Saturday, 15 December 2012

Lantern town

Hoi An is charming. It's a welcome escape from the frenetic pace of life elsewhere in Vietnam, with precious few motorbikes zipping past, and smiling, friendly people who aren't as persistent with their 'Hallo! Moto-bike! Where you go? I take you moto-bike!' routine.

But there's a catch. When it rains, it pours. Locals and tourists embrace their garishly-coloured ponchos and attempt to carry on with their activities, but I was caught out on my first night, and trudged home through the puddles wearing shorts and flip-flops. Not fun.

Still, I'm glad I ventured out - the Old Town at night is magical, with colourful lanterns lighting up the river and couples eating romantic dinners on its banks. As for me, I decided my soaking wet attire wouldn't go down so well in the restaurants, so I had my first banh mi from a street vendor instead. It hit the spot perfectly - a crusty French baguette filled with meats, pates, cucumber and herbs, drizzled with special sauces. Delicious.

I was up early the next morning, so wandered through the maze of streets in the Old Town, passing families chomping on pho for breakfast. I stumbled upon a cafe that offered cooking classes and decided to give it a go. The head chef took a small group of us around the market, introducing us to the herbs and spices and fruits and vegetables that are fundamental ingredients in Vietnamese cuisine, and showed us all the gory detail of the meat and fish selection too. Just the way to work up an appetite...

We then took a lovely boat trip to the secluded cookery school, which was gorgeous. We went on a tour around its herb garden before learning how to make rice paper rolls, banh xeo (savoury crepes), and clay pot dishes - and eating the results. And in case we were still hungry, they cooked us a huge lunch afterwards too.

Sufficiently fuelled for an afternoon of strolling around the Old Town, I later attempted to suck in my belly and go for a clothes fitting - Hoi An's tailors are famous for being able to make almost anything to measure. Alas, I was too indecisive to choose something - maybe next time...

As if my colossal lunch hadn't been enough, I later went to a restaurant that is hugely popular with locals called the Ba Le Well, where you are continually brought grilled pork skewers, banh xeo and spring rolls until you can manage no more, all for 90,000 dong. I'm fairly sure I ate my way through an entire pig - and as the owner patted my belly and said 'Happy Buddha', I think he would agree.

If the endless food wasn't a big enough incentive to remain there all night, the recommenced rainfall made it difficult to leave as well. Cursing myself for not having learnt my lesson the night before, I waded my way back to the hostel yet again - no doubt to the amusement of the savvy street vendors sheltered under their umbrellas and ponchos. Next time, the pac-a-mac is coming along too.

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