Friday, 27 May 2011

Hoi An, Tailors, Tarts and Temples, 28-29 March 2011

The usual bus journey, note the mechanic in white jeans...?!
The bus reversed out of the roadside restaurant that we had been stopped at for the past 15 minutes but instead of placing the gear level in the number 1 slot and move forward towards Hoi An, the driver continued to reverse back towards Hué. We all looked at each other in confusion and wondered whether we were going to go back all the way Hué in reverse. The bus then stopped, and moved forward and a hard right straight into a mechanics. Oh, something is broken, that doesn't surprise me but what I was sure about is that the Vietnamese mechanics would have this baby fixed in no time whether they have the correct part or not, they're good like that. The Vietnamese can bodge anything together long enough for it to do its job. Myself and a man from Cornwall who was on holiday with his wife jumped out of the bus and done the manly thing, walked around the back of the bus to see what was happening and inhale through our teeth and tut a little bit pretending to know what was happening. It turned out to be quite a big all leak, a leak that the driver must have seen on the road as he reversed out of the restaurant, a leak that was so bad it required immediate attention.

The Japanese Bridge
On the bus there were three girls, Louis, an Australian I had met in the hostel in Hué and went for a meal with her and Jonas one evening, Marianne and Victoria, an English and a French girl Louis introduced me to that morning before we left. The journey from Hué to Hoi An isn't a long one, just a few hours. After I turned Illy and Ben's motorbike down, I thought I would do the 'Top Gear Challenge' and ride to Hoi An but the weather was absolutely miserable still so I decided it was best not to and take the boring, drier but safer bus option. The bus was fixed within half an hour and we swiftly moved onwards firstly to Da Nang then to Hoi An. Once in Hoi An, Marianne and Victoria invited me to stay with them in a hotel, or I imposed myself upon them, I can't quite remember now but we ended up getting a triple room in a hotel quite close to the centre if Hoi An.

 Hoi An's streets for primitive vehicles only! 
Hoi An is famous for its cheap tailors and superb selection of restaurants, other than that there's not much else of historic importance within the town itself. The British Matt I had met in Hué doesn't drink and instead of bars, he has a fantastic knowledge base of South East Asian bakeries and told me about Cargo in Hoi An. So the first stop we made whilst in the town was Cargo where we bumped into Jonas who had already found and tasted the delights of the bakery. The selection of cakes on offer are out of this world and the drinks menu is longer than the bible. I could have easily stayed in that place for the rest of my journey as it was a little home comfort. If you closed your eyes, you could believe you were sitting somewhere in Europe and not the other side of the world. 

Inside Cargo
Later that evening we ate a meal in the upstairs restaurant of Cargo which was a little overpriced at £4 per meal but oh boy was it worth it! I think Jonas actually got a little addicted to Hoi An's delicious selection of restaurants and would have stayed a lot longer if he were not on a tight schedule. Hoi An is a haven for tourists, it's so relaxing with it's streets limited for the use of 'primitive vehicles' meaning you can walk down the road with a certain amount of ease. It's got a great selection of bars and restaurants serving fantastic dishes from around the world and it's got the uncountable tailor shops offering tailor made suits at incredibly cheap prices. Unfortunately I didn't get myself a suit, I just thought it wasn't very realistic to carry one around and as I wouldn't be home for another 8 months at least, it didn't seem worth it.

The restaurant we ate our Cau Lao Noodles...
As Victoria wasn't feeling too well, Marianne and I bought a ticket from the tourist information booths that allow you to go into a certain amount of tourist sites around the town. It was not worth it. We went into a traditional house which opened up into a shop at the back, the ceramic museum which was uninteresting, a couple of temples and a few other things that weren't really worth mentioning. By midday and a dry morning, the rain decided that we had enough of sunshine and began a torrential downpour 'forcing' us to take refuge in Cargo with a drink and a cake. We then bumped into Jonas on the way out and relocated across the road into another restaurant and had a delicious local Cau Lao noodles. 

Wonderful rustic town
The rest of the afternoon was spent walking the streets trying to find a barber shop for Jonas. We walked across the bridge were we were being bombarded with touts trying to get us in their restaurants which. Jonas, Marianne and I were walking down one street where there was a row of restaurants under one long hut like roof, each person asked as whether we wanted something. The first couple managed to get their pitches in but I stopped short from the next one and loudly exclaimed, “Listen up people, I do NOT want anything to eat, I will NOT be coming into your restaurant, so please do NOT ask me as I walk past.” It worked the rest stood there in complete silence and let us pass by, but the man at the end, with a chuckle in his voice couldn't help but ask us.

Jonas in the barber shop
We finally found Jonas a suitable barber shop. It was a small open room with three barber chairs in it. Quite primitive chairs similar to those you would expect Sweeny Todd to use. Jonas was not just having his hair cut, he was having his beard shaved off too meaning that the cut throat razor will be coming out!! Marianne and I sat watching with intent as the barbers razor sliced around his face, neck and strangely, his forehead. After finishing his on his head and facial hair, he set about on his ears. I had seen this done before but literally on the side of the street where people are walking. The barber uses long implements to clean and shave the inside of the ears, a task that I think is a little dangerous to been carried out of the side of the street, how about if someone tripped? Anyway Jonas survived his hair cut(s) and even had a strange massage to finish off with.

With the film crew ruining my photo... Oi get out of the way!
My Son

My Son, commonly known as Vietnam's Angkor Wat, is a complex of Hindu temples that have been partially destroyed. Most of the destruction came after intense US carpet bombing during the Vietnam-America war.  Construction and inhabitance of the 70 temples is thought to range from the 4th to 14th Century AD. The temples were dedicated for the worshipping of the Hindu god Shiva and are located in the valley that is 2km wide surrounded by two mountain ranges. It's a wonderful complex that inspires your imagination of its grandiose past. The only problem with our trip was a French production company were filming at My Son the day we visited and so we were constantly being told to shut up and move on by a very arrogant French guy with superiority complex. He actually turned round to us at one point and said that we should do what we are told because they paid more than us to be there! How ridiculous, so I instinctively began to sneeze very loudly during one take, so if you're in France and watch a TV program about Vietnam and hear a sneeze in the background, IT'S ME!! I spoke to one of the friendlier crew members, a Vietnamese girl and she told me that it is a series that will explain the history of Vietnam and French involvement in the region as the average person doesn't know anything about it. We finished up at My Son and made our way back to Hoi An on a boat. A quite boring boat that drifted down stream through unremarkable scenery only stopping for the traditional 'let's see my friend's shop and buy something'.

Happily hard at work
Lifestart Foundation Vietnam

The Lifestart Foundation was founded by an Australian lady named Karen Leonard whose aim was to help disadvantaged Vietnamese people into jobs and trades helping them to become self sufficient. They maybe disabled, street children, severely uneducated, people with mental health or learning difficulties. The foundation helped set up the Lifestart Foundation Workshop in Hoi An where people with disabilities make their own unique arts and crafts to sell. All of the proceeds go directly to the members of the workshop which creates a healthy sustainable income. Jonas and I visited this shop purely by accident, we saw a sign that intrigued us and entered what turned out to be the back door but was the entrance to the workshop where smiling people were working away on creating some really wonderful items. We walked through into the shop and the vast array of things that were being sold was amazing, there was some really beautiful jewellery, pots, bowls, ornaments and the list goes on. I bought a book mark from them to show my support. I would have loved to have bought more but when you're travelling, you have to be careful how much you buy. This is a fantastic project that involves the disadvantaged people in creating their own income and helping them help themselves gain a trade and a business. This is something that is truly worth supporting, so if you're in Hoi An, go and find it a couple of doors left of Cargo. In any case, take a look at their website and see the fantastic work they do for yourself.

Next Time, The Road of Death to Dalat and Mui Ne.

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