I am writing this entry as Zach and I sit in an open-air thatch roof hut on An Bang Beach. We have 2 Larue beers, the breeze, and a view of the beautiful South China Sea. Shrimp and crispy pork are on their way to our table. This is the life.
An Bang Beach isn’t in our guidebook and it’s not the tourist beach, generally this is a spot used by expats – by which I mean mostly Aussies. But this is the place we were hoping for, a utopia where we literally feel like royalty. In Vietnam we are millionaires, literally ($100 is 2,000,000 dong). It’s pretty awesome. Since we planned this as our only trip for the year, rather than backpacking around several countries at once (like last summer) we are able to spend a little more to be more comfortable – nicer accommodations, more food, more souvenirs. But let me fill y’all in on what we’ve been up to in Hoi An.
Yesterday was our first full day in Hoi An. We decided we wanted to rent a motorbike from our hotel and check out Cua Dai Beach, which is the tourist beach. So we got on our bike and headed out of town. Now, I don’t think I have mentioned much about the traffic laws here, but there aren’t any. It all seems to work. There are a few stop lights, but they seem to be suggestive, and there are no set lanes. Traffic just merges in and out as necessary – so there is a lot of horn honking. It was a bit scary at first. Zach drove and I rode on the back. No one riding on the back holds on so initially I was a bit hesitant, but once you get the hang of just sitting there, it’s pretty nice. Plus it freed up my hands to take photos.
We drove around for a bit and passed the beach. There wasn’t much to see except for the luxury beach resorts that have opened in the last five years or so. So we turned around and parked at the beach. Cua Dai isn’t much to see. It’s just a beach with some chairs and beach huts for rent. The water was pretty brown and unattractive and the surf was too choppy for swimmers. We walked down the beach a bit and then headed back to the bike to go back into town.
We decided to stop at a cafe by the river (Thu Bon River) for a couple of drinks. Beautiful view of the river, plus we spotted a water buffalo!
We left after a nice long rest and headed back into town to check out Cam Nam Island, which is right across the river from Hoi An. We both wanted to check out Randy’s Book Exchange so we headed there first. Randy is an American ex-pat (the majority seem to be French or Aussie) who operates a small bookstore out of his home. Zach bought a book and we chatted with Randy for a while. He’s a great guy – very friendly and well-traveled, he gave us a couple of great tips about this area (i.e. where we are now). He also recommended we stop by the Sleepy Gecko, just down the street, where we could grab some food and a beer with a great view of the Hoi An old quarter. We did so and were pleasantly surprised by the view. Gorgeous. We had to quickly consume our meal and jet off to the tailor for our 2pm fitting – we were only slightly late.
Our tailor, Yaly, is in my opinion the best and most professional in town. Definitely on the higher side as far as price goes, but still incredibly reasonable for what we are both having made. I was a little nervous to see the clothes. I haven’t ever had anything made specifically for me. Yaly is a two story building in the old town. It’s gorgeous. The wood on the inside is dark, beautiful, and intricately carved. When we first went, we were both taken upstairs to choose our fabrics and be measured. Now when we go in for our fittings we are taken to the back of the store across a footbridge (yeah, that’s right, in the store there is a pond with fish) to the fitting area. When my girl, Mary, pulled out my jackets I was instantly at ease – they looked amazing. We did the initial fitting and my jackets were taken back for some minor adjustments. Same for Zach. His suit looks absolutely fantastic. His girl, Flower, even talked him into buying a 2nd pair of trousers. All in all we were both really pleased. And then on our way out I saw a dress on a mannequin. Yeah… I couldn’t help myself. We still left, but I resolved that when we went back later that evening (5:15) I would ask how much that dress would cost.
After leaving Yaly, we decided to check out An Bang Beach. Randy had told us there was a better route to use than the way to Cua Dai Beach so we took his advice and drove out of the city a different way. This time we ended up driving through some rice paddies on a road with much prettier scenery. We even saw a water buffalo with its baby! Randy also mentioned that there were some great little places on the beach, like Soul and Phattie’s, but he didn’t mention where they were. So when the road dead-ended at the beach we ended up parking the bike at one of the first places we saw. Immediately we recognized the difference between the two beaches. An Bang is more isolated, has water that is turquoise, and is immensely less populated. It’s also listed as one of the world’s top 50 beaches.
We had Larues at a little joint, but were a little disappointed that we hadn’t seen either of the places Randy had mentioned. Upon finishing our beers, we set out to find at least one and we did. La Plage or Phattie’s was down at the end of the row of eateries and immensely better than where we had been. It was more like a private beach club with lounge chairs and cabana style huts – it was the type of place we were hoping to find. So we ordered some food and spent the remainder of our time there. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay too long. We had to go back to the tailor around 5:15 for a final fitting. But at least we figured out the secret to An Bang.
We went back to Yaly and they were slammed with people. We hadn’t seen it so busy since our arrival. So it took us both a while to try our garments back on. Everything looks fabulous. I am so impressed with the quality of work and the speed as well. Our clothes have been done so quickly and with little effort on our part. While we were there I wanted to ask about the dress I saw earlier. Mary was with another client so we had to wait a while, but eventually she came to see me and I decided to order the dress… I’ll see it this afternoon at our fitting. Fingers crossed!
We left Yaly and returned the bike to our hotel. We rested up a bit and then decided to go out for dinner. I chose a restaurant from our guidebook, Casa Verde. Obviously it wasn’t Vietnamese, but I was drawn to it because the chef was formerly the chef of the Victoria Hoi An, the most luxurious beach front resort in the area. Casa Verde sits on the riverfront and is intimately small. There were only 4 tables. The chef himself took our order and throughout our meal came to our table to inquire about the quality. We ordered bruschetta (the best I’ve ever had), ham/pineapple/onion pizza, and feta-stuffed ravioli. Wow. It was a delectable meal and beautiful too. We left, absolutely stuffed, for a stroll around An Hoi Peninsula through the Old Town, and back to our hotel.
This morning we got up, a little later than we have been (finally adjusting to the time difference), and headed out to buy lanterns! The one thing I really wanted to bring home was a lantern. There is a shop in Hoi An, though we didn’t find it, that has been making and selling lanterns for centuries. We did find a shop though where the lanterns were being made next door. So we bought 3 large lanterns and 4 small ones. A couple will probably be given away as gifts, but I don’t really want to part with any of them…
Then we headed toward Yaly, stopping at Tam Tam Cafe for drinks before Zach’s fitting. And now we are here, at An Bang Beach, soaking up the breeze with drinks and eats at Soul (did I mention our bill was $13.50? 4 beers, shrimp, rice, fries, and crispy pork). I have to go back to Yaly this afternoon to do a dress fitting and then we will see what the night holds for us. Tomorrow we leave and fly out to Hanoi, the capitol city.