Tag Archives: Hoi An

Day 136 – It’s raining again

When we jetted out of the UK in November we were dreaming of a year without winter. Such thoughts were brought to an abrupt halt as we arrived in ‘sunny’ Rio to 2 days of solid rain, but after that the sun came out and we have enjoyed the last four months of our trip almost entirely without the presence of precipitation. Even when we have had the odd shower in a few places, it has been of the tropical variety in hot climates that help to clear some of the humidity.

All good things, as they say, come to an end and as we travelled north on the night train the sound of rain could be heard against the windows. We awoke on the approach into Hanoi, skies grey and laden with rain, and out of the train window we see that shorts and sandals had been replaced with shoes, jeans and umbrellas. Stepping off the train we also discovered that the rain had brought its long time meteorological friend with it. The cold.

For a short period of time it is nice to feel the need to have a hot drink in a cafe, not need to cover yourself in suncream and insect repellent, and get a sense of weather similar to home. Walking round the city, avoiding puddles, and seeing the lights slowly illuminate the night sky through the drizzle you get a slight sense that Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner could have been in part inspired by Hanoi in the rain.

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Day 135 – Yellow

Formerly the largest port in South East Asia, the significant silting up of the river brought Hoi An’s development to a grinding halt and it reverted back to being a bit of a sleepy backwater.

As a result the city has managed to retain much of the splendid historic buildings and its charm before it was ‘discovered’ and has become one of the THE stops on the increasingly well-trodden Vietnam tourist trail.

The old buildings, a mix of styles based on the cultures that established themselves during the boom times, have a predominantly pale yellow colour that show a little of the ravages of time but manage to pull off the ‘shabby chic’ look perfectly (why is it UK 1960s tower blocks cannot manage this feat?).

Japanese and Chinese influences are particularly strong, with a large number of the particularly historic buildings throughout the town seemingly lifted from another country and deposited in Vietnam. For a small fee you can buy a ticket that gets you entry to a number of these and they are wonderfully well preserved and worth a look.

Despite the throngs of tourists, plethora of souvenir shops, and the strangely odd speaker system that pipes calming classical music (rather than propaganda that you get in other Vietnamese cities) throughout the centre it somehow manages to not to have lost it’s soul in the way that tourist hotspots can sometimes do. Wandering round the lantern lit streets of Hoi An for a few days is a wonderful way to spend your time.

If at any time strolling down traffic free streets (at least in the day time), relaxing in one of the many cafes, bars and restaurants, or browsing the shops gets tiresome, then it has a few other tricks under it’s sleeves. Bicycle hire is unbelievable cheap at less than a $1 a day, and a short cycle ride out of the town will take you through breathtaking rural scenery of rice paddy fields or to the coast for an idyllic beach front complete with sun loungers, bars and picturesque fishing boats.

Hoi An has a certain something about it, similar in many ways to the sleepy town of Luang Prabang in Laos. I think it is apparent that we like the place a lot. In fact we reflected as we headed to the train station to head north to Hanoi that we could have happily spend another day or two lost in it’s charms.

Day 134 – What’s the story (Morning Glory)

One of the things that is mildly amusing about the whole travelling the world experience, is that all the tourists that do it seem intent on seeing the ‘real’ wherever they are and want to get off the ‘well trodden path’ and away from all the bloody tourists. A little ironic don’t you think?

Generally we are the same, and whilst it is almost impossible to get away from the fact that you are a tourist, we generally try to do as much as we can ourselves, and select tours when we do use them that we think will give us the most insight into a place or the people that live there.

However sometimes, like today, we are occasionally happy to indulge in a simple attraction that is squarely aiming at tourists.  The Tra Que Water Wheel ‘3 in 1’ attraction sits proudly on top of the Trip Advisor list of Hoi An Things to Do with glowing recommendations and we are collected at 8:30 in the morning by Lilly with some bicycles.

Tra Que is a small village about 3km outside the city of Hoi An and Lily offers an experience that aims to share a little of the culture of the village and its people, with particular focus on food.

Our day consists of a walk round the markets where we are shown the various produce that people buy and sell, and picking up supplies for later in the day.  Markets are a fascinating place full of noise, colour, texture and a great way to get a feel for what life is like in a place and the impact of Vietnams huge coastline is evident from the range of seafood on show.

After that we cycle out to the village through the countryside giving a chance to see Hoi An away from the crowds and tailor shops and arrive at what appears to be a glorified allotment.  The people of the village are keen gardeners and the land is filled with small sections of garden beds full of a whole range of fruits, vegetables and herbs.

We are given traditional clothes to wear (told you it was a bit touristy!) and shown the traditional ways in which that manage the land – from collecting sea weed for fertiliser, using pepper and chilli in the water as pesticide and the digging and watering of the beds.  Fascinating to learn about it, even if our token activity is a little twee (though still less that the random Water Buffalo ride we are treated to), and the level of manual labour required is significant with almost zero mechanisation employed.

Some of the plants and herbs they grow for consumption are a little strange to us.  Sweet potato flowers, chrysanthemum leaves and our particular favourite – morning glory (introduced without a hint of a titter).

The rest of the day is spent in the kitchen as we have a Vietnamese cooking class following by a very enjoyable Vietnamese food tasting experience including the amusingly named Morning Glory as a side dish!

Day 133 – Dedicated Follower of Fashion

‘Made in Vietnam” are three very common words that you will find on the labels inside many of the clothes that you wear in your day to day lives.  North Face, Nike, Mango, Zara are some of the brands that have decided to use Vietnam for their large scale clothing manufacture processes.

There are no shortage of these and other famous ‘brands’ for sale in the markets – the vast majority of these are of course fakes but apparently you can be lucky and find genuine products that make it out of the factory through the back door for a fraction of what they cost normally.

Whilst in Hoi An you do see this hawking of supposedly bargain brands (mainly dodgy looking North Face stuff), the town is instead famous for a slightly different take on how to get money off people for clothes.  I don’t think we have ever seen such a concentration of tailors anywhere else in the world (and that includes the backpacker area of Bangkok).

It seems that 3 out of every 4 shops is either a tailor or a shoe shop that can make you anything you want, made to measure, in as little as 24 hours.  There a range of designs available, plus whatever you can pick out of the latest Next catalogue, anything you can find on the web, or even something you want to design yourself.  As one place advertises, the only limit is your mind.

As with everything, the price and quality will very from shop to shop, with some showcasing very shabby looking suits in their windows.  However after spending a bit of time walking round, and doing some research on our faithful friend Trip Advisor we decide to take the plunge.

Nik gets a couple of pair of shoes made (one fairly standard, one more a self selected design) and a skirt (complete with custom hand painted logo) and I decide that with the shadow of work looming at some point in the future that I would risk a suit.

A visit to Mr Xe is an experience.  A flamboyantly gay man, who perhaps enjoys the measuring and fitting process more than he should, is supported by a team of 6 that make on average 7 suits a day.  The fabric on offer appears to be of a high standard (based on what little I know of the subject from the recent wedding suit process) and the finished product looked great, fitted exceptionally well and costs less than the cheapest of cheap suits that you can buy from George in Asda (plus he through in a free shirt).

We read stories on the internet of people coming to Hoi An with empty suitcases and a bag of magazines of things they wanted making, and returning home with 40kg of clothes and a new wardrobe.  Even accounting for the fact our purchases (plus a few other bits and pieces we have picked up in S.E.Asia so far) meant that we had to stump up a bit extra to get a box shipped home (sorry Dad – yet more to store), it worked out as great value for money.

Day 132 – Slow Ride

With usual efficiency our 5:36 train arrived bang on time at 6:15 and provides a perfect demonstration of the fact that Vietnamese approach to life is different from that in the UK.

Queueing is not something they have anytime for.  And when you do try to demonstrate “politeness” by waiting in the train aisle for the person in front of you to find their seat and put their bags up on the rack, the masses behind have none of it and push past you and the lady in front, practically stepping on you and your bags.

Deciding that the dried squid and unidentifiable soup on offer at the train station is not what we want for breakfast (especially with the level of flies, rats and cockroaches around the food stalls) we tuck in to some Ritz crackers and insert the earphones to try to combat the assault of the Vietnamese crooners being piped into the cabin via the awful ‘Rail TV”.

The journey feels long and slow, as the train regularly stops as many sections of the track appear to be single file and we need to wait for other trains to come through which partly explains the late start and even later arrival as we manage to add another hour on to the original arrival time.

After experiencing a calm orderly dis-embarkment on to the ground level ‘platform’ (aka another set of tracks) and walk to the taxi rank at Danang station (yeah right) we eventually arrive at our destination for the next few days, Hoi An.

The hustle and bustle of the journey is instantly forgotten as we arrive at our lovely Riverside Homestay accommodation with views out over the river and paddy fields beyond.  First impressions are that Hoi An will make a great place to spend a few days.