Can’t stay hidden for long, when we’re playing the game of “Where is Sara hiding?”
Souvik & I met in Hoi An over the weekend – with a major operation of exchanging his dirty laundry from last week for fresh starched shirts. With many of the schools closing for the summer, there was a deluge of local tourists in Hoi An, but we managed to find a great place to stay: Windbell Homestay Villa. A gem for the price of pebbles! Nice and spacious room, well done bathroom, even a small pool, and simple, but delicious breakfast. With bicycles to ride into town that was a couple of km away, we really had the best of both worlds.
What’s a visit to Hoi An without shopping? We did plenty of the usual – shoes, lanterns, even a few paintings. And great meals. Balanced by a nice countryside cycling tour with Heaven & Earth tours. Cycling in the sun to visit sites of boat making, ice factory, brick factory, mats & basket boats, all through the beautiful countryside, mixed with some boat adventures, and finally settling to have a hearty lunch under a mango tree…. the pace was leisurely, but the heat was not.
A fitting ‘nostalgia’ visit to my favourite place in Vietnam!
For my fifth visit to Hoi An, I felt the need to do something different. So I found a new place to stay, thanks to a recommendation from my friend, Persis. Very nicely done up homestay, and priced well too, Betel Garden is just a km off from the central market. With their free bicycles, that distance is gobbled up in a few minutes, and makes it fun too.
This time, I stayed away from the main road in the market, preferring to cycle in the village lanes leading nowhere.
Also signed up for a sunrise phototour workshop with Etienne. It was a chilly Sunday morning, with no hope for a view of the sun, but there were 4 of us on the tour, taking the first ferry of the morning to the fishing village, smiling at the locals, and closing in for pictures. Punctuated by stops for coffee and divine freshly baked muffins, we got good tips, particularly for portrait photography.
Did I miss any of the shopping? Not at all. Ordered before Souvik came in from Ho Chi Minh City, and delivered at lunchtime before we left – shirts, jacket and 3 pairs of shoes!
When Reva started planning her trip to Vietnam, there were bound to be a whole lot of food-related activities in it. One of the most exciting things she came up with was attending a cooking class. Our online research showed up Red Bridge Cooking School in Hoi An as one of the most promising, so off we went, booking ourselves for one regular & one vegetarian class, with Sara in tow.
The class started mid-morning at Hai Cafe (after we collected our custom-made shoes), and almost every female at the café came over to coo at Sara. First we followed our guide for a visit to the local market, learning names of fruits, vegetables, and getting more preferential treatment (in terms of fruit handouts from the vendors), thanks to Sara. Deeper into the same market was the section for fish and other scary seafood, where the women went totally crazy over Sara, offering her some dead fish and live eels, and whatnot! Ewwwwww!!! The last part of this tour was about some typical spices and herbs used in Vietnamese cuisine.
Then we headed over to our boat which took us on a meandering ride through the river to the Red Bridge School. The walk through the herb garden was fairly enlightening, and the cock-a-doodle-doo was quite enough to keep li’l Sara entertained.
We were a little worried at the class – Will Sara sit quietly in one place? We were a small group of around 15-16 people. The chef/instructor would show us a little demo of a dish, then send us to our cooking stations, where we would do it ourselves, with the able assistance of a large staff ;-). Interestingly, the cooking stations were on a platform separated from the river by nothing, and there were times when Reva & I were nicely contorted, in attempts to prevent Sara from taking a splash overboard. Luckily, the staff here were as gushy about her, and supplied her with enough paper to scribble on, while we cooked.
One fresh rice paper, one pancake, one claypot with veggies/seafood and some food decorations later, we were quite done, and could settle down to eat some of our own preparations. Not bad at all!
I’m getting back to blogging after a week, not because there was a dearth of topics, but rather because there was so much else to do with my cousin, Uju, around. She is not your typical shopping maniac, so I had planned more sightseeing, which ended up something like this:
Day 1: A walk around Hoan Kiem Lake, and dinner at Al Fresco’s
Day 2: Trek at Ba Vi National Park, dinner at j.a.f.a. We also baked a flourless chocolate cake sometime during the day, and enjoyed it for the rest of the week.
Day 3: Visit to the Flower Market, then walk around Tay Ho to Tran Quoc Pagoda, and back home on a motobike (xe om). Later, shopping at Old Quarters (we got beautiful gifts for Uju’s sister, Aparna, and ordered some clothes to be tailored for ourselves), dinner at Thai Express, and ice cream at Fanny.
Day 4: Visit to the Temple of Literature, relax, pack for the next 2 days.
Day 5: Flight to Hoi An. We spent the afternoon at the seaside, and evening in Hoi An ancient town, where Uju couldn’t stop admiring and photographing the delightful architecture. Ordered some shoes – leather ones for Uju, silk for me, bought lanterns. Dinner at Mango Mango and ice cream at Casa Verde.
Day 6: Tour to My Son, to see the ruins of the Champa kingdom, short stop at Kim Bong Carpentry Village, and long stop at Hoi An market to sight-see and shop some more. Back to Hanoi.
Day 7: Sightseeing at Hoa Lo Prison museum, collected some of the tailored clothes, ordered some more, dinner with our neighbours.
Day 8 & 9: Heavenly bliss at Halong Bay; Sindhu joined us for this one. A fun drive to Halong with lots of food, plenty of activities on the cruise – trekking to the peak of Titop hill, kayaking in the Bat cave, getting awed by the limestone in the Surprise cave, wine tasting, chilling on the deck, admiring the rock formations.
Before we knew it, Uju’s trip had come to an end 😦 . For a non-shopper, she was surprisingly tempted by all the Vietnamese offerings, and did a healthy count of souvenirs and gifts 😀 . Of coursed, there was plenty of space for her shopping – after handing out the vast number of Gangar snacks that she’d got for us :-P.