Much ado about a well
Published/Last edited or updated: 21st September, 2017
Of the 80 or so ancient wells located in Hoi An, Ba Le Well is the most well known because it was once considered key to the town's signature cao lau noodle. Thought to have been built in the 10th century by the Cham people, an entire mythology has blossomed around the well, with fanciful stories of mystical connections and fairies.
Ba Le Well is located down the alley running north behind 45 Phan Chai Trinh Street, just up from the popular and tasty Ba Le Well Restaurant. Once a hard to find spot, now you can't miss the easy-to-see UNESCO sign.
Ba Le Well is looked after by Mr Ba Lo Le, a rather ancient, and maybe a little away-with-the-fairies himself guardian who 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 making tea and cooking traditional medicinal watercress soup xi ma, which without this special well water is said to be tasteless.
One family we spoke to tried to convince us that the keeper of the well was almost as old as the well itself, with the strong medicinal powers of the water and its spirits acting as a youthful elixir to keeping him strong and healthy even at the ripe old age of 10,054.
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 now built their own well to save them time. From this well springs a similar alum-rich water, which they mix with ash, said to give the noodle its chewy texture.
Is the well worth seeking out? Well, only if you are passing by, perhaps as a diversion on your way to chow down at Ba Le Well Restaurant. Time your visit right and you may bump into Mr Ba Lo Le -- at around 15:00 or at dawn -- and meet one of the real characters of Hoi An. He may share a little of his own medicinal tipple, which almost certainly does not come from the well.
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you’ll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
Our top 10 other sights and activities in and around Hoi An