Countryside Of Hoi An


Apart from walking the streets of Hoi An old town, we did a bike tour to explore the countryside. It was rainy season during this time of the year and we weren’t optimistic about having good weather. We didn’t book the tour until the night before and we were told that there would be no refund if it rains but poncho would be provided. I have read good reviews of Heaven and Earth Bike Tour on TripAdvisor and trusted them even if it meant cycling in the rain!


The bike tour company was located in old town which was about a 20 minute walk from our hotel and the people were nice enough to agree to pick us up early in the morning. I was relieved that we didn’t have to rush through breakfast and at 8.15 am sharp the transport came in the form of 2 motorbikes! We were supposed to ride as pillion passengers! Now that wasn’t quite what I was expecting and so the adventure began.


If you have been to Vietnam, or any of the countries in our region, you will know that getting around in your own transport requires a different skill set. For someone who is used to Singapore roads and following rules, driving or cycling on the road in a small town like Hoi An can make one hyperventilates.

The tour guide who came to pick us up in the motorbike DID NOT have a driving license! Gawk! You hardly see any traffic lights on the roads but there were motorbikes and cars everywhere and everyone was honking! People just made their own traffic rules along the way!


So the tour agency probably figured out that first world cyclists aren’t made to ride in their streets. We collected our bikes and the jetty was just a short ride away. The ferry took us to another island, away from the crazy traffic, away from the bustling crowd, to a place where a ‘first world cyclist’ could handle!


We peddled our bikes down winding countryside roads, zig-zaged through the endless greenery of rice paddies and farmland. We had the best weather for days. There was no rain and we didn’t have to use the poncho! I probably shouldn’t but half the time I was thinking to myself that I should have brought the kids along. There is so much to see and so much to learn.


Along the way, we were introduced to some plants which were used for making mats. We were showed how the plants were dried and dyed and this lady who was 92 years old showed us how the mats were weaved. It takes her about half a day to weave a 2 m long mat and like many of the local crafts, this is a dying trade because the younger generation is not interested to continue the trade.


We learned that every fishing boat in Hoi An has ‘eyes’. According to local folklore, the boats have ‘eyes’ to scare away the water demons and keep the boats safe. Painting eyes on a boat is an important ritual where the fishing boats are brought to life by ‘opening the eyes’.

We were showed how wood bended from heat of an open fire can be used to form the curved structure of a boat. Everything used for making the boats comes from mother nature. From the teak planks to the wooden screws and bamboo fiber used for sealing the gaps between the wooden planks.


Then there is the other kind of fishing boats which the locals prefer. They cost about one tenth of the price of the wooden fishing boats and they are called the thung chai, or “basket boat”. These basket boats are woven from bamboo and coated with cow dung, no less, and sealed in a waterproof resin milked from tree sap of certain trees. The recipe remains a trade secret. We were all given a chance to row the boat. The old lady did a demonstration effortlessly. When it came to our turn, none of us in the group could get it right. The boat just didn’t go the direction we wanted it to go!


We were brought to a shop where ornaments were made from oyster shells. We were showed how the oyster shells were cut, carved and polished to make these ornaments. It’s an intricate art that requires immense patience and skill. I was surprised by all the Chinese characters that were carved out. Apparently, most of the older generation could read Chinese characters, even though they pronounced them in Vietnamese language. The younger generation however can’t read Chinese as it is not being taught in schools. It dawned on me that that we are so similar yet so different. It is times like this that makes me appreciate our government making Chinese a compulsory subjects in schools. It is how we connect to our roots even when we call ourselves Singaporeans.


We visited a family who makes rice wine. We were shown the process from cooking the rice to fermenting it and distilling to get the alcohol. We were even treated to some freshly made rice wine which the locals called ‘happy water’. The residue from making these ‘happy water’ is used to feed the pigs which makes them drunk and sleepy all day.

It is interesting to learn that this whole rice wine making process is an ecological cycle where the pigs’ manure is eventually used to start the fire that is used to cook the rice wine. The people have cleverly extracted the methane gas from the fermented manure to fuel this process. And we also learned that they have an ingenious ways to keep away the pesky houseflies from the cooked rice with clear plastic bags and water!


We ended the tour with a home cooked meal at a local home. We had chicken cooked in some sweet curry sauce and stir fried kang kong (or what they called morning glory). The home was an old house built for ancestral worshipping with the family still living in it. These old houses were built with 3 doors. The central door is reserved for the dead and only opened on Lunar New Year Day and the death anniversary of the main ancestor. Traditionally, women entered from the left and men from the right, although these distinctions are no longer observed today.


The people who live in the house sleeps on beds that are simply wooden frames lay with locally woven mats. We were told that it will be too warm to sleep on mattresses during the hotter months.

There is frequent flooding during the rainy season and the last serious flood they had was in 2014 where water level rose to more than a meter high! We were showed how the people living in that house prepared themselves for the next flood. Using some wooden planks, they built some kind of a 2nd level so that food and drinking water can be stored when it floods.


The lives in the countryside reminds me of Singapore in the 50s or 60s. It was interesting to see how people still lives like this today. I was glad we did the bike tour. Given our tight schedule, it was one of the best ways to get a taste of Vietnamese countryside.

The tour has brought us away from the usual touristy routes to discover the real countryside where we meet the locals and learn about their way of life, customs and beliefs. To me, that’s the best part about this trip, apart from moving out of my comfort zone and scaring myself once a while.


Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.
~ Gustave Flaubert


Read more on this trip – Streets of Hoi An

Read our Sapa posts from last June holiday.

A Trip to the Tokinese Alps Part 1
A Trip to the Tokinese Alps Part 2
A Trip to the Tokinese Alps Part 3
A Trip to the Tokinese Alps Part 4



This entry was posted in Travel.

Streets Of Hoi An


I went for a short getaway over the weekend with a girlfriend. We made a trip to Hoi An, a historic old town located near the central eastern coast of Vietnam. It was my first time traveling without my kids and I realised that I haven’t done any trip on my own for the last 2 decades! That’s like half my life! Geez, no wonder I felt like a frog that has just escaped the well.


My friend was dying for a trip where she could eat, sleep, do spa and nothing else. Unfortunately, the place was too beautiful and I didn’t allow her to do just that! I made her walked the streets and she probably rolled her eyes at me many times while I took pictures of almost everything. Whooops!


Hoi An’s old world charm and beauty made me fall in love at first sight. It is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port from the early years and is unlike anything we saw in Sapa and Hanoi. The architecture of Hoi An old town is an interesting mix of Chinese, Japanese and European influences and cultures.


Its winding streets and orchre walls reminded me of the narrow alleys in Nice. It probably shouldn’t be a surprise because the French had fought for control of Vietnam for years, as far back as the 17th Century, and had it under their French Indochinese empire until the Vietnamese regained control in the First Indochina war in 1954. The French had certainly left their mark in places like Hoi An and Sapa.


The old town riverbank is a vibrant place docked with boats of different sizes. There are the smaller wooden sampans to larger, noisier fleets which are just as colourful. This place brought back memories of the floating city of Venice and I gleefully told my friend that this place should be crowned ‘The Venice of South East Asia’!


The many Chinese assembly halls (or what we commonly known here as ‘huay guan’), temples that dotted the town and the emblematic Japanese covered bridge are clear evidence that the Chinese and the Japanese once had their glorious days there.


The assembly halls usually feature a grand gate, a garden with bonsai, a main hall and a large altar room where different gods and goddess are housed depending on the Chinese community’s beliefs.

They were created as a place in which residents from the same province in China could meet up and socialise whilst living in or visiting Hoi An. There are the Fujian, Cantonese, Hainan and Teochew assembly halls.


There are many shops like this that sell paintings. But whether these paintings are factory mass produced or hand painted by artists left to be judged by the experts.


Apparently, Hoi An is well-known for their skilful tailors. Many of them can trace their tradecraft through several generations and they are able to copy any design they see. But like any touristy spots, you have to do some homework before choosing a tailor shop to go to.

Apart from clothes, there are people who go to Hoi An to get their shoes made. Again, you might want to do some research before deciding which shop to go to. We chanced upon this shop with a window or doorway decorated with shoes! How lovely.


Lanterns of every bright and brilliant colours are a common sight in Hoi An. In fact, the people in Hoi An celebrate the Full Moon Lantern festival on the 14th day of every lunar month. The festival is held in the old town where motorised vehicles are banned and colourful candlelit lanterns are used to provide light on the streets. It is something you shouldn’t miss if you plan to go there!


There are so much to see and absorb just walking around Hoi An old town. I was totally mesmerized and love everything about this place, from the coffee joints to the rivers and lanterns and the often overgrown creepers and blossoming bougainvillea that add character and natural beauty to the old shophouses.


This place is a photographer’s paradise, an instagrammer’s playground and wonderland. Everywhere you look is a photo opportunity. Pity I only had my iphone and my photos might not do justice to the beauty of this place.


I could spend the whole week in this place just walking around, taking pictures and drinking Vietnamese drip coffee. Alas, I only had 2 days but the consolation is getting to Hoi An from Singapore is a breeze.

It is only a short 2.5 hour flight from Singapore and currently Jet Star and Silk Air fly direct to Da Nang International Airport. From there, it is only a 45 minutes drive to Hoi An.


I am so happy to discover this place. Even with air ticket, accommodation, food, spa and even shopping, our 3 days 2 night trip cost less than a 2 nights hotel stay in Singapore!

Hoi An Ancient Town is such a rare gem and beauty in this region and it is no wonder it is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site. I can’t wait to bring my family for a visit soon!


This entry was posted in Travel.

Home Away From Home

We went for a vacation in Western Australia in a big party of 7 adults and 4 kids; almost everyone from my side of the family went along.

Not too long ago, this wouldn’t have been possible because of my Dad’s health. With a clean bill of health, he was able to pick up life from where he left off. He was able to join us for the trip though he and my mom probably suffered quite a bit from the chaos and madness created by their 4 grandchildren, all boys, packed under the same roof.

The last time I visited Western Australia was like 2 decades ago and I seriously don’t remember things being as expensive as now. I was shocked that 4 pieces of sushi cost 10 bucks at the airport. That was pretty much my first impression when we disembarked.

Part of the reason for this trip was for my sis and her husband to relish fond memories of their dating days. This time round they had their 2 boys to complete the experience.

It was their first time traveling with their teething 10 month old and an active 3 year old. Seeing them brought back memories of our trips when the boys were younger. Frankly, I don’t remember it being such an energy sapping task but then again, my memory for such things can be quite short lived.

I do recall packing lots of snack and books during those trips because they were about the only entertainment the kids would get during long car rides. Bumpy car rides and snacks make a potent mix to lull the kids into lala land.

Things then were a bit simpler without iPads and electronic games. These gadgets might seem a quick fix to boredom but often rob them the chance to use their imagination and learning how to deal with boredom.

Apart from playing with their little cousins, the boys spent much of their time poring over books we brought along. My elder boy finished more than half a dozen books he borrowed from the library during the 10 day trip and the younger one was in love with his Mr Men books and dinosaur drawing book.

We drove from Perth down to Albany before heading back to Margaret River and Perth again. The good thing about moving around was there were new things to keep the kids excited every few days.

We had a pool table in one of the houses we rented and a table soccer in another and the space we had was like the best thing for them. They could run and play and play and run.

It was summer but it was still too chilly for tropical inhabitants like us. We went to the beach and I couldn’t take the cold water. The boys wouldn’t mind though and would have headed for the water if we let them. They love the seaweed strewn shore and fine sandy beach and got all soaked playing with the crashing waves.

Because we went in a big group that needed at least 3 considerably big rooms to sleep comfortably, we decided to rent vacation homes instead of staying in hotel rooms. It worked out to be cheaper and it was so much more convenient and comfortable. It was one of the best decisions we had made for the trip.

The house that greeted us at Perth was a 2 storey house with 4 bedrooms. It could comfortably sleep 10 and came with a fully equipped kitchen that would have made any housewife drool. There was a small swimming pool in the backyard and a display of colourful surf boards for anyone who was brave enough to ride the surf at the nearby Scarborough beach.

It also came with an indoor pool table which everyone had fun playing with, including the littlest among us. With 3 mothers in our group, mealtimes were well taken care of. We had home cooked dinner everyday with fresh groceries from the local farmers’ market. It almost felt like we never left home.

Then at Albany, this gorgeous house greeted us. A single storey house that could accomodate 10.

A dreamy house that was perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean. It felt almost unreal. It was like one of those houses that you only see in Hollywood movies. Marcus called it the long house because it had a long corridor with the master bedroom at one end and the rest of the bedrooms in the other end.

It was built like a green house with full glass panels in the living room and kitchen area. I was initially worried that we might be baked by the summer heat trapped in the house. Thank goodness it was wet, windy and cold, so the heat was good for keeping us warm at night.

The fireplace was a good save and we spent evenings crowding near the fire and playing cards. Apart from warming the house up, the boys learned how to set up a wood fire. They even figured out how to cook some food in it and we had tasty sweet corn and sweet potatoes roasted for our drives and hikes in Albany.

Our last stop was Margaret River. The house at Albany was hard to beat and the 4 bedroom house at Margaret River paled in comparison. It was a decent house that reminded us of our place in the States. It was in a residential area just outside town center and a short drive to everything. But it looked so normal, so regular, and without character.

Apart from the farmers market, we did the touristy stuff when we were there, such as visit to a brewery, animal farm, cave, chocolate factory and an olive oil soap factory which was the best place to shop for anything made with olive oil.

My husband and I managed to go for a jog one evening while we were there. We were unfamiliar with the area but we had google map and runkeeper. We wandered off the paved road and onto a trail which led us into the forest. The sun was setting and the light was glaring right into our face. Thankfully the breeze was cool and the air was dry. We jogged for 45 minutes but it felt like a 5 minute jog in Singapore weather.

IMG_3277 (1)-001
This was us, trying to balance on a fallen log to cross a huge puddle of water. It was a refreshing jog and we wouldn’t have had the experience if we hadn’t gone off the beaten track.

And I sort of like it this way. No matter how well planned a trip is, it’s always good to leave some room for spontaneity and impromptu- ness because that’s when you get surprises. And I love surprises. You never know what you’re gonna get … and that’s the fun of it.

Last but not least, I thought it is only right that I include this to make this post complete.

The house in Perth though big and spacious needed a thorough clean up to get rid of the sticky floor and canine stench. The house in Albany needed to have its water heaters replaced so that it could supply enough hot water for everyone to bathe. Lastly the house in Margaret River needed the pest control guy to come in urgently to get rid of creepy crawlies, especially the 8 legged kind.

Although it was good to go on a holiday with family and strengthen bonds, nothing beats coming back to the comfort of our own home.

I guess I am not much of a traveller afterall.

This is still the best.


Our Accommodation in Perth
The Lookout Scarborough Beach

Our Accommodation in Albany

Our Accommodation in Margaret River
Forest Walk

This entry was posted in Travel.