Sweaty Tailoring Hoi An
Hoi An felt like a huge relief after the sensory abuse of Hanoi. After our early flight south to Danang near Hoi An (think the RyanAir school of airport locations) we were picked up from the airport quickly by a hotel driver, who seemed much easier to trust than his shifty counterparts in Hanoi. We were worried for a moment when the taxi was pulled over by a police officer, but after a hasty exchange of documents (large-denomination documents) all was well again. “It’s only money”, he said with a wry smile once we’d sped off.
The hotel was a little haven of calm. We were offered cold flannels before we even got to the door, rapidly followed by coffee, juice and the full buffet breakfast. The grin on Jo’s face was tempered only by the intake of corn flakes.
Off to potter. Hoi An used to be an important port, a hundred years ago or more, until the river silted up and trade moved downstream to Danang. These days the town is basically a tourist attraction. It’s pretty, it’s got a fun market and plenty of temples to see, and tailors in which to while away whole evenings trying on dresses. The pace was much slower.
The markets were just as we saw in Cambodia, at least in Siem Reap. Most of the stalls were selling the same collections of bowls, chop sticks, table mats and pointy hats. The tailors, too, all had similar clothes on show, but at least there there’s a slightly more interesting interaction than “please buy something”. Over the course of our three days here we spent a lot of time picking fabrics, trying on samples, getting measured, changing minds, and eventually buying a load of perfectly fitting clothes for about a tenner an item. I’m not normally big into clothes shopping. Jo’s normal tactic to keep me entertained involves regular provision of cake, but it only works for a short time. This was quite a different experience, of course, actually quite enjoyable chatting to the locals!
The food in Vietnam had been consistently excellent. It also didn’t seem to matter what we paid, $3 or $12 for a dish, it was all ever so tasty. There were obviously similarities with Cambodian food but it did seem a step better here, in line with the country being more developed in every aspect. Anyway, one of the must-do touristy activities here is cooking lessons, where we got to learn how to cook some local dishes. First stop was the market to buy the ingredients, and we each had a wicker basket to carry a share of the goods. Among my cargo was the prawns, which were definitely still wriggling in their little bag. We watched as meat was expertly carved on cardboard, with apparently little worry about contamination. At least they don’t serve meat rare here! The lady chopping fish apart did so with sufficient gusto to cover Kate’s legs in sticky juice, while others kneeling nearby preparing vegetables were protected by the big hats.
We travelled out of town for the rest of the lesson, on a boat down the river. Our guide from the market had suddenly changed into gleaming white chef’s clothes, and we got started! Steaming pots of beef stewing away, peanut satay sizzling, tasty goodness all round. The Vietnamese definitely don’t hold back on their herbs, piling them in. We might have to adopt that back home.
The thing we couldn’t escape was the heat, and the humidity that sapped your energy all day. By the end we could pretty reliably negotiate three big bottles of water for around 45,000 dong, just through having so much practice. We dived into a coffee shop for some respite at one point and found that, yes, pretentious coffee has found its way even here! Full-on science kit coffee was not expected here, and the baristas wearing hipsteresque cool hats was a lovely finishing touch.