Working in Đồng Hới
My quest to see as many of Vietnam’s corners, continues. After some of the most fulfilling experiences on this trip so far in the caves of Phong Nha, I was going to head north towards Hanoi through Nimh Binh before reading that a nearby city, Đồng Hới, is a fantastic and untouched beach town that has all the makings of a future resort. Pretty much that it’s the next Nha Trang, but is not yet contaminated with large hotels and uninterested tourists and that it still maintains much of its original charm. It was only 50km away, and I wasn’t about to leave a corner untouched, so I rerouted towards it. Not to mention, a little beach time is always welcome.
I found a few options online for cheap accommodation, the best option seeming to be the cozy Nam Long Hotel at $5/night. I headed in that direction hoping there’d be room and, as always, I was not let down. Unfortunately, the rest of my first impressions were let downs. Yes, my hostel was right by the water, but there was no beach. All I could see were fishing boats, which I would not like to swim around. It was also cloudy and not warm enough for a tank, which every beach commands.
This is not the first time that my first impressions were rather hasty and uncalled for. Maybe the 2 straight days of trekking through 4 caves in Phong Nha, followed by a motorbike ride between cities, although all inexplicably beautiful, may have made me a little tired and cranky that day. Đồng Hới’s sandy beach, although not right at the doorstep of my $5 hostel, turned out to be less than 1km away. As for the weather, well, I needed to learn that not every place in the world will offer tanning climate in March. I should be happy I’m not knee deep in yellow snow.
You can tell by the colour of the sky that it's not beach day. But nothing can be beautiful unless you give it a chance. With no one around, the waves speak to you alone and the wind accentuates their every word. Choose your eyes and listen. #ocean #waves #alone #listen #peace #chill #zen #wind #quiet #beach #Vietnam #donghoi #travel
Needless to say, I spent very little time at the beach, but I did check it out. There was something eerily beautiful about it. Just by looking at the grey sky, you can tell that I had no business being there, but that left it empty and quiet. The wind and the waves were so audible, creating a natural symphony that no one bothered to listen to.
Once I got my zen out of the way, I started exploring the city, and found a wealth of fantastic coffee shops and delicious seafood restaurants. The coffee shops convinced me to catch up on work, which was much needed after a few days of exclusive exploration, and if there is one thing that I love to do on my work breaks while traveling, it’s check out the local cuisine. This was a great combination.
Coffee in Đồng Hới
Tried these three out while working in Đồng Hới:
Tree Hugger Cafe – [Map]
My favorite spot in Đồng Hới. Not even in Ho Chi Minh City did I find such a hip and trendy coffee shop as the Tree Hugger Cafe. It felt like I stepped back into Williamsburg for a hot sec. It was great for working, with reliable wifi, and refillable drip coffee (which I have not seen anywhere in Vietnam) to keep you going all day. It was one of those environments when you know you should leave and get some lunch, but you just have one more thing to finish up and before you know it, it’s 3pm and holding off for an early dinner becomes a viable option.
The coffee was good and the breakfast even better. I never stayed for lunch (as you can see above) but the eggs were well cooked, and they put more fruit on your pancakes than gravity knew what to do with.
The shop was cozy and very well decorated, giving it an environmentally friendly spin, with recycled paper menus and happy messages all around. There was even a “Message on a Tree” where you can write a note about what’s on your mind and attach it to a branch. Everyone spoke English very well and was a pleasure to interact with.
Buffalo Pub – [Map]
Buffalo Pub had a livelier atmosphere than Tree Hugger. I wouldn’t want to do focus intensive work here, but it was perfect for that mundane work stuff that you always end up having to do. Timesheets, emails, talking to your clients (jk, I love them all), etc. Music was upbeat, so if you’re like me where, once you get on a roll, you need energy around you to keep you going, it was great.
Drinks and food were amazing. I had some tasty fried rice and a refreshing mango smoothy. The staff also spoke good English and were more interested in socializing than at the Tree Hugger, which fit with the overall upbeat feel. This, of course, may or may not be a good thing, depending on your tasks. It also has a pool table, which can be the perfect 15min break.
Square Coffee – [Map]
Square Coffee is one of Đồng Hới’s local spots. Sometimes, this can be interesting, but in this case it was rather boring. The only perk it has over the others is people watching and that you can say you check out local spots. That being said, boring might be good if you just need a head down work atmosphere to crank out your clients’ latest desires.
Take note though that, like many vietnamese coffee shops and restaurants, the tables are small. Bigger ones are available outside but it’s close to a busy traffic circle, which leaves you with two options: bend over your work on the small tables, or deal with the traffic noise while comfortably sitting up straight. Best thing about this joint is it’s proximity to the local market where I bought some fantastic mangos which I ate that night. In my bed. While watching House of Cards. Hey, sometimes you gotta binge.
I couldn’t find this shop on Google search or Google Maps, which shows you how off the grid it is. That being said, it is not a run down or shabby looking place, it actually looks legitimately modern. It is across the street from Quang Binh Gate, built in 1630 to protect Phu Xuan, capital of the Nguyen Lords, from a distance. That also is not on Google Maps so the Map link provided is just the closest ATM I could find to them.
Food in Đồng Hới
Pleasantly surprised by the seafood in Đồng Hới, shrimp pancakes were a local specialty.
Tu Quy – [Map]
Got myself a shrimp pancake. It took a little while to order because no one spoke English so I had to do a lot of Google Translate, but it was well worth it. It was DIY, with the pancakes and veggies separate, but they were fantastic. At the end, I had some lettuce leafs left which I used to get the rest of that sauce in my mouth. Yum.
Phố Biển – [Map]
This place gets style points for being on a boat on Đồng Hới’s inlet. Not a dock, a legit boat. You can feel it sway with the waves, which gives you a very authentic “at sea” experience. They have plenty of seafood options. I was offered a very fresh crab for D400, which is no doubt a great deal, but settled for a more backpacker friendly fish dish for D200. Yes, this place is a little pricier, but they won’t disappoint. The fish was fantastic and again, smothered in a fantastic sauce, this time composed of pineapples and tomatoes. Used the rest of my rice to make sure I soak it all up.
Nhà hàng HƯNG VIỆT – [Map]
Similar to Phố Biển but not on the water and therefore a little cheaper. But options were similar and I actually enjoyed the sauce here a little more. I think you’ll be hardpressed to find bad seafood in Đồng Hới.
The Beach – [Map]
Yes, all along it. Go there around 7pm and you’ll see plenty of the typical street food tables and chairs lined up along the boardwalk, each offering you their latest catch. This is as Vietnam as it gets, seafood street food freshly caught. On a warm night, this would be the perfect dinner. Waves splashing in, sun setting, and freshly grilled fish ready for you to dig into. There’s no landmark on Google Maps for the beach so I just listed a nearby hotel.
Shrimp pancakes everywhere!! Just drive around and you’ll find them. A friendly local was eating one as I was walking out of the gym and I mimed asking him where he got it from. He couldn’t explain but got on his bike and led me to it. Man people are nice here! Obviously this stand’s location is volatile and I therefore didn’t bother listing it, but once he showed me that one place, I started noticing them everywhere. Do a little exploration, it makes for a great mid afternoon snack!
So as you can see, I had a great time. Just because I came to a beach town, doesn’t mean the beach is all it has to offer. Just goes to show that every place deserves a look under the covers before being labeled as mediocre. And imagine if the sun had been out! Đồng Hới could be even better!