Thursday, July 3, 2014
Of all the places we roamed during our monthlong adventure travel Vietnam (so many of which I am excited still to show you!), the one that nestled deepest into my heart was Hoi An, Vietnam, an exceptionally well-preserved ancient trading port on the coast of the South China Sea. Instead of taking a hotel room in town, we rented a simple but achingly beautiful little villa a few miles out, a quiet place that really felt like home for a moment.
The house was built around a central courtyard, with a small saltwater pool and explosions of exotic flowers.
It offered the perfectly tropical quintessence of indoor/outdoor living, with walls made of intricately carved wood panels through which light and mists of rain and bird songs shone. Its clay roof tiles rested on an equally elegantly articulated open beam system. At night, light was provided by handcrafted silk lanterns, their tassels swaying softly in the evening breeze. Every morning, our next door neighbor would bring over freshly baked bánh mi the Vietnamese version of a baguette plus eggs laid that day by her constantly clucking brood of chickens and mangoes and bananas plucked from the trees in our adjoining yards. We’d fry the eggs, squeeze fresh oranges and bathe outside.
Personal car ownership is uncommon in Vietnam; most locals ride motorbikes everywhere they go. Thus the streets are steadily buzzing with fantastically noisy swarms of them, moving in manic unison like huge grists of bees. There are no streetlights, no stop signs and no speed limits, but somehow it just seems to work. It was incredible to see families of six piled onto a single bike, doing the daily school/work drop-off circuit. Grannies in their seventies would ride to market in the morning, balancing twelve dozen eggs and never flinching for a second. You have not really been to Vietnam until you’ve ridden through its streets on the back of a fast-racing motorbike Vietnam. It’s an experience not to be missed active travel Vietnam.
As our house was outside of town, down a maze of dirt roads with no names, we had little choice but to live like the locals. We borrowed vintage bikes and braved the hair-raising streets.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, Hoi An was an important Vietnamese trading center, where Chinese, Japanese, Dutch and Indian spice merchants settled. It was considered the most propitious port on the continent, for the ancients believed that the heart of Asia (the dragon) lay beneath the earth of Hoi An. Because of this, the old town has a rich and layered look, its architecture teaming with color and a confluence of cultural influences.
The locals live and eat simply, all fresh fruits and fish and sticky rice harvested from the endless paddies on the outskirts of town. Hot chili sauce tops everything, the recipe for which we have just about mastered. Back home, I’ve always been impressed with the quality of cuisine that TURF, Zach’s restaurant in Montauk, is able to turn out from a simple kitchen inside an airstream trailer, but the Vietnamese make just as much if not more with a whole lot less. Some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten came out of tiny pushcarts equipped with rickety camp stoves, at most.