Hoi An

1/20/07-1/24/07

Hoi An is a small town in central Vietnam, not too far to the east of Hue. As our bus rolled into town, it stopped to pick up a travel agent who proceeded to hold us hostage for the next half an hour. She had the bus drive to several of her hotels, badgered us at each one to get off the bus and book a room, and would not let us go into town until she was done w/ us. So annoying!

Hoi An is a really nice town. They have all sort of laws here that don’t allow the buildings to be changed, so the town looks a lot like it did a hundred years back with really cool architecture and even though it’s bursting at the seams w/ tourists, it somehow maintains a relaxed small town feel. This was definitely the vietnam we had been hoping to see. We spent some time wandering the streets and checked out some of the temples, old houses, etc in town.

Hoi An is also really famous for its food, and here we had some of the best Vietnamese food on our trip. Pretty much every meal we ate here was super good. On our first afternoon, we at this tiny outdoor eatery. The owner came out and brought us a ton of food without us saying anything. She proceeded to show us how everything worked: you put an egg roll and some grilled pork into a wrapper, added fresh herbs and Kim Chee, and then dipped the whole thing into chili peanut sauce. It was so damn good! As we ate, the owner chatted w/ us and taught us how to say various things in Vietnamese. At another restaurant, we tried three of Hoi An’s specialties: white rose (a shrimp dumpling), fried wontons, and a special kind of noodle soup w/ croutons. Everything was super good… so good in fact that even Daniel liked it! Daniel is an extremely picky eater, more of a fan of macaroni or pizza than Vietnamese food, but he has been giving Vietnamese food a shot and to my surprise, tried a whole bunch of stuff over the week he spent w/ us. A lot of it I could tell wasn’t really his thing, but a bunch of the food in Hoi An went over quite well.

Another thing that Hoi An is famous for is its shopping. The town is exploding w/ tailors and this is *the* place in Vietnam to get suits made for cheap. You go in, you choose your fabrics, you choose the style, they measure you up, and you end up getting a suit specifically tailored to you. And it’s not just suits, you can get shirts, jackets, shoes, etc etc. show them a photo of something in a fashion magazine, they’ll copy it in just a day. A lot of the stuff we saw while window shopping looked really good, so we all decided to get some clothes made. And not just a little… each of us got a bunch of stuff.

In the end, the whole process got to be a bit stressful. They, of course, try to crank this stuff out as fast as possible. If you’re not super anal and picky over every little thing and examine it carefully, they’re prone to make all sorts of mistakes. If they mess something up, you have to come back after they try to fix it… sometimes again and again and again. I’m not sure just how much time we spent in shops while in Hoi An, but it was quite a bit. In the end, I got 6 shirts that I’m happy with, and a suit that I’m happy with too (I’ll have to look it over again once I get home). I got two pairs of shoes which look ok, but you can pretty much tell they’re cheaply made copies, and then I got this one jacket. The jacket was quite a fiasco, and as soon as I tried it on, I could tell I shouldn’t have ordered it. It looked ok I guess, but something about it just was really off. It was cut all wrong, and I tried explaining this to them, but they just didn’t get it (or didn’t care). I went back several times for them to fix things on it, but the jacket never looked right in the end. I guess when people say that you get what you pay for, they’re usually right!

South of Hoi An, there are all of these old ruins at My Son. We rented scooters for the day to go check them out. The temples themselves were pretty cool, but for me, the most fun part really was riding the scooters. It’s a total blast to be zipping down the road, weaving around traffic and checking out the scenery on all sides. You can take your own pace and stop wherever you please… so much more freedom than taking a tour. Both Daniel and caryn were a bit apprehensive about renting scooters in Vietnam. After seeing the utter insanity of how people drive in Saigon, it definitely was a bit intimidating… but traffic here was a lot more chill. Other than a few crazy intersections, we had no trouble.

On the way back, we decided to stop and get some pho. So far, for the whole trip, we had eaten only at restaurants that we had seen in our guidebook etc… ones w/ western menus that cater to tourists frequently. I really wanted to try something off the beaten path, so we just stopped at a random spot in the middle of nowhere. We pointed at the sign that said Pho, and made a gesture that we wanted 3. it ended up being pretty good, and the couple of locals that were around got really excited that we were there.

Sadly, the next day, my brother had to leave. We went out to one of hoi an’s many bars that night, and just kicked it. That night we saw this douche bag Australian guy take a large bite out of a pint glass and spit it back into the glass. What a dumbass.

The rest of the time in hoi an was spent shopping for souvenirs, more shopping, and more eating. This one restaurant, Café des Amis, was sooo damn good. There’s no menu, you just choose seafood, veggie, or meat, and they serve you whatever they feel like. 6 or so courses worth. Pretty much everything they served was so damn good! So good actually, that we ate there the following night again, when we were served all new dishes. Yum!

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