A few year’s ago we took a family trip to Vietnam as a special treat for my 40th birthday. It’s a truly amazing country with the most friendly people I’ve ever come across. We were overwhelmed at how everyone we met, went out of their way to make every day special. It was like meeting old friends several times a day.
Today’s Real Food post is all about the city of Hoi An in central Vietnam and introduces you to two amazing sisters who run an unassuming but wonderful restaurant next to Cua Dai Beach. I’ll explain how I came to ride a motorcycle, having not done so for over 20 years. Finally, at the end of the blog I’ve taken the opportunity to share some of my favourite pictures of the crazy motorbikes of Vietnam. If you are interested to learn more about the wider area of North Vietnam, check out the Hill Tribe’s blog post.
Vietnam – Crazy About Top Gear
Hoi An, which translates as “Peaceful Meeting Place” in English, is a city in Central Vietnam with a population of around 120,000. Many people (in UK at least) will know Hoi An from the Top Gear Vietnam Special. If you remember the show, Hoi An was the place where Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond had their clothes made at the Yaly Couture shop. The fact that their city has featured in Top Gear is something the locals are very proud of. As soon as they found out we were British it was the first thing they wanted to talk about. It seems that everyone has a relative who was involved in the show at some point or other.
We arrived in Hoi An by car from the old French Imperial Capital of Hue. We drove the reverse route that the Top Gear crew took over the Hai Van (Ocean Cloud) Pass between Da Nang and Hoi An. As you reach the summit of the mountain there is a great pit stop opportunity at one of a couple of very traditional Vietnamese Cafes.
Hoi An – My Favourite Place in Vietnam
Hoi An itself has an extremely long history and in the 1st Century it was believed to have been the largest harbour in South East Asia. It is a city split into 2 distinct parts. Firstly there is the central part of the city which is great for wandering the markets and clothes shops. We spent a very memorable day in one of the markets getting stray hairs threaded and massages from crazy old women who would stop in between to take us to yet another stall in an attempt to sell more souvenirs. Eventually I also succumbed to their pressure to get some clothes made. It was just a pair of shorts and a shirt taken from a picture in a catalogue from a British high street chain. However, the result looked more like I’d just come off the set of the 70s TV show “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum” rather than the relaxed beach look I was aiming for. It was a very memorable day, despite the interesting clothes and as we wandered the back streets of the market we really felt like we were in another world. At night the riverside comes alive and on the fourteenth day of every lunar month there is an amazing lantern festival. There’s so much to see in Hoi An and so many local businesses to support. You can really see how the tourist industry supports the local community. Find out more about tourism in Hoi An at the website of the local Hoi An Tourist Office here.
Cua Dai Beach – Relaxing Vietnam
The other part of city is Cu Dai Beach, which is about 5 km from the city itself. It has a 3 km stretch of beautiful white sand with a number of hotels facing directly onto the beach. One of the greatest pleasures of my life was the morning we got up to watch the sunrise on the beach. The local fishermen were preparing to go out and the peacefulness was out of this world. Being able to relax on Cua Dai Beach after a day exploring the hustle and bustle of the old part of Hoi An was something I would recommend to anyone.
Vietnam is an amazing country that is well worth a visit if you haven’t been already. From what I have heard since our trip, Vietnam appears to be getting more and more commercial as time goes on, so my advice would be not to leave it too late to take your Vietnam adventure.
Hospitality Vietnam Style – “Just Borrow My Bike”
Of course the main purpose of this blog post is to introduce you to the 2 amazing sisters that we met at their restaurant called Mi Casa. The restaurant is a very unassuming place on a quiet road across from the various hotels that sit on Cua Dai Beach. It’s located just opposite the Palm Garden Resort. We had just arrived from Hue and were starving after the trip so we headed from our hotel down to the restaurant, which had been recommended by some friends.
Before getting to the restaurant we needed to find an ATM. The hotel told us there was one just along the road. But when we got there it wasn’t working so things became a little more complicated. We thought we would go to the restaurant anyway, in case they took cards or could at least tell us where the nearest ATM was. This was when we met Viet and Chung. It turned out they didn’t take cards and the nearest cash machine was a few kilometres away. No problem! Viet and Chung’s solution was for my wife Trudy and the girls to rest with a well earned drink while I used their motorbike to go to the ATM. I had barely met them 2 minutes ago and here they were letting me ride away on their motorbike.
Fab Food and the Best Hospitality
When we finally got to taste the food in the restaurant, it was amazing. Chung learnt her cooking skills while serving an apprenticeship with Ms Vy at Hoi An’s famous Morning Glory Restaurant and cooking school. The restaurant’s food uses totally fresh ingredients, they even use vegetables that they pick fresh from their garden at the back of the restaurant. Chung cooks everything from scratch so you might have to wait a little while for your food, but believe me it really is worth the wait. The cooking is mainly Vietnamese fusion, with traditional dishes adapted to suit the tastes of the western tourists staying at the hotels on the beach. The spring rolls are probably the best I have ever tasted and the grilled pork ribs were a really stand out dish as well. We ate at their restaurant a few times during our stay and were treated like family members every single time. The girls are extremely welcoming and love talking to their visitors in just about any language you want. Over the course of the week we heard them speaking French, German and Spanish as well as their amazing English. They also encourage their guests to talk to each other and we met some lovely people thanks to Viet and Chung’s hospitality. From suggesting good local medicines when my daughter had a headache to arranging for their brother to drive us out to the My Son Temple, they were just perfect hosts. As well as the great food, it was like we had our own local tour guides as well. If you ever visit Hoi An, you really must stop in and visit. Go at the start of your time in Hoi An and so they can help you learn about their amazing city as well as enjoying their fantastic food. If you go, tell them John and Trudy from Cologne say Hi!
The Mad Motorbikes of Vietnam
A blog post about Vietnam that mentions motorbikes gives me an ideal chance to briefly share with you the crazy way locals use their motorbikes, especially in and around Hanoi. The Vietnamese use motorbikes in the same way Europeans and Americans use their cars. A family of 5 night out on one motorbike is just a normal, everyday occurrence. We saw people transporting just about anything on a motorbike. Wardrobes, Fridges and even live animals (sadly the picture of that didn’t come out too well due to the shock of seeing an enormous pig on a motorbike – with the rest of the family).