The Storks of Böbs

The Storks of Böbs
A Very Fine Pair

Around the World (Again) Hoi An

Hoi An a jewel in the crown of Vietnam.

Early to bed, early to rise. Lets forget about the rest eh! I was up, packed and ready to go very early, now when you book a ticket make sure you check the time of leaving, I was sure it was 07:00 but in fact it was 08:00, so arrived at 06:30, I wonder why the hotel owner looked at me a little funny when I said I didn’t want breakfast as I checked out the prior evening. (Thinking no one would be up and about the next morning). But better to be early than miss the stagecoach, is what we say out in the West.
But in any case I was early (it was less than 100 meters from the hotel) so I just sat in the early morning sun and waited, I waited 07:00 came it was then that I discovered that I had been rather early, as I asked the bus chappy, he said 8 O’clock you wait there, it come, I tell you. Several buses came and went as did 8 O’clock, several other backpackers had by this time joined me sitting outside on the pavement, we chatted about our experiences so far and were in unison about Nha Trang not being one of the best ones.
Some more buses came and went picking up and setting down passengers and cargo (these buses carry  anything and everything. The bus chappy said sorry bit of a delay but it is coming, 08:30 also passed then just as everyone was giving up hope a bus pulled up and the bus chappy said your bus, funny thought I the buses are normally chocker block that I had seen departing from here, but that had always been evening so could be that early morning ones don’t have many passengers.

 But after stowing our backpacks in the cargo hold we boarded, 10 backpackers and this was the full compliment. This was my first trip on a sleeper bus, but I knew you do not sit (or in this case lie) over a set of wheels, I chose a middle of the bus capsule.
Before we go any further let me explain a little about these sleeper buses and open tickets. These sleeper buses travel most places in SE Asia (but very few in Laos), they are not are a little taller than the normal bus, this enables them zo have two tiers of very reclining seats lying 3 with a very thin aisle between each row, the back two rows do not have an aisle and have 5 beds in each row, these are often preferred by groups of lad and the odd lass backpackers as they can play cards without having to stretch across open space.
An open ticket, is a ticket that is from one destination to another, that is all that is fixed you can hop on and off at the stops along the way. Mine was Nha Trang to Hué and I had decided to make a stopover in Hoi An (I had read and heard good things about it).
But back to the bus, everyone gave a little sigh of relief as the bus pulled away from the office and headed through the early morning traffic, this sigh turned into a groan as the bus turned into a place that looked like a scrapyard, the bus drive and co-pilot got out went to the rear of the bus and there was a lot of knocking and banging, and what I imagine was a lot of cursing and swearing, a hose pipe was produced and vast amounts of water sprayed everywhere. The problem seemed to be fixed, our two driver/ mechanics boarded the bus and with a mighty black plume of smoke and half burnt diesel the engine sprang into life, we were off. An ironic cheer rang through the air, but this was short lived as the bus now had to pull into a filling station, but that done we really did set off on the road to Hoi An.
I did doze a little but as we were passing through some stunning scenery and crossing some rather high passes, I preferred to look out of the window. 

Though I did chat a bit with a fellow Grey Nomad we had been chatting at the bus booking office and he was also heading to Hoi An, we got adjacent middle window bunks and so were able to swop notes, his name was Brendan from NZ Rotorua to be exact, he had let his house out on a long term lease (I think he said three years) so in this time he was traveling the world.

A Duck farm

Entering into Hoi An

It was growing dusk by the time we pulled into town, after getting off the bus, Brenden and I set off, we both having not booked in advance had decided to search in unison (search is a bit OTT, there are always loads of places but at what price is the question? As we turned a corner we saw two Europeans riding bikes in our direction, it is always a good ploy to ask someone already in town. We flagged them down and asked the question do you know any place that is reasonably priced (for reasonably priced read cheap). They said they had arrived yesterday and had searched for 2 hours until they found rooms above a tailors shop, good do they have any other ones, don’t know said the fellow (they were both Swedes), hang on it is just around the corner I will ride there and find out with, that he sped off. We walked along and chatted to the Swedish girl (embarrassingly in English not in Swedish, I must take a course with Kalle), he partner returned and said yes there was a room available. Good we walked about 100 mtrs and there was the Tailors shop, down a small gated alley way through a courtyard and there waiting for us was Mr Tailor, we asked the price, he said $5 each, now you’re talking boy. He showed us up stairs 2nd floor, a massive room with three double beds but not en-suite, the toilet and shower being just across the hall way, as there was only one other room on my floor this was no problem. Brendan likes his own space, so asked did he have any other ones he said yes another single downstairs, down they went the crux was it now cost me $10 a night for a massive treble room.

I had a shower and then decided to explore town a little, Brendan had decided to turn in as he was exhausted from the journey, he said he was amazed that I could sleep in the bus, I said I can sleep anywhere (this is true and at any time, this comes from watch keeping at sea). I only walked to the corner where there was a large pagoda, across the road, I sat in the court yard of a restaurant and drank a beer. I then headed off back to the tailors shop for a spot of shut eye, well I did watch a bit of tele.

The room was without breakfast so I was up early and decided to breakfast in town and have a good look around in town, there wasn’t actually a lot open but I hit on a nice place that had WiFi (important need to keep in contact with home) it was called Bo Bo. 

I ordered an omelette and coffee and started communicating with the world. I was sitting in a wonderful courtyard garden, it had tangerine trees, and other fruit trees and a one that I have no clue what it is, it is big green and called “Bong” in Vietnamese, or that is what it sounds like, it was a strange looking fruit the largest about the size of a small water melon. (I think it could have been a Pomello)

In the garden was also a family temple, there are a lot of these in Hoi An, many large elaborate affairs. A woman came out of the restaurant dressed in a light grey cassock and began to pray at several of the small offering altars. 

It was a very nice breakfast in a very nice setting.

I dallied a while I that wonderful setting, well it did have free WiFi, by the time I was ready to move on the rest of the world was coming to life, the tailors shop (cheap cheap but very good). 

The art galleries and the fabulous silk workshops, I know a bit about art (just a little bit, but a bit) I honestly had to go right up close to be sure they were not photographs.

For one of the really intricate ones it can take one of the girls about a month to complete. 

What dedication and nothing but a photograph as a pattern. 

Upstairs you can see the process from feeding the silk worms (caterpillar’s) to the weaving of the silk, I had seen this in Thailand at the Jim Thompson Museum, but this is what you can actually buy down in the shop below (you can also buy it cheaper at the stalls and shops (which I did). 

Hoi An has also a very lively art scene and I would say that after the tailors and the silk this is one of the main money earners, well not really as tourism is the biggest.
This is a wonderful city, it lies on the banks of the Thu Bon river, with some interesting colonial and precolonial buildings on the North bank, on the South-bank are a lot of new tourist hotels going up, but nice to see not a high-rise hotel in sight.

Hoi An was originally a Chinese town it had been settled by Chinese traders  and was split into family quarters even today it is split into 5 bangs (under the influence of a distinct Chinese  family group), these each have their own temple and will often even have, like at Bo Bo their own back yard one.

The streets are well laid out and the whole town is easily navigable on foot, most hotels and guesthouses hire our bicycles (at the most $1) you can also hire a pedalo (mostly Americans and Japanese tourists of advancing years) but I find you miss so much, far better on foot and delve into all of the nooks and crannies.
They also have some amazing cafe’s still with a French flare and lots of very good restaurants, eating houses and wonderful street food and all very reasonably priced.
I passed this one, it had under the French been the Scouts Headquarters, they didn’t bother removing the fleur de lis, they just stuck up their sign and it was open for business (I did have a look around but couldn’t see any Wolf Cubs being turned slowly on a spit).

I walked down to the river and walked along the quayside and watched the ferry coming into dock. The ferry terminal must be seen to believed, it is a plank that the motorbikes come down, it is also what the fisher folk and farmers bring their produce on to the quayside and covered markets. 
In the background the ferry approaches

I tarried a while, well what else do you expect? And watch the goings on, I actually bought a few implements for the kitchen back home.

It was quite warm, so feeling the need for a drink decided on a coconut, from an old lady, I sat at the table while she went about chopping the top off the nut, the knife was a little blunt (baby James) so she just sharpened it on the curb, top shaved, on went the straw and how is that for a refreshing drink. 

The old lady also sold sugar cane water, this was pressed with a great amount of noise from a machine that she worked, passing the cane through the press rollers, folding the cane and repeating, until the last drop of sugar cane juice was extracted.

I then walked under the shaded fish market, it was unfortunately just about finishing, many stalls had already sold out and you had to watch your feet as they swilled the floors down with buckets of water and if you got in the way you would also be brushed into the river.

Outside the fruit, vegetable and household goods market was still in full swing, I even bought myself a Julien grater and a flower maker.

Just past the markets and on the riverside is the remaining old French colonial quarter, these had been the houses of the French high ranking military and Civil Service officers ,  very grand buildings, that had now been put to a far better use. These now housed restaurants, so what do you do at midday when in the close proximity of a Restaurant? Have lunch of course!

I did and it was delectable. I sat in the sun, watched the goings on from the market up stream and dined pretty well.

I had a nice spicy Green mango salad with pork (always a favourite of mine) and a smashing sizzling hotplate with chicken skewers on a bed of spicy vegetables.

It was so wonderful and I relished the tranquil setting.

As I finished my beer I sat and watched as the last of the fishwives boarded a boat that chugged past me carrying them on their way home, more than likely to cook the menfolk their lunch, I wonder if it would be fish’n chips.

After lunch I walked back and went to the central covered market, Chó Hoi An. 

This has the usual array of stalls selling everything from a pin to a pigs whisker, I love them, do you think this is a fetish I have? I could as in all markets had a very good cheap meal, but I had gone a bit up market, though I would I am sure enjoyed a meal here just as much.

I then walked through the streets for a while reveling in the old buildings and of course one of the better remnants of French Colonialism, the breads and pastries, I defy anyone to tell me that Paris has better.

I actually stopped for a flat white and a hot fresh croissant, it was delicious and that from someone that does not eat pastries, but it was the smell, it was enchanting, it was bewitching, it was lovely.

In walked along the river bank sucking in the atmosphere, until I arrived at the Japanese Bridge, this spans one of the tributaries that lead into the main river.

It cost money to cross the bridge, so I followed the stream a short distance and saw that on the other bank looked like an art workshop, not any old workshop but a one doing contemporary art, this made my day.

I walked a short distance and there was a none Japanese bridge, which led to a Chinese Family temple, by my reckoning it would also lead me to the art workshop, and again I wasn't wrong.

At the rear of a small building I saw the real workshop, I entered (well you get nowhere by being shy) there was no one around, well I saw no one, there was a family engrossed in the little child, but besides that no one batted an eyelid at this stranger poking around the art.

I walked out front and asked, the young lady shouted something in Vietnamese (well at least it wasn't Geordie) and a chap appeared, it could only be an artist. It was Tran Viet Son (Nom de Plume “SANSONTO”)

We had a great chat he had studied art at Hué University, Son (last name is the first name) said it was a really hard life, the art scene is so over flooded with cheap reproductions that true art just does not have a chance. He explained that many artists, noes study first art then architecture otherwise there is little chance of them getting a job. Such a shame because I liked him and his works. I realise that contemporary art is not everyone’s cuppa, but it is mine, I belong to a broad Church when it comes to art, but then I am open mined in most things.
I then wandered back into town and was once again entrapped by art, I was passing a gallery and noticed that it was run by the artists themselves outside hung a sign about the artists and their aims, I was interested, one of the artists was an American, I entered and sitting on a sofa was Megan, so I asked could I sit down and have a chat, she said of course, that is the idea of our gallery.

She explained that she and her partners, both artists, had been traveling SE Asia and had stopped over at Hoi An, they were so taken with it, that they had stayed and invested in a place where Vietnamese Young artists could show and sell their works. Wonderful a fantastic vision, I hope that Megan’s vision works as it is so worthwhile. I had a similar vision back in 1990 about opening an art café/restaurant in Berlin, where young artists could show and sell their works for free, have the odd music group, or jazz evening, alas times have moved on.

I wandered passing more tailors shops with wonderful evening jackets, I just don’t think that they are quite me.

It was dusk by now and I was feeling peckish, well we couldn’t have that could we. I was looking at the menu and noticed that they were selling "White Rose", I had seen this advertised on several other menus as a local Hué delicacy, so now was the time to try it.
I was shown to a table by a very pleasant lady who turned out to be the owner, I ordered my white rose starter and we had a chat about her restaurant, she said that until a few years ago she had been one in the street, but with the great influx of tourists others had opened up, but with a nod down the street she said but they are not real cooks, I am trained. I asked what did she suggest to follow the starter? She said try another Hué speciality it is called Bó nuóng chanh, I asked what it was, I knew by now that Bó is beef, but that was it, she said try it and see. So I ordered it as well.
The white rose or to give them their real name Bánh Bong hong trang  came first, these are a bit like ravioli but made with rice flour dough and steamed, they were as light as a feather and filled with a shrimp/fish paste, of course also a local fish sauce mixed with rice wine vinegar to dip them into and a sweet chilli jam.

They were covered in deep fried onions and sautéed shrimp pieces, wonderful, I was in heaven, they just melted on the tongue.

We chatted a bit more about this and that, she said that in the last 5 years the tourist trade had really taken off and that it had made a great difference to the local economy, she said just look around how clean our town is compared with most of the other Towns and Cities, this was true you could see that the Town had made a real effort to keep the tourists happy. I must also keep the tourists happy and though I don’t like it, I must also offer Western food, it is such a pity because they are missing so much. But the Americans will always want Hamburger, French fries and the like. But at least Big Mac and KFC haven’t reached Hoi An yet!

My next course came, this was slices of beef, that had been beaten thin and then marinated in crushed garlic, shallots, lemon juice and another special seasoning, I asked what it was, she said if you guess  right I will nod (I could taste fish sauce and a small amount of chilli and cumin), she nodded at all of these, but said the rest you will never guess, so I gave up.

The thin slices of beef had first been grilled quickly then wrapped around long strips of caramelised onion. This was served with plain boiled rice and the sweet chilli jam. The meal was delectable, we had a great time chatting, she stood out the front of house complaining about the cold (it wasn’t to us but the spring was a little late turning into summer) what a wonderful woman. If you’re ever in Hoi An please drop in to Dong Au, it is not far from the Japanese Bridge on 734 Hai Bà Trung. I said I would plug her restaurant on my blog so there you go.

I walked home a satisfied and happy chappy, it had been a very interesting day and I had met lots of interesting people and hope that tomorrow would be as good.

Next morning I was up early (as normal) as I wanted to get to the market to see the selection of fresh produce as I had been a little late the day before and a lot of the fish stalls had already sold up and shut up shop. So that is where I headed first.

Fermented fish, a speciality

I walked through the lanes of tiny stalls each one selling something just a little different to the next, some specialised in shell fish others bonito, sword fish, horse mackerel, prawns, squid, cuttlefish, mangrove crabs and swimmers, the lot was there.

In front of the fish stalls was the live poultry (but not for long) stalls with the eggs and baby chicks and ducklings (do it yourself rearing), the immense array of veg and house hold goods, most destined for the home market but I did buy a couple of julienne slicers and a rosette maker to make green mango and papaya salad and decorate with carrot roses. Watch this space.

Looking at all that food had made me hungry so I popped into a restaurant that had been recommended in my guide book, I ordered Morning Glory (water spinach) and a prawn fried rice, this was late morning so it would also serve as my lunch, it was very tasty and very garlicky, but as I had no intention of kissing vampires I think I was pretty safe.  

After my late breakfast, early lunch call it what you will, I next visited another very worthwhile project, a shop selling tableware and hanging lights, these are all made on the premises, in a workshop out the back of the shop, what makes this so different is that those making it are disabled in some way, either mentally or physically, they all have their part to play and all get great satisfaction in the wonderful end products.

I then wandered through some of the other workshops and galleries, selling lacquered artwork and wood carvings, all quality works, I had a great time chatting and watching them at work.

It was time for a bit of afternoon shut eye as that evening was a special evening when lanterns are floated down the rivers to get rid of the bad spirits, you pay a few Cents and these are then sent down the river with a wing and a prayer, every one turns out in their best finery, and you buy your floating lanterns from the boat people, the lanterns are either lowered into the water with a long handled bamboo pole or direct from the boat. They are sent on their way down the river with a prayer and good will before disappearing into the darkness.

And that was where I was off to as well, as I was off to Hué early the next day.

No comments:

Post a Comment