24.01.2013 - 30.01.2013 27 °C
We opted to take the very economical 5 dollar 5 hour bus trip from Hue to Hoi An and arrived in Hoi An at about 13:00 - when we got there we found out that the trip was actually only 170kms so you can imaging what a frustrating bumpy ride it is - but for 5 dollars you really can't complain!
Unfortunately travelling had taken its toll on me and I'd picked up the flu so I crashed and slept for the rest of the afternoon while Greg explored the town. When I woke up Greg took me on a tour of Hoi An which is absolutely beautiful. It's as beautiful as Luang Prabang but with amazing crafts and shopping. The shop fronts are all ancient and painted yellow with dark wood shutters and every shop either has a tailor or some kind of craftsman selling their wares. Tailors make up 80% of the shops but dotted in between are lantern makers, leather smiths, silversmiths and some amazing designers selling handmade silk garments. At night they close off the streets to pedestrians so its really nice and relaxed - besides the constant haggling 'helloooo!' 'where you froooom?' 'You want see my tailor?' 'Nice clothes!'
Greg and I did the rounds and started to scope out potential tailors the choice is endless and the quality varies so we decided give ourselves a few more days to make the right choice - added to this it wasn't long until we realised that this was truely the most amazing place, it has it all, the most incredible markets, shops and tailoring outfits, wonderful food and a briliant beach, all surrounded by beautiful rice paddies. The prices are all quite reasonable and the region attracts a different kind of tourist, and so as things turned out an original booking of 2 nights turned out to be a week.
I (Greg) have been contracted to do some remote work for the company I used to work for in London, but this time working directly with a team in the US on the roll out of a treasury application throughout markets in the APAC region. Building on my past experience, my location in terms of time zones, and the flexibility of working remotely from anywhere for 1 to 2 hrs a day at most suits us fine and fits in with our travel plans, but is now an additional consideration we need to take into account for our travels moving forward.
The first day in Hoi An was taken up with shopping for Greg's laptop so he could start working again so we had to take a taxi the city of Dan Nang (a fast developing city, not a tourist hot spot by any means) which is about a 30 min drive from Hoi An. After asking a few locals we were confident that we would find a computer shop as it's Vietnam's third largest city so off we went. Well we got to the shop and on first impressions it looked great - 4 stories specialising in computers surely we would find what we were looking for. We headed for the section we needed and things went downhill once we realised that no one spoke any English - have you ever tried to by a computer using hand signals? Luckily they had wi fi so we turned to google! We started making progress when suddenly we heard a familiar voice - not only the first westerner we had seen that day but a South African accent?! We turned around to see Barry Hilton running around in a bit of a panic! (For the sake of our UK friends and others around the world, Barry is probably SA's no 1 stand up comedian). Turns out "the cousin" was struggling to get his showreel off his iPhone while working on a cruise and had stopped off to try and solve his problem! Incredible, so we had a quick chat and swapped stories, both absolutely shocked we had bumped into someone not only from SA but from PE, small world. Anyways we had a good chuckle, had a few photos and a man hug and we off on our separate ways.
Hoi An is a cultural centre and the people are so friendly and very proud of their heritage. The town is surrounded by rice paddies, cumquat plantations and flower gardens so the photo opportunities are endless, we hired a scooter and bicycles a few times while we were there and were thoroughly entertained riding along the country roads taking in the scenery and waving to all the friendly locals. The friendliness of the people is pretty much the polar opposite of those in the North - in many respect we felt like we had stepped into anther country. The children run alongside your bike and wave to you. Everywhere you go people are happy to have a chat.
We found a lovely little restaurant called Miss Ly's which offered an amazing tasting menu which was right down my street - fried wontons, white roses, fresh spring rolls and a delicious Pho! Greg also found a divine stir fry! Finally - the Vietnamese cuisine we had been waiting for! While we were in Hoi An we didn't have a bad or even an average meal - the food was absolutely delicious, fresh, healthy and reasonable priced too.
Unbeknown to us we had arrived just in time for Hoi An full moon festival (nothing remotely like the infamous full moon party in Thailand that we hope to avoid like the plague) which happens every month to celebrate the full moon. As the sun set local families began to arrive at the riverfront and set up their lantern shops selling colourful paper lanterns which you can place in the river for good luck. Within a few minutes the whole river was lit up with lanterns bobbing along in the moonlight - it was absolutely magical. Everywhere you looked there were little children dressed in traditional clothing selling trays of candle lanterns (a UK health and safety nightmare but very cute none the less!). We grabbed a couple of cold beers and climbed aboard a gondola type row boat for a hr ride through all the lanterns on the river courtesy of our friendly elderly Vietnamese rower.
The food in Hoi An was nothing short of superb. Every time we ate we were mesmerised with the flavours, quality and value for money. Some big claims were made by both of us, for Greg: best soup ever (spicey chilli beef noodle soup), for Cath: best fish ever (wrapped in banana leaf) and best prawns (grilled with chili and garlic) ever! Massive claims we know but we will stand by them.
While we were there we also decided to book ourselves on a cooking course. We accompanied our guide down to market early morning, who showed and spoke us through all the various foods and ingredients. She expanded on the Vietnamese cuisine and all the little bits that are more typical of this region in central Vietnam. The market was a normal working market, not touristy at all, and loads of all sorts of things that don't even shock us anymore, but are still nevertheless very interesting to see. We made our way to a small boat and ventured down-river to the delta / wetlands of the small river that runs through Hoi An, through palm mangrove type swamps and ended up on a small Island, the location of our cooking class for the day. Preceding firing up the gas and going through all the dishes for the day, we were shown and then de-husked the rice ourselves and made rice milk, an ingredient for one of our dishes. Rice is such a major part of their cuisine and is such a versatile crop is incredible to see how they apply in its various forms to their dishes. After a wonderful day cooking and witnessing a local cock fight we made our way back into the little town of Hoi An.
During our time in Hoi An, Greg kicked off some of his work sessions early morning and normally finished up by 10am. So I used this time to take a bit of beach yoga making my way down to the beach on a bike through the rice fields, as well as exploring the market area, sipping on a Vietnamese coffee at a coffee shop and generally just pottering around. Greg calls it "my eat, pray, love time!!" Ha ha.
As soon as Greg had finished up we would meet up and go for a fitting, hire a scooter and head off the beach for some lunch, suntanning and body surfing. There were some really authentic little Vietnamese places to eat on the beach and they bring the food and drinks right down to the loungers on the beach, so not tough going at all. While in the beach area it was interesting to see loads of a little basket boat type things that the fisherman use. So strange! The story goes that years back all fishing boats were imposed a special tax / levy. So as to avoid this tax, the locals build round " boats" that were technical classified as baskets rather than vessels. Very strange to see but they still use loads of them, and its authentic, not some touristy thing.
Hoi An is an absolute highlight for us! One of the most amazing places we have ever been to! Despite growing as a tourist hot spot it's still local and under-developed and authentic, but we aren't too sure how long it will stay that way because it is such a wonderful place and it probably won't be long before the packaged tour companies look to send operations there. For now though it remains a more independent travel destination equi-distant between Hanoi and Saigon / HCMC. We both have a feeling this will not be the last time we will see Hoi An!
Oh, and while we were in Hoi An, we finally heard some fantastic news about our Australian PR visa. It had finally been approved so we at last had a green light on our move out there. We had packed up all our stuff in London into a storage container ready for shipment so that if we heard the news while we were travelling we could give instruction to ship our stuff. So we celebrated with a fantastic meal at another great restaurant in Hoi An, with a big sigh of relief.