Hoian farming day is the ninth post in a series of Vietnam experiences storied by Rochelle Porper, for the previous one please read these.
- Greeting from the other side of the world – Porper story #1
- Days of Saigon streets and Mekong boat trip – Porper story #2
- Vietnam war confronting – Porper story #3
- A massage adventure in Saigon – Porper story #4
- First hit to highland Vietnam tour – Porper story #5
- Vietnam rain forest and hills of plantations – Porper story #6
- Kontum, tomb houses and tribal villages – Porper story #7
- On the way to hoi an ancient town – Porper story #8
I have to start by thanking you all again for keeping in touch. You can’t imagine how great it is to hear your reactions to these stories. It helps validate why I feel the way I do every day that I am here. It’s so complicated, and from what I can tell, that constant mix of emotions is being well communicated. Several of you have told me how much you look forward to getting these. I can tell you that I feel the same way when I hear from you, so please keep it up (but don’t all go sending me emails at once – I get a few a day, which is perfect).
Our Hoian hotel
I had a really hard time getting out of bed this morning. This hotel is so luxurious that I was reluctant to get my ass out of my four poster bed, which is draped with white cotton netting. My room is like a little suite, and all of the walls are white washed and the furniture is very dark native wood. Think Out of Africa meets the Cape. It is so fancy that there are 4 switches just for the bathroom alone. I flip them on and off several times just because I can. No worries here. There are three different personalized messages scattered around the room, welcoming me by name and telling me how much they value my business. I am glad we are here for three days.
Last night we all got gussied up and went out to a fancy dinner. Hoi An is a huge tourist draw and the place is packed with people. We order drinks and it’s the first time in 8 days that I have had ice. We have a three course meal which is unbelievably wonderful. I had prawns wrapped in beef and sautéed in garlic and ginger and who knows what else and it is decadent. For dessert, I achieve nirvana. Chocolate ice cream with chocolate sauce and fresh strawberries. A veritable hat trick of deliciousness. My bill comes to a whopping $24, which I believe is the sum total equivalent of every meal I have had to date, but worth every dollar. The only problem with the whole experience is that the restaurant has no air conditioning, and by the end of the meal, there are rivers of sweat dripping down my legs.
Then we go to one of the thousand tailor shops around to get measured for whatever it is we decide to buy. This is a whole other adventure. I am having a kimono robe made for Talia and the woman uses my body to measure. She says to me ‘big hip big hip’ and asks if my daughter’s hips are as big as mine. I want to tell her that she should come to my country and she wont be so surprised by the size of my hips, but instead I just smile and say ‘no, and she is prettier too’. She, of course, is so tiny that I could pack her up in my suitcase and carry her home and still not pay for extra baggage.
When I get back to this resort of a hotel, I notice that a Vietnamese version of a turn down service has occurred. Instead of mints on the pillow, there are two triangle shaped banana leaf wrapped packages on a dish. I open one of them and its some yellow jelly looking glob of a thing that looks a lot like mucous with what appears to be the stems of flowers inside. This may be a delicacy here, but I toss it in the garbage. I am not putting that in my mouth.
Hoian Farming Day
This morning when I finally go outside, it is already so steamy that my glasses fog over. When I get to the lobby, there is a printout of the weather forecast posted on the wall. Its going to be 35 degrees Celsius today, which, roughly translated, means fucking hot.
We start by getting bicycles for our trip to what turns out to be a working farm. The bikes are dead ringers for the old Schwinn bikes we had as kids – complete with hand breaks and that little bell that sounded exactly the same. This is too much fun. We ride around the parking lot a few times and then head out to the street to join the streams of mopeds and cars. You just have to bite the bullet and turn right into the traffic or you will never find the courage to go. To me, it’s a total turn on – the mopeds are beeping their horns at us because we have interrupted their flow and they zoom past us. I am giddy but poor Diane is terror stricken and has to get off her bike and walk across the street.
Eventually, we get on a side street that is much quieter. The road is lined by tall trees and there are colorful concrete houses with open porches built practically on top of each other. But then we make a right turn and suddenly, we are in the middle of a paradise. There are endless stretches of rice paddies on either side of us. The hills that we spent yesterday driving through are in the distance and there is not a cloud in the sky. Women returning from the market are walking along the road – some are pushing old rickety hand carts and some are carrying a pole across their back with baskets hanging off both ends. It is so breathtakingly beautiful and peaceful that, if I didn’t know better, I would swear Long called ahead and ordered this scene for us. At some point, we pull over to give Diane a chance to catch up.
To our right is a huge lotus field filled with pink flowers and to our left is the same of purple water hyacinths. We walk over to see the lotuses and an old man dressed in ragged farming clothes walks down the banks of the wet field and picks lotuses to give to us. Once again, I am in awe of the kindness of the Vietnamese.
We get back on our bikes and finally arrive at the farm. We are given the traditional conical hats to put on and off we go for a tour of the farm. We learn all about Vietnamese organic gardening, which turns out to be pretty interesting. There rows and rows of herbs and vegetables that we have never heard of. Some we recognize, like basil, but there are about 25 different varieties. There is no word in the English language that I am aware of that can describe how hot it is. Eventually we go back inside for a glass of fresh ginger and basil seed tea with lemongrass. Delicious, but not nearly cold enough to bring relief.
We then put on the traditional farming tunic and go out in the field to put to use what we have learned. We hoe and plant and water and after about 20 minutes, we have to go inside before we literally melt into the ground. When we come back inside, there are four big wooden buckets filled with hot water and lemongrass leaves and we soak our feet. We know this is hokey for the tourists but that doesn’t detract from how wonderful the feeling is.
We then make part of our own lunch from the fresh vegetables and herbs from the garden. We make little sandwiches of fresh mint, pork and shrimp (Sam and I refer to this as the trafe twofer) tied together with a long string of boiled scallion. Then we make fried rice flour pancakes, very similar to the ones we had at the stall the other day, stuffed with bean sprouts and more pork. After we eat all of this, they bring out fresh tuna steaks cooked Vietnamese style (some kind of red sauce), morning glory stems sautéed in garlic and oil, rice and some sort of cabbage soup. It is a huge feast. Finally, we cycle back to the hotel and jump in the pool for respite from the sun.
So at 4 pm, when the temperature cools off a bit to a comparatively balmy 135 F, we go out for a tour of the old quarter of Hoi An. This city was a very important port city in the 1700 – 1800’s. Its long protected waterway provided shelter for trading ships traveling from Portugal to China and back again. Hoi An was the halfway mark, and they had to stay here 6 months at a time to wait for the tsunami season to end each season. So the city became very rich and heavily influenced mostly by China. At some point, a one-two punch destroyed the market value of the town. Someone killed a king or a priest – I couldn’t keep the story straight and everyone got upset and fewer boats came here. Then a big storm came and deposited too much sand in the waterway and the big ships couldn’t get through anymore and the town went slowly into ruin. Because everyone here went from incredibly wealthy to terribly poor practically overnight, the town was left alone for almost 200 years. Someone eventually realized the historical significance of this place, and it became a protected site by UNESCO.
Now it is a world heritage site for culture. The town looks almost exactly like it did in the 1700’s. The streets are all crooked because all the houses were built based on feng shui (sp?), which means none of the roofs of the houses can touch. So the houses were all built slightly askew from each other. There was a tremendous amount of Chinese influence in developing the town and there are incredible pagodas and golden dragons and inlayed tiles everywhere. A river runs at the edge of the town, and every year it floods the houses – sometimes with up to 10 feet of water. And every year, the people who still live here drag their furniture up to the second or third floor and wait it out.
After we tour the town, we have an official cooking class and learn how to make fish in banana leaf, spring rolls and calamari salad with mango and papaya. Then we all ate what we cooked and had a grand old time. I have all the recipes and if you are nice, I will cook a meal for you. It won’t taste the same, but you will never know.
Tomorrow morning at 5 am, we are going on a sunrise boat ride, so I have to get my ass in bed now. Every day, I think that it can’t get any better and every day it does. Still 9 days to go and I can hardly wait to see what happens next.
by Rochelle Porper from Boston, Massachusetts, USA
For the next ones among this Vietnam travel experience, you can jump to the following days.
- Another day in paradise – Porper story #10
- On the way to hue – Porper story #11
- Hello from Hue – Porper story #12
- Surprise in Phong Nha cave trip – Porper story #13
- Ninh Binh and Ho Chi Minh hometown – Proper story #14
- Halong Bay cruise and legends – Porper story #15
- Hanoi hot but impressive – Porper story #16