Falling deeper in love with Vietnam

Trip Start Sep 01, 2010
Trip End Jun 18, 2011

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

So after two days relaxing in Nha Trang we boarded our second Vietnamese sleeper bus; Tom ended up near a New Zealander couple who he spent most of the night chatting to while I slept like a baby in my lovely comfy bed. We had a toilet stop at about 11pm at a tiny road-side café and we had the joy of listening to a bunch of snobby British teenagers whining about how this bus was the most horrific event in their entire life and they were considering hitchhiking the rest of the way because they couldn't stand the torment of the bus any longer. One of them actually uttered the words "this bus is against my human rights", to which Tom and I nearly wet our pants laughing. Things didn’t improve much when Tom decided to give them a lesson in Asian road-side toilets; Tom was holding the door shut for me while I was in the loo and all I could hear was him arguing with some girl. He was getting nowhere because she couldn’t understand that the muddy, stinky hole in the floor was actually the toilet and she was asking him how you are supposed to use a squat toilet (I don’t know if she was expecting some kind of demonstration, but either way Tom just laughed at her). It turned out that these girls’ toilet habits would ruin the rest of our journey because they were complaining all night about having belly ache because they hadn’t been provided with suitable toilet facilities; I’m sorry but some people are just idiots.  

Our next destination is the UNESCO world heritage town of Hoi An, located about half way up Vietnam and about 4 kilometers away from the beach.  Our guidebook describes Hoi An as the cultural heart of Vietnam and one of the country’s most beautiful locations; it was made UNESCO in 1999 to help protect its old character and incredible architecture. While we are here we have booked ourselves into a really nice hotel and although we arrived two and a half hours late on the bus, a guy from our hotel was there to meet us with a little board saying “Welcome to Hoi An, Mr Tom ”. We have only ever been met by our accommodation once before in Phuket so we felt like royalty to have a board with our name on! The hotel we are staying at is well known for the excellent customer service it offers and as soon as we arrived we were treated to a lovely welcome drink, fruit salad and home-made coconut macaroons! Our room is so sweet; it is full of quaint old furniture, there are little trinkets everywhere, we have our own bathroom and tv, the staff had made swans out of towels for us and best of all this room has something which we’ve not had since we left home…drum roll please…it has a bathtub!! This one of the main reasons we booked this place; before we caught Dengue Fever I had asked Tom if we could stay in a guesthouse with a bathtub as my birthday present but unfortunately it never happened, so I was doing cartwheels when I saw the tub at this hotel. I haven’t had a bath in over 10 months (I know, I smell very bad J) so before Tom had even taken his backpack off I was running my very first bubble bath since last September. Suffice to say it was lovely and I spent most of the morning in there reading.   

Even though Vietnamese sleeper buses are very comfortable we were still really tired after our long journey and we slept most of our first day away. In the evening we ventured down into town to get some food. We don’t really like looking around a new town for the first time at night because it is difficult to get your bearings and easy to get lost. However experiencing Hoi An for the first time at night was the best thing we could have done! It is quite simply one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The old part of town runs alongside a river and at night the town in littered with Chinese lanterns hanging from the trees and buildings. Because Hoi An is a UNESCO site the town has to be decorated in a way which is sympathetic to a traditional way of life so cars are not allowed to drive into the old town, there are very few street-lights, no fast-food vendors, no convenience stores; everywhere is very romantically lit with glowing, old lanterns and there is traditional Chinese music played from a few speakers dotted around town. The whole town is very peaceful and serene. Along the river are statues of Asian mythological characters which are lit up softly at night and across the water cafes and restaurants are only lit by Chinese lanterns and candles: everything has a glow and softness that makes you feel warm inside. In the middle of town is an ancient Japanese bridge that is lit by dozens of red lanterns and next to it is a small stone platform which is used as a stage by local singers and musicians. As we wandered through the streets feeling more and more overwhelmed by it all we turned the corner and saw for the first time the Japanese bridge lit softly and next to it a lady singing and playing a traditional Asian guitar and for the first time in quite a while I cried out of happiness. So much happiness, joy, contentedness and awe just built up inside me and it all came rushing out in a big flood of tears. I looked at Tom and I’m happy to say he was a bit watery-eyed himself. Along the riverbank is a small stretch of street-food vendors all selling the local delicacy which is a noodle/stir fry/soup dish called Cau Loa. We decided to give it a go and plumped for the little old lady with nothing but a couple of pans and a pit-fire at the end of the row… the old ladies ALWAYS cook the most incredible food. And my god did this woman know how to cook!! We ordered two bowls of cau loa, sat on the tiniest stools imaginable, about 5 inches off the ground with your knees up round your shoulders, and tucked into what is single-handedly the best street-food we have ever eaten. Now we’ve eaten some bloody amazing street-food on our trip, most of which you wouldn’t mind paying top dollar for if you ate it in a proper restaurant, so I don’t mean it lightly when I say this was the best. The noodles are a special type only made in Hoi An with water from a local well, they are really thick and doughy and are served in a really strong savoury broth with a mountain of fresh herbs and delicious, crunchy croutons on top. Tom also got slices of char-sui pork with his and he nearly fell off his stool, which isn’t hard when they’re so small, when he tasted the pork. 

There are three mains things to do in Hoi An: visit the temples and sights in the UNESCO old town, take a day tour to see some old ruins in the jungle called My Son and get some custom-made clothing made. Hoi An is a really small town but it has over 300 tailors and shoe-makers and is world renowned as providing amazing custom-made clothes. Some of the tailors are outstanding, if you take them a cut-out from a fashion magazine they can recreate any Gucci or Versace dress or suit perfectly and it will be tailored to your exact tastes, style and body. At the back of each tailors is a huge haberdashery department where you can select any number of fabrics and colours and they will normally have your outfit made for you in less than 24 hours. One of the biggest sellers here in Hoi An is designer suits with silk lining and whereas a designer suit might cost you a couple of hundred pounds back home, here in Hoi An you are looking at about £50 for the entire custom-made suit, with a shirt and silk tie. Tailoring is huge business here and rightly so, the quality of some of the clothing is simply incredible. Because of its proximity to Australia, many Australians come over here specifically to get new clothing tailored and throw in a holiday while they’re at it. We were really tempted to get some special clothes made here but considering that the clothes are tailored to your exact body-shape we figured that it might not be such a good idea to buy new clothes after all the weight we have lost: it would be rubbish if we bought custom-made clothing, went home and put weight back on and were never able to fit in them again. So we weren’t planning on buying anything until one afternoon we were walking past a shoe-makers and I stopped to show Tom the style of shoe I liked. Within two minutes I was being whisked into the haberdashery department and I was picking through fabric samples and getting my feet measured. I figured that my feet won’t change size during the course of our trip so I ordered a pair of custom-made Chinese silk sneakers. I had a thorough fitting and actually really enjoyed being treated like a princess for a while! I chose an emerald green silk with butterflies, white lining and pink soles, the quality looked excellent. I’ve never even thought of having a pair of shoes made exactly to fit my feet so for the grand total of £17 I was a very happy bunny indeed! The following day I went back for my second fitting and they fitted like a glove! Two hours later I went to pick up my shoes and I practically floated back to the hotel I was so happy.

Our hotel is turning out to be a real gem; every time we return to the hotel after a long day of wandering the streets they always have a 'present’ ready for us such as a fruit salad or smoothie and the staff are real charmers. And with each passing day we simply fall deeper and deeper in love with Hoi An and Vietnam as a whole. The Vietnamese people are some of the most hospitable, kind, funny and smiley people we have met so far, even if we can’t communicate with them very well just being in their company is a joy because they are so thoughtful. We have become good friends with the noodle lady over the past few days, so much so that every time we go she also gives us a free cup of tea from her own tea-flask which she brings to work with her. We’ve also been visiting a local café after we found that they serve mugs of freshly brewed beer at 9p a pop and have become friends with the lady that owns that one too. In all honesty since we have started to feel better our appetites have come back with a vengeance and for quite a few days we have been eating two evening meals: one from the noodle lady and then one from the cheap-beer lady! We’ve met some lovely people here and even in the short amount of time we’ve been here we’ve made quite a few friends and acquaintances, it’s nice when you feel so comfortable and happy in a place.   
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Mum K. on

Love the pretty shoes, Hayley! Delicious and fresh looking plate of fruit. What fruit is the white one with the black speckles? Loads of love xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

tomandhayley on

Hi Mum, the speckled fruit is called 'dragon fruit', they had just started to stock it in tesco's before we left, it is round with spikey leaves radiating out from it and is pink and green in colour. Tastes really good. xx

rach on

hello u 2 , hope you are both well x we had a lovely time away ,wil try and add some pix for u soon , sending you all my love xx see you next month !!! yipeeeeeeee xxx

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