Published: August 8th 2007May 17th 2007
Arriving by overnight train from Nha Trang
Hoi An was everything I had expected Melaka in Malaysia to be (Blog: Melaka
) and so, so much more! A historical town with architecture reminiscent of old European towns, with a bustling market, waterways, many great restaurants and the ultimate place for tailoring. Then, if you have time with all there is to see and do here, between fittings at the Tailors you can escape to the beautiful surrounding countryside by hiring a bike - no doubt, with man carrying tape measure running after you!
We arrived in Danang far too early in the morning after our second overnight train from Nha Trang (Blog: Nha Trang
), all desperately in need of another couple of hours sleep to get us through the heat of the day. Travelling past China Beach little after dawn, we could only marvel at the crowds on the beach taking in their daily exercise, showing so much energy for this ungodly hour (in stark contrast to how we felt). Arriving at the hotel at 6am, we found we'd have to wait until people had checked out before we could all have rooms to crash out in. It had been an
interesting journey, to say the least...
Matt and Victoria had kept us all thoroughly entertained with shakey face (shake your face from side to side whilst someone captures the image of your distorted face on camera. Frankly, the photos are far too disturbing to publish here!), black eye (surely the best card game I've ever played) and some escapology by Sally and myself from being tied together for the amusement of the others - which bordered on being slightly more kinky than I think they'd bargained for. However, this was all interrupted by a quite sinister smell taking over Sara, Mary and Quan's cabin. They'd performed their own escapology act getting away with their stomach contents intact from what they could only be described as the smell of poo. A young Vietnamese lady had joined them for this journey and was not at all pleased at sharing her cabin with the stench either, so soon found an alternative berth. The 4 of us just had to investigate the source of this nasal onslaught, with Victoria and myself leading the way, ready to clench our nostrils. One glance at Quan in bed on the top bunk with his back to
At Trieu Chau Assembly Hall
us, and a knowing smirk of confirmation between Victoria and myself was enough to solve this waft of unpleasantness. It wasn't coming from the aircon, although the fact that this was fanning in from above our tour leader was no coincidence. You don't get stains like that on the backside of your trousers from the outside (i.e. from sitting in something). He had been poorly and had a dodgy stomach, but surely he knew?! Poor Sara and Mary had to sleep in there tonight. All we could offer for comfort was some vick's vapour rub under the nose (although I think they had to settle for Tiger Balm) - I'd seen Scully do something similar whilst doing an autopsy on the X Files once! Time for a new wardrobe
After finally getting a room for a knap, our first trip out around Hoi An was an orientation walk, taking in various tailors, shoe shops etc. on the way. This is an amazing place to get any clothes or shoes tailor made; I only wish we'd come prepared. So, a word advice when visiting Hoi An: bring those catalogue and magazine cuttings of that suit or dress, coat or skirt
you've always wanted and they will make it for you in any material you may want. And what's more, it will fit you perfectly (but allow time to go back for alterations to fine tune the fit). I got a very dapper suit made from some fine Italian fabric and a shirt to go with it for about £50 - this could have been cheaper if I'd gone for a cheaper fabric. Others had some gorgeous dresses made that fitted them perfectly for under £20, or whole wardrobes: shoes, trousers, shirts, jumpers, coats etc.
It soon became apparent that it was impossible to walk around Hoi An without passing countless tailors and shoe shops, being beckoned in for a fitting. No wonder the Lonely Planet writes of a town humming to the sound of thousands of sewing machines. You'll either go one of two ways on this: 1. Being a backpacker, you have a budgetary debate with yourself on whether you can actually afford much or have room left in your rucksack to be carrying it around, or 2. You get carried away, blow the overdraft and have to get some shipped back. We were in the former and
At the orphanage in Hoi An
We totally disrupted the class
now regret it. As I write this back in the UK, why or why didn't I get a DJ made up instead of paying yet another £50 just to hire one again!?! What seemed a lot of money at the time, isn't when you're back earning.
Note: If travelling with a local guide, as with the free meal at the restaurants, he/she almost certainly earns a commission on the places recommended - so don't take their advice as gospel.
So after being fitted up at Sun Cloth Shop (273-328 Nguyen Duy Hieu Street), we checked out the market. There were plenty more ready made shoes to buy here, along with bags and rucksacks for those that have filled theres at the tailors! The market traders are full of banter to try to get you to buy and very friendly. We went out for a group meal at The Cargo Club - where the deserts and cocktails are superb!! A cycling tour and a visit to the Orphanage
It was another hot day, but nonetheless we hired some bikes for the day. Our first stop was the Orphanage in Hoi An. We met with what was effectively the
Life on the river
Waving us off, as we left two wheels for the river.
headmistress and had a very civilised cup of tea. It was far too strong for my liking, but I drank it out of politeness, only to find this rewarded with a top-up! She gave us an introduction to the work that goes on here, the kind of kids that stay here and the lack of support they get from the Vietnamese government. We then got a tour of the dorms, meeting some very giggly young teenage girls followed by some special needs kids, before arriving mid-class to meet some of the youngsters. It all started very grown-up with us helping them with there learning, but then quickly descended into chaos as we completely interrupted their teaching session. In no time, Matt and myself were racing round the classroom giving kids piggy back. Whilst initially I felt some guilt at ruining class, I soon realised that actually this was bringing so much joy to these youngsters for them to have some curious and fortunate foreigners coming to visit and play with them. Slightly worn out, but elightened and amazed by the resilence of these youngsters, several donations to the Orphanage later, we moved on with both heavy and uplifted hearts from
Kids at the Orphanage
They were having an intelligent lesson until we turned up.
what was surely a highlight of our trip to Vietnam. We had no idea how much of our donation would be seen by the kids, but felt there was a far better chance than the corrupt and run down Cambodian Orphange that Matt and Victoria described.
From here we cycled out into the surrounding countryside which, in places, was lush green and dotted with farms - with the small holders out in there plots complete with their conical hats. After an hour or so of cycling past waterways and farmland, stopping every now and then for Quan to give us some gratefully received background, we arrived through some narrowing paths at the river to board a boat. As we did so, some curious locals came out to see what all the fuss was about, whilst their kids played in the water. These were superb scenes.
A short cruise up the river brought us to an island, where we stopped for a BBQ lunch - and Quan did an impression of a monkey climbing a tree. We then set off back to Hoi An, taking in scenes of life on the river as we went. All in all, a
The lush countryside
Farmers complete with conical hats
superb day out. Walking tour of the architecture of historic Hoi An
It wasn't until our third day in Hoi An that we actually had time to go and fully explore and appreciate the historic old town. After many fleeting glimpses, either by bike or on the way to tailors, restaurants and the market, I was chomping at the bit like Scrappy Doo screaming "Let me at 'em!".
The ticket you buy for access into the buildings of the old town is a rather over complicated pick-a-mix, allowing you a visit to: the Japanese Bridge, 1 Assembly Hall, 1 old house, Hoi An Handicraft workshop and 1 museum. To be fair, that lot is enough to be getting on with and to give a good flavour for the old town. The admission fee goes towards the conservation of Hoi An Old Town, a Unesco World Heritage site. Following another trusty Lonely Planet walking tour, we chose to enter Phac Hat Pagoda, Museum of Trading Ceramics, Quan Cong Temple and Tan Ky house, to name a few. The house had some impressively intricate wood carving, with Japanese and Chinese influences in the painting. Also interesting were the 'tide' marks
from past floodings in Hoi An. Other than this though, walking around the town was impressive enough; I didn't feel I gained that much more by venturing into these buildings. For instance, the Museum of ceramics didn't really capture our imagination and the other sites were great to look at for a short time, before then moving onto the next. The only other notable exception were the Assembly Halls. Vietnamese cookery class
Our last act in Hoi An would be an afternoon cookery class at Gioan restaurant along the river front. We'd been looking forward to this as we wanted to know how to cook some of the tasty dishes we'd been eating over the past few days. We started with a visit to the central market, which was very informative in terms of what to look for in making sure you buy good, fresh produce. It is always quite entertaining to see how all the fish and meat is displayed in what is, to us at least, a quite unappetising way (fish heads, anyone?!), along with some of the more unusual things that you wouldn't necessarily think of as food! Cooking (then eating) Pumpkin soup, fried spring rolls,
Morning Glory and garlic and fish in banana leaf, this session did not disappoint. Our teacher even got hold of a grater for us that you can use to shred the vegetables into long spaghetti like strands (we'd been wanting one since having a gorgeous green papaya Thai salad in Phuket). We were looking forward to trying out the recipes for ourselves when we got back - even if some of the ingredients might be a challenge to source.
A few last minute visits to some tailors for final alterations and collections later and our group was set for the journey to Hue the next day.
There are more photos below