Hoi An

5/6/2011

We had an 8am flight to Da Nang, so this meant we had to catch a taxi at 5:15am to allow for an hour drive and traffic. I was surprised at how many people were up and about so early in the morning. People were out getting their morning exercise, playing badminton, setting up their stall for the day, butchering a cow on the side of the road ready to sell the meat (it was pretty freaky seeing a cow rib cage in the street!)

By 6:15 we were at the boarding gate, so we sat down a a cafe to order a cup of tea. They had two brands of tea on the list: Lipton and Dilmah. Since mum drinks Dilmah at home we both ordered a cup…little did we know that it was strawberry tea! To make it worse, hey don’t put in fresh milk, or even long life milk, they put in sweetened condensed milk. So there we sat with our two cups of strawberry sugar tea. Mum couldn’t drink it so she ordered lipton tea, and while it wasn’t fantastic I drank the two cups of strawberry tea.

We got to Da Nang to 9:30 and the next challenge was to find a taxi that would take us to Hoi An for a reasonable price. The difficulty here is that taxi scams are a major problem in the area. On a bus a few days ago we heard a girl saying she had been dumped in the middle of nowhere by the taxi driver, and then he demanded more money. So in hot weather she had to lug her baggage for several km’s. So we were a little tense, but luckily our driver took us where we needed to go. The only annoying thing was that a few blocks before our hotel he stopped and gave his friend a ‘lift’. She keep chattering to us to try convince us to visit her clothes shop. She was a bit pushy. Later on when we were wandering the streets she spotted us and virtually dragged us to her shop. We had a little flick at the catalogue and said we didn’t need anything. I hate being forced to go places against my will, and I certainly wasn’t going to spend money with someone like that!

So anyway, the hotel is basically in the middle of the city and is a bit of a luxury, it has hot water (every other hotel so far has forced us into old showers) and a swimming pool.

From the hotel it is only a few minutes walk to the ‘old city’ and the river. There are heaps off tiny little streets and laneways, its quite an adventure just to wander around. As many of the buildings you walk past are shops, I was quite surprised that they aren’t all hassling you to come into the shop. If you do go in for a look, sometimes they try to get you to buy stuff, but not all the time…its great to have that more laid back approach, it makes shopping more pleasant.

So in regards to shopping, Hoi An is very well known for all the tailors. It is quite cheap to get tailor made clothes. So in the spirit of things that is exactly what I did. At one shop I picked out a few designs for business shirts and a skirt, and at another shop I picked out some nice business-ish dresses. So they got my measurements, took a deposit and asked me to come back in two days. All these clothes together only cost around $80 or so…bargain!! Just keep your fingers crossed that they fit right and look good!

In addition to shopping we bought a ticket for the old city. This provides admission to 5 sights around the city, cultural buildings, temples etc. The good thing about it is that it doesn’t have to be used all in one day. So over the four days we can check out different things when we feel like it. The one thing we did do was check out the Japanese covered bridge..it was pretty. We had actually crossed it and continued on our way before we realised that just the bridge was the ‘sight’ covered by the ticket. Had I realised sooner I would have walked slower over it!!

For the majority of the day we just wandered the streets, looking in shops, and stopping for food and drink.

The other thing we wanted to see as part of the ticket, was a traditional dancing show, so we dutifully turned up at 8:45 ready for a 9:30 show. But once we got there we saw a sign that said “every day except Sunday”. So we post-poned that one and headed back to the hotel.

On the way to the hotel we bumped into Clive, who we had met on the Ha Long Bay trip, so we stopped to join him for a drink. Was great to have a catch up chat!!

6/6/2011

Our day started with a cooking class with the Thuan Tinh cooking school. We were picked up from the hotel and taken to the local markets. Here we wandered around and bought fresh herbs and vegetables, chicken bones, beef, prawns and pineapple to use for the dishes we were to learn to cook.

The market was another one of those scary smelly experiences where you choose your ingredients while they are still alive, and it is killed and butchered on the spot for you. The other freaky aspect was that the paths between the stall holders were tiny and crowded with people, but even then people on scooters would ride through and toot for you to move. I almost got run over a few times!

Once we had our ingredients we headed to the river and hopped on a boat, this took us for about a half hour trip up river to the island of Thuan Tinh. The location we arrived at was on old holiday resort that didn’t look like it had been used in 20 years. Here we were each given a bottle of water and a conical Vietnamese hat to wear – it was another scorcher of a day.

The first thing we did on the island was to hope in a little row boat and row to the main village on the island. The trip was down a little river flanked by water coconut palms. It was gorgeous. In the village we me a local family and they gave us some fried rice pancakes to taste. They were interesting but nothing special.

The main reason we had headed to the village was not for the pancakes, but to make some rice milk. There was a big stone grinder thing. You put the rice in the top together with some water and turn the grinding stone until the water was gone, the stuff you ground up Comes out at the bottom. You then pour back in what came out, and you keep going until you end up with thick white rice milk.

We took our freshly ground rice milk and rowed back to the old resort where we would do some cooking. Here we cooked four dishes: Vietnamese pork & shrimp spring rolls, crispy fried pancakes with pork and shrimp, beef noodle salad and the traditional beef noodle soup (using the chicken stock we made using the chicken bones we got at the market – I had been stressing when I saw chicken bones as an ingredient, but as a stock, I wasn’t expected to chew any bones!)
Everything we made was really tasty, and it was such a fun experience.

Back in Hoi An, we did some more wandering and some more shopping. At one jewellery store the girl running the store had the most adorable 2 month old puppy (Jack Russell I think). So I promptly plonked myself down on the floor of the shop and played with puppy. Such a cutie, she was called Mimi and she loved tummy rubs and just wanted to chew my fingers.

When we were tired of walking we sat down at a cafe and wrote some postcards while sipping tropical fruit mocktails. It was so relaxing! Hoi An is such a different pace to Hanoi. Its a very refreshing change.

In the evening we had planned to go see the traditional dancing show, since it had been closed on Sunday. We had learned that it was Vietnamese New Year, so being a public holiday the show was to be post-poned for another night. Instead we took a taxi to the nearby beach Cua Dai, we were told that this was the place to go for seafood.

At Cua Dai we wandered a short way along the beach, and caught the tail end of a gorgeous sunset. The water at the beach was full of people swimming..hundreds of people!! But we weren’t there to swim, so we wandered along the beach a bi before heading to the nearby streets to find a restaurant.

We sat down at a cute little restaurant and ordered some beer, prawn spring rolls, charcoal grilled squid and pineapple and stir fried crab and vegetable noodles. It was delicious!

Something I have noticed here is that it is often cheaper to buy beer than it is to buy water. It seems stupid, but either way I’m enjoying the local beers. For those of you dumb-founded at my sudden beer drinking, I don’t mind beer, but only when the weather is hot.

7/6/2011

At 4:45am we were sitting outside our hotel waiting to go on our ‘sunrise’ tour of My Son temple ruins. I was getting a little agitated because it was getting lighter and lighter. Eventually we got picked up, then we had to pick up more people, then we had to stop for breakfast and by the time we were on the way the sun was already up. We, and a few others had only booked the sunrise tour to see the sunrise over the ruins. It turned out it was really only an ‘early start’ tour, to get to the ruins before the day got too hot and before the other tourists. So we were pretty disappointed.

Aside from the lack of sunrise, the ruins were beautiful, and it was amazing that they are 1200 years old, and even after Vietnam got bombed (you could see bomb craters around the place), some of it is still standing.

Once we got back to the hotel we had some breakfast and a cup of tea. Then headed off to wander the streets once more. We spotted a place with awesome sandals, so ended up getting fitted for new sandals – got to choose the design and materials. Continuing along we found some gorgeous jewellery, and then we stopped for a massage. It was more expensive than on Cat Ba Island, here we paid $5 for a 30 minute foot massage. The guy was offering to do a full body massage for $10, so we may go back.

From there we headed back into the old part of town where we found a nice restaurant overlooking the river, and had some lunch. After that we headed to see a traditional folk music/dance performance at the Hoi An Handicraft workshop.

The performance was pretty cool, the band had lots of funky old school instruments, the singing wasn’t fantastic to listen to, but the dancing was beautiful.

Once the performance finished we looked around the workshop, we saw people making lanterns, carving wood, carving stone, embroidering pictures and making jute sleeping mats. It was really interesting to see how each of these things were done.

By the evening we went back to the optometrist to fit and collect our new glasses, then off to the first tailor to fit and collect shirts, and to the last tailor to fit and collect dresses. Everything we had made is fabulous! We still have to go fit out new sandals tomorrow.

We spent some time wandering around before finding a nice restaurant for a dinner. The place we went was great and cheap! It was 15cents for a glass of beer! They also offered set menu’s. So for a four course dinner and beer it cost a whopping $3.65!!

After dinner we popped in o a bar/cafe to have a drink before heading back to the hotel, what I found really amusing was that they had an air-conditioner on to cool the place down…it was set to 31degrees!!

Just another quick observation, Hoi An is stunning in the evening, almost anywhere you go you will see lanterns hanging in trees, on buildings strung across the road etc. Its enchanting!

8/6/2011

As our last day in Hoi An and with no set plans we started the day by sleeping in, at least mum did. I was unsuccessful at my attempt to sleep in and was wide awake by 6am. We had a leisurely breakfast before starting on packing all our purchases … will it all fit?

Todays plans include collecting our new sandals, getting a massage, enjoying some good food, wandering around taking in the atmosphere, and then flying out to Ho Chi Minh City in the afternoon.

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