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Goodbye Hoi An, Hello Hoa's Place!

Day 9 in Vietnam

sunny 90 °F
View Vietnam (2015) on heather.goodin's travel map.

We awoke to our last morning in Hoi An. In addition to the Delta (Can Tho), this is probably the second place we had stayed where I felt we didn't have enough time in the city. I was very sad to leave.

However, I was conversely very HAPPY to be waking up at this particular hotel on this particular morning, for one reason: that yummy breakfast that we hadn't had time to eat yesterday was waiting on us downstairs. Awesome. :) We went downstairs and consumed plate after plate of bacon, noodles, omelettes, sausage, and fruit (me, Rick, and Maggie), and watermelon (Cary). Their passionfruit juice was delicious, and they had the "gloppy stuff" to go with our coffee. (We had first experienced "gloppy stuff" at the homestay in the Delta. We had no idea what it was. It's yellowish in color, very thick, and very sugary. You could compare it to our flavored creamers, but there's less cream in "gloppy stuff". After looking it up in the States, I think it may have been sweetened condensed milk?)

After breakfast, we went back to the room to pack our backpacks. Time to move on! As I had woken up early and packed up most of my stuff before everyone else awoke, I went downstairs to look up a few things on the internet (more reliable in the lobby) - including getting maps and addresses of the places we planned to visit that day for the taxi driver. (It seems nobody affiliated with transportation - taxi drivers, bus station attendants, train station attendants, etc. - can speak English. It must be a law. LOL) Our plan was to stop for lunch/coffee at a local place called the Dingo Cafe (where they were rumored to have great Western food, strong WiFi, and a playground for the kids), and then continue on to Hoa's Place in Da Nang. (I'll talk more about Hoa's Place later.)

Upon checkout, the front desk lady asked us where we were headed next - I replied with our final destination, Da Nang - and she offered us a private vehicle to our destination. I declined, as it was really more expensive than we needed. She then offered to call a taxi for us, and I agreed. When the taxi arrived, I inadvertently caused a lot of confusion by showing him a map of our destination (only a few kilometers away) - I guess the front desk had told him we were going to Da Nang, and he was disappointed. On the way to the Dingo Cafe, he negotiated a time to pick us up for the second half of our journey. We gave ourselves 2 hours to enjoy the cafe/playground, and he agreed to pick us up there at 2:00pm for the ride to Da Nang.

Of course, when we arrived at the Dingo Cafe, Maggie immediately realized that she forgot her drawstring bag back at the hotel. Rick had the taxi driver take him back to the hotel for the bag while I dragged all of the backpacks into the cafe and got the kids situated.

The cafe was a pretty cool place. It's owned by an Australian couple (or is only one of them Australian?), and has a great ambiance to it. The main outdoor area had big comfy cushioned bench seating with huge pillows to lounge in. In the back, there was a two-story play structure with a trampoline in front, a few swings off to the side, and sand toys to play with scattered about. There were a few tables out back where you could eat by the playground, but they were small and not very shaded. We chose to play there for a while and then get a seat in the comfy seats. (Unfortunately, my camera lens was cloudy and I didn't notice - sorry.)

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We weren't really hungry after just having had breakfast, but everything on the menu looked very yummy, so we ordered. The menu was all Western goodness - burgers and BLTs and all the favorites we had been craving. I didn't take a photo of the food, but it was very nicely presented and absolutely delicious. I posted on Facebook while eating that it was the best burger I've ever had... and I really meant it at the time. :) We spent the next few hours fighting the internet (unfortunately, the WiFi wasn't as hot as we had hoped), awaiting our 2pm taxi.

We were then whisked off to Hoa's Place.

Prior to leaving for Vietnam, when planning the trip, I had run across several posts about Hoa's Place. There's really a bit of a story that goes along with it. Hoa himself is a Vietnamese man who fought with South Vietnam alongside the American Marines during the war. Hoa's Place is a kind of a backpacker's legend. The place used to consist of a guest house with a few rooms that Hoa would rent out for $5-$7/night, and a small little family-style dining room where Hoa would serve up legendary dinners for all of the guests and then stay up and drink until the wee hours with him. Based on the number of stories I read about Hoa and how cool he is (he was actually named in a magazine as "The Coolest Man in Vietnam"), how beautiful his place is, and the hospitality of Hoa and his family, I knew I had to visit, if only to say I had been there.

The "Place" in Hoa's Place now has changed a bit, but the beauty and hospitality hasn't at all. A few years ago, the government came knocking on his door and told him he had to leave - that they were selling his land to a developer, and he would have to vacate. Fortunately for Hoa, he was on the very edge of the land they planned to sell, and he only had to move 25 yards or so. (Literally.) Unfortunately for Hoa, they bulldozed his little guest house, and he had to rebuild from scratch. At the time of our visit, he had rebuilt an open-air thatched-roof dining area, and a main "residence" with a kitchen, bathroom, and bed area. (He doesn't actually live there, though.) He is still trying to get the government to give him a building permit to rebuild his guest house, but so far has been unsuccessful. However, all of this hasn't seemed to diminish his business - he still has backpackers that come from all over the world to visit, and he negotiates a price for them at a small mom-and-pop hotel just a short walk from his place.

So, the taxi pulls up in front of Hoa's Place, and we pile out. Cary had fallen asleep on the 30-minute taxi ride, so Rick grabbed him while I grabbed the bags and pulled them onto the sidewalk.

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Hoa came out to greet us on the sidewalk. He asked how long we would be staying (only until tomorrow afternoon, unfortunately), and offered to call the hotel to book us a room. He offered Cary a place to sleep on a bed in the kitchen ("my sister will let us know when he wakes up" - ah, relief!), and arranged a motorbike driver from the hotel to get our bags and take them down the road for us. (Watching the motorbike driver pile our heavy bags on his bike was quite hilarious, but he made it just fine.) In the meantime, we were given a tour of the place and told to "Take it Easy". Hoa explained that "this was our house", and we should use it accordingly. He showed us where the refrigerator was (stocked with beer, soda, water, treats), and all the other little things he had for sale. If we wanted something, we were asked to just go get it and write it in a book he had laying on the table out front. We treated ourselves to a few beers and sat back and relaxed.

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Hoa was a very interesting guy. We talked for quite a while in the hut, with him telling all kinds of stories about his military experience, losing his guest house, his hopes for the future, what to expect in other areas of Vietnam, etc. He took us for a walk of the immediate vicinity, and showed us where the old guest house was. He showed us some traditional fishing "round boats" that were sitting in the sand near his place. He pointed down the beach to a shipwreck a short walk away. It was a great way to spend an afternoon.

(Leaving room for pictures on Rick's phone, to be added later - check back!)

Unfortunately, Hoa had plans that night, so he could not stay long. He asked us if we would like dinner that night (yes, please), and assured us his sister would fix us a wonderful traditional Vietnamese dinner. She didn't speak English, but he said dinner would be ready at 7, and reminded us to make ourselves at home and stay as late as we wanted.

Once Hoa left, we decided to walk down to the hotel to get checked into our room. We found it in the direction Hoa had pointed, and our bags were sitting in the lobby as anticipated. We were checked into our room - a fairly spacious room, with three double-but-not-queen beds and good A/C, and relaxed for a while. My tummy was feeling a bit upside down, so I opted to stay and read for another 45 minutes while my Pepto started working, and Rick and the kids took a walk down the beach to the shipwreck.

(Room for shipwreck pictures.)

Right at dark, we all met at the hut for our 7pm dinner. After realizing I had got about 50 bug bites on my legs in the span of 10 minutes, we all applied bug spray and waited for our meals. Sure enough, Hoa's sister came out with a wonderful meal of spring rolls, rice, noodles, chicken, fish, tofu, salad - it was an amazing spread, and tasted even better than amazing.

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Since Hoa had promised to come back before 7:30 to have coffee waiting for us, we retired early to our room after dinner so we would have energy the next morning. It was easy to imagine the carefree nights travelers spend under the roof of Hoa's Place, swapping stories of places visited and drinking until the wee hours. We wished there were more visitors (but, then again, enjoyed the peacefulness of being alone), wished we had more time... and wondered how you lock up a place without a fourth wall. I guess you just don't. :)

Posted by heather.goodin 12:46 Archived in Vietnam

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Hi there! Gretchen Reinhart Petro here... AKA Ben Reinhart's momma. I really enjoy reading about all of your journeys! I have to admit, I'm a little green with envy! Benjamin was just amazed that you all were taking this spring break vacation! Now I'm amazed/impressed that you did it with your young son. That must've been a challenge at times. Thanks for sharing your experiences :-)

by Weezie76

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