Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hoi An has swallowed me whole

I love Hoi An. It is the perfect place for a holiday. There is fabulous food, fascinating architecture of the old town, incredible shopping, hot holiday weather, friendly people, and a nice beach not too far away. I could spend every holiday here, although my bank balance and my overflowing wardrobe would not thank me for that.

[the old buildings of Hoi An - with Cat and Mat chatting)

I made rice paper and new friends... all at the same time
The greatest part of my holiday started with the Red Bridge cooking school. We started with a delicious cool drink at the Hai restaurant in town, chatted to fellow novice chefs, and headed to the local food markets. Our guide Hip was very entertaining, telling us about the foods you come across in the markets here, how to cook them and what they are good for (tummy aches, headaches, etc).

We then got a boat for a nice ride down the river to the cooking school. We were showed around the herb garden, and then to the cooking class area - a covered deck on the edge of a river, with chairs in the centre facing a cooking bench, complete with the mirror about the chef. Our chef was great as well, very funny, and easy to follow. We had printed notes to annotate and lovely drinks. We learnt how to make rice paper, rice paper rolls, rice pancakes and eggplant hotpot. All very delicious and interesting items to learn to cook.

[in the food markets with the cooking class tour]

After the class we all sat down to eat some of the food we'd made, as well as some additional dishes. The setting was perfect, with views of the river.

But the main reason the cooking class was such a tipping point in our trip was because we met two wonderful guys, Amit and Ido from Israel. We met them for dinner that night at Cargo Bar - our favourite restaurant in Hoi An. I had the best mushroom risotto I've ever had that night - not what I was expecting in Vietnam! And the desserts there are to die for, absolutely delicious. Ido, Amit and I went out for a few drinks and wandered around town that night, talking about everything. The kind of conversations that only seem to happen on holidays when you're far away from home in a strange country with people from the otherside of the world from you. I got back to my hotel at 1am, having woken up a taxi driver! They were all just sleeping in their taxis.

[Cao Lau, a specialty dish in Hoi An, and tomato shake]

Beach and boating
The following day I took a free bicycle from the hotel and went to Cua Dai beach. It was no Australian beach, but it was more beautiful that I was expecting. Of course even while I was trying to read my book on the beach there were people trying to sell me stuff. It never ended. I had little will power and bought some jewelry... I got home and realised I was sunburnt. Pale skin is no good in any country!

I rode my bike into town for my fitting at the tailor Yaly. I had so many awesome clothes made, particularly for the Canberra winter. The tailor was brilliant, everything I had made fit perfectly. I bumped into Cat and Mat and then Ido and Amit. We sat down at the outdoor eating area and ate some delicious noodles and very cheap beer (about 30cents a glass!). Cat and Mat took off for more fittings at tailors, and Ido, Amit and I took a boat ride on the river. It was a great idea of Amit's- the sun was setting, the boys rowed me round, and even sang a hebrew song about sailing. It was rather surreal, but wonderful. Discovered that we shared the same taste in music and movies...

[Amit and his coconut drink]

That night we had dinner at the Riverside cafe. Run by Austrians, it had the most stylish toilets I'd seen in Vietnam. The food was quite good, and after dinner we went upstairs to an awesome lounge area to drink cocktails.

That night Amit, Ido and I ended up on a bus to a beach party at midnight. The mini van had seats for 10, but about 25 drunk backpackers squished into it! It was somewhat crazy, but we made it to the beach party. It was pretty chilled out. We went swimming in the ocean. It was lovely. Ido said I should change my plans and go with them the next day to Ninh Binh. I decided I couldn't (clothes being tailored, friends, etc). We stayed and watched the sunrise and it was absolutely stunning.

[View from the boat]

It amazed me that I could meet two wonderful people that shared so many of my interests, yet who had lived their whole lives on the other side of the world to me, in a country constantly at war, and of which I only know a little. Amit said it is not that surprising, as we are all human. But I disagree, meetings of minds like this don't just happen everyday. they are so rare.
[squished on the bus to the beach party]

Don't go to the markets when you are tired
The next day I woke up at 1pm (after going to bed a 7am...) and headed into town. Here is a tip - don't go shopping when you're not awake. Somehow I ended up ordering even more tailor made clothes and shoes, bought even more handbags... and scarves... I was in a daze and didn't notice.

That night after dinner I started thinking that maybe I could join Amit and Ido for the rest of my travels... It all depended on a flight from Hanoi to meeting my flight from Saigon...

In the morning I checked out the one flight factor. I could do it. I bought a sim card, called Amit and Ido, bought 2 plane tickets, went to 4 shops to pick up my clothes, shoes and more clothes, checked out of my hotel, and headed to Hanoi at 8pm from Hoi An, arriving at Amit and Ido's hotel just after midnight. I changed all my plans to spend a few more days with Amit and Ido, and it wasn't difficult, it all fell into place. I've never been that spontaneous in my life before, but I'm so glad I did it.

[sunrise on Cua Dai beach]

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