Vietnam 2010

A whistle-stop trip from north to south (and a hop next door)

Days 8-9: Hoi An

Posted by activeafrica on March 2, 2010

Day 8

Our stay on the junk was an abridged version of the 3-night, 4-day stay, so the following morning, we pulled in at the Ben Beo jetty shortly after 7am. After paying Slo and collecting our passports, we made our way to the Hoan Long office to buy our tickets back to Hanoi. The 4-hour ferry-and-bus journey (once again accompanied by a violent, interminable Chinese mob/action movie) was relatively painless and saw us back in Hanoi with sufficient time to take a taxi to the Church hotel to collect our stored bag and have a last bowl of phở from La Place. Then it was off to the airport for our Vietnam Airlines flight to Da Nang. On arrival in Da Nang, we were met by one of the B&R drivers who bundled us into his comfortable, air-conditioned minivan, threw the bags in with the two new Canondales in the back and drove us silently to Hoi An. We arrived at the Hà An hotel approximately 12 hours after disembarking the junk in Cat Ba. I have to credit Chris for having the foresight to book a comfortable hotel after two nights on the junk. The Hà An was the perfect option for our stay in Hoi An (please see the Hoi An Travel info page for more information on the Hà An hotel). My only complaint is that we weren’t there long enough..

We checked in, dropped our bags, took a shower (the first in 3 days – our last encounter with shower water was the morning of our full day trek into the Sa Pa hills) and headed out at around 8pm to the market. Chris had decided he needed some tailored silk shirts and set a course for Thu Thuy Silk. “Think of something you want made”, he says on the way. What woman can a decision that important while negotiating the sights, smells and sounds of a market for the first time? I decided to seek inspiration on arrival at the store.

I have to say that I was impressed with the way Chris charmed the ladies in the store. He decided to play important, by dropping the name of a woman to whom he thought he had been introduced previously. She was called over and stared blankly at Chris… Nope, never seen him before… That was when he turned on that inimitable charm that soon had all of them eating coyly out of his hand. Fortunately one or two understood the value of keeping the wife happy and brought me a pile of catalogues and magazine clippings to browse.

I have to say that I’m am now a believer. However interesting it sounded previously, I couldn’t stir up a huge amount of enthusiasm for having clothes made, probably because clothes shopping in general and dressing rooms, in particular, are usually deeply traumatic, depressing experiences. But I figured that I could potentially avoid the pain by steering clear of items such as trousers and opt for high-waisted dresses, which is exactly what I did. At that stage, I owned three dresses, one of which I wore regularly and one occasionally. In no time at all, we had measurements taken and sketches made of two cute dresses, one in chiffon and satin (!), the other in cotton and a waist-length wool jacket. “Come back tomorrow at 2.30pm for your first fitting” we were told.

Then it was time for dinner. We headed for the Morning Glory restaurant because Chris knew that the kitchen closed around 10pm and it was already close to 9.30pm. I forget what we had in addition to the dim sum and ban xeo, but the food, although not inexpensive, was quick, fresh and delicious. Had we arrived a little earlier, we may have been able to join the evening cooking school. Chris had wanted to arrange a cooking school visit to Red Bridge the following day, something I was pretty keen to do, but with our severely limited time, a day of biking took precedence.

After dinner, we went across the road to finish off the evening with a chocolate truffle from the Cargo Club. A walk around the old city worked off dinner and we returned to the hotel beaten and buggered after yet another long day.

Day 9

Our full day in Hoi An was definitely one of the most enjoyable of the trip. We were up early to explore the food market before the tourists got there. The previous evening we had walked through the market on the way to dinner and had to fight for walking space with rats the size of cats as we gagged and retched at the smell of putrefying fish, meat and other less familiar organic materials. In the morning, the market was bright with fresh, colourful vegetables, salad leaves and home-made noodles. Close to the river, trade was brisk at stall after stall of fresh fish, meat and poultry. Once again, Chris was sent ahead to scout for dog carcasses, which apparently he found, but which fortuitously eluded me. In the central section of the market, a large variety of fruits, vegetables, greens and the occasional basket of duck, chicken and quail eggs made an impressive display. Further toward the town, ladies sat with their baskets of fresh noodles and rice paper and beyond that, the food stalls were dishing up steaming bowls of phở, breakfast pancakes and fresh fruit. With little tolerance for rubber-necking tourists, the market-goers and stall-holders pushed, shoved and bustled their way down the narrow aisles as we ambled along, taking in the sights, sounds and smells. After buying a couple of local sweets and a kilogram of Trung Nguyen coffee, we made our way back to the hotel for a huge breakfast. Of course, I had to try the local breakfast buffet and unaccustomed to eating breakfast before 10am, managed one bowl of a phở-type soup which filled me to the point of bursting.

By 9am we were on our bikes and heading out of town. Chris wanted to show me the ‘garden ride’ that they offer on the B&R tour and after a bit of a shaky start, we found the road to the Red Bridge cooking school and the start of the bike route. We spent the rest of the morning and well into the afternoon ambling along the roads and footpaths around Hoi An, which offered a really informative perspective of ‘suburban’ life in a Vietnamese town. On the way back into the town, we stopped to take pictures of some of the propaganda posters on the light poles, hung in anticipation of Tet. Chris suggested a coffee, so we pulled over to one of the street-side coffee houses, ordered two ca phe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee) and sat down on the ubiquitous kiddies’ chairs to drink it. Apparently happy to have us around, the shop owner brought us each an iced green tea (Chris’s least favourite….) and each time we tried to leave, offered us something else.

We were already late for our garment fitting and we rushed back to the hotel to change out of our bike clothes, jumped back on the bikes and headed through the market to the Thu Thuy store. I was astounded when I tried on my garments. Each fit perfectly. The seamstress insisted that one or two minor alterations be made and Chris wanted the arms on his shirts taken in, so we were told to come back again around 9pm.

That left a bit of time to see the old town before dinner, so I bought a ticket that allowed me to see some of the museums, old houses, assembly halls and cultural centres of the town. Chris had seen it all before, so he ate food, watched people and hung with the locals at each location.

That evening, we had dinner booked at Mango Mango, a restaurant familiar to Chris and one of his favourites on the B&R tour. Another evening of ‘not-inexpensive’ eating, we enjoyed a fusion meal of Western and Vietnamese that was well worth the price. Just before we finished eating, the owner, Duk, came down to see us. A young, hip, super-friendly guy, very easy on the eye, Duk had just finished cooking dinner for a group. We chatted for a while and he left to get back to the group. When we asked for the bill a short while later, we were told the entire meal was on the house. No amount of persuasion would convince them otherwise. We estimated that it came to around $40 with wine so we left that as a tip for the staff and left feeling that we had a new friend in Hoi An.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped in at Thu Thuy Silk to collect our new clothes (which looked amazing!!). After a busy day, we were finally able to enjoy our hotel room and both collapsed onto the soft white duvet to watch TV, a luxury that lasted approximately 30 minutes before we both crashed.


One Response to “Days 8-9: Hoi An”

  1. Mariola Fouche said

    After all of that, I HAVE to see pics of those clothes – especially the DRESSES (Jacquie in a dress:I have to witness this before I die…!)

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