Taking it Easy in Dong Hoi

Getting to Dong Hoi was an adventure. Despite being pretty close to Dong Ha, there’s no bus service running between the two towns – leaving us with no option but to stick out our thumbs at the side of the road and pray. The night before, we had talked to a nice café owner (at Tam’s Café), who told us to just hop onto one of the many mini buses passing through Dong Ha on the way to Dong Hoi. Sounds easy enough, right?

Luckily, for once, it was! The second bus that stopped for us was going to Dong Hoi, and we were hurriedly crammed in the back row with lots of Vietnamese faces staring at us in amusement and surprise. The bus attendant tried to charge us 100,000 dong per person – Tristan and his excellent knowledge of Vietnamese numbers got him down to 60,000. Not bad for a pair of foreigners (we were told that the locals pay 50,000). The bus even had excellent air conditioning!

We meant for Dong Hoi to be nothing more than a stopover point before continuing on to Phong Nha, home to some spectacular caves. But as the day went on, we realized that maybe it was okay to hit pause on our adventures and just relax for a little while. And relax we did!

The only sightseeing we did in our three days here was a short walk along the river. Luckily, there’s nothing else to see here, so we didn’t even have to feel bad about it! What we did do a lot of is eating and drinking in local restaurants and cafés. There are basically no foreign tourists here – we saw all of five in our time here – which means that everything is super cheap and people are really friendly. What more can you even ask for?

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Boat on the river
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Dolphin statue
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Colourful catamarans

The only real tourist attraction in town was the remnants of a church, destroyed in the Vietnam War. All that was left of it is the facade, and even that is full of bullet holes. It’s kind of amazing that even the front is still standing though, especially because all of the supporting structure is gone.

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Church remnants

After our brief bout of touristing, we were back to our regularly scheduled programming of eating & drinking our way through Dong Hoi.

Usually, we started our days off with a ca phe sua da – a traditional Vietnamese ice coffee with lots of condensed milk. Neither of us are really coffee drinkers, but this stuff is AMAZING. I’ve had more coffee in Vietnam than ever before in my life, it’s just so tasty! It almost tastes like dark chocolate. Delicious.

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Did I mention this was 12,000 dong (67 cents)?

Next, we usually killed some time by chilling in a milk tea (tra sua) place, drinking bubble tea and escaping the hottest part of the day indoors. It also gave me the opportunity to catch up on the blog. We also found a lovely banh xeo place run by a kind elderly woman, where we had some tasty afternoon snacks.

Basically every evening, we went to an awesome nuoc mia (fresh sugarcane juice) place. A glass was just 8,000 dong, and it was huge! Nuoc mia stands are everywhere – you can recognize them by the stacks of sugarcane stalks and giant wheels from their presses. When you order a glass, they chop off a few feet of sugarcane and run it through the press to make delicious juice. Just add ice, and it’s a wonderfully refreshing drink!

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The standard nuoc mia stand
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So refreshing!

Another one of our favourite things to do (or to eat/drink, because that seems to be all we do) in Dong Hoi was to visit one of the many bia hoi (fresh beer) places along the road. At maybe 16:00 or 17:00, they all start popping up on the sidewalks. They always have tiny plastic chairs and tables, and a big sign that says “bia hoi”.

Fresh beer is beer of a somewhat dubious origin, as it has no real brand name. It comes in a big keg, and it only comes once a day. When it’s gone, it’s gone! That explains the guys we saw ride up on their motorcycles and fill up 15 litre buckets of beer to take home – gotta get it while it lasts!

I’m not usually a beer drinker, but I really like bia hoi. It’s incredibly mild, since it’s made fresh every day and hasn’t had time to ferment. It’s also just a cold bubbly drink that makes the heat just a little more tolerable! And, most importantly, it’s cheap. The place we went charged just 20,000 dong for a huge pitcher (maybe 1.5 to 2 L)!

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Big sign
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Look at the site of that pitcher
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Got that glass #4 glow

Despite not really doing anything, we both had a really good time in Dong Hoi. After travelling for so long, it’s just nice to take a break and pause the sightseeing for a little while. And what better place to do that than in a small town with cheap food and drink, and friendly people!

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