The best and worst of Vietnam

Still in Dalat I woke up and read my mum’s post about a solar eclipse at that exact moment, in a band of Asia we were in! So out I rushed to see it for myself, not with the naked eye of course but using careful aiming through a camera.

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Then we jumped on a bus to Nha Trang, what we thought would be a wonderful beach stop on our tour of Vietnam. We were slightly wrong. Not that it is a particularly horrible place or anything.

Disappointingly the Vinpark, the local water park that is, was closed. Ever since I saw a spectacular advert for an airborne water slide in Koh Panyang I was hoping for a water park day. Denied. Again. Kelly couldn’t be bothered with any of that culture junk here, so lazy beaching was primarily the schedule.

We searched for a beach with a pool bar that we’d heard about. The entrance of which was a bit worn down and had a big ferris wheel, that gave it a kind of abandoned Soviet fair ground look I’d seen in Call of Duty games. First impressions aside we booked a luxury sun bed for next to nothing and set about enjoying the relaxation ahead. I swam the entire length of the circular pool and gorged on cocktails and sun.

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We then wandered down the beach to find a bar, but along the way heard a familiar sound as the ‘Circle of life’ music burst into song. The Lion King was playing on the beach cinema for kids. We smiled at each other knowingly and turned to sit down and watch, before the chorus proclaimed “so dnya my prikhodim na planete” – the opening line of the song – in Russian. Yes you read that right, maybe not the actual Russian words, that’s Google Translate, but yes Nha Trang is a Russian playground. At the next bar, like all others, the menu is presented in Russian, before we ask for English.

Dinner that evening was at a restaurant called Lanterns. It was very popular so be warned if you go, it involves queuing. Our friend Rimmer recommended it, and it didn’t disappoint as the food was very good.

Kelly woke up the next day feeling ill unfortunately, which could’ve been down to anything she’d consumed in the previous 24 hours, and fixed her to within 10 steps from a toilet. That evening we needed to catch our first overnight bus to Hoi An. Which lets face it, in her state was never going to happen. So we booked a plane. Which was super cheap and allowed her to recover.

That day therefore, we stayed in. I popped out for supplies (basically tissues and the all important Pringles). Whilst on a mission I found some Durian to try. Durian, if you don’t know is a large fruit, that has the consistency like it’s been melted in the sun. It also smells like that too. In many major Asian cities, Durian is banned from public transport because of the smell. Like rotting flesh, it has a sharp unpleasant smell most Westerners cannot get over enough to enjoy the wonderful taste, I was told.

So I dived in, buying four segments for less than a pound and sat in a park and ate. Tentatively I took my first bit and was surprised it didn’t taste awful. Actually quite nice – not amazing as I had been led to believe – but good. My pack of segments didn’t have a particularly bad smell, still something present, but not pungent enough to put me off. So maybe I had a bearable batch. Satisfied I returned to my sick wife and watched some movies during our first duvet day in some months.

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By the time we needed to get the plane, thankfully Kelly was feeling fine. The double flight back to Saigon followed by Danang, and subsequent taxi ride took us from 11PM until 7AM. So it was a bit of a blur, and thoroughly knackering.

Our hotel is thankfully located in the centre of Hoi An, just outside the walls of the old city. After a brief nap we got up and walked down the road, past countless tailors, dress makers and the like. Each and every rep, outside claiming the cheapest but best quality of course. Our hotel had recommended a particular tailors and Trip Advisor backed this up with glowing reviews.

Firstly, tired bodies needed filling up and we wandered down the very pretty riverside street looking for a preferable joint. We happened to stumble into Morning Glory a restaurant actually thought to be the best in town. Accidentally too at the perfect time, as every other time we passed afterwards we saw what looked like 45 minutes of queue. The two most famous dishes in Hoi An are the sumptuous White Rose Dumplings and Cau Lau. Both of which make us declare it the best food in Vietnam, or at least ten times better than our previous food here. Not that any was bad.

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Going back to the recommended tailors it was called Bebes. Inside we were welcomed by Anna our assistant who took us through the process in a very laid back and friendly manner. We could choose the style, fabric, quality and adjustments of any garment and within 24 hours they would be finished. Plus it was less expensive to have a fully measured, tailored suit here than off the shelf in the UK. I indulged in suits and shirts whilst Kelly looked gorgeous in her fitted dresses.

Whilst we got Measured up all of the shop girls were giggling and flitting around, giving us colour and fabric options. It was fun and good to get to know them all, about their lives, children and families. Afterwards we walked around the market streets at night with all their lanterns and wonderful shops.

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In the morning we tasted our second bike tour experience. This time around the surrounding countryside. Our guide offered extra stops so we started off at a Pagoda, where he explained the different Buddhas. Then we cycled to a vegetable garden owned by an awesome old couple who were 92 and 85 years strong. They still tend their crops, and took it upon themselves to teach me how to water the plants.

Using a shoulder supported beam, suspending a watering can at each end I needed to fill and sprinkle the water evenly across the crops. It was heavy and cumbersome, so the man nearly 3 times my age showed me with considerable ease how it should be done. Only to then hobble back over, reminding me of his age once the task was complete.

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At a next stop we made some pots at a pottery village. On a spinning pottery table I attempted to replicate the spice pot, Kelly nailing hers with aplomb.

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At a spectacular carpentry village we bought some chopsticks, before watching a boat being made from scratch, the true service the village offered. Every village we note, has an industry and everybody chips in.

Cycling past a field we spot a buffalo and our guide asks if we would like to ride it. I did and during this random event I contemplated how every day is different and it will be weird to return home to have a routine. Kelly and I are always catching ourselves thinking ‘I didn’t know I would be doing this when I got up today”. I asked the buffalos name, so the guide and farmer exchange confused words which I interpret as “it’s a buffalo it hasn’t got a name”, “but he asked for a name”, “tell him buffalo” in Vietnamese, “OK”, “Mr Andrew it’s called Bingh”. The farmer’s face looked like he was just thinking, why does this man want to ride my buffalo. Weirdo.

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Back to Hoi An and we wander to the Japanese covered bridge, then to other side of bridge during the setting up of night market and the world food fair. It’s a busy market with lots of people smiling at us, going about their evening.

For dinner we ate in a French restaurant by the river. Again great food. Hoi An was such a beautiful old city, with such rich history, and exceptional food. This was an unexpected high following on from a bit of a dampener at Nha Trang. Love rekindled it was time to head up the coast, eventually reaching the capital Hanoi, where we were told life was a lot less relaxed and more in keeping with party ethics.

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