Once upon a full moon

Trip Start Dec 25, 2011
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Trip End May 10, 2013


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Where I stayed

Flag of Vietnam  , Quang Nam province,
Friday, February 22, 2013

Time to wave goodbye to Malaysia, again, after just a very short visit!

I had a lovely breakfast of condensed milk on toast - why do other countries not do this?! I've missed it. Then, I headed off to the airport on a bus at 10am.

Due to my little jaunt up into Laos, I have eaten quite considerably into the time I had planned to spend in Vietnam. As a result, I have had to miss out half the country - just visiting the Northern half! However, although there are things to see and do in the Southern part of the country, the North appeals more to me - so I'm not too upset!

My flight to Danang left at 2pm. At 3.30pm (going back an hour again!), we were coming down to land into a cloudy Vietnam.

Vietnam has a rather odd visa system. You can either apply to an embassy and get a visa in advance, or you can apply to an agency to get a letter (for US$10), which you can present to immigration for a visa on arrival. I've opted for option 2. So armed with my letter, I'm hoping it works! Well, fail. No one told me I needed an application form as well! I even double checked the instructions from the agency to make sure I had everything. I was the silly unprepared person the other people in line (who had their forms!) were judging.

No big drama, they gave me a form, which took all of 2 minutes to fill out and I had my visa the same time as the others anyway! Another full page sticker. Oh dear. I only have one full passport page left!! So I kindly asked the passport stamping man if he could stamp on a used-already page. Which he did. Then asked for a kiss!! Wow, professional immigration here. I laughed and awkwardly walked away!

County number 18: Vietnam

To reach Hoi An, annoyingly I had to get an expensive taxi. There are no buses from the airport. I could have caught a taxi into the city, then a bus to Hoi an, then another taxi the other end...but what a palava!

The drive took about 40 minutes. The coast of Danang is lined with 5-star resorts. The other side of the road being derelict land! It was quite a contrast. Also weird were most of the houses along that area - concrete boxes with no windows! The coast didn't look particularly inviting, huge white waves rolling onto a dirty sand beach, the planted-in-neat-rows palm trees were being battered by the wind!

We passed marble mountain (some limestone lumps in the middle of the flat land) which had a cute pagoda-style temple on the side of it! The driver was being nice and pointing things out to me. But soon enough started telling about his tailor shop and pointed his sisters shop out to me, asking what I wanted made. Oh dear.

It was nearly 5pm by the time I arrived. I'm quite excited that my hotel has a pool! But it's cold and getting dark, so that will have to wait until tomorrow.

I'm tired and couldn't be bothered to go too far for dinner, so crossed the road and settled there! Handed a menu of 20 plus pages, I chose for the first thing I saw at the top of the first page. A local specialty - cau lao. No idea what it even is! Turns out, the nicest food I've had all trip! It was so tasty! Thick noodles (almost like tagliatelle) with beansprouts, lettuce, mint leaves and coriander in a sweet soy style sauce. Topped with mini crisps! It was so good! And cheap considering I was in a tourist restaurant, just £1.20.


Saturday 23 February 2013

The town of Hoi An was once a port full of grand architecture; a maze of Chinese temples, shophouses and Japanese merchant houses - over 800 of these buildings have been preserved by UNESCO.

The streets in the old town are small, really cute and full of these ornate old buildings. Covered in flowers and lanterns, bicycles dotted around and all the locals wearing conical bamboo hats. I loved wandering around these pretty streets. Although within the few streets of the old town, basically all the buildings are now for tourists - alternating between shops, cafes and more shops.

Some of the old family houses within the old town have been preserved and its possible to visit several of these houses for tours - some of which people are still living in! I went inside a couple of them - beautiful ornate inlaid mother of pearl posts in one. All full of ornate furniture and have indoor courtyards dotted with flowering bushes.

The Japanese covered bridge was built in the 1590s to link the Japanese community to the Chinese quarters. It crosses over a small stream, it's quite small - only about 10meters long. Quite unusual looking, decorated in porcelain discs. Inside were stone monkey statues guarding the entrances.

The morning food market was chaos. A sea of moving conical hats. Traffic here whizzes by on motorbikes and bikes - even these weaving through the crowded market! Ladies were poured out across the streets with a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, flowers and fish. Noodles were sat out in weaved baskets, covering the pavements.

I found the Ba Le well, hidden down a maze of little streets. I almost missed it, it wasn't the 'well' shaped well I was expecting! It's just a hole in the ground! The water out of this well is traditionally used to make cau lao (which is what I ate for dinner last night!). There were several people here, filling up pails.

Fabric production is one of the traditional trades of Hoi An. Today, there are literally hundreds (estimated 300-500!) of tailor shops willing to whip up anything from a suit or dress, to a shirt in a couple of days. These tailor shops line every street, all offering similar clothes but at varying quality.

I've never had anything tailor made before, so while I'm here I'm going to give it a go! I had no idea what I might want made. So hit the internet to have a browse and get some ideas - then remembered what I have wanted for a while. A trench coat. And that will be perfect to use in the chilly China weather next week!

Where to start, it's a bit overwhelming. I went into a few shops to have a browse, but didn't really like what was on offer, the coats all looked a bit cheap and the ladies were all a bit pushy. Luckily, I had done my research into the more recommended shops and found one of them - Aobaba.

Even from the outside, this shop is a lot classier than the others. Lining the mahogany walls are posh looking suits, elegant gowns and winter coats. None of the tshirts, tacky skirts and cheap looking coats the other shops were displaying. The staff here were also totally different, they weren't trying to sell me anything, they were just smiley and nice. And in the window - the perfect trench coat. I tried the coat on - perfect fit, and looked really good. But, it was red.

I was taken upstairs into the rows of colourful fabrics stacked neatly along all the walls. Here I could choose my colour - I found a nice navy. Then time for the lining - a royal purple silk. I asked for the back of the coat to be changed slightly, and had brought along a picture. Not a problem (and I emailed it across to them!). They took all my measurements and I will return later on this evening for my first fitting. It's a very fast turn around here in Hoi An!

I had read about a fancy patisserie that produces amazing cakes and desserts. I've not had desserts in a while, so while I was passing by...... and the choice of cakes was staggering. All beautifully finished and decorated. Cheesecakes, pastries, tarts, brownies and cakes. I almost didn't know what to choose. But I almost didn't have to - there was a brownie cheesecake, half brownie, half cheesecake - best of both. And it was amazing! And then I felt a bit sick.

Another Hoi An specialty - lanterns. Silk lanterns of every size, shape and colour. The streets are lined with them, in trees, on shop fronts, stringed up along the street. Just everywhere. They are so pretty. I found one lantern shop that offers classes! So for the grand price of £2 and a personal guide, I made my own lantern!

I was given a bamboo frame and chose my silk covering. I went with a royal blue. Then red with some very sticky glue, I pulled small sections of silk over the frame. It was really fun and took me an hour just to make a small one! It turned out very good!

Once per month, a lantern festival is held to celebrate the 14th day in the lunar month. Lucky then that my stay falls over this night - tonight! Usually, the streets are full of lit up lanterns. But tonight is slightly different, many streets in the old town turn off their electricity. So the streets are lit by just candle light (and lanterns obviously!). Along the river, small lotus shaped boats with a candle inside are being sold. You can float them down the river. Also for sale are moon cakes - only sold on this one day. A small, flat round 'cake' filled with a sweet bean paste.

All along the streets, outside every shop, restaurant and hotel are offerings. Strong sweet scented wood is being burned everywhere. Incense also. I have a headache from breathing in the sweet smoky air everywhere!

Hoi An is all about shopping. And shopping I did! This is the first time I've bought any crafts/souvenirs in the past month. And this is definitely the place to do it, every corner is full of beautiful crafts! And I got a bit carried away, forgetting I am living out of a backpack. And already have a mountain of luggage.

For dinner I tried some Pho - a Vietnam specialty. Noodles (again, like pasta!) in a big bowl of watery soup, with coriander, it was quite nice.

Sunday 24 February 2013


It's still raining. It rained all evening yesterday, ruining the lantern festival evening! Rained all thought the night. And still raining.

I popped (not sure you can call it 'popped' when its a 25 minute walk away!) into town in the pouring rain, for a clothes fitting at lunchtime. Yesterday when I returned in the evening I got carried away and ended up adding to my order - ordering a suit as well!! Couldn't resist! And allowed myself the turquoise lining :) Now that I'm here again, those work dresses look cute too....

Only my coat was ready - looking good! Half finished so far, with no buttons yet. I tried it on and had it pinned around me. A little bit big, which will be adjusted later on today. But it looks really good. I like it a lot. Next task - choosing some buttons! I was presented with a folder full of pages and pages of buttons! Although tempted by the cute brass dragonflies, I chose something a bit more sensible!

While I waited for my suit fitting, I went off for some lunch along the river. Still raining!

And back to try on my suit. My skirt has been made for an obese person and needs some drastic taking in at the waist! So some more pins and chalk applied! The jacket was pretty good, just needed taking in a little. The whole suit looks amazing! And now, some more waiting while all the changes are made.

At my final fitting the clothes were almost perfect. The fit was great, just a few final tweaks and the last few buttons to put on. They will alter these last few bits and bring to my hotel later tonight. Saves me another trip into town! They work long hard days here. I'm glad I chose a more expensive shop - the quality is very high and a lot better than others I have seen around. I love my clothes. Oh why didn't I order more.

The rain has stopped and the lanterns out in full. The town is so pretty, alit in bright colourful lantern light.

Another meal and more Vietnamese specialties - vegetable spring rolls and white rose. White rose is a Hoi An dish. They are small dumplings, with a prawn inside, laid out on a plate so that they look like a 'white rose'....well, almost.

And despite the rain, I have loved Hoi An! Such a pretty little place and brilliant for craft shopping...my backpack doesn't agree.
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