We arrived in Hoi An cranky and sweaty early in the morning and made a beeline for the hotel to drop off our bags and take a much-needed shower. Refreshed and clean we set off to explore Hoi An, a charming and quaint little town on a river. At 7am the riverside market is already in full swing with stalls loaded with exotic vegetables we can’t name and trays full of meat and fish which could still be considered somewhat fresh. The ubiquitous scooters dart in between people and stalls on wheels with their characteristic honking. Old ladies carry two huge baskets laden with fruit or vegetables which hang from each extremity of a wooden pole across their shoulders. Walking through as a foreigner you are approached with a constant “hello, you buy something” or “where you from my friend”. Luckily our hotel had warned us that this was part of an attempt to lure us into low-quality tailor shops so we quickly learned to ignore them and just smile back instead.
Back in Nha Trang two girls had extolled the sartorial virtues of Hoi An’s tailors so we knew exactly what our first stop would be. Heading away from the river we found the peaceful streets lined with shops selling beautiful dresses, handmade shoes and bags, and surprisingly, winter coats (they evidently knew their clientele). Having already browsed the internet for the dresses and skirts we wanted made, we headed to our tailor shop. After having our measurements taken we then found a shoe shop where I got some sandals made.
As the heat started to beat down on us we found a riverside café where we sampled a Hoi An delicacy. The “white rose” consisted of steamed wonton dumplings with shrimp and pork and crispy wonton flakes sprinkled on top.
After attempting to explore the town a little longer we decided we had earned ourselves a drink and sat down on the typical child-size Vietnamese red plastic chairs on the side of the street to have some coconut water. Not content with drinking the water we began to dig the inside of the fruit out with our straws in a very ladylike manner. A policeman also escaping the sun at the same streetside café noticed our predicament and signalled to the owner to chop our coconuts in half and give us spoons. This made enjoying our coconut significantly more elegant and less noisy, although probably less amusing for the policeman.
In the evening we had dinner at the renowned Café des Amis (named café instead of restuarant to pay less taxes) where we devoured noodles with squid and vegetables, fried wonton with sweet and sour sauce and fresh spring rolls with shrimp and pork. Halfway through the meal a two-inch long beetle plummeted from the roof smack onto our table, causing Astrid to swiftly leap from our bench as the insect writhed on its back. A German man at the table next to us came to our rescue and scooped the beetle away, although not far enough judging from Astrid’s reluctance to sit back down so he flicked it away a second time. Lesson learned: do not trust Astrid in times of need when insects are involved.
After clothes our next priority was obviously the beach. We rented bikes and cycled to a nearby beach town a few kilometres away. As the wind picked up, so did the sand and we discovered the beach is not always so relaxing when you’re having sand constantly blowing on to you. Defeated, we cycled back to our hotel.
That evening we went to a restaurant whose menu is inspired by Vietnamese street food where we indulged in squid stuffed with pork (we have yet to find this on the street), smoked aubergine with minced pork, papaya and beef salad and of course our favourite stir-fried morning glory with lots of garlic. After dinner we enjoyed the typical summer evening ritual of a post-dinner stroll through town and along the river with ice cream. After that we headed to a local backpackers’ bar and mingled with drunk Scotsmen (no surprise there).
Finally the time had come for sightseeing, as well as picking up our dresses and sandals. Braving the heat we made our way to Quan Cong Temple which is dedicated to a portly Chinese general. Following this we visited the Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation, the Tran Family Chapel and the Tan Ky House where we learned about Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese architecture.
Strolling through town towards our hotel we stumbled upon an old lady selling some mysterious but inviting pancakes on the street corner which immediately made our heads turn and mouths water. We retraced our steps and tasted what were some delicious corn, sweet potato, green bean and coconut pancakes.
We rounded off our trip with a dinner of Hoi An pancakes, water spinach with garlic and a mango and prawn salad.
Today we arrived in Hue after a five-hour bus ride which led us to the conclusion that Vietnam desperately needs a highway system.