Getting Better at the Vietnamese Left Turn: Day 4

After getting lost in the paddies yesterday, I wasn’t sure if I want to get out on a bike again. I was feeling a bit saddle sore, and my legs were aching slightly. However, I decided to get out and see the Tranh Ha Pottery Village a few kilometres out of the Old Town.

It looks pretty simple to get there on the map – just two rights and then a straight road all the way to the end of the small island. I screenshot the map on my phone and then I choose a bike that looks better than the rickety old thing I had yesterday. I forget, however, to check the brakes before I set off, and when it comes to the turns I find out just how bad they are…

But never mind, I’m in the flow of traffic on the streets now. In Vietnam, there are seemingly no traffic rules. There’s even a T-shirt you can buy in the markets celebrating this. It really is a case of go with the flow. Bikes and mopeds all swirl around each other, and cars and buses honk loudly to get them to move out of the way. At an intersection, bikes will just speed out and join the flow coming past them; bikes from the other direction squeeze in front of cars and trucks and swing out to take their turn. Amazingly, everyone seems to know what they’re doing and everyone copes with the unexpected.

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Picture from Google Images

The going is smooth, but then about two kilometres into the ride the surface of the road begins to crumble and eventually disappear into a rutted, pitted track. It seems there is construction planned, given the diggers and machines stacked by the side of the road, but no one is working just now, and I am left to navigate the bumps, cracks and potholes as best I can.

I come to a fork in the road. There is a road that goes straight, past a nasty-looking fish market area, but the sign for the road I need to be on according to the map points to the right. I double-check the map. I look around. A minivan cruises past and goes to the right. That must be a tour van of tourists going to the village, right?

I decide to continue on the road going right. I pass more houses and a curious building pumping out loud, cheesy, Europop-style music at full blast and a huge cruise ship moored to the river bank that operates as a floating restaurant.

After three or four kilometers of more bumps, jarring, potholes and construction work, I come to the conclusion I have gone the wrong way. Again. I turn round and make my way back to the fork, and take the turn. The pottery village is about 500 metres down the road.

The village is sold as an artisanal albeit touristy area where you’ll find smiling, happy old potters who are happy to let you sit and watch as they ply away at their trade, which is why I was interested in seeing what goes on there.

What you find first, however, is the Terracotta World model village. I go in anyway, even though most places online say to skip it. It’s basically a gallery of pots and a shop peddling them and the grounds include a model village of clay replicas of famous buildings around the world.

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Out the back there is a small shed where someone sits working on clay. There is a large crowd of school children in the grounds, and it looks as though they’ve been having a go at making a pot. Apparently, if you do make something, you probably won’t get it back because of the time it takes to dry and fire your creation.

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A masterpiece in clay, created by one of the school kids in the park that day. 

After a quick wander around the grounds, I head outside and down the small lanes to look for the real potters. There is a wedding going on, and a huge group of people gathered in suits and dresses drinking to loud, banging pop music. It is 11 am.

The lanes are small and narrow, and bustling with a Chinese tourist group. It’s hard to spot any work going on, but there are a large number of pots out drying in the sun. There are about four lanes to walk around, and each shop sells its wares. Some of the houses are right next to the river, and I wander along the banks.

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I browse one shop and a woman demands to see my ticket or 30,000 dong to buy one, which I’m not sure is legitimate. I keep wandering and I see a man and one woman having a go at potting, but apart from that it is pretty quiet.

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Still, it’s a nice alternative to walking around the town again. It’s now about 12 o’clock and I head back into the town. I haven’t biked inside the town yet, so I am forced to navigate the streets and crossroads that make up the grid of the Old Town. I haven’t had the gall yet to try a Vietnamese left turn, which is basically getting into the middle of the road and then swinging across to the turn so that you are riding in the wrong direction and then swinging back across the oncoming traffic and into the correct lane once you’ve made the turn. My style has been to stop at the side of the road and then wait for a break and quickly scoot across. On this occasion, however,  I figure I’ll give it a go.

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The Vietnamese left turn in action (this time in Hue a few days later)

I cause three scooters to come to a complete standstill and a ton of honking bikes to swirl around us. I nod my apologies and push off. I’m looking for Bale Well restaurant for lunch.

Bale Well is another place that was highly recommended. It stands close to Ba Le Well, which I read is the original well of Hoi An and the only well in the town from which the water to make cau lao should come. It is a small concrete hole, and not much to look at, and apparently has been superceded by a more modern, mechanised well. It has, however, been listed by UNESCO for its significance to the town.

Bale Well serves banh xeo, otherwise know as crispy rice pancakes. You are given rice paper, something that looks like crispy fried scrambled eggs with a shrimp baked into it, and a bunch of vegetables. You open the egg thing, stuff it with the veggies and then roll it up in the rice paper to make a kind of spring roll. I didn’t take photos, so you’ll have to use the link to see what I’m writing about.

I find the place, but I’m unsure if I am where I should be. Admittedly, I hadn’t looked it up and it was sold to me as a must-do restaurant, so I was expecting it to be quite glamorous. It looks like a market stall, albeit set in rather nice grounds. There’s a huge open kitchen out in the street wherein women make the ingredients on a production line. I being to wonder if it is an imitator that has sprung up and scammed me into going in, but I am reassured when a group of about forty Germans arrives with a guide and he begins to explain about the restaurant. As soon as you sit down, the food is brought to you. There’s only one option on the menu. It’s good, but I preferred the banh xeo I had in the market.

I head back to town, becoming more confident at the left turn. I make one without incident, and I arrive at Hoi An Roastery, which has quickly become my favourite coffee shop. I try a traditional egg coffee, which is coffee made with egg yolks. It’s very eggy, and tastes like a liquid egg custard, but I enjoy it. I stay for another black coffee, just watching the street go by.

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I stroll through the town in the late afternoon, watching the river come to life as the boatspeople get ready for a night of corralling tourists into their boats. I browse the Rehahn exhibition on the south bank of the river. It features many of his famous photographs, and some that are on the postcards I bought last night.

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In the evening, I try Faifoo restaurant. Faifoo is the original name of Hoi An, and this restaurant was one of the first to open and cater to the tourist boom that began in the 90s. They do a five-course set menu of all the local specialities. I’ve already had the white rose dumplings, the spring rolls and the cao lau, but not yet the fried wontons I’ve seen around. They are delicious, but the spring rolls and white rose are okay. The cao lau, however, is the best I’ve had yet.

I spend the evening soaking up the atmosphere in town, which is quieter and more laid back than the last couple of nights. I’m trying to get a really good shot of the town at night and I practice playing with different shutter speeds to capture a good shot, but I fail to get anything impressive.

Never mind – there’s always tomorrow night.

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