Sunday 8 April 2012

Hoi An Highlights

We farewelled our new friends from the photography tour to hit the road again, backpacker style. Another spectacularly early start to catch a 5.55am train from Nha Trang to Da Nang.

Waiting for our 5.55am train to arrive - Nha Trang
Our 10 hour journey (plus painful 5 hour delay due to heavy rain and flooding) ended at the beautiful heritage town of Hoi An. Hoi An is known for its unique architectural blend of ancient Japanese shop fronts, Chinese temples, historic assembly halls, and mustard yellow French colonial houses.

Typical Street Wall - Hoi An
Typical house front - Hoi An
While we decided to pause in the town for Easter celebrations, we also planned to see Hoi An light up for its monthly full moon festival, which we mistakenly believed took place on the actual night of the full moon. In this case, it was two days before (ah, that explains the unusual amount of incense burning and coloured rice scattering) so we missed the show, but the colours of the town that came out every night anyway meant that we were not too disappointed with ourselves.

Coloured Lamps - Hoi An
Hoi An was a great place to sample superb central Vietnamese cuisine, such as the local version of pho bo, as well as the local cafe scene.

Hoi An Pho Bo
Colonial Dessert Influences - Hoi An
Its heritage listing had also preserved its streetscapes, complete with public wells which produced a deliciously unique Hoi An street noodle style called cau lau, made using well water.

Cau Lau Noodles - Hoi An
Well in an Alleyway - Hoi An
So impressed were we with the standard of food at one particular restaurant, that we joined in the popular Morning Glory Restaurant Gourmet Cooking Class to discover some of the secrets to preparing this fascinating cuisine. Our instructor was a lovely young woman named Lu Lu, who had worked with the famous restauranteur Ms Vy for many years. Her knowledge of the vast array of ingredients at the disposal of Vietnamese cooks was both in the culinary field as well as the medicinal, rattling off herbal remedies for all forms of ailments. But the key to Vietnamese cooking (and primary challenge) that we took back with us at the end of the day was balance - the flavour balance between salt, sour, and sweet; the textural balance between crunchy, chewy and soft; and the balancing of cooked and fresh components of a complete meal. Our beautiful creations made us feel like we had come close to achieving this lofty goal.

A perfect cabbage soup - Morning Glory Cooking Class, Hoi An
A pair of perfect Rice Paper Rolls - Morning Glory Cooking Class, Hoi An
The perfect Hoi An Crispy Pancake Roll - Morning Glory Cooking Class, Hoi An
The perfect combination of Grilled Chicken Skewers with Green Mango Salad - Morning Glory Cooking Class, Hoi An
Even with its culinary draw cards, Hoi An is probably more notably known among international circles as the place to get a new tailored wardrobe. Sifting through the 300 to 500 or so tailors crammed into the little town, we narrowed our choice via internet and guidebook to four reputable shops. Testing each outfitter with a tailored shirt, Adong Silk narrowly won our favour, at which we splurged on three cashmere suits, a dress, extra pants, skirt and shirts, all perfectly tailored after a couple of fittings for a fraction of the price we would expect to pay back home.

Tailored designs - Adong Silk, Hoi An
Tailored designs - Adong Silk, Hoi An
Having never had clothes tailored for me before, it certainly was a different shopping experience, and I tried my best to look comfortable as I was measured up.

Measured up - Hoi An
The friendly service and attention to detail of the staff definitely helped (having an entire sleeve unstitched and realigned while I was still wearing it was a bit strange though), and we ended up shipping a nice quality set of clothes home.

On the spot tailoring. Tia's shirt sleeve unstitched, realigned and pinned back during fitting - Hoi An
Almost Done. One of Ben's suits at second last fitting - Hoi An
Here's to hoping we don't change size with all the food we are bound to continue eating. Oh, and crossed fingers for hoping these new threads will pay themselves off by securing good jobs after this year of mostly carefree indulgence and travel.

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