Hoi An sits half way down the Vietnamese coast about an hours flight from Hanoi. It was clear as we were coming into land that the recent typhoon had flooded fields and taken down trees, but clearing up was underway for life to go on. We stopped at Marble Mountains, a collection of five mountains near Danang that are home to several buddist temples and a tunnel and cave network used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War (American War to the locals) or as history will record it, the Second Indochina War.
Hoi An sits on the river a few kilometres from the coast and China Beach, its tight streets are full of shops and restaurants. Lanterns swinging in the breeze compete with North Face jackets to offer the brightest flashes of colour against the subdued weathered yellow walls dressed in green vegetation. The pace is far more relaxed than Hanoi, but your wits still needed to be as sharp as a bamboo toothpick as the vietnamese ‘rules’ of the road still apply.
A ‘must do’ in Hoi An is to take advantage of their tailoring excellence and as my shape isn’t one that Marks and Spencer cater very well for, it seemed a good idea to have a couple of shirts knocked up. Phuong suggested a reliable establishment and within seconds of entering the threshold, a young assistant started working her charming banter on me. Before I knew it I was wrapped in tape measures, covered in materials and swamped with compliments about the choices I was making. On my return to our hotel I informed Sue of my concerns over the unorthodox materials I had chosen for my two shirts. The fact that I was happy with the other four, two pairs of trousers and a blazer were purely incidental.
This trip is varied in it’s content, so why not have a vietnamese cooking course as part of the itinerary? We were split into two groups and taken to the market to look for ingredients to rearrange into something edible later on. The covered marketplace in the centre of town comes alive at 3 a.m. (not that we were likely to be there at that time) and runs throughout the day. Meat and fish were being carefully disassembled according to request, fresh vegetables and fruit were weighed out, bagged and paid for while live ducks were strapped upside down to motorbikes for the grim last leg of their life journey.
We boarded our boats and were taken 40 minutes upstream to the Red Bridge Restaurant and Cookery School. A short tour of the herb garden and a refreshing drink later we were ready to take our seats down on the banks of the river in our bamboo classroom. Our lessons on making rice paper, filling them with cooked meat and our freshly chopped salads and then decorating them with cucumber dragons and tomato roses were orchestrated by a very dry humoured chap who kept the whole show moving along. A hour later, full to the gunnels we set off back to Hoi An via two impressive fishing displays put on by some locals One, a couple were casting their circular nets out in majestic form into the river, the other, two beautiful kingfishers perched by the river side with a less tourist pleasing agenda.
Eating out with group offers everyone a chance to find out more about their well-travelled companions. Phuong takes us somewhere different every lunch time and evening meal to give us as wide a variety of food as possible, mostly set menus with a bit of everything to try. It isn’t uncommon to have spring rolls for breakfast, lunch and dinner and of course rice, rice noodles, rice wine and even rice beer are never far down the menu.
Time to give the camera a rest after three days of shutter mania and take a trip to the tailors for the last few minor alterations to my new wardrobe. There was still something else. For a while now I have been in the market for a less porous waterproof for our walking holidays only to recoil at the £200+ price-tags they command in the UK. At the corner of the market stood a shop proudly displaying the very jackets I was looking for, so it was hard not to be drawn in to have a closer look. They may be off the back of a rickshaw from a vietnamese sweat shop in Hanoi, but the seed was sown and I asked to try a 3 in 1 all weather special. Of course the only way to see if is the right size is to try it on, zip it up and pull the hood over my head. With temperatures outside now pushing 30 degrees, with high humidity and no breeze the decision needed to be a quick one or I would probably need medical assistance. The deal was sealed with a confirmation of my handsomeness and how lucky Sue was to have such a lovely man, mainly because I didn’t talk much!?! After her own personal sauna, Sue completed a jacket double and cleared up in the the bag section also. I only hope we can carry all this to the airport tomorrow?