On our first full day in Hoi An Mich and I took to the shops. The Old City here is just one great cluster of tailors, cheap market-type stalls, jewellery shops and quirky homeware and design stores. It’s a lovely pedestrian-only grid of streets that runs alongside the river, and is a lot more peaceful than Hanoi Old City. In saying that, the street vendors are even more persistent than the ones in Hanoi, so perusing the shops can still feel a bit like running the gauntlet. Mich was keen to burn some plastic, so we spent a good few hours picking up clothes, souvenirs, earrings and some sunglasses to replace the pair she left sitting at the bottom of Ha Long Bay. Mum also took a gamble and opted to get some leather shoes made at one of the many cobblers in town. After a bit of a false start with some misplaced buckles, she picked up the finished product 2 days later, and they were really good.
While we were hitting the shops, Dad and Campbell picked up some scooters and took to the streets to go exploring. I’m not entirely sure what they did, or where they went, but they obviously went a pretty long way since they were both complaining of scooter bum when they got back. It sounds like they met a few characters as well, including one lovely lady who even gave them a glimpse of her head to toe eczema (which they probably could have gone without), and an old man who offered Campbell a lady. They also came back with purchases from the beach vendors, including some cure-all herbal medicine (you may see us on Border Patrol when we try to get that home), beer coolers and some other bits and pieces (read: junk). Thankfully that’s all they brought home – no gravel rash, or insurance claims in sight. They kept their scooters for a second day and went even further afield (all the way back past Da Nang) while Mum and I spent the day at a cooking school (thanks to Kylie, Loz and Rob for a very thoughtful early Birthday present xo).
The cooking school started off bright and early with an 8 am meeting at a local cafe. We met our group (a couple from Singapore, and another from Germany) and our guide and head chef, Mimi, and hopped straight into the van for the trip to Tra Que Organic Village. The Village is an incredible market garden where farmers grow organic herbs and vegetables for sale at the local market. Farming techniques range from high tech irrigation to more simplistic dual watering can system, which we all got to try out. Next stop was the local wet market where we shopped for the ingredients we needed for the cooking class. We weren’t sure how Mich was going to cope at the market since she’d been almost dry-wretching when we wandered past the Hoi An market the day earlier, but we pulled through just fine. It was busy, and definitely a bit smelly, but incredibly interesting watching the locals at work. The woman who could kill and gut an eel in about 30 seconds was a particular highlight.
The rest of the afternoon was spent cooking (and eating) 4 amazing dishes at the Red Bridge Cooking School. It was a fantastic, hands-on lesson, with free booze and great company. We left the class about 2.30 pm and boarded our boat for the river trip back to Hoi An. It was apparent once we got within about 10m of our boat’s captain that he had been called away from a liquid lunch to deliver us back to Hoi An; he absolutely reeked of booze. As we pulled away from the dock the man from the cooking school waved us off, and then proceeded to make the universal ‘glug, ‘glug, glug, he’s been drinking’ gesture, and then piss himself laughing while he mimicked the fact that we could well end up swimming home given the state of the captain. We made it back to Hoi An safe and sound and met the boys at a local sports bar to watch the All Blacks thrash South Africa.
On our last day in Hoi An we decided to take a couple of scooters out as a group. Dad and Campbell had a fair idea of where they were going by that stage, so they navigated us to a lovely beach that they’d visited the day before. They’d obviously made quite the impression, we pulled into the carpark to “kia ora, bro” and “hey boss, you came back!”. We parked up for a super relaxing afternoon of swimming, beers, pizzas (sometimes you just can’t stomach spring rolls) and fending off the beach sellers. Dad and Campbell had been such soft touches the day before that Mum and I didn’t really stand a chance of getting through the afternoon without buying something, so we both ended up with something that we didn’t really need while Dad and Campbell laughed at our expense (clearly forgetting they’d been swindled only a day before).
Hoi An was also where we developed/remembered our love of foot massages. One evening when we were all feeling a bit buggered we decided to have big ‘ol family foot massage session at one of the local spas. Campbell described this as a bit of an awkward/weird family moment and, to be fair, if you had a taken a photo of us sitting side by side in our armchairs, drinking beer and getting our feet rubbed it probably would have been a contender for one of those ‘awkward family photo’ websites. Still, there are definitely worse activities you could be asked to participate in with your in-laws. The foot rub was awesome, but the highlight for me was getting to tell Campbell (after the massage) that the lovely lady who had rubbed his feet was actually a lovely man.
After 4 great nights in Hoi An we jetted to Nha Trang for some proper beach time. Nha Trang is a fairly blingy beach resort, probably most comparable to somewhere like the Gold Coast. It is known for its seafood, and everywhere you go there are tanks of live animals, or plastic buckets full of crabs and other creepy crawlies that you can pick for your dinner. Nha Trang is particularly popular with Russian tourists who can fly here direct, so the dynamic can be a little unusual – it’s a little weird to go into a restaurant in Vietnam and be given a menu in Russian.
Overall, it was a very quiet, and relaxing couple of days. Our hotel had a designated area on the beach, so we spent our first full day there – reading, relaxing, swimming and trying to remember to flip over occasionally. We hit the main strip and a few bars in the evening, but struggled to put up with the horrendous Eurotrash music they were all blasting – especially since it was only 6 pm. We got caught in an incredible storm on the way home, and ended up like this (Mum protected her hair with a bags so her attempts with the straightener wouldn’t be wasted, and Dad is pretty much water repellent, hence why Campbell and I look like we’ve suffered the worst of it!)
On our last full day in Nha Trang we decided to grab scooters again and try to see some of the sights away from the tourist centre. Unfortunately for us, we hired our scooters from some el cheapo outfit and 15 kms out of town Dad’s back tyre blew out. Luckily enough, we were in the middle of a small fishing village at the time and were quickly pointed in the direction of a local man who could do the repair. It started off promisingly enough (especially when he whipped out his Mighty Morphin Power Ranger tool bag), but it quickly became apparent that he was totally incompetent (so much so that half the village came to point and laugh while he attempted to fix the puncture), and also the angriest man in Vietnam. When he finally conceded defeat, he started yelling at Dad in Vietnamese, waving his arms around like a maniac and telling us to take our broken bike elsewhere. There was a moment there when “Happy Buddha” looked like he could become “Very Unhappy Buddha”, but Dad kept his cool remarkably well.
We finally got the bike fixed and headed back to Nha Trang as fast as Dad’s bald tyres could go. We swapped out the bike and decided to head south towards Long Beach. I’d read about a good beach bar for lunch, but it was a whole lot easier said than done to find it. It just turned out to be one of those days where everything was a little bit frustrating, even though we got there in the end! We had burgers and beers on the beach and then got the bikes back to town before the rain set in. We demolished the equivalent of an entire pig for dinner at a BBQ place on the outskirts of town, and that pretty much wrapped up Nha Trang.
Last stop on our tour with Mum and Dad is Ho Chi Minh, where we’re planning to get amongst a bit of history with a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels and the War Remnants Museum.