Needs must and consequently we have become expert travel hunter-gatherers scouring for travel deals that offer not only ‘x’ amount of nights in quality accommodation but also provide the additional set of steak knives bonuses. A recent trip came from Sunday paper travel page Luxury Escape promotion to Vietnam. The package included eight nights in beachside luxury in Hoi An, eight spa treatments, one cooking class, breakfast and lunch or dinner daily, two night stay in Ho Chi Minh and a partridge in a pear tree – tra- la-la.
The well-preserved ancient city of Hoi An sits conveniently on the coast so travellers can enjoy best of culture, shopping and beach life. Once a major spice trading post of the Orient in the sixteenth and seventeenth century until the river Thu Bon that winds through the graceful city silted up and trade moved up the coast to Danang.
Our hotel room faced the ocean. It is large and light with a day bed on a glassed in balcony. We sleep well, the bed is a wowser comfortable King plus size, oh how I hanker for a King at home, but I digress, we wake to the sight of a couple of brightly coloured wooden pleasure boats with their elegant curved bows cruising to berth at one of the hotels along Cua Dai Beach.
The glass shower stall proved interesting, neither of us had noticed the dinner plate size shower-head high in the ceiling, rather we were mystified by the site and height of the hand-held shower. It was a point of discussion, here we have a capacious shower stall and the source of ablution placed at the height of an average six-year-old. It was days before we found the fire-hose-bad-hair-day shower head in the ceiling and we no longer needed to limbo under the portable jets to wash clean.
At breakfast most mornings we opted for Pho, slivers of beef poached in a delicious broth served over noodles then topped with a generous handful of aromatic Vietnamese herbs. Yes of course you could have bacon, American and crispy, eggs anyway you dang well please and many other morsels, pastries, cold cuts to tempt but we are in Vietnam and Pho it is, with a little bit of Vietnamese equivalent of gravalax on the side.
Our shuttle from the hotel takes us into Hoi An city centre. In the heat we walk slowly through the dusty lane. Small shops, their windows displays of bespoke tailoring vie for our attention with a graceful weather-beaten curved bridge, Chua Cau, that spans a small canal. The small covered bridge guarded by twin statues of monkeys was built in 1590 to link the Japanese quarter with the Chinese community and is still in use today.
It is quiet, as it is the time of day when motor bikes are not allowed in this part of the city. The only transports to dodge are bicycles and Vietnamese style bicycle rickshaws called Cyclos. The buildings are mainly wood with weathered limed walls in fading cobalt blue, saffron and amber. Colour in these narrow streets catches us with every turn; red long fluttering flags, displays of pearl bright lacquered ware, bales of hued silk and Chinese lanterns that delight and defy the imagination in colour and shape.
By the river we watch an old woman plying a single oared flat-bottomed boat across the river. On her head is the traditional cone hat with a slash of red ribbon hanging from it. She is thin but strong easing her heavy craft carefully into a berth beside the food market. The river on this cloudy monsoonal day has a mirror shine.
We drink cocktails and meet a couple of young lads from Welsh Wales walking through the street dressed only in their boxer shorts and ladies silk dressing gowns. Their excuse, not that they needed one, was they had just completed the ice bucket challenge. Groups of children wearing traditional dragon costumes ran to and thro excitedly at tourists and into shops scaring the devil away while their comrades made sure the devil knew they meant business by steadily banging a huge drum lashed to a billy cart. It was Vietnam’s Independence Day and a time of celebrations that gave these small boys full reign to have fun.
The drums were distant in our restaurant, Faifo Xua is an elegantly refurbished historic merchants home with its own art gallery. Young women graceful in their áo dài: tight-fitting silk tunics worn over long pants, took us to our table. The menu was billed as creative Vietnamese cuisine and the food did not disappoint. I was hard pushed to share my spicy fish and belly of pork clay pot. It was my birthday and desert came as a cake with chocolate writing wishing Mrs Mary a very happy anniversary, instantly there was music, a pianist playing on an old piano and it seemed as though the whole restaurant joined in the chorus, happy birthday to you ….
The resort style of hotel was perfect we swam and slouched by the pool by day opting to go most days into Hoi An as the day cooled. What will stay with me long after the jet lag and sharing pictures of the trip is the warmth of the Vietnamese people. Gentle, considerate people well suited to living in a place called Hoi An, which is aptly translated ‘Peaceful Meeting Place.’