After a three hour train down from Hue to Da Nang, we hopped in a taxi and headed for Hoi An (about 50 minutes away) passing the famous dragon bridge along the way. Once we were out of the main part of the town in Da Nang, we were surprised to see hotel resort after resort most of the way to Hoi An. Little did we know at the time that bus loads of tourists from these resorts would descend on Hoi An about 4pm every day, just before sunset in order to catch a glimpse of the lit up lanterns for the Full Moon Festival and night markets. It was a far cry from the very peaceful and quiet town that Rich remembered visiting back in 2012. As beautiful a city as it is, the quantity of tourists and all the buses invading the city centre in the evening did get a little off-putting.
My Grandma’s Cooking School
We had heard about a cooking school from a great couple we had met on the Halong Bay tour. Any recommendations we had received on the trip so far had been great so we immediately booked the “My Grandma’s Cooking School”. After an early start, we headed to the bustling food markets with Thom, our guide and teacher for the day (and Granddaughter of ‘My Grandma’). It was a fantastic tour and we tried lots of different local fruits as well as getting some great insight into local life and the foods they use as natural medicines. Healthcare in the sense of what we’d expect in Europe is pretty limited so many of the locals are still reliant on these herbal remedies. I now have a bag of balms and oils, let’s see if they work!
Once the tour had finished, we took a short boat trip out to the cooking school. We later found out the family had built their Grandma a bigger house but she refused to use as it was too big for her so the family decided to use it for a cooking school and use her recipes. The school had some old traditional equipment and we were shown how to make rice milk, rice pancakes and Grandma showed us how to separate the rice before we started cooking our five(!) dishes. It was really helpful as the school had given us food substitutes for things we might struggle to get at home. I would really recommend this school, it was really well run with vegetarian recipes available.
One incredible story we were told during the cooking school was about an 84 year old who walks to a market 2 hours away from Hoi An everyday and brings it back to the local village to sell. She has been doing this since she was 15. The locals try to help her and buy the heaviest fruit/vegetables first so that she doesn’t have to carry them further. I thought this was an incredible story as some of these people really don’t have much but they still help each other as much as they can. I really love the community feel you get in South East Asia – people really look out for each other.
Following the recommendation to try this Cooking School really reinforced that I’d learnt that to make the most of traveling, you really have to put yourself out there and talk to everyone. You meet so many like minded people and you get soo much local knowledge and recommendations.
Never Escape the Irish
Although Hoi An is heaving with tourists in the evening, it really is a beautiful setting with all the lit up lanterns in the streets and boats cruising down the river. I would even go as far as to say it was pretty romantic up until the point we accidentally found ourselves in an Irish pub (can’t escape the Irish! ???). There’s a great atmosphere around the place walking through the night market with a range of out of key karaoke singers (it seems you don’t need to be able to sing here to do karaoke- Rich fitted in perfectly ?) and a whole load of bargaining.
I understand bargaining is part of the local culture but I do think some tourists push it too much at times. As I travelled through more countries, I found myself not wanting to bargain as much. For the sake of a few pence, it means more to these people than us and I think we need to be aware and conscious.
We all know you take your life in South East Asia when crossing the road – if you’re not careful, you’re likely to get taken out by a moped. When a scooter sees you, they seem to speed up rather that slow down. With this in mind Rich thought it would be a good idea to go cycling as there were free bikes at the hotel. It was, as I expected, quite a terrifying cycle before finally arriving for lunch at the beach. I think it was a bit of karma myself but after lunch Rich got a flat tyre and had a hour cycling back to the hotel in the blazing heat with a completely flat tyre. Rich has had soo much energy on this holiday (he literally can’t sit still) but after that cycle he was a broken man ? I may sound cruel but try spending 3 months with him without a break!
A Little Luxury
One nice thing about Hoi An is that spas are everywhere so it would have been rude not to try. It’s about $8-10 for a 60 minute hot stone massage or $5 for a manicure (and you probably could get the prices down even further if you wanted).
To finish off my time here, I also had to try the Vietnamese coconut coffee. The coffee is soo smooth and the coconut mixed into it is just delicious. Definitely worth a try!