To Vietnam, from Brighton. One train, three flights and a taxi transfer, over 24 hours. With Emirates, we flew from Gatwick to Dubai, we spotted the world’s tallest building from the airport, and then on, to Saigon, and a very tight connection to Da Nang, which included our visa applications. We arrived in Hoi An, and our hotel, at midnight, and we relished a shower and a comfortable bed.
It’s now our first day in Hoi An. We’re staying at the rather luxurious Life Heritage Resort, on the edge of town, about ten minutes walk into the centre. The walls are a subtle pink, the foliage luscious and the atmosphere tranquil. A perfect, relaxing introduction to the holiday.
The travelling took its toll, three flights a train and a taxi and we were exhausted. Yet we didn’t sleep well, and at 9am, a little dreary, not really jet lagged, we had to adjust to the climate. A very humid 25C. It grows to the high thirties in the day, at least until the rains come.
Dainty, we had our breakfast, the usual coffee and fruit juices, the more exotic fruits — mango, dragonfruit, pineapple, some noodles (I love noodles for breakfast) and various mini breads. We sat on the Senses restaurant balcony and overlooked the river. A motor boat chugged past, followed by a man in a pyramidal straw hat, rowing his small thin wooden boat. Calm, wonderful.
The skies were clear, a relief after all the weather forecasts that suggested constant storms and downpours. It is of course the start of the rainy season. And Hoi An is known to suffer badly, the river often rising 1m, and more recently, 2m causing havoc with the bohemian town. The humidity is however overbearing, a constant sauna, the only break being our dry air-con, whirring away to keep our room comfy at 25C. I’m not sure how we’ll cope without it later in the holiday.
Unlike normal, I was raring to go and Sam was little drowsy, I left Sam to sleep it off and set out exploring my first taste of Vietnam alone. In my shorts, hat and sunglasses, camera slung around my neck, I was the obvious western tourist.
One step outside the hotel grounds. “Hello sir! Laundry? Clean, cheap, nice”. Then the next shop, “Hello! You buy something!”. And that’s how it is in Hoi An, hounded for the most part, usually by young children trying to sell flashing toys, candles or raincoats, depending on the time and weather. You get used to it.
Moving slowly onwards, smiling at the shopkeepers urging me into their stores, but keeping a brisk pace, I headed into old town Hoi An.
Only a small town, the roads are utterly ridiculous. As one guide put it, the road markings are decorative. People mostly stick to one side of the road, mostly, it’s more guidance. At cross roads you blindly drive through, don’t stop whatever you do, but beep your horn to let everyone know you’re coming. Red scooters, black motorbikes, everyone wearing a small helmet, it all seems to just work, the meandering is never ending, it just ebbs and flows. Cars passing bikes, passing scooters, dodging cyclists, avoiding pedestrians who are walking around street dealers; four levels deep overtaking on a road that is wide enough for two cars. I couldn’t help but smile, this was insane.
I did a small lap of the old town, enough to take in my surroundings, to absorb the heat, to build up a sweat and to happily return to the hotel’s pool to cool off. “How old are you? 15?” the bar attendant asked, aghast at my real age, and surprised I was married.
Sam emerged from her slumber and we chillaxed by the stone shallow pool, with its warm water, sun beds and bar. With fruit shake in hand, we read about Hoi An in the Lonely Planet and planned our time.
Storm clouds grew in the distance, the rumble of thunder got louder, and closer, an ever threatening presence. But the rain never came, it passed us by, the sun stayed out and we remained in the pool.
That evening, a Sunday night, we headed out into town, this time together. The evening changes Hoi An, the lanterns come on, red, yellow, different shapes, hung outside most shops. The roads become “walking streets”, and there’s a relaxed casual atmosphere about the place, less hustle and bustle, although still the hard sells.
Passing the market place on the way into town, old women sat in the road, their fresh fish sitting in upturned lids and baskets. Live shrimp hopped from one basket to another, amidst piles of fresh fruit. The smell of durian in the air, pungent and unmistakeable. Bikes whizzed by, pulling across in front of us to buy 30,000 VND of this, or that, noodles, vegetables, meat, and so on.
On the skyline another storm was brewing, and this one was certainly heading right for us. We explored the little Japanese bridge at the far end of town, again, with red lanterns and pretty lights. The atmosphere was buzzing, a camera crew were waiting, and there were chairs lining the river. Something was going to happen but we had no idea what. And we wouldn’t find out either.
Earlier that night, when I’d suggested perhaps we should take the wet weather gear, Sam casually replied, “No, we’ll just get wet”. Oh did she rue those words. As the heavens opened and the deluge began, we hopped from shop to shop hoping to find the restaurant we were looking for. Not quite sure how the road map married up to the mish-mash of mini streets and paths we were exploring.
Eventually, more by blind luck, we stumbled on “Morning Glory”. Inside an open kitchen filled the restaurant, with tables surrounding it. Two women prepared fresh rice wraps and noodles in front of us.
For starters we shared barbecued beef skewers in sesame seeds, which we removed from their sticks and placed in a rice wrap with a thin rectangular noodle, and oodles of fresh herbs - thai basil, coriander, mint. Scrumptious, and washed down with local Larue beer, a light sort of lager.
Feeling almost full, clearly our appetite hadn’t yet adapted to the climate, water, surroundings or whatever, the mains arrived, and we paced ourselves.
A smokey aubergine dish with sticky rice, the smokey flavour matched the flavouring used in bacon crisps, and I took an instant dislike to it. The dish was tasty, just not to my tastes. The second dish was the venerable Vietnamese Pho, beef with fresh herbs in a soupy broth. Really quite delicious. Lovely.
We couldn’t eat any more, but the rain kept pouring. We got the bill and paid very slowly, yet still the rain continued. We eventually made a mad dash for it, the equivalent of jumping under a shower fully clothed. We made it three shops down to a lovely stylish cocktail bar called Q, pumping out Moby in the damp night air.
A whiskey based Saigon Express for me and a chocolate daiquiri for Sam, accompanied with dragonfruit crisps, which, strangely, we could eat now. As the drinks went down and the chillout soundtrack played, the rain paused and we explored night time Hoi An again.
Back towards the Japanese bridge, where the rain had rudely interrupted us, and there was a concert in full swing. On stage a guy dressed as Pikachu was rapping, there was much jumping, shouting and light flashing, in the sky and on the stage.
We crossed over the river and watched from afar, taking pictures of Hoi An at night, looking beautiful with its lanterns all reflecting in the water. On the bridge swathes of tourists; western, chinese, vietnamese alike, took their photos alongside the lanterns and the views. A warm, relaxing and safe atmosphere.
The sky threatened again, and not wishing to become drenched once more, we headed back. The skies opened just as we got to our hotel, perfect timing.
Before bed we nipped about the hotel, snapping photos of the heavy rain and the large toads that now occupied the paths.