Ancient Hoi An

27 01 2009

Hoi An, Vietnam

The trip from Nha Trang to Hoi An gave us the golden opportunity to sample the oft mentioned sleeper bus. We had chatted with some travelers who said that they took a trip in Laos on a sleeper bus that had fully reclining seats and they slept through the whole ride. Seeing as how the couple we were talking to included a man over 6ft, I can only assume that the buses in Laos are different from Vietnam. Our sleeper bus was a two tiered affair, like a trailer of bunk beds, though the beds were not fully reclining because each upper portion of the seat rests on a cubby hole that the person behind them puts their legs under. A truly ingenious idea with the exception of one problem. The cubbyholes were apparently made for anyone below the height of 5ft 3in. I am 5ft 5in. Gage is 5ft 9in. Five feet three inches minus five feet five inches equals a very rough night’s sleep.

Gage before his miserable nights sleep.

Gage before his miserable night's sleep.

The online travel guide said that Hoi An was a tourist trap, but a worthwhile tourist trap. Another guide said that Hoi An was foodie heaven. Given several hundred dollars of spending cash and only three days to visit, these statements would have been totally correct. This is due to two major aspects of Hoi An; the first being a plethora of shops including a veritable rash of tailors and shoe makers, the second being the existence of some pretty unique native dishes that you don’t find elsewhere.

Beautiful Hoi An Streets

Beautiful Hoi An Streets

Tailor shops can be found on every street, creating a bit of a problem when it comes to distinguishing the good from the bad. Asking for a suggestion from the locals doesn’t help much either. We asked our front desk girl if she could recommend a good restaurant and she said no, but she could recommend a good tailor, and then produced a business card. Translation: she didn’t get a commission from a restaurant, but she did get a commission from the tailor. A few minutes of watching women walk around in pajamas makes it pretty clear that these tailors are not frequented by locals. While the sample mannequins spilling onto the sidewalks offered gorgeous styles and the idea of having perfectly sized shoes tempted us, we didn’t have room in our bags and whatever savings we would have gained would have been lost in shipping the stuff home.

The unique dishes that can be found in Hoi An are cau lau, a soup with thick noodles and broth from a local well, com ga, chicken rice, and white rose, pork dumplings. Of course, you may notice that these are only three items, which doesn’t really keep two foodies like us very busy. Luckily, Hoi An does offer a wide range of cooking courses. The most exciting and involved of which is the Red Bridge Cooking School & Restaurant. Starting at 8am, we met up with a group at a nearby restaurant for some morning beverages and to be picked up by our adorable tour guide, Hip. She took us to an organic herb and vegetable farm where we picked out some produce for our upcoming dishes. Then it was on to the local market to pick up the rest of the ingredients and get a little demo of some crazy Vietnamese cooking utensils.

After that it was over to the cooking school/restaurant to learn how to make some traditional dishes. Aside from the usual pulverising of various ingredients, we also got to make our own rice noodles from scratch and cook up my new favorite dish, fish clay pot.

Three hours of cooking and eating was followed by a nice boat ride down the river and back to downtown Hoi An. Another one of those courses where I’m not sure if I learned the skills well enough to replicate them perfectly, but I do feel like I’m still full three days later.

Boat Ride From The Cooking School

Boat Ride From The Cooking School

Perhaps staying in Hoi An for five days was a bit much what with the inability to buy massive quantities of souvenirs, tailored wool coats, and custom fitted shoes. But regardless, it was a beautiful city that was a joy to walk around in and just soak up the gorgeous scenery.

The Japanese Bridge

The Japanese Bridge

For more pictures from Hoi An, click here.

Suggestions:

  • If the point of your travels is to have something tailored, you’d probably have better luck heading to Chiang Mai. Considering every man in Chiang Mai is in a tailored suit on all of the police officers wear uniforms that look like a second skin, it’s easy to find someone in town who can recommend a good tailor. Wherever you get your stuff done, just haggle hard!
  • All of the cooking schools in Hoi An can be signed up the day beforehand, so compare and contrast. The most popular schools are Red Bridge, Cafe 96, Hai Cafe, and Morning Glory.
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4 responses

27 01 2009
dad

I’d have to say that so far your readout on the country doesn’t quite jibe with my recollection of the place.

I wonder if the war has anything to do with that. Could be. It’s probably not the best way to really get to know a place, even if you take a lot of walks and campout all the time while you’re there.

29 01 2009
Kathy

Jen – I lauged out loud when I read your dad’s post. Yah – I’m sure things were a whole lot different then. The letters I received during the Viet Nam war were alwasy covered with a red tint – the soil. Anyway, it sure it beautiful. Thoroughly enjoyed the pictures!

Love, Kathy

29 01 2009
Kathy

Need spell-check! I meant “always”. 🙂

31 01 2009
garrett

I’m counting on some good Pho so I hope you paid attention in those classes!

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