Two visits: one in April and the other in early August
01.08.2011 - 04.08.2011
Hoi An seems to be on every tourist's list of Place to Visit in Vietnam! Known for its 24 hour tailoring service (any piece of clothing whether copied or from a picture, shoes and boots made too, any size, any colour) and it's old age charm and beautiful buildings, you can see why people come.
It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site and this has meant that the buildings have been preserved but it seems to be largely about retail opportunities. However, walking around, there's none of the hard sell "you buy from me" associated with places like Sapa but if you enter a tailor or shoemakers' shop, be prepared for a hard sell and if you agree to one item, they'll sure push for a second, or even a third! Ask others who've been and are happy where they had their clothes made and go there. If you're having some made to measure, you may as well get it made properly.
The river is the lifeblood of Hoi An. There are river taxis which chug up and down, carrying everything - motorbikes, bicycles, chickens, vegetables. The wet market is packed with stalls, fresh fish and seafood, vegetables, spices while the indoor market has more meat along with bras, tshirts, tobacco, betel, dried goods - everything! However, be aware that Vietnamese shopkeepers are very superstitious. Don't hover with the appearance of being on the verge of buying something unless you really are going to. It is believed that if the first customer of the day turns away and doesn't buy, they believe that person has brought them bad luck all day and business will be poor. Be the first person to buy something and you are rewarded with smiles; they may try and make you linger in the hope that the good luck you bring will attract other customers.
In April, with Brian, we took a little boat down the river to Cua Dai beach. It took about 1.5 hours but it was really good to see life from the water. We watched while a fisherman cast his net out over the river while his wife stood in the stern, holding the boat steady. He swung the net around and then cast it up and out; hauling it back in, the net was empty so he proceeded to repeat the process. What amazed me was their perfect balance and his wife's ability to keep the boat still.
Hoi An is also renown for its lantern making business and, in the evenings, women and children sit by the river with lit candles in what look like little popcorn boxes you get at the cinema, trying to sell them. They lower the lit candle in its holder down on to the river and it gently floats away. On the 15th day of each lunar month, the power is turned off around the river and the town reverts to candles and a pre electricity era. We haven't coincided our visits to Hoi An with this so hence why there are no photos but I'm sure the guidebooks will do a better job than me!
Earlier this month, the Cloughs and I went down to Hoi An specifically as Peter and Sam wanted two days of diving around the Cham Islands and Daisy and I could snorkel and do a cookery class. We had a great time with Dive Vietnam: it isn't the Barrief Reef but the whole day out was fun - not least watching a ferry leave the quay, bound for one of the far Cham Islands. It was filled, again, with live animals, bikes, veg but wasn't even loaded - a definite tilt. It set off, lurched away from the quay, ran into another boat (not that anyone was worried), had a push off from that and then set off across the sea!!
There is little or no concept of Heath and Safety in Vietnam. Workers on building sites wear flip flops, rarely have a hard hat, there are next to no safety rails and sometimes you look twice as someone has a safety harness. So it tickled me to see the rescue boat when we were diving/snorkelling - not quite the sort of safety boat using around watersports - but, it was OK, because the guy was wearing a hard hat.....!
Daisy and I had perhaps the best day of the two weeks at the Green Bamboo cooking school. Van took us to the market to buy all the ingredients and then we went back to her house. She is a fabulous cook, good company and hostess and it really felt you were just in her home and not a paying punter. The food was amazing and Daisy has already cooked most of the dishes again, back home in the UK, as Van also sends the recipes by email. www.greenbamboo-hoian.com She comes highly recommended!