Photo of the day: Thu Bon River
Travel day! It was a busy morning packing and checking out again. I was sad to leave the very nice Airbnb we stayed at. We were told we should get to the airport at 9:30 am at the lastest for our 11:40 am domestic flights but we ended up getting there at around 10:30 am. Luckily, we did not need to check in any bags and security moved quickly even though it was super busy. We reached our gate and finally had some downtime to check our phones. It was only then that we realized we received an email informing us our flight has been “rescheduled” to 12:30pm, even though the flight status is “on time”. Interestingly, none of the flight status boards were updated and still stated that our flight was at 11:40 am. Pretty confusing.
With time, we finally made it to Da Nang! Hoi An didn’t to have an airport so we flew into Da Nang and arranged for a ride to our hotel in Hoi An. It was supposed to be a 45 minute ride but it felt much shorter than that. It was such a nice breath of fresh air, literally, to go from HCMC to Da Nang. It is so much less populated with few vehicles on the roads. As well, the weather feels cooler too. Our ride was pleasant with sightings of cows and water buffaloes along the way.
We reached our hotel in no time. We were given a quick rundown of the ancient town of Hoi An, then led to our rooms to settle in. We were starving by this time, so we walked over to the ancient town for some late lunch/early dinner AKA first real meal of the day. Hoi An is known for its culinary delights. According to Rough Guides, it was “Vietnam’s best food city”, so I was super excited. Aaron found a good Com Ga (chicken rice) place called Com Ga Ba Buoi. There was no one in the restaurant by the time we arrived, so I was a little worried. We ordered the Com Ga, of course. We also asked for some iced tea and we were presented with a bright orange iced drink. It tasted like tea but the appearance was quite astonishing. The chicken rice came with a side of soup and some pickled vegetables. The rice was super flavourful, leaning on the side of sweet, more so than regular chicken rice. The chicken was shredded and mixed with vegetables, as well as some pork blood. It appears they put pork blood in a lot of dishes here. The portion sizes were small, making us hope for more, which is always a good sign.
We then took a nice stroll around the Old Town of Hoi An and was mostly barred off from traffic, although you would still see the odd bike or car. Another distinctive sign is the colourful lanterns hung up, spanning across the streets. It is very pretty when the sun sets and they are lit up. And then there is the soliciting. This town is basically a tourist attraction so there are vendors sent up everywhere and they are not shy to come up to you to ask if you wanted to buy something, eat at their restaurant, or ride on their boat. We decided to just chill and absorb this nice change of pace at a coffee shop called Hoi An Roastery. We sat on their 2nd floor space with seats by the window. It was a lot cooler here, so we both ordered something hot. I had their latte, which was good. It had sugar on the side, which is a nice gesture; as I will soon have diabetes, if I keep drinking the overly sweetened drinks. Aaron had the pour over coffee, which was a nice show with them pouring over the hot water over the filter right in front of us. However, Aaron the coffee snob says the coffee was not the best.
The sun has set, so it was very nice to see all the colourful lanterns lit up. We kept walking all the nice streets full of souvenir, arts and tailoring shops until we were stopped by someone asking us to get an “entrance ticket”. We heard about the ticket scheme here in Hoi An, where you can purchase a ticket for 120,000 VND – around $7 CND to “walk around” the old town as well as to enter some of the buildings. It is technically free to “walk around” Hoi An, but most people end up buying the ticket anyway. It was meant as a “contribution to the restoration of their town”, so it was for a good cause.
It was then dinner time, and we decided to go to the number 1 restaurant in Hoi An: Morning Glory. We were afraid there was no space for us given we had no reservations and knowing how busy they might be. Fortunately, they had a table for 2 upstairs! This restaurant owner, Ms Vy, has already founded 4 other restaurants in this town, until she opened this gem in 2006. Her vision is to bring Hoi An specialities to a nice dining environment. We ordered 2 appetizers (the Hoanh Thanh Chien – fried wonton and Banh Bao – white rose dumpling), 2 mains (the Cao Lau and pork belly in spices), as well as 2 desserts (creme caramel and frozen yogurt). Why didn’t we order the morning glory, you ask? We overheard guests at another table ordering it, and they are actually out. What a shame! Let’s start from the top. The fried wonton blew my mind! It was so crispy and the filling was so tasty. It was topped with a vegetable medley and sauce, which pulled everything together. We definitely wanted more after that one but knew we had a lot more food we still had to try. Next, was the dumplings. The taste was more subtle than the fried wonton but still tasty. It reminded me of a more delicate version of shrimp dumpling from dim sum. Then, our mains arrived, the pork belly was delicious, as expected. It was super flavourful from the spices applied, which worked so well with this fatty piece of meat. This was served with coconut rice (with full strains of dried coconut enhancing the flavour) as well as a Asian ‘slaw, which Aaron really enjoyed. The Cao Lau is one of the most popular dishes in Hoi An. It is a noodle dish with thin slices of pork, bean sprouts, and pork-rind croutons. I loved the mixture of tastes and textures from the saltiness of the pork with the freshness of the bean sprouts, along with the smoothies of the noodles against the crunch of the croutons. If you take a few strands of noodles and eat it on the side, it will not taste very special, but if you take a spoonful of the broth with noodles, that is when the magic happens! The deserts were very unique. The creme caramel was made with condensed milk and the texture was more dense than usual. Very good! The frozen yogurt literally tasted like frozen yogurt. It actually tasted like yogurt and was quite refreshing. Overall, excellent meal. You can tell the owner put a lot of thought into make these dishes presentable, yet very tasty. The cost of this 3 course meal was ~$35, definitely pricier than what we are used to in HCMC, but still not bad given the quality of the food.
It was getting cold and I was not dressed for the weather, so we decided to head home. On our way home, we took a wrong turn, to a dark, quiet alley and pack of dogs started following and barking at us. As someone who has a fear of dogs, I felt that it was the scariest 2 minutes of my life as I was pretty sure they were going to come and attack me. Aaron made sure I stayed calm and walked slowly and we eventually got home safely. I decided that it is probably a good idea take the taxi home next time. And that ends our first day in Hoi An!