Hoi An - Cooking, tailoring and Tet Celebrations

Trip Start Apr 12, 2011
Trip End Apr 01, 2012

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Hoi An is a well preserved town on the coast, known for its tailoring business and most importantly we're back to warm weather!! It’s very pretty with lots of restored French colonial buildings but also very touristy (with Westerners and Vietnamese) and so has a big choice in restaurants in cafes.  Since being ill we’re a bit off Asian food and so head to a cafe for a good old fashioned sandwich.  The sandwiches are really good and they have a huge display of cakes but I can’t be tempted so we have a walk around the old town which is decorated by lanterns and lots of people are out wandering the streets as well. 

We’re staying at Nhi Trung Hotel which is probably our least favourite so far as it isn’t very clean and the staff are pretty focussed on their additional sales.  Next day we’re still taking it easy, we go for a walk around town.  We go for a walk around the market where tourism seems to have caught with a few individuals – the ladies in the Vietnamese are happy to pose for photos for a certain sum – large smiles all round for 'only $1’. Fortunately Jonny has a good lens so he never has to pay!!  On our way back through the market we see the same French couple who have obviously paid for their photo with one of the women – I don’t know how much money they’ll go through on their trip because if you say yes to everyone, the money will disappear pretty quickly!  We head to one of the tailors as I was looking for dresses, by the time I find the material and design I wanted the dress is more than UK prices and so I don’t bother but we do get Jonny some very good value tailored shirts (not that he was that keen on even looking at shirts as it brought the thought of work a little closer).  We head back to Cargo (sandwich place) as we feel it’s safe and then walk round some more.  It’s a nice town again set on a river and we can walk up and down the promenade by the river.  We’re starting to feel better and find beer hoi for 15p a glass.  We decide that it’s an offer we can’t refuse and sit by the river for sunset. 

We head back to the hotel to change and once we come back out the town seems to have transformed, there is hundreds of mopeds parked up on the streets and people are swarming the streets.  We find out it’s the final day of tet and it seems like most of Vietnam has flocked to Hoi An.  Everyone is lighting candles set in paper flowers and sending them down the river, a pretty sight.  We find a restaurant called Streets which is running programmes to help train up underprivileged children.  I think they must be training them up for high end restaurants as the food and service is excellent plus it’s good to see such a positive programme in action.  This place was so good we ended up back 3 times!

We have another day trip booked, this time to see My Son, which is of course another temple.  This one was also heavily bombed and so there is not much left to see but as it has been left to get a bit overgrown it’s quite cool to see.  Unfortunately we read that the tourists clambering over the temple and the fact that the forest protected it are also why they are just ruins.  Our guide shows us around the site, again with more inappropriate jokes about the shapes of certain ruins (I guess they’re trying to make the tour interesting...).  The site gets quite busy with tours and so we spend our time trying to take photos without a whole tour group in them but on the other hand we’re well aware that we can’t stray off the paths as the Vietnamese countryside is littered with unexploded US bombs. 

We get a boat back along the river to Hoi An, where we are served lunch and do the obligatory shop stop on a small island near Hoi An called Carpenters Village.  I think this area was traditionally the area for carpenters as there are men working on boats but there is about 8 tourist shops selling wooden gifts, a lot of it blatantly not from the area.  That being said, some of it is nice stuff and we’re beginning to get tempted by picking up bits and pieces as we don’t have too much longer left.

Our boat brings us back to Hoi An where we go for some more 15p beers and out for dinner later on.

The next day is our cooking class day, we’re picked up at 8am to go to the local market.  Here our teacher Van lets us try different fruit from the stalls, herbs and their traditional cakes for new year.  I’m not sure what is in the cakes but I’m not a fan, very chewy.  Van actually stopped the tour to wait for me to actually finish the cake so I ended up having to force it down.  Then we went on to the fish market, it’s amazing how fresh everything is, just brought in from the river a few hours ago.  The crabs have been tied up but are still alive and very little of the fish is on ice but it doesn’t smell at all, that’s how fresh it is.  Next to the butcher section where none of the meat is refrigerated but the chickens were running around the yard a few hours ago and now are plucked and ready for market.  After buying all our ingredients we head to Van’s house to start making our dishes.  There are eight of us in total, two older couples from the States and a couple our age from Australia.  Between us we have chosen to make; stuffed squid, bbq fish, steamed fish, a couple of stir fry dishes, fresh and fried spring rolls.  With all the ingredients lying out we realise how much work there is to be done and start chopping.  Chopping takes a lot of time, especially for Jonny who is on fried spring rolls, while I’m learning how to ‘gut’ a squid.  The preparation takes the longest time and once we have all our dishes ready, they are each cooked in a few minutes.  After a few hours in the kitchen, we sit down to eight very tasty dishes followed by traditional Vietnamese cakes fried up by Van’s mum.  We leave feeling very proud of ourselves as everything tasted great and while Van was very good at supervising she didn’t help us out too much.   Our appetite seems to have fully recovered and we are back to Vietnamese food!                   
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