Jesse does pretty much all the research and planning for our trips, so when he told me that he was thinking of going somewhere other than Phu Quoc (where we’d originally planned to spend our beach time in Vietnam), I assumed he had his reasons. Traveling with Daniel creates additional criteria we have to play with (Can we buy fruits and veggies close by? Is there somewhere we can cook for him? Will there be enough to keep him occupied? Can we get around on foot?) and I trusted that Jesse was re-adjusting his destination decisions accordingly.
Not quite staying “in the south” anymore, we found ourselves flying north to the Quy Nhon airport which is about a third of the way up the coast. From there we took an hour long taxi ride passing through some smaller towns, alongside many picturesque rice paddies, and then past the main city of Quy Nhon to a tiny fishing village called Bai Xep. It was a surprisingly relaxing ride for us, as Daniel fell asleep in the carrier after a pretty frantic airplane ride so Jesse and I were able to take in all the sights in peace and quiet. Passing through those smaller roadside towns immediately brought back memories of our awesome days spent on the back of the Easy Rider motorcycles in 2013 which really was the beginning of our love affair with this country. It was nice to reminisce together without having to distract Daniel the entire time!
The taxi can only drop you off at the entrance of the village as no cars can drive through. So we started to walk along the main road, passing by a schoolyard and towards the “centre” of town where we were met by Alex, owner of the hotel we were staying at which is called Haven. As he continued to lead us along through the village, we passed by many of the locals sitting in their homes going about the business and were met with a few smiles and a few confused looks. When we reached the end of the road (the total walk taking maybe 5 min), we could see a clear opening towards the ocean, with a golden sand beach just ahead. A pretty breathtaking sight.
We’ve always enjoyed our vacation beach time, but knew things would be different with Daniel. No more lazy days filled with hours of swimming and hanging out on the beach for us this time around! It didn’t help that we discovered in Saigon that Daniel has a growing fear of water. When we tried to take him in the shower for the first time, we were met with terrified screams at just the sight of the water…and it only got worse when we tried to put him under it. We eventually gave in and bought a big plastic bin to give him baths instead (for whatever reason, he loves the bathtub) as we didn’t want to traumatize him every night before bed. So we weren’t quite sure how he would feel about going into the ocean. We just held our breaths and hoped for the best. Not unlike most of our parenting challenges this far!
We ended up staying a total of 6 nights at Haven in Bai Xep, which is a good indication of how much we liked it there. We even developed a bit of a daily routine that I think helped Daniel adjust as well. We’d wake up early and make the short walk into the centre of the village where the 4-5 food vendors congregate around the town’s well. There we’d check out what was on offer that day. Most of the time it was some variation of a rice noodle based dish covered in green onions, ginger, prawn flakes and fish sauce. Some days there would be a mung bean type treat on offer, but sadly not every day. There was also a nice black peppery thick noodle soupy dish which always hit home for us. Everything could be sided with sweet chili sauce. If we were really lucky, one lady would have a giant vat of red bean sticky rice that she covered in peanuts and sugar and some other sweets that we would order as take away to keep for lunch. We’d sit down on the tiny plastic stools, order up our breakfast and eat with the locals. No meal ever cost us more than 5,000 VND which is about $0.30 CDN. It was nice to know we weren’t getting charged a tourist premium for once! Out first morning drew many stares until one lovely lady decided to take Daniel from us an carry him around so we could eat. From then on, every morning I think they may have just gotten used to us, as someone new would always come over to take him from us. There is no shortage of babies in this village, and just as you might imagine, everyone is happy to help out to entertain and carry them around to give you a break. We were so grateful!! And the meals were always so tasty as well. Before heading back, we would also pick up a few Banh Mi sandwiches and a freshly roasted rice cracker (Daniel loved them) to have for lunch later.
After that breakfast, we’d return to Haven for their buffet breakfast (yup, we really fueled up in the morning!) which was always a delight. Banana pancakes, scrambled eggs with veggies or fried eggs were the daily mains. And then there was also homemade yogurt and the best fruit salad ever (we think the tangy passionfruit was the key component.) The best part was that Daniel seemed to love everything they served (even the eggs!) so it was one less meal we had to worry about for him. After our meal we would usually play in the common area for a bit, enjoying the views of the ocean beside us. Daniel loved playing and standing on the benches, and throwing all the books from the coffee table to the ground.
During Daniel’s morning nap, we would leave the baby monitor with Alex or with the ladies working in the kitchen and go run into the ocean for a morning dip. It was a real treat for us to have this time alone and to be able to do things together that we just couldn’t with Daniel. We mostly just swam, threw the frisbee around and bopped along with the waves. When we had extra time, we’d laze around in the beach loungers and hammocks at Haven, or watch the local fishermen shuttle back and forth from shore. It was such a nice break for us, and we looked forward to it every day. Amazingly, Daniel never woke up early from this morning nap so we always got this time to ourselves.
After Daniel woke, and after he started to get whiny playing in our room, we’d head downstairs for lunch. Jesse and I would have our Banh Mis from the morning market and whatever else we might have picked up in the village, and Daniel would eat his lunch too. Alex and his wife Hanh kindly added on an order of fruits and veggies to their restaurant order so we could have some food to cook for Daniel for our time here. They also let us use the kitchen at Haven each day so we could prepare his meals which was an immense help. We couldn’t have asked for a better arrangement.
After lunch we’d take another trip into the village in case there was something else worth checking out. Most days we’d just say hello to the different people and children around, and some days we’d find little treats like red bean dessert drinks to pick up. Once we found one of the morning vendor ladies selling bowls of our favourite hot, fresh tofu dessert (called che dau hu) with a perfect ginger syrup and a splash of sweet coconut milk to top it off! It was so good we both ordered seconds. On the other side of the village there is another beachfront (not one the tourists frequent, as its overrun with garbage and debris) with many more fishing boats around. One day we ran into Huong, one of the ladies who worked at Haven, and she invited us into her home to meet her husband and mother. She offered us some tasty yams to eat as well and we stayed for a bit, trying (but failing) to have a conversation with her husband. We did manage to find out that he was 43 years old, and communicated back our ages in turn. Other than that, we were just lost on what the other hand motions meant!
In the afternoon, the weather would start to get really hot so we would try to nap during Daniel’s second nap as well. Or we’d work on the blog or do some planning for the rest of the trip downstairs in the common area. By the time Daniel woke, usually it was late afternoon so the sun was behind the hills behind the beach. We’d then take a nice long walk along the beach. These walks were so calm and peaceful…and always to our surprise, with so few tourists around. Often at this time of the day there would be a steady stream of workers (local or migrant) heading home from their construction jobs at the larger resort further down the beach that was doing some renovations. As they walked along the beach, some would meet up with their children who might also playing along the beach. It was the perfect time of day to be out, and all the locals knew it too. They would congregate together in groups on the beach, chatting away and tending to their babies. Flocks of children would often also be having a ball in the water or around the rocks on the sand. We would walk along the beach as far as the tide would let us that day and then turn around. As we got closer to Haven on our return trip, we would stop and set up a blanket for Daniel and I to sit on and have a snack while Jesse ran into the water for an afternoon swim. As we suspected, Daniel was still pretty frightened by the water. We tried to take him in on our first day and were met with terrifying screams. So after that we didn’t try again for a few days. We hoped that the long walks beside the beach, seeing all the kids playing in the water and seeing Jesse dive in every day might help. On the fourth day we dunked his feet in again. He was hesitant at first, and managed to hold it together before the tears started streaming again. Still, it was progress!
As the days went by, it seemed that the locals got used to seeing us for these afternoon walks and often would come by to try and chat. Most were just interested in Daniel – was he a boy or a girl? how many months old? why couldn’t he walk yet? At least, this is what we think they were asking us! We discovered that the babies around here are all seemingly much bigger than Daniel (there was one 4 month old who literally looked the same size) and seem to start walking at a much younger age (well, Daniel is a bit of late bloomer). They also don’t wear diapers here, so when moms tried to peer into Daniel’s pants to see if he was a boy or girl they were not expecting to find a tightly wrapped, pouffy disposable diaper in their way! Many would want to hold him, and we were happy to let them if Daniel was in a good mood. The other babies and young kids seemed to love him too – often trying to kiss him or hug him or pick him up or feed him. Daniel, ever the introvert, always just gave them concerned looks and start whining. Every so often he would crack a smile. It’s so much fun to watch the kids here out and about. They all seem so fearless and happy and outgoing. We can only hope Daniel will one day be able to frolic about like them (maybe with them!) when he is a little older.
On the beach there were also the usual confused looks from the adults and children about me – always seeming shocked that I could not speak Vietnamese. One day a few younger girls came to see Daniel and one of them did a “point-at-Jesse, point-at-Andrea, give thumbs up”, which we can only assume meant “you two are married, right?” Oh how we wish we could speak Vietnamese, so we could answer all their burning questions!
After the walk, we’d go order ourselves a nice dinner from the restaurant next door to Haven called Big Tree (also a hostel). It’s owned by Alex and Hanh as well, and the local ladies who cook there really serve up some incredibly tasty meals! Fish, beef, chicken and other seafoods always served with rice and veggies. On our last night we had an incredible BBQ feast with shrimp, calamari and pork that was outstanding. We’d eat our meals back at Haven where it was a bit quieter and Daniel was less overwhelmed. Some nights the ladies who worked there would take Daniel from us to play, and we would enjoy some alone time to eat dinner. Such a nice treat!
When dinner was done, we’d head back upstairs to bathe Daniel (thankfully Alex and Hanh loaned us a plastic bin to use!) and hit the sack when he went down for the night. The most hilarious thing I think we’d do all day is turn on the “Mountain River” white noise app on my iPhone at night as part of Daniel’s bedtime routine, even though we had the actual ocean waves sound happening right outside! We used to think we might watch some movies in bed while Daniel slept, but we forgot how much beach days (and babies) can drain you. Jesse commented once how these nights were definitely the longest stretches of sleep we’d gotten since Daniel was born because, for the first time, we were actually asleep the whole time he was!
We really treasured these days in Bai Xep. It was both relaxing and fun for all of us. We loved the local interaction we got from the villagers, the lovely staff here at Haven (Alex, Hanh, Jenny, Huong and all the others!) as well as all the other adults, children and babies whose names we’ll never know! As much as we love the hustle bustle of big cities, sometimes you need a few days of beach and beautiful ocean to refuel and feel whole again. The simple routine we had there was exactly what we needed after some hectic days in Saigon. Jesse really found us a place that struck the perfect balance between getting some nice beach-filled fun while still being able to experience a bit of local rural life. I think the one thing we really came to appreciate during our time there was how much having Daniel with us has enhanced our travel experience. He is like a magnet for people to come over and talk to you, and I’m sure we would never have gotten to meet as many people and children as we did without him. Despite imposing some new constraints on how we can travel, he has really opened up new doors as well. One day I’ll have to remember to thank him for that!
Actual Travel Dates: March 20 – 26, 2015