Creature comforts in Hoi An

Trip Start Oct 15, 2010
Trip End Jan 11, 2011

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Wednesday, December 15, 2010

After moving on to a new place every day while on the bikes we felt like staying put for a few nights. Hoi An seemed just the place to do this. A deservedly busy tourist spot Hoi An is an incredibly cute town. Beautiful buildings, centuries old, line either side of the little streets of 'old town'. It is a port town and is divided by the Thu Bon River, about 10km from where it reaches the ocean. It was used by Chinese and Japanese traders for centuries and many would shelter here over winter. Their influence is visible both in the architecture and the cuisine. Hoi An is such a pretty place that we didn't visit any attractions as such, just wandering around the little streets was sight seeing enough.

Today, capitalizing off it's fame as a tourist destination, a large amount of Hoi An's industry centers around tailoring. It is renowned amongst tourists and Vietnamese alike as the cheapest place in Vietnam to get a new wardrobe. There are tailor shops everywhere, there must be hundreds in an area only a few kilometers square. And everywhere we went we were accompanied by the sound of women calling out "Hello, you look my shop!" Despite not being big shoppers on this trip, in keeping with tradition we did find our way to one of them. Luckily we had a recommendation from a dutch couple we had met while on an elephant in the Central Highlands. We were really pleased with the outcome of all the items we ordered, the girls at Lucky Number did several fittings for us and got the adjustments made incredibly quickly. Although I'm sure they made a pretty profit we were more than happy with the price we paid. Needless to say our bags are now a few kilos heavier, especially mine which now has to accommodate a thick winter coat!

Another thing Hoi An is well known for is its specialty cuisine. With this in mind we booked on a full day cooking class through Thuan Tinh Island cooking school. It turned out that there was only one other person booked in that day, which suited us just fine. Santiago, from Columbia, was serious about food and a great guy to have in the class with us. Having recently graduated from a culinary arts course in New York he is now traveling the world for an indefinite period, basing his destinations on where the food is good. While we were walking around the food markets he turned to me and, in his thick South American accent said "To me, this is like food porn!"

After the markets we were taken to Thuan Tinh island, about 4km downriver by boat. There our instructor took us around the farm so we could pick various ingredients. Then an old man taught us how to use the traditional stone rice de-husker and a similar machine which ground rice in water producing 'rice milk', which we would later use to make a rice pancake. To get around the island we rowed a long boat through little canals. The romance of the moment was enhanced by our friendly guide who played us cheesy '90s pop songs on his cellphone. He asked us "What do you think of my music?" Hmmm... what could we say?

Then the cooking began. All the prep was done for us, so we only  had to throw things in the pan, and each of us had our own assistant to make sure we didn't muck things up too much! The highlights were a Hoi An specialty, rice pancake which we wrapped up into a fresh spring roll and a delicious beef noodle salad. The pho, the classic beef rice noodle soup found throughout Vietnam was sadly a bit disappointing, so we will have to find a better recipe to make at home. The whole course was incredibly well organised. It was a completely different experience to our cooking class in Chiang Mai, which was more spontaneous, but we found both very enjoyable.
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