With slices of pork, crackling pork skin, greens and bean sprouts. With two ladles of dark aromatic broth hidden under the ingredients. The noodles are like Japanese udon noodles. In fact, it is said that the dish was introduced by the Japanese merchants and sailors that had a big presence here in the 16th and 17th century when Hoi An was still Vietnam’s main port.

To my pleasure this was also the first “restaurant” where there was not only a pot of ground chillies on the table but also a bowl with whole tiny green chillies – that proved to be rather fierce. I like it! A satisfying little luncheon – and at 1.50 Leva quite affordable.

Idle lunch hour on the old town streets:

I could not miss the opportunity to re-visit the “beer garden”. This time like a local, however. I just drove my motorbike inside and parked elegantly next to a few others – as if I had been doing this all my life. And I did not order a beer – but a rich and strong Vietnamese coffee – this time in it’s iced version:

That was the perfect choice! The Vietnamese coffee is simply born to be served this way. I had many “ice coffees” in Italy, France and wherever but none of them can match the creamy richness and aroma of the Vietnamese version! A revelation! The coffee came, of course, accompanied by a free glass of green tea :)

Now I am waiting for the heat to subside a little and then I will go for a slow driving excursion to the surrounding countryside to take in land and people…

 

 

Hoi An – let the holiday begin

Today felt like a real holiday! I drank till late last night (to my surprise today,  I had killed nearly a whole bottle of Bacardi last night, only a sip was left, shame on me), slept till late and had a relaxed but frugal breakfast because by the time I showed up nearly everything on the buffet was gone and they did not replenish it.

Here are the views from the restaurant terrace of my hotel this morning:

By the time I went to pick up my motorbike it was already 11 am – and the heat had set in. My first trip led me to the closest beach, finally

:

Alas, it was too bleeding hot for me to go swimming. All I could bear was sit in the shade of a beach restaurant and drink some mango juice.

Then I drove to old Hoi An – a Unesco World Heritage place.

My system could take only 20 minutes walking around, too scorching hot. Then, when I was ready to flee to my air-conditioned hotel room, out of nowhere I found this haven of peace, in the middle of the old town which was brimming with tourists:

I call this the Vietnamese version of a Bavarian beer garden :) Ample shade under the trees – and, to increase my happiness, not one single foreigner on the premises. Maybe because there was not even a business sign outside the entrance? Very good! And the smiling young waitress brought me not only a cold Larue beer but also a big glass filled with ice cubes. Chilling time!

After taking a shower back at the hotel I went for a 60 minute massage at 5pm. Not as good as the ones I have the privilege to enjoy at Pirin Lodge but still very relaxing and joyful.

After that I rode in excellent condition (and darkness) back to the old town to check out a seafood restaurant I had read about in my fabulous German Vietnam guide book. It’s very thoroughly researched, an up-to-date June 2012 edition, and written by a guy on my wave length. What I like in particular is that their recommendations are completely different from the omnipresent Lonely Planet book and  they point you in the direction of local restaurants for local people.

Like the place tonight “Canh Buom Trang”. Difficult to find in a small side street. And busy as hell with local people. A menu in English (!) but not one foreigner. With all kinds of seafood. Simple and unpretentious. Just my place.

Those Vietnamese throw all rubbish simply under the table while they eat. Takes some getting used to.

I started with some steamed clams with chilli and lemon grass (4 Leva):

…followed by fried squid with fish sauce (what a pleasure at 5.50 Leva!)

What you see in the little bowl to the left is the local seafood condiment: a mixture of salt and black pepper with lime squeezed over it.

…and then a few prawns with salt and chilli (difficult to peel and eat in style with chop sticks, I can tell you!) – 5.50 Leva also:

I have to admit that the initial plan, after having studied the menu, was to continue with steamed river crabs with spring onions and a ginger/beer sauce, then some sea crab with butter and garlic (to compare the taste between sweet and salt water crab), finishing with fish braised in a clay pot (local style)…but today I was a well behaved boy and did not pig out. So, I called it quits after the shrimps – to leave something to try for the next few days as this restaurant certainly will see me again :) Their prices for a whole fish vary between 11.50 Leva and 14.60 Leva per kg. Unfortunately, I have difficulties ordering them as I have no clue what kind they are (most of them look different from our European species). But I will find out if they are tasty.

This restaurant also has a luxurious service that I am only used to from the best restaurants in Europe, where they have a “voiturier” who parks your car upon arrival and delivers it again when you leave. With the difference that here they provided this service for motorbikes :) Maybe it’s a “motorier” then? In any case, when I paid my bill and left the premises the friendly guy had my Yamaha ready and waiting for me at the entrance. Even the casket had been put on the saddle. Isn’t that something! I was so pleased that I gave the man a hefty tip, something he surely encounters rarely with only those local clients.

I strode home to my hotel (about 5km) in pride and confidence – and have opened my second bottle of Bacardi while writing this.

So, today was a real holiday. I basically got it all right – but my timing was miserable. That’s why I will go to bed soon now (it’s 11.20 pm again  anyway), to have breakfast very early followed by an early morning swim at the beach and a revisit to Hoi An before the heat sets in. Or so is the plan…