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Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Strolling, shopping Hoi An, Vietnam, Monday, 19 March 2007 3:00am

After the train dropped us off in Da Nang, we took a taxi to Hoi An. Jessica and I had been debating whether there were more national flags per capita in Vietnam than in the states (a skewed argument since I live in San Francisco and she lives in Texas, so we see a very different number of flags). I counted 83 over the course of the half hour taxi ride. There were a bunch of hammer-and-sickle flags as well, which I believe is the emblem of the Party here. I'm not sure whether there are more of those at the moment because the Party is celebrating it's (lucky) 77th anniversary, or if there are just always that many.

The taxi driver was one of the more aggressive we've had. There was a long period where he was trying really hard to pass a bus on a 1.5 lane road, but kept failing because of oncoming trucks. I think he finally completed the pass in the middle of an intersection. If I thought I had a chance of being understood, I might try to learn the phrase "we're not in a hurry". But if my pronunciation weren't too foreign, the concept might be.

Hoi An turns out to be a pretty town, marred by the sheer number of people trying to sell things. We wandered around the Old Town for the afternoon, deliberately putting off the walking tour until tomorrow. We had a really good dish made by cooking a fish with spices in a banana leaf.

Unfortunately to get to the restaurant from our hotel we took the direct route which sent us through the market. We had to navigate past numerous stalls filled with t-shirts, food, and sundry other things, each one with a stall keeper and several children asking us to buy something. To make matters worse, it had rained lightly earlier, so there were tarps and umbrellas up over the passage. If I'd needed reminding that I'm unusually tall here, this would have served. I had to duck through the whole way.

We walked back by another route, which only exposed us to the temptation of the shops along the street. Just about every building in the Old Town is a historical site, a tour agency, a restaurant, or a store. Besides the general souvenir stores, there are craft stores of various descriptions: silk lantern shops, wood carving shops, gong shops, and clothing shops. Lots of clothing shops.

Hoi An is famous for its quick-turnaround tailoring. They claim to be able to copy just about anything in a day, from Nike sneakers to business suits, and they do lots of custom work as well. I had decided that I would not get a suit made here, since we don't have enough time for non-rushed work, much less a full set of fittings.

Jessica, on the other hand... she was looking for some shoes to wear with her Ao Dai, so we spent some time in the afternoon browsing at the shoe stalls. Unfortunately, we didn't find what she wanted on the shelves and there were just too many options to choose for custom ordering. She did happen to see an embroidered jacket that she liked, but it wasn't quite the right shape, so the shop took her measurements to make a custom version for her. And while she was there, she saw a shirt she liked too, and ordered a couple of those. They'll be ready tomorrow at 2pm, in theory.

Hoi An is known for a noodle dish called cao lau, which is pork and fried crackers with greens and a special kind of noodles. The noodles can only properly be made with water from the Ba Le well, though I'm not sure whether that's tradition or mineral content. We tried to find the restaurant that the guidebook mentioned was right by the well, but we failed. I ended up trying the dish at another restaurant instead. It's tasty. The noodles are more glutinous than the usual rice noodles. They remind me a bit of a dish ("worms") at my favorite Chinese restaurant in Boston ("Brezhnev's").

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