For the first time ever, check in was a piece of cake! The train arrived in at Da Nang pretty early and we had an hours’ drive or so to Hoi an, so we managed an extra bit of sleep and I was quite happy when we arrived at our hotel. Bought breakfast there, which was lovely. Bread that was not sweet, pastries which were sweet, a little lady churning out pancakes on a portable stove. Coffee with (you guessed it!) fresh milk, and plenty of fresh dragon fruit and pineapple and pomelo.
We had a quick re-group in the lobby after stuffing our faces and took a wander down to the Old Town, which was just beautiful. Hoi was granted its UNESCO World Heritage status originally in 1985 and has consistently maintained its pretty streets, free wifi, & public tourist areas year on year. What’s more is it felt like the only place in the whole of Vietnam that was free from the incessant honking of motorcycles, as the Old Town is fully pedestrianised with only bicycles allowed. The calmness of Hoi An transported me to another time and place.
We visited a family-run tailor shop and many of our group were taken in by the promise of tailor-made clothes in just a day. Since my travel plans extend into 2017, I didn’t think it was really appropriate for me to buy clothes. I seriously don’t need any and my suitcase was fit to busting anyway. But that didn’t stop me living vicariously through others, picking out designs and colours and fabric swatches that materialised into garments overnight. Some of them were a little more… hmmm, what’s the word… jazzy than others…
Highlights from our lovely lot included a fabulous dinner jacket with the most amazing paisley lining which had navies and wines, and purples with golden flecks. The arms and lapel were in a black leather and the main body of the jacket was a deep burgundy. Naturally, it’s a perfect fit both physically and to his wonderfully flamboyant personality. You know who you are! My roommate absolutely loved her formal two-piece suit along with 3 perfectly custom-made blouses and she also got a pair of shoes made! If there is one thing I regret from the entire trip to date, it would be not having shoes made. Just think about a pair of black leather boots with just the right amount of space for a pair of skinny jeans and a heel so comfortable it doesn’t even feel like you’re wearing shoes. Jeez. I need to find somewhere that makes shoes! Anyway, I digress.
Lunch was at this really tiny little place called Little Hoi An. It was so tiny that there isn’t even a TripAdvisor reference to it. The food was really great though, I had this roasted aubergine dish with rice (obviously!) and it was really lovely. The tables in this place had clear Perspex on top of them, so there were messages from previous customers and doodles and the suchlike. So naturally, one of our group drew us in stick man form! Unfortunately, we managed to miss a person out! But rest assured, a few of our lovely lot went back for lunch the next day and drew her in!
A bunch of people went biking through Hoi An in the afternoon, but since I’m not a cyclist (I never learned when I was a kid…. Don’t laugh!) I chose to have a nap and catch up with my emails and boring stuff like that. In the evening, we’d booked in to a cooking class and I was really looking forward to it. Until I looked out the hotel window and saw torrential downpours! We met in the hotel lobby, with our umbrellas and raincoats wondering whether they class would be cancelled or not. Nope. What’s more, we walked through the puddles to the cooking class, and I discovered that my jacket was not waterproof. Only shower proof. Who buys a jacket from the UK that isn’t waterproof? I was soaked by the time we got there, but then so were most of us.
The cooking class was good, but I’d been lead to believe that we were going to go to the market to buy the appropriate vegetables and spices and what not, but this guy had a very smart little premises with a kitchen station set up at the front, beautifully set out knives and chopping boards. On the menu, we had pork/shrimp spring rolls made with crispy net rice paper, stuffed squid and fish steamed on a grill in a banana leaf. Everything tasted amazing, but I didn’t feel like we actually got to cook anything. I think the kitchen staff were tidying up our squid-stuffing attempts and lords knows they must have re-rolled some of the spring rolls. The stuffed squid was good, but nowhere near as tasty as the dish we had at lunchtime.
So going back in time a couple hours, four of us decided to bail on the cycling tour, take a shower, laze around, send some emails home, explore some of Hoi An on foot. We walked around the corner to a lovely little eatery that was a little weird, because one of the guys had found amazing reviews on TripAdvisor, but when we arrived, there was a man re-tiling out front, and the pictures didn’t quite match what the actual place looked like. This little Vietnamese man had his little trowel and bucket of cement and I just sort of wondered whether they were open for business. Of course they were. Everywhere is open for business in Asia if there is money to be made from tourists…
Since our experience with restaurants was such that the food never turned up together, we decided we would all share lots of dishes. Naturally we had spring rolls, something that was kind of like bruschetta but on some sort of thin crispy bread, aubergine in claypot which was absolutely divine, and the stuffed squid, which had come recommended on TripAdvisor. Oh, they were not wrong!
The Vietnamese really know how to utilise an aubergine. Grilled, steamed, in curries, long ones, purple ones, white, tiny round ones that actually look like eggs, hence their other name – eggplant. I thought we Indians had a versatile relationship with the aubergine, but I think we have been out-aubergined. Anyway. The owner at this place was telling us about her business, her mum and aunt do all of the cooking, she kept apologising that the food as taking so long, but it really wasn’t at all. She was only telling us about a cooking class that she offers, and if we weren’t already booked on for that very evening, I’d have cleared my schedule the following morning to accommodate her! The deal was for $20 you got picked up, go to the markets, come back, cook the meals, eat the meals, taking any leftovers in a doggie bag plus free drinks, including beer! The class that we ended up doing was $36, so I really felt cheated. But I love cooking, so I’ll take the learning and the experience and move on!