October 15, 2019
Our neighborhood, tucked away in an unassuming back alley, has not escaped the commotion of Đà Nẵng’s transformation. All along the tall row of narrow houses, small, in-home businesses creep into living rooms turning what looks like it was once mostly a residential area into a glorious gallimaufry of commerce and domestic dealings; ever blurring the line between working and living.
We settle our bill at Art Coffee, hop onto our moped and cruise across town in search of something quick to eat. In the distance, a lush green hillside eclipses the sun. They call it Monkey Mountain. A two-hundred-foot-tall statue of the female buddha keeps watch as flocks of tourists snap their version of this quintessential Đà Nẵng photo. Much to the bewilderment of our Vietnamese friends, we haven’t been.
In fact, during our first month in Đà Nẵng, we’ve largely avoided the tourist traps and even the pubs and restaurants that cater specifically to the expat population. Opting for local fare instead of more international options like pizza, tapas, burgers and sushi (all of which Đà Nẵng has available) has helped us save some money and have a more local experience. Munching down on some delicious bánh xèo or bún chả cá at a local restaurant sets us back less than $3.00 USD so we’re free to eat out frequently and truly immerse ourselves in Vietnamese cuisine. Still, we’re just a month in and it’s nice to know that we have a bit of a culinary safety net when we get burnt out on Vietnamese food and cravings get the best of us.
For now, it’s the usual bánh bao. Much like our neighborhood barista, the usual cashier at Ba Hưng Bakery sees us coming. Before we even make our way up to the stand, he’s signaling at the huge glass case of bánh bao (Vietnam’s take on the steamed bun that has cousins all over the continent under different aliases). He holds up three fingers and I confirm the quantity in my broken Vietnamese. We don’t even make it back to our bike before two of the three delicious, pork and quail egg buns have been gobbled up.
Now that basic food and caffeination needs have been met, it’s time to check the waves. According to online communities we consulted before arriving to Vietnam, Đà Nẵng was the spot for the most consistent waves in the country. We couldn’t get a straight answer as to exactly how surfable the spot was prior to arrival and, now with a month under our belts, we’d answer the question with an astounding, “sort of.”
Today, the surf gods seem to be on our side. Fun, little open-faced waves roll onto the shore beckoning us to join them. A friend waves to us from one of the surfboard rental shacks as we make our way down to the shore. The “lineup” consists of a couple of familiar faces and a few Korean tourists flopping around on foamies. Including us, the total body count in the water is seven which is a bit crowded by Đà Nẵng standards but certainly a far cry from the mobs of surfers we’ve become accustomed to in Southern California.
Later in the evening, the balmy sea will fill with casual bathers constrained to a roped off area that lifeguards have deemed safe from the strong currents that rip across My Khe Beach constantly. Inevitably, a few tourists will stray from the pen, sending the lifeguard into a frenzy of whistle blowing until they return to the parameters in which they have been permitted to enjoy their time at the beach.
Now, in the hot sun of late morning, locals wouldn’t dare venture out and risk acquiring an undesirable suntan. Though we don’t mind that part, we still haven’t gotten used to surfing in 80 degree water and the sun beating down overhead certainly makes us grateful for a tall glass of trà đá (Vietnamese iced tea) when we emerge from the warm, salty water. We each catch a handful of playful little waves, get smashed by a few closeouts and eventually decide to cut our losses as the wind moves in and conditions worsen.
Trà đá in hand, it’s time to get some “work” done. We pull out our laptops and dissolve into separate worlds. On any given day, you might find us toying with curriculum development, website design, programming, language learning, writing or digital art. Today, it’s Python and Vietnamese lessons.
Though we recognize the need to eventually monetize some of those things (or maybe something else entirely), simplifying our lives and relocating to a spot with an extremely low cost of living has given us a bit of breathing room; time to explore. Here we can chase curiosity and throw ourselves into things we might not have otherwise had the time and space to.
We wrap up our screen time with one final sip of trà đá. It tastes like freedom. The day is ours.
We slide into our regular booth at the coffee shop on our neighbor’s front porch and she completes my sentence mid-order, “two milk coffee,” she says, chuckling at our predictability.
We smile through sleepy eyes. The construction outside our window last night didn’t allow for much rest. In the past decade, the city of Đà Nẵng has exploded. What was once a virtually empty coastline is now littered with high-rise hotels that span as far as the eye can see. New buildings sprout up daily all over the city and construction never sleeps.
Whenever a travel destination gets touted as “cheap”, the inevitable question gets asked: ok, but really… how cheap is “cheap”? Fret not, the Kooks are here to help you budget for your Vietnam trip by letting you know just how cheap “cheap” is... We’re stoked about being able to dine out frequently without breaking the bank. Generally speaking, bánh bao, an absolute favorite of ours, cost about 10,000₫ (43 cents) each. Prices vary depending on the dish and location but a more elaborate... Read More
October 3, 2019