Friday, 5 August 2016

Week 16.1 - Hoi An

Whilst we were enjoying our last day on the beach I started to observe the vendors and began to feel a little guilty. The old women spend all day walking up and down the hot beach with a bamboo pole over their shoulders. On each end of the pole are hot coals and a boiling pan of water, and lobsters, crabs and corn. It must weigh a ton and I piss and moan about having to carry my backpack for 10 minutes once a month, its probably time to man up!

Our last meal in Nha Trang was actually a bit of a disaster for Kyle. He ordered chicken and bread with a side of fries. Only it was more like bread and fries with a side of chicken. Here you have to order your chicken in grams, not knowing this Kyle just pointed at the menu and ended up with one tiny chicken drumstick! Thank god for all the carbs, that was gonna be his last meal for over twelve hours.

At 7pm we headed to the train station to catch our sleeper train as we were advised to be there at least 30 minutes before departure. This was actually pointless, you end up locked in a stuffy waiting room with 600 other people, until 5 minutes before your train arrives. It’s then a mad rush onto the train and into your cabin. As I already mentioned we were taking the sleeper train to Da Nang, and we had to share our carriage with four other people instead of two. Once we climbed on board we were greeted with a smile and a hello from an old lady and her son who were already tucked into their beds, they must have been there since Ho Chi Minh. We stuffed our bags under the tiny seats and prepared our beds. I had the middle bunk and couldn’t even sit up straight, there must have been about a foots worth of space and even less in the bunk above! 

A little while later two more women came into our cabin and climbed into their respective bunks. The women opposite me was lovely, asking where I was from, where we were going and how old I was. She told me she was 40, I didn’t believe her for a second…Vietnamese women look so youthful. She even told me I was beautiful, I think it has something to do with Western noses…she pointed at her own then mine and Kyles. Soon everyone turned out there little bunk lights, apart from the little old lady she annoyingly slept with hers on, and wrapped themselves up in their quilts. Don’t know how anyone was cold I was boiling, which was a good thing really as I used my quilt as a barrier between me and the “mattress”, which was so hard it made my bum numb within 5 minutes.

I managed to fall asleep around 11 but was awake on and off from 2am. This was mainly due to the loud announcements that they played into the carriage at each station stop, they went on and on and on! Although I felt quite lucky, when I fully woke up at 5.30 and climbed down to visit Kyle he informed me that he’d not slept all night! Gutted!

As the train pulled into Da Nang, we got our bags together and shuffled down the narrow isles towards the exit. It was a mad rush over the train lines and to the taxi rank, but we managed to get one and were soon on our way to Hoi An, 30 minutes down the coast. We were offered a ride for 350,000 dong at the train station exit, which Kyle turned down…this was a bad move as the taxi ended up costing 560,000 dong in a metre taxi! What a joke.

When we arrived at The Thu Bon Riverside guesthouse we were greeted by 2 sisters, a glass of water and some crackers. I was over the moon when they told us that our room was ready and we’d be able to check in early! Hello shower and an actual bed made for real sized people! After a rest and a lovely Pho soup breakfast we had a cycle into Hoi An Old Town to get our bearings, we had a quick walk round, but decided it was too hot so we would come back later. Upon arrival back at the guesthouse we were given an avocado smoothie, yeah I know sounds gross, but it was actually delicious and made from avocados fresh from the garden. This was followed by a room upgrade, to an even more beautiful room with a balcony which over looks the Thu Bon river, we couldn’t wait to enjoy our breakfast there every morning. 

Later that evening we headed back to the Old Town, on our push bikes, and walked around the night market. This is more like the streets of Japan, it was amazing! Old stores selling tailored clothing, lanterns and silk goods line the streets, theres bright lights across the paths, temples and the smell of incense in the air. Walking down towards the river you can see many floating lanterns in the water, and little boats sailing under the brightly lit Hoi An bridge. Though it was really busy the atmosphere was electric, and we enjoyed some Cao Lau with the locals on little plastic chairs. Next we had ‘potato chips’ and for pudding coconut doughnuts, a successful street food feast for less than $5, and not a bad evening to say how tired Mr.Grumpy was too!

The next morning we had breakfast served on the balcony before hiring a moped and heading to An Bang beach. Driving around in Vietnam is totally different to anywhere else so far, other moped drivers just seem to appear from everywhere, though Hoi An is not as busy as other places which we have visited, thank god, and Kyle is actually a pretty good driver. The ride took us through the newer part of Hoi An, before we crossed over a bridge and into a little village filled with luscious farm land, water buffaloes and huge lakes. On the drive into the beach many women called us into the parking spaces, you have to pay $1 to park your bike but get to use the ‘shower and toilet’ when needed. We selected our spot and made our way to the sea.  

An Bang beach is beautiful, it was a lot cleaner and quieter than Nha Trang, though there were a lot of other Westerners. We set up camp and enjoyed a relaxing day of sunbathing, I only paddled in the sea as there were a lot of jellyfish about and I’d witnessed too many other people get stung! It was a shame really as the sea was crystal clear and a perfect temperature. We drove the long way back to the guesthouse not realising how late it was…when we pulled up to a local eatery we were shocked to see that it was twenty to four. This resulted in an extremely late lunch.

The best thing about the Thu Bon Riverside is that it’s located in a little village filled with locals, and these locals are the friendly kind, smiling and waving at you all the time. That’s how we happened upon our chosen spot for lunch. For $4 we enjoyed Cao Lau, again, and a 7up on tiny metal tables, and little red chairs that would be too small for primary school children. But again it was delicious, and much needed after a day of soaking up the sun!

To make the most of the moped we drove it back into the Old Town later in the evening. We strolled along the river front and purchased a floating lantern from a little old lady to release onto the river, and enjoyed another meal from an actual restaurant this time. We tried another local delicacy, White Rose, rice paper wantons filled with meat and shrimp, topped with crispy onions and chilli, they were absolutely amazing! Hoi An has some of the best food we have tasted on the entire trip.

The next morning we were picked up by our guide for the day, Bao. We had signed up for a cooking class and again we were lucky enough to be the only ones on the tour, get in!! The trip started with a walk around the local food market, here we discovered the names of different fruits and vegetables and even tried a Vietnamese apple, it was soft like a banana with pips like a watermelon and looked like a Buddhas hair. Kyle enjoyed it but I wasn’t so sure. Bao told us that the local women kept calling Kyle a fisherman, this was because of his tattoos. Many years ago fishermen would get tattoos of eyes to scare away the crocodiles in the river and many other monsters.

We also learnt why the older women have black teeth. It’s not due to bad dental care, they actually chose for them to look like this by chewing vegetables and paste. It was once believed that for a woman to be beautiful in Vietnam that she had to have black teeth, white skin and very very long hair. Bao said he’s grateful that this tradition is now ignored by the younger generation, I would be too.

A river boat took us up the Thu Bon and into the river coconut farm, here we had to carefully climb into a bamboo basket boat. Once on board we were given our rice hats to shade us from the sun and set off crab fishing. It was hilarious! Little bits of fish are attached to wire on a bamboo stick, which you wave in front of a crab until he clings on. Next is a tug of war between you and the crab as you try and make it let go of the tree. Kyle was a natural catching 4, me, I only managed 2! 

Sailing down the river we next stopped at a restaurant where we would begin our class, and decide who would become the next Masterchef! We made Hoi An spring rolls, “Xeo” cake (pancakes) and a papaya salad, we even had a go at grinding the rice to make rice milk. All the dishes were delicious, and there was enough food to feed an army, we couldn’t believe it when the family brought us even more to go alongside what we made! I’ll let Kyle take the title of Masterchef, I mean my pancakes were the best but he beat me at everything else…but there’s always next time, so he better watch his back!

We had a great time with Bao and got to learn a lot about the local way of life in Hoi An, like how everything is organic and how chemicals are banned from farming. I was shocked when he told us that they eat BBQ’d rats and drink ducks blood soup. He even told us about modern developments, like how China have bought a lot of land, and are planning on building huge resorts along the river front. Although it will be good for tourism, he is worried about the effect that it will have on the environment. Me and Kyle feel that in 10 years time the allure of Hoi An’s old town may be lost to this kind of development. 

Cooking must have taken it out of Kyle as he treat himself to a little nap once we got home. After which we headed into the Old Town once again to meet Linford, Rebecca and the gang for some drinks. We headed to Mr.Beans bar on the riverfront, tempted by the offer of a free bottle of vodka. A decision which I have now come to regret. We had a great time catching up and swapping stories about Vietnam, until the ‘Ming-Monging’, (not bing-bonging, whoops) started again! The first bottle of vodka quickly disappeared and Linford bartered to get us another for half price, shame they brought it out with a half price ice bucket too….we couldn’t even get the base of the bottle in! As we said our goodbyes at the end of the night it dawned on us that, that will be the last time we see a familiar face until Australia.

Today has been pure hell, I have had the hangover to end all hangovers. Poor Kyle had to cycle into town on his own to fetch some breakfast, which turned out to be shit, and I laid in bed feeling sorry for myself until 6! What a waste of a day.

We have loved Hoi An, and I’m a little bit sad that we’re not staying longer, especially when there's 500 tailors and Kyle hasn't even treat me to one dress! We will definitely be back. Tonight will definitely be an early one, I need to get rid of this headache! 

Love Carrie xxx

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