6. Quang Ngai and the Vietnamese Wall

31.07.2015 – 03.08.2015

After spending time in the touristy place of Hoi An that lacks heavy traffic, the peaceful Cham Island and discovering more of rural Vietnam arriving in the big city of Quang Ngai was quite a shock.
Here I was welcomed by heavy traffic and the familiar noise of engines and beeping horns when we crossed the long bridge passing the riverfront (without the water in the riverbed). I asked Thong to recommend a clean place to stay in Quang Ngai. He mentioned that the hotels near the waterfront are rather expensive, so instead he brought me to Nguyen Hue, located on the main street, around a 15 minute walk away from the touristy bit – if you can call anything in Quang Ngai touristy. In reality not many tourist do not stop here, even that would be kind. I think only a few do stop here if they travel on a motorbike, as except of the Son My memorial there really isn’t anything here that would attract tourists.
Except, that really brought me here. I really like non-touristy places as it gives me a great chance to see more of the real country. This is why I enjoyed my time in Tra Vinh or Kon Tum. But even compared to these places Quang Ngai was less touristy. Without some advice given in TripAdvisor I would never have stopped here. But thankfully I did.

Arriving at Nguyen Hue Hotel I was shown a massive room with two double beds, A/C, fridge and bathroom for 250.000 Dong a night. It was located towards the main road, but traffic was non-existent during the night and there was no issue to sleep there. The owner was very friendly, though he didn’t speak any English. But he was always smiling, and even gave me free water every day, as well as some snacks like cakes and biscuits when he saw me.

After saying goodbye to Thong I took a little break, and then I was off to walk to the night market. Thankfully I only had to follow the main road from the hotel back to the bridge, passing various shops, food places and so on. Throughout the walk the locals were watching me, smiling and waving. This really gave me the impression that not many tourists stop here.
It seems the main area at night is at the waterfront next to the main bridge.  There you find stalls on the main road selling huge cuddle toys – they were all sitting nicely in a row staring at the traffic – it looked a bit weird, but to be honest nothing surprises me anymore in SEA. Off the main road there were more stalls, but not selling touristy bits, but cloth aimed for the locals. At one side were several hotels and some bigger food places (welcoming Vietnamese tourists) and along the dry waterfront were quite a few food places with plastic chairs and tables lined along the path, the kitchens housed under temporary tents. It is no place for fancy food but good traditional food and beer. There was even a public toilet – you just had to head down to the trees and bushes, and you had enough room for yourself!!!!

No idea how to choose the right one the decision was taken away from me when I walked past a group of locals enjoying a feast and a few beers. I was invited to join them straight away, putting a glass of beer in one hand, and a plate with food into my other hand. And so started a very enjoyable evening. They were all from Hay Tay, the village I passed earlier that day, and in Quang Ngai for a evening out. Seeing the empty bottles and the amount of food on the table it seemed they had a good one already. Obviously you take your own karaoke machine with you, so they were singing Vietnamese songs all night, and they were actually very good. So one beer followed the next one, and for some reason they thought I needed to be fed (well, I didn’t had dinner, so they were half right) as they constantly added more food on my plate. And my glass was never empty. Unfortunately all good things have to come to an end, so after over 2 hours they packed their things and headed home – but not before they refused to accept me paying for some beer. I was their guest and therefore invited. I was once again lucky to meet such welcoming people.


I took a little walk, but I was still hungry, so I stopped at one of the food places to have the Quang Ngai version of Mi Quang. I had it in Hoi An, but the one in Quang Ngai had a richer flavour with pork and some crispy bread – it was very good.
I finished the evening sitting in a comfy chair of a cafe on the pavement, enjoying a late night Ca Fe Sua da. After that it was just a short taxi ride back to head to bed.

Not being in any rush I got up the next morning, and went for a walk in the surrounding of the hotel. Not equipped with a map I just followed some streets.
And my first impression when i arrived the day before was correct. Quang Ngai is a typical Vietnamese busy town, the roads full of cars, buses and scooters. I must admit it is not the prettiest city. Though if you turned off the main streets you found streets lined with big trees providing some shades. And around lunch time the city became a but quieter, as locals tried to avoid the heat
Still, I found some lovely traditional buildings, a nice little church (once again closed), temples, and some little parks next to the busiest streets, where you can sit down or doing some sport at some of the fitness machines. It is not as exciting as walking through Hanoi, Hoi An or HCMC, but I enjoyed the walk, escaping the heat by stopping for a lunch at a food place – where I was welcomed by the owner and other guests with waves and big smiles. The soup was once again just tasty.

After walking around for a while I decided that it was just too hot. So I followed the recommendation I received on TA (thanks again John), and headed down Hung Vuong Street, and turned into a little side alley. I wasn’t sure I was at the right place, but soon enough I saw the first cafe, followed by a few more. This whole area felt like worlds apart from the busy Quang Ngai I left at the main street behind. Instead it was quiet here, and only a few motorbikes came this way. This area is seen as retreat with several cafes located here, all of them having little gardens, with outdoor and indoor seatings. I choose one that had a stream running through the outdoor area, it had a peaceful feel to it. I thought I will relax here for an hour or so. But I started to read a book, and after my first Ca Fe Sua Da followed the second, followed by a few lime juices, while the waitress constantly filled my glass with mint tea. Locals arrived to have just a coffee, or playing some games, or even doing some work. It started to rain so I stayed a bit longer, and in the end I finished the book and left the cafe after 4 hours. This was the perfect place to relax a bit, and to switch off. The perfect retreat in the city centre. It is worth to visit it even if it is just for one drink.
Walking back the alley the cafe next door had a staff meeting, and seeing me they all walked to the door straight away to talk to me. No hassling to get inside, they just wanted to talk. Before I left they told me that they have live music in the cafe in the evening. I really do love live music, so my plan for the evening was sorted.

On my way back I came across a food place that served some little bowls. Curious I walked in and without a menu available I just pointed at the bowls, and soon enough I got seven little bowls – each one had a spoonful of a little piece of heaven. It was steamed rice milk, topped with some satay sauce and one little prawn on top of it – called Banh Beo Chung. It was just absolute delicious – nothing was left in any bowl. Some of the other customers were slightly amused with my facial expression. The great food was followed but some fun conversation with the other guests. So visiting Quan An on Hung Vuong would be a good choice.

The plan for the evening was to visit the café for some live music. For dinner I just wanted to try one of the food stalls on the main road Quang Trang. But before I got to one, I suddenly heard a shout, and three men sitting in front of their shop called me over, and within seconds I had a beer in my hand. Thy could hardly speak any English, but it was still fun using sign language – and I got to meet their family who stayed in floor above the shop. It was a great atmosphere and a nice start to the evening.
This warm welcome continued when I sat down at a food stall at the corner of the street for a tasty soup, and the other patrons were very eager to watch me, and to talk to me. You won’t experience that in touristy places.

After dinner I went back to the café area – on my way I even saw a café with a DJ, a café club. I preferred heading to the other cafe, and was rewarded with some good live music – sung either by the leader of the band, or by other guests. It was an enjoyable evening, even having only non-alcoholic drinks…

 

For the next day my plan was to get a bike and a driver to explore the surrounding area. But before organising the trip I enjoyed a lovely breakfast – having a tasty Banh Mi in a little food place and was entertained by the owner and her daughters. Especially the kids were very keen to share their little knowledge of the English language. Some good laughs were shared.

Then I realised that visiting a non-touristy place results in some challenges as well. I asked the owner of my hotel if he could get a driver, but it seems there was a misunderstanding, as after nearly an hour, no one arrived. Just when I gave up hope, I started to talk to another guest of the hotel. He called some friends, and managed to get a driver. While waiting I joined him and some others for a coffee outside. Unfortunately when the driver turned up – he had no idea how to get  Truong Luy Quang Ngai – the newly discovered Vietnamese Wall. So after another phone call and another half an hour another driver appeared – and this time he knew where to go. Unfortunately he couldn’t speak English…

Finally after noon I was on the back of a bike we headed out of Quang Ngai on the road towards Kon Tum. It was a lovely route passing rice fields, rivers, hills, and little villages.

We had to stop a few time to ask for directions, but in the end we managed to arrive at Truong Luy Quang Ngai. The wall was only discovered a few years ago. It is approximate 120 km long, and was compared to the Chinese Wall – well, it is much shorter and only up to 2m high. It is assumed that the wall was mainly used as border, and not for protection. The bit we visited was on top of a hill, and here the wall was partly in good condition, while some parts were only in ruins. Due to the lack of restoration the vegetation took over the wall, and it is not always to see the wall. You could walk along the wall for miles, but we only took a little walk – leaving the area just in time before some dark clouds arrived.

From the wall I wanted to visit a little village at the coast – Co Luy. Instead of driving the same route back to Quang Ngai, my driver took a detour, and soon we were on some smaller roads, giving me the chance to fully enjoy rural Vietnam. The area we passed was just lovely. Little streams within rice fields, at some points little bridges giving access to houses over the streams, little lakes and rivers where you could see the typical small Vietnamese boats, and I could walk on another of the wobbly bamboo bridge, while scooters and bikes passed me.  It was just beautiful and peaceful.


Soon I saw a sign of Co Ly, but instead of driving towards the village we stopped next to a cemetery. My driver led me pass the graves and shrines onto a hill overlooking the area. The climbing (there was no path) was rewarded with some stunning view of the surrounding area – of the sea and villages along the coast, and rice fields and rivers on the other side. There were also some little caves that locals use for shelter and I assume as a place for the youth to have some drinks. I am pretty sure though that hardly any tourist stop at this place.

Unfortunately here I saw the potential language issue – the driver thought I only wanted to see the view – so instead to get to the village itself (which I really wanted to see), we headed back to Quang Ngai – with a quick stop at his home. And at 4pm we were back at the hotel – just to quickly get me to the station to buy my train ticket to Quy Nhon for the next day. I was a bit disappointed that we arrived that early, but overall I had a great day, seeing the beautiful surrounding of Quang Ngai.

Not having any lunch I took advantage of the early arrival to have another portion of Banh Beo Chung – and yes, it tasted as good as the day before. I could eat this dish all day long…

After a little rest I headed back to the waterfront for a beer and more food, and I only then discovered a nice park next to the river – lid up by quite a few lights, it looked very nice. Still haven’t seen any other Western tourists yet, I was still seen as an attraction by the locals, people (kids and adults) smiling, waving, and I heard people whistling when I passed a group of women doing their evening exercise – I was clearly popular.

For food I headed back to the stalls along the river. Getting comfortable in a little plastic chair again, I got some tasty frog legs and spring rolls. Once again the quality of the food was good – for little money. In addition of people coming to my table to say hello the main entertainment came from a little boy who was there with his mum on the table next to me. He decided that he wanted to give me the nuts on my table I didn’t eat, into my hands. Soon enough the whole area around my table was full of nuts. He managed to make everyone at the place laugh the whole time.
Of course the by now usual invite wasn’t missing – just when I wanted to leave a few guys at a neighbour table put a beer into my hand – and I stayed for a few more drinks. It was a great way to finish this great day.

Actually, it was a great way to finish my stay in Quang Ngai, as the next morning I headed to the train station, to depart for my next destination – Quy Nhon.

 

Quang Ngai is probably with Tra Vinh the least touristy place I have seen in Vietnam – and this is why I enjoyed it so much. The town itself doesn’t offer lots to see, but with the new discovered wall, Son My memorial and the beautiful surrounding it offers enough things to visit when staying there. But what made tis place so special are the lovely people – I felt welcome wherever I went. I was so often approached for a chat, and I somehow always found myself sitting somewhere with a beer in my hand. It was a great way to meet locals and not tourists, and learn more about the country. it is not on the tourist trail – but for me it is worth a short stop.

 

Accommodation:
The Nguyen Hue Hotel was a simple hotel in the centre of Quang Ngai. The room was clean and good value for money. People might prefer staying near the waterfront, though I enjoyed staying in that area due to the many cafes and food places. Would stay there again.

 

Recommendation:
Visit Truong Lui Quang Ngai – it is not as impressive as the Chinese Wall, but it is a an interesting sight without the amount of tourists there. It would be good having some time to walk along the wall.
Visit one of the cafes on the side alley of Hung Vuong if you are looking for a place to relax. And maybe for some live music in the evening.
And do not miss eating Banh Beo Chung – it is one of the tastiest little dishes I had in Vietnam

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