Sep 13

Continuing our amazing experience through Vietnam

Day 4 – Bus from Hue to Hoi An

We travelled the four hour journey from Hue to Hoi An without a hitch. We’d stopped half way at a little beach resort, where we quickly wondered down to the ocean and dipped our toes in. It was incredibly warm, much warmer than tropical Hawaii! The beach was a slice of paradise and I think we all wished that we were staying there for a few days to just chill and relax after a relentless opening initiation.

On the bus, we then began to climb the mountain, to go up and over. We stopped again, someway up to admire a few war time bunkers and try to make out the vantage point that looked over Da Nang Bay. It was raining fairly heavily and the view across the bay was predominately covered by cloud. This didn’t deter us from wondering around, mingling with the locals and appreciating the views.

We arrived in Hoi An and were instantly impressed. Classed as a World Heritage site, Hoi An is a classic Vietnamese town with a buzzing atmosphere. It’s famous for it’s tailoring, food and traditional markets. We were all starving after our long journey and Charles took us to one of his favourite local restaurants. This place apparently served the best Snapper (a fish) in Banana leaf in town. Most of us ordered the set menu which consisted of the aforementioned, White Rose, which are little dumplings and some secret recipe wontons accompanied with rice. It was a great welcome to Hoi An and the Biere Larue’s were flowing freely. We popped into a few tailors, where most of the group had something sized up to be made – which was entertaining to witness. Fi and I decided not to due to our lack of luggage space!

We did pop into a shoe makers where I had the idea for some Vietnam inspired Converse as the national flag had the same star. The price however, was a minimum of $25 which wasn’t really the best value as the quality was a little ropey. That night we went to a very western populated bar to watch some football. For a second it felt like we were in Manchester. We were then reminded exactly where we were when walking home through the quiet streets of Hoi An being passed by a scooter loaded with Vietnamese every now and again all offering us a ride. We politely declined avoiding the cockroaches and rats who bossed the streets after dark.

Day 5 – Cooking Vitnamsese style

The next morning we were up early for our cooking course at the same restaurant we’d eaten lunch at the day before. We were excited to learn how to cook these impressive dishes. We met Nam, our resident chef for the morning. He took us straight down to the local market by the river. To say it was hot would be an understatement. We were dripping with sweat whilst being fed endless amounts of information about the local ingredients. We stopped at lots of market stalls to learn about the daily catch and what vegetable works with what.

We returned to the restaurant where there was a big table with various things be chopped. I ended up with fish and Nam showed me how to prepare it in the banana leaf. All hacked up, my fish went onto the BBQ to be smoked. We had a lot of fun chopping and cooking up all the bits, making spring rolls, calamari with veg and spices and a host of other tasty things. Friends and family will be treated to some home cooked Vietnamese when we’re home – if we can find the ingredients!

After eating what we’d cooked and suitably stuffed, we returned to the hotel for a little chill out time. We jumped in the pool to cool down. It’s unbelievable how much you sweat in this heat and other than a/c, there’s no way of cooling down. So swimming was welcomed by all. The eating continued and that night we went to an all you can eat restaurant. It was a full moon in Hoi An and to celebrate the locals sell floating candles to send down the river. In reality, it was cloudy, so you couldn’t see the moon, they sold candles at an inflated rate and then once you’d made a wish and set if sail, they went and retrieved it to resell! Resourceful.

Anyway, so on the walk to the restaurant the heavens opened (a daily occurrence) and we were all got soaked. Even the umbrella’s couldn’t deflect the torrential rain and the streets flooded instantly. English rain times 10! Once sat down, a stocky Vietnamese waitress brought out our set food. There was lots of meat on sticks, wraps and salad. She insisted on rolling our food for us and then proceeded to ram it into our mouths. I was the fall guy on this occasion and she took great pleasure in force feeding me. The restaurant was filled with locals and travellers alike – it was an odd but fun experience. The night was seen out with a few beers costing no more than 30p each.

Day 6 – Wondering around Hoi An

Today was a free day, so Fi and I wondered around the streets of Hoi An taking in most of the sights. We paid to cross the oldest bridge in Vietnam and enjoyed a cold beer on the other side. This was by far the hottest day we’d experienced in 6 months so we sat in front of any available fan – but this didn’t seem to make much difference, so we continued to walk around like a couple of sweaty Brits!

We grabbed some lunch after a failed attempt at locating a street food place recommended to us by Balancing Ben. Here we had our cheapest beer so far, white rose and a crepe. We headed back to the hotel for the obligatory swim and rested up before dinner. Charles had booked us in at a restaurant equivalent to the Heston Blumenthal’s ‘Fat Duck’ in Bray. There were stories about this Vietnamese celebrity chef having a big fall out with Gordon Ramsay in the restaurant we sat in. The food was brilliant – but we sure did pay for it. The price would of been reasonable back home, however for Asia, it was pricey and definitely out of our budget. It was all part of the experience and celebrating with our group. That was Hoi An in a nutshell, we woke up the following day early to travel to Saigon, the capital.

Day 7 – Hello Saigon

It was about half a days travel to Saigon which we did on a private bus. The travel was pretty intense during the tour as so much had to be crammed in, in such little time. We checked into the next hotel and immediately we went out to grab snack for our tour to the Cu Chi tunnels the next day. Richard (from Norwich) got lumbered with a trees worth of Bananas after attempting to buy just two. Apparently you can’t buy them separately! Saigon was a lot more western than anywhere else we’d been in Vietnam. It felt a little like the states but with added scooters and lack of road rules. In the evening we dined at a basic market restaurant with metal tables and plastic chairs. The beers were even cheaper than before and the table was a sea of beer bottles after just a few hours. We swung by a bar or two on the way home then hit the sack for the next days events.

Day 8 – The Cu Chi Tunnels with Hi

Introdcucing ‘Hi’, our tour guide for the 2 days. Hi was a real war veteran, serving for many years in the Southern Vietnam army mainly against the Viet Cong. He was a translator and spoke very good English. He wasn’t shy in proclaiming his love for hamburgers and mash potato. Hi had an incredible presence and instantly commanded respect across a room. He spoke endlessly about his experience in the war.

We went to Cu Chi tunnels where guerilla Viet Congs based themselves and fought against the Americans. We were shown fascinating ways in which they hid, by digging series tunnels, where the would take refuge when enemies were close by. We even got to travel 100m through one on foot and jumped down another. The traps used to kill and injure the enemy were demonstrated, some of these chilling and brutal. At the end of the tour we were given the option to fire loaded guns, such as M16′s and AK47′s. We chose not to as it was a dollar a bullet – Fi might have got a little trigger happy and bankrupted us even further!  The sound was deafening.

That afternoon we went to the wartime museum which tells the brutal story of the atrocious conflict with the United States. Seeing some of the images portrayed in the museum of some of the victims had a big impact on us. Seeing what the States had done to Vietnam really struck a chord. Two of the three million killed were civilians and as a result of the chemical warfare used, there has been generations of deformaties amongst families in Vietnam. Seeing really is believing and this whole experience was a hell of an awakening for us.

After dinner that evening we managed to co-ordinate some brief beers with our good old pals Rob and Charlotte. This was to be our last meeting during travelling and was once again such a laugh. So in total, we met them in Hawaii, Bali, Thailand and Vietnam. Wales and England next! Awesome. I just wanted to chuck in a huge congratulations to them. Rob proposed to Charlotte in Hoi An by the river – we couldn’t think of a more perfect setting after experiencing it ourselves.

Day 9 – Mekong Delta with Hi

We woke early as usual and quickly grabbed breakfast as the Mekong Delta was our next destination. Hi turned up with the boss and we embarked on the long drive there. Hi kept us all entertained with more stories, although I’m pretty sure Fi was asleep with her mouth open at one point when he was mid-story. As we’d been severely lacking sleep during the tour because of flu, malaria tablets, insomnia and a rather social tour group – sleep was caught up on during journeys.

We arrived to the Mekong Delta in good time and it was stuffy as hell. We jumped on our barge and set sail down the Delta. It’s so wide in parts and it was fun to see all the local boats go past loaded with variety of things from fruit to wood. We docked at a little building on the delta where they produce a variety of treats. We watched a lady make rice paper and then Hi demonstrated how they brew rice wine – which we proceeded to drink on his chiuckling say so. They then whipped up some fresh rice crackers using black sand. A very similar process to popcorn. We finished up with the candy, where they made coconut flavoured treats we bought a bag worth.

Back onboard, we continued up the river until it narrowed. We then jumped onto a smaller boat in groups of four and were rowed down stream by a kind Vietnamese man. We wore Conical hats for a bit to blend in. We jumped off for some river side lunch at a basic little place. They served local fish from the river – we were a little surprised it didn’t have three eyes as it looked pretty vile.

After an hours back to land we then hopped back on the bus for a few hours. Knackered, we had a fairly subdued evening but still dined as a group. We were approached as usual by the cute young children selling bookmarks and things. One little girl called me a lady boy, her English and banter was amazing!

We were due to be up early the next day to travel by public bus to Cambodia, which is where I’ll end this blog.

Tom & Fi xxx

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