Jul 20 2012
Of the 80 or so ancient wells located in Vietnam’s Hoi An, Ba Le Well is possibly the most talked about — along with being the most difficult to find. Water from the well, thought to have been built in the 10th century by the Cham people, is famed for its use in the town’s famed cao lau noodle. An entire mythology has blossomed around the well, including stories of mystical connections to fairies and a belief that the water is the coolest and sweetest in Hoi An.
One family I spoke to tried to convince me that the keeper of the well was almost as old as the well itself, with the strong medicinal powers of the water and its water spirits acting as a youthful elixir to keep him strong and healthy even at the ripe old age of 10,054 — although it’s possible my Vietnamese let me down after indulging in some rice wine made from cooked glutinous rice, herbs and the sweet Ba Le Well water.
Ba Le Well is located down the alley behind 45 Phan Chau Trinh Street, just up from the must-visit Ba Le Well restaurant. The easiest route is to take the first right after the traffic lights at the top of Le Loi and Tran Hung Dao Streets and follow the alley until you get to a Nguyen Coffee sign (that doesn’t really narrow it down much, so I’ve included a photo below). Take the first left hand alley and on your right, that big square concrete thing? Take a look down it — that’s the Ba Le Well.
Ba Le Well is looked after by the rather well suited ancient, and maybe a little away-with-the-fairies himself, Mr Ba Lo Le, who recently plunged (sorry) all his money into restoring the well. Every day Mr Ba Lo Le takes the water from the well and delivers it to poor families nearby, who use the sacred water for cooking xi ma, a traditional medicinal watercress soup, which without the Ba Le Well water is said to be tasteless, and for making tea — but never for washing. These poor families have their own wells, but the water from them is undrinkable.
It seems that the Ba Le Well water’s use in the cao lau noodle has been put on hold for now, as the Ngoc family — the only family in town holding the recipe for the noodle and who are responsible for supplying the whole town each day — have built their own well to save them time. From this well springs a similar alum-rich water, which they mix with ash that’s said to give the noodle its chewy texture. The government is keen for the family to share its secret noodle recipe to prevent the cao lau noodle disappearing with the Ngoc family, so I’d like to think the Ba Le Well and the eccentric Mr Ba Lo Le will once again, one day, be the town’s main supplier.
Ba Le Well may not be one of Hoi An’s must-see attractions, although it is one of the most famous. Time your visit right to bump into Mr Ba Lo Le — at around 15:00 or at dawn — and you will get to meet one of the real faces of Hoi An. He may share a little of his own medicinal tipple, which almost certainly does not come from the well!
Ba Le Well
45 Phan Chau Trinh St, Hoi An
Ba Le Well Restaurant
51 Phan Chau Trinh St, Hoi An
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Tags: cao lau