Helen and Randall on the road

A bit about our adventures 2011-2012

Saturday 10th – Wednesday 14th December: Hoi An

with one comment

We arrived at Da Nang station at 10.30 am after a rather bumpy night and immediately bundled into a taxi to Hoi An with our two cabin-mates. The taxi driver thought it was amusing to play us various versions of Xmas carols, including a Vietnamese version of Jingle Bells and a hard house version of same, complete with sinister Santa voice shouting ‘Ho Ho Ho – Have YOU been a good boy?’. Think it would play well in Fire.

We got dropped off at our hotel, the excellent Thanh Van 2, just a little outside the UNESCO World Heritage site; the old quarter of Hoi An.

Rather nice hotel room with balcony overlooking the (unheated) pool.

After a relaxing morning in the hotel and an afternoon nap to recover from the train journey we headed into the Old Quarter for dinner at Streets, a local social enterprise comprising a restaurant and training programme. The food, surroundings and service were superb.

It was raining when we left but we had a quick wander around. The roads near the river were all flooded – apparently it was a high spring tide; the ‘main’ floods had finished the previous month. Indeed, the next day when we went back in daylight the river was back within its banks; however the paper lanterns floating on the flooded streets were quite lovely, and the whole area was beautifully atmospheric:

The water creeping up the street.

Paper lanterns floating over the flooded pavement as the water rises.

Aside from general tourism, Hoi An’s specialities are 24-hour tailoring and shoemaking. As Randall had worn his favourite shoes out completely and needed a new pair we popped into a shoe shop opposite the Streets restaurant. Within 10 minutes he had selected a style, selected a colour of leather and been measured up, with a promise that they would be ready the next day. Impressive. After wandering the streets for a while, and getting lots of attention from young Vietnamese women who all coveted my umbrella (it was raining, and my umbrella is really rather good) we had a last drink in Before and Now then headed back to the hotel.

Sunday was definitely a day of rest and work. I had a massage and also a swim in the (unheated) pool which I thought was quite brave of me! In the afternoon we went to collect Randall’s shoes which turned out to be too tight…fortunately this was not a problem for our accommodating new friends who vowed to make new ones for the next day. We also dropped off his old, favourite (stinky)  shoes as they claimed they could copy them, and I ordered some casual clothes for travelling from the shoe-maker’s sister’s shop (in the way of these things) to be collected the next day too.

In the evening we went for dinner in town and met Mr Phuong, a Vietnamese man who runs an informal tour to his village for interesting/interested people that he meets in the restaurant. We agreed to meet him at our hotel on Tuesday with a rented moped so we could follow him to his village half an hours ride away.

It was an early start the next morning to catch the sunrise over the temple/ruins at My Son. They date from 4th to 14th Century but were trashed by US bombing during the Vietnam War, so that the main 24 metre high temple is just a pile of bricks. The bits left standing are still impressive and another UNESCO site.

Apparently the Cham people who built the temples over many centuries were master brick makers (is there a name for brickmakers?). The restorers at the site tried to renovate one of the walls using modern bricks and within 20 years the new ones were covered in damp and mildew whereas the 1000-year old bricks adjoining them were still perfectly dry.

Body of a god (Shiva in this case)

Peering into a shell casing from the war – there was bombing and fighting around the temples, much destroyed, craters and bullet holes still evident.

It was still early when we got back so we wandered into town:

The centre of the old quarter is pedestrian and bicycle (and other ‘primitive vehicle’) only.

The river was behaving itself.

Back within its banks

Inventive way for dealing with the floods

Secret agent cycle rickshaw

Lunch break

Japanese covered bridge

I ordered some more clothes from a different tailor where I had seen a coat I liked, and we collected Randall’s shoes, both pairs of which were a cinderella-style perfect fit – the copy of his old shoes (which we had been trying and failing to replace for ages) was really impressive. My items from the first tailor were OK – a couple needed some tweaking so we went for a drink next door and then to try and find something to take to the school in Mr Phuong’s village (we found an art shop selling cheap poster paint and brushes – result!) before picking up the fixed and finished items.

It was with some trepidation that the next day we launched ourselves onto Vietnamese roads on a tiny 50cc scooter (I say ‘we’ – Randall drove and I sat on the back trying not to look at the oncoming traffic), but the visit to Mr Phuong’s house and village was definitely worth it. We got a fascinating history lesson about Vietnam – Mr Phuong had fought for South Vietnam against the communists and had subsequently spend a year in a ‘re-education camp’. He explained how, like most civil wars, the North/South, Communist/Free split had driven families apart and still has a huge influence on what jobs and education a person can get.

Family temple in their home.

Apparently under the communists although religion was banned, venerating spirits, ancestors and ghosts was OK because it came under ‘Cultural Practices and Folklore’.

Boiled rice drying – to be made into rice wine, another element of the family business!

Fermenting rice

Down the hatch!

Mr Phuong holding forth

Fishing on the river

Making paan from betel nuts with Phuong mere

Mama Phuong

Pigeon trap – trapping them for pets apparently. Another family business!

Dragon fruit in the marketplace

Fruit seller.

Leaves of tobacco – another cottage industry in the village.

Tobacco rolled and ready for the wholesaler

The village primary school

The level of the flood waters from 2009 on the school wall.

We arrived at nap time!

Village War Memorial, commemorating those who fought and died on all sides.

Bullet holes in one of the only surviving buildings from before the war.

Local equivalent of WI whist drive.

Mr Phuong’s family temple

Mr Phuong and grandson

Mr Phuong’s grandson and friend, beating each other up.

Amazing lunch of baked tuna, rice spring rolls, stir-fried morning-glory with garlic and winter melon & shrimp soup. Yum!

Mr Phuong’s dining table, covered in postcards and travel books so he can ‘travel in his mind’.

Not quite La Dolce Vita, but fun all the same!

Wednesday was time to leave Hoi An for Siem Reap via Da Nang airport, but not before a morning Vietnamese cookery class at Thuan Tinh island cookery school.

After pick-up from the hotel, our group of 9 was led around Hoi An market by Ms Hoa and Bin the chef who picked out ingredients.

Onions, shallots and garlic for sale at Hoi An Market



Oils and sauces stall (we bought fish sauce,soy sauce and chilli sauce)

Assorted noodles for sale.


Half hour boat ride to the island from central Hoi An

Interesting ‘water closet’

Punt trip along the canals of Thuan Tinh island

We even got fetching hats to wear.

Our cooking station – luckily for us, someone else had done all the chopping while we were out and about on the island.

Ingredients for making stock. Mmmmmmm.

The unusual sight of Randall cooking.

More beautifully pre-prepared bits and pieces.

Chef Bin in action.

Randall rolling a spring roll with great concentration.

Yummy rice paper spring roll – result!

Randall showing off his crispy pancakes.

Frying the beef for the beef salad.


Proud chef

Chef #2, drinking the stock from the Pho we made.


Written by helenbcn

December 14, 2011 at 11:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Oooooh, I now urgently want to go to Vietnam, had never thought much about it before. Wonderful photos, I am jealous. Lots of love to both of you.


    December 29, 2011 at 11:09 pm

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