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An Bang Beach; our 3 week home base in Hoi An, VIETNAM

11 Nov

Hoi An

Hoi An, a beautifully preserved port town on the coast of Central Vietnam was our chosen home-base for the next three weeks (as a bit of a rest was needed after 3 months of go-go-go!).  We were delighted to find our accommodations; Be’s Beach Bungalow – a newly built, bright, two-bedroom bungalow situated in a small fishing village, about 400 metres from the beach at An Bang (http://www.hoianbeachbungalows.com/). 

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Be’ Beach Bungalow, An Bang Beach – Hoi An

We quickly adjusted here and got to love the place, the people and our routine! Every morning between 6-7 am, we were woken up, by either the rooster, the family living behind us cleaning their dishes from breakfast, or the locals starting their workday – the villagers all wake up at 5:00 am and go to sleep when the sun goes down…(and then there were the handful of times that the Vietnamese communist propaganda and local information updates blasted through the loudspeakers and jolted us out of bed at 5:00 am!).

Then, between 7-8:30 am, we would visit the local little market to get our delicious French bread (one of the many great French influences still remaining in Vietnam), our eggs, vegetables and fruits (among them the best mangoes I have ever tasted and a large array of the most exotic fruits).  I quickly honed in on my favorite fruit & vegetable ladies at this truly local, little gathering of women and received warm greetings and acceptance (it is uncommon to see men at this market as it is a woman’s job to do the groceries – and for that reason Anthony got less favorable pricing and welcomes, when picking up things).

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My favourite “fruit lady”, at An Bang Beach’s morning market

Following the market, an early morning beach walk or run was in order.  These early morning beach visits gave us a great insight into the local life of the fishermen and hardworking women at An Bang. 

Numerous large baskets dot the shoreline on this peaceful stretch of coastline.  These baskets seem too small to be fishing boats that can handle the incredibly rough waves. However, this is exactly what they are.  For many years they were the most common Vietnamese fishing boat (called Thung Chai).  Around 7:00 am, we would see these mighty fishing boats come back from their early morning run – with the fishermen frantically making number eight’s with their paddles to stay afloat on the breaking waves (often 4-6 people were needed to launch the boat or bring it back to shore)…Once arrived, the women would quickly take the fish and bring it to the market for sale!

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Vietnamese basket boat (Thung Chai) on An Bang Beach, Hoi An

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One of the dedicated and brave fishermen

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Hardworking women on An Bang Beach

Following calm mornings of work (homework for the kids!), we would enjoy the beach or go into town in the afternoon.  We quickly got to like the “beach bum” life, with the boys turning into little “caramels” and “surfer dudes”.

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Surfer Dudes

Strolling through the picturesque, historic town centre of Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was a real treat. This city core has distinctive traits (French, Japanese, Chinese etc.), leftover from its many rulers. Most of the city’s historic buildings are still completely in tact as during the American War, the city with the cooperation of both sides, remained undamaged.

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Street vendor in the historic old town of Hoi An 

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Vietnamese girls making colourful lanterns all day for the tourists

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The old trading hub & port of Hoi An

So, Hoi An is known for its rich history, as well as delectable cuisine (amazing street food, restaurants and cooking classes) and wide range of tailors and shoe makers (on every corner imaginable!).

So we had a little fun, and each got a funky new pair of shoes made.  And if you want a North Face jacket or bag, this is your place (apparently copied but made in the same factory as the real thing, with the same materials!)

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New funky shoes, made for all of us in a day (complete with initials – see F.W!)

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North Face (and other brand name) jackets and bags in every colour imaginable (apparently made in the same factory as the “real” thing).

As well, Filou & I indulged in taking a full day cooking class at Green Bamboo Cooking School (http://www.greenbamboo-hoian.com)Van, the instructor, was an amazing teacher and delightfully warm personality (she LOVED having Filou in her class as he charmed her and the other participants all afternoon with his jokes, stories and cooking skills!).

Van first took us to the market, where we got to buy the fresh ingredients for our chosen dishes  (And fresh it is!  We were told that they slaughter the cows at 3:00 am in the morning and have it at the market by 5:00 am – and as they do not have refrigeration, all that you see is fresh from that day).   As there were 8 participants in our class that day, we got to make a wide range of traditional Vietnamese dishes (chicken  & beef curry, seafood salad, beef noodle soup (Pho Bo traditional dish), Cau Lau – Hoi An special noodles with pork, shrimp & pork pancakes, grilled BBQ fish in banana leaf etc.) – and eat it all – for three hours straight! It was scrumptious!

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Filou, slowly adding water to fresh coconut pulp, which he then had to squeeze by hand into coconut milk for his curry dish

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And with his final creation; a delicious chicken curry in coconut milk

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And for me, a Vietnamese seafood salad with squid, shrimp, basil & chili

Our stay at An Bang Beach, was interrupted when SUPER Typhoon Haiyan (the strongest type 5 Typhoon recorded in history!!!), made its way from the Philippines directly for us. The whole village of An Bang, due to its coastline location was being evacuated.  It was amazing to see how the villagers were pulling together, helping one another to safeguard their homes by putting sandbags on the roofs (roofs made of simple tin plates that had the real risk of flying away), sturdy ropes around their houses – and taping up windows (although most villagers didn’t have any glass windows to worry about).   The owners of Be’s Bungalow (Aaron & Huong), were nice enough to put us up in a luxurious, sturdy hotel on a hill in town (the villagers were all going to government-provided cramped halls where they were ordered to sleep for the night).

Although we had nothing to complain about, there was still concern (trying to get out of the city to no avail as all trains and flights were fully booked, not being together as a family the day before the storm hit as Anthony and Emile were rock climbing in Cat Ba Island – so hoping they would make it back to us safely, not knowing how hard this super typhoon would hit us etc.).  But in the end, all worked out well for us and the people of Hoi An as the strength of this hurricane remained over sea and hit land hardest in Northern Vietnam.  All in all, an eventful ending to a spectacular stay in the wonderful village of An bang, Hoi An. 

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Villagers putting sandbags on their roofs, to protect their homes against Super Typhoon Haiyan

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Be’s Bungalow’s windows being taped up to protect rocks from shattering them

Thank you to our wonderful “landlords” Aaron & Huong who did everything in their power to give us the most enjoyable stay in their beautiful bungalow, their friend Carl who taught the boys how to surf and showed us the good places in town and to Mr. & Ms. Mai – the very sweet housekeepers who made our stay so pleasant & luxurious!

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