This morning began with a city tour around the ‘Old Town’ which was dubbed as a living museum. You had to purchase a ticket to enter with only pedestrians and cyclists permitted to travel inside. It was a welcome break not to have to dodge motorcyclists/moped riders but even cyclists can be difficult to circumnavigate when the streets are crowded.
Once in the old town we were able to see many local people engaged in traditional crafts such as tailoring, cobbling and the making of silver jewellery. Mechanisation had not reached this area (except for the odd sewing machine) with many locals making items by hand often using what looked like self-made tools.
We passed a place where lanterns were made – a symbol of the area since they were hung across the streets and at night were lit and left to float on the river (once a wish had been made). As we continued to weave through the streets of the river we eventually popped out on the riverside. Fishing boats lined the banks and eyes could be seen painted on the front like those we saw in Marsaxlokk on our Malta adventure. Our guide pointed out a number of places to eat along the water’s edge as we had several days here. Further along we saw traditional methods for catching fish and newly built bridges connecting the two sides of the river bank together.
Our next stop was the Japanese covered bridge. This bridge was originally built to join the separated Vietnamese/Chinese side of Hoi An to the Vietnamese/Japanese side. This bridge contained statues of a monkey and a dog at either end as these were thought to be lucky animals by the Japanese. Inside there was a small shrine where some of the locals had set up candles and incense.
On the other side of the bridge we entered a traditional Vietnamese house. It was two storeys high which was a good thing when we found out about the frequency with which the water level rose causing the whole family to move themselves, their furniture and their belongings through a trap door and onto the second level. The family now made a living by opening up their home to tourists and through the sale of the silk table covers and napkins which were seen by hand.
Our final stop on this quick tour of Hoi An was a visit to a temple. It was actually a meeting place for the local province but contained a temple at the rear as well as meeting spaces around the outside. Once again it was very ornately decorated and seemed to contain a number of East Asian influences.
Feeling very hot and sweaty, in need of a little rehydration and a little tired we headed back to the hotel to change into our beach wear. The hotel ran a free shuttle to Cua Dai beach and had its own private beach. On arrival we were shown to our own sun loungers which were a few meters from the sea – there was no one in front of us – just sand then sea. A menu was brought to us and we selected food and drink high in salt and sugar to replace that which the morning walk had drained from us. Whilst waiting for food we decided to have a quick dip in the sea. The sand, even though only a few meters of it to the water, was red hot! This led to Anthony running to the sea and even though I had flip flops you could still feel the heat. The water was clear and clean – the best we had been in so far. It was warm too and the waves were frequent but not too high that you could swim or paddle. I had never really been in a tropical sea before. I had been to a beach in Malaysia but we never swam, nor did we swim yesterday prior to travelling along the Hai Van Pass. It was great though. I could have stayed in there for ages, just jumping the waves or swimming out – looking at the palm trees on the beach or the islands out in the distance.
Seeing our food had arrived (that’s how close our sun loungers were to the water) we left the water to eat and soak up the Sun. However, it wasn’t long before food and drink had been consumed and we were back in the water. We even wrote a message for family back home on the beach before we left, vowing that we would return the next day.
A quick shower and change once back at the hotel and we were then met by our chef in the hotel lobby. We were off to cooking school. Jumping into a taxi, our first stop was the market. Our chef explained that it opened as early as 1 am when local villages and restaurants not in Hoi An would arrive on motorbikes to obtain their food. Locals would begin arriving from 4 or 5 am in order to get the freshest food. He had already brought the meat early that morning so he showed us round the vegetable section where we got lemongrass before taking us to where spices could be obtained. It was interesting to hear about how locals would go to the market everyday and go to different stalls for each of the items they required. This is in complete contrast to in the UK where supermarkets are visited on average once a week and everything can be found under one roof, fresh regardless of the time visited.
Another taxi and we were at the place we would cook. Everything had been put out in bowls/on plates and cling-filmed ready for us. We made four dishes: green mango salad with mint, hand-made and hand-rolled deep fried pork spring rolls, caramelised clay pot pork and beef with lemongrass. Not only did we learn how to make traditional Vietnamese food (which we then ate for our tea) but we also learnt cooking techniques such as how to cut finely and which direction to slice beef. It was a very enjoyable experience although I do feel that it wouldn’t be a good idea to give up teaching to become a chef – I’m not very efficient and it gets way too hot cooking in this humidity!
After consuming the dinner we had made we walked back to the hotel – once again taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the city. I’m still getting used to just how much goes on at night when the temperatures drop and everyone comes out to work and enjoy themselves.