Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Hoi An 2016 - Phuc Kien Clan Assembly Hall

Like many of the trading ports in South-East Asia, Hoi An had a large population of Chinese traders, and as is common in these settlements, the Chinese settlers set up Clan associations to gather their political strength and to govern their own kins. In Hoi An there are 5 of these clan houses (Hoi Quan) - centred on their common dialect. Of these, the Phuc Kien Assembly Hall is the most impressive.

Located along Tran Phu Street, the Assembly Hall is marked by an ornate entrance archway. After passing through this archway - you are faced with another even more impressive gateway.

Towards the end of the compound is a temple dedicated to the Goddess Tien Hou - who is said to be the protector of seafarers. From the outside it looked simple - but the interior is grand and impressive.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Hoi An 2016 - Hoi An Noodles

Another area in Hoi An where you find a concentration of street hawkers is at the riverside in front of the Hoi An Market. A lot of the fishing boats and tourist boats dock here, and right at the bank there are lots of stalls to feed the hungry boatmen.

It was here that we found a stall selling the 2 famous Hoi An noodle dishes - Mi Quang and Cao Lau. Cao Lau is supposedly only found in Hoi An - as the noodles are made with rice flour and water from the ancient Ba Le well, and lye ash from a particular type of tree grown on the nearby Cham islands. These special ingredients give the noodles their unique colour and texture. The noodles - which are a bit like Japanese udons, drenched in a light pork broth and topped with thin slices of pork and crispy fried noodle chips are very appetizing. Add in some of the chili jam on the tables if you want some spicy kick.

Mi Quang is a noodle dish that originates from the Quang Nam Province in Central Vietnam. Mi Quang noodles are flat - like fettuccini, and are made with alkaline water to give them their firm and slippery texture, and turmeric is sometimes added to give it the traditional yellow colour. The broth is aromatic chicken stock with probably some seafood. The noodles are topped with tender pork slices, crunchy deep fried noodle dough, quail eggs and fresh herbs. 

The main difference between the 2 dishes are the noodles - Cao Lau noodles have quite a unique texture - firmer and more chewy and have a slightly smokey flavour from the lye ash used in the process, whereas Mi Quang is more like the traditional Asian noodles. Both are delicious and must try dishes in Hoi An. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hoi An 2016 - Street Food

As a destination now catering mostly to tourists, it is not surprising that you find lots of street hawkers in Hoi An. Most of them sell snacks and not really things that you can fill your tummy with. Surprisingly unlike in Hue where we saw Banh Mi stalls on every corner, here we hardly saw any - even though Anthony Bourdain had declared that he had the best Banh Mi in Hoi An.

The most common street food are deep fried stuff - like bananas and seafood. Unlike back home where bananas are usually deep fried whole or halved, or in thick slices - here the bananas are cut into thin slices and deep fried in batter like a pan cake. They are quite crispy and delicious.

The seafood pan cakes are also very nice if you buy from the right stall. Make sure they look crispy and not soggy.

The biggest concentration of street food stalls is at the Western side of the old town. Here you will find stalls selling fresh fruits, grilled meat and sweet deserts. Sweet desserts are a specialty in Vietnam and one of our favourites. Locally they are called "Che" - and there are many varieties such as sweet corn pudding, banana in sago pearls, longan and lotus seed, yam and sweet potato, etc. You can either have them separately or mixed together - warm or cold.

One of the things you don't see often in other places are the dried squid snacks. These are really delicious - depending on whether you like the strong and fishy squid taste. 

Just like in Hanoi, the street food ladies will even bring the goodies right up to your doorstep.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Hoi An 2016 - Hoi An by Night

The best time to see Hoi An would be in the evenings - when the lights and colourful lanterns transform the narrow streets into beautiful romantic alleys. It gets less crowded as the night falls, and it is a lot more pleasant to wander around.

The bars and cafes in Hoi An look even more stunning at night - the pumpkin yellow colour of the walls take on a golden glow at night that is warm and beguiling. Hoi An is a magical town.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Hoi An 2016 - Hoi An Old Town

I have been wanting to go to Hoi An for quite some time, and now that Air Asia flies direct to Danang it is quite convenient. It only takes around 2 and a half hours to fly from KL to Danang - and then another half an hour to get from Danang to Hoi An.

Hoi An has long had a reputation as a very charming heritage town - and it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. Since then tourism has really blossomed to such an extent that in 2008 UNESCO issued a warning that the heritage status is not sustainable if changes brought about by tourism are left unchecked. I have heard complaints that it is not as authentic anymore - and many residents have been driven from their homes to make way for shops, cafes and restaurants catering to tourists. I guess change for any popular tourist destination is inevitable - we can't expect people to continue to live in a living museum - with thousands of curious visitors peeping into their gardens and living rooms.

Expecting the worse - I was actually pleasantly surprised by Hoi An. Yes many of the traditional houses have been converted into souvenir shops - but thankfully most of the buildings have been relatively well preserved. It remains a very charming old town if you are prepared to look beyond the gaudy trappings of mass tourism.

One of the best times to visit is early morning before the shops open for business. In this early hour - with the streets devoid of tourists - you can really get a taste of what it must have been like in the old days.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Danang 2016 - Pho 75

There is a famous Pho shop in Hue that gets very good reviews on TripAdvisor and food blogs - and since we were longing for this iconic Vietnamese dish we decided to make a stop for lunch. The shop is quite small with only a few tables. There were not many customers around - but then it was a weekend and the whole of Danang seem to be a ghost town with very few people around.

 There were the usual fresh greens and herbs and condiments on the table.

When the Pho Bo arrived we knew we were in for a treat. The soup was very clear yet very full flavoured - and there were generous slices of cooked and raw beef on top.This was one tasty bowl of Pho - as good as most of the Pho I have tasted in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Danang 2016 - Marble Mountains

There are not much in terms of attractions in Danang itself. Most people come here for the beaches - Danang used to be the R&R centre for American GIs during the War. Today it is one of the most important port cities in Vietnam and rapid development seems to have brought great prosperity to the people - which is great.

One of the main attractions in Danang is the Marble Mountains. It it a group of mountains in the outskirt of Danang - easily accessible by car. Once you reach the mountains - you will see a lot of shops with marble statues lined outside. This area seems to be a marble production area - but I couldn't actually see where all the marble came from - the surrounding areas are essentially flat except for the aforementioned mountains.

The biggest of the Marble Mountians is Thuy Son - the Mountain of Water. If you have limited time - this is the one to visit as it has the most interesting features to explore. The mountains have long been used as Buddhist holy sites, and in many of the caves you will find old temples dating back hundreds of years. For those who are not keen to climb up the mountain - thankfully there are bubble lifts which take you right to the top.