Preface: I wrote this yesterday while lounging on a riverside patio in Hoi An. Today I'm navigating multiple airports on my way to Phu Quoc Island--but more on that later. For the record, the dinner I ended up having at Morning Glory was one of the best things I've eaten in Vietnam. As was the second dinner that I had back at the homestay--though second dinner was not the best choice for my digestive tract. Still, no regrets.
Greetings from beautiful Hoi An, one of those aggressively charming towns designed to make tourists throw their money away. Mackinac Island, Carmel-by-the-Sea--you get the idea. I don't mean this in a disparaging way. To the contrary, Hoi An is one of my favorite places that I've visited so far. I suspect it's impossible not to feel relaxed here.
The rest of my time in Hue wasn't bad, exactly, but I wouldn't call it relaxing, either. The day after the horrible heat, I couldn't bring myself to trek to any more tourist attractions--I was wiped out. Instead I spent the day in cafes, working on my novel. Physically restful, perhaps, but mentally exhausting. Then, after dinner with Mina and some of her friends, it began to rain.
And rain. And rain.
Le Ba Dang Museum, which celebrates the work of the Vietnamese painter and sculptor. I negotiated what I believe to be an amazing deal to visit Thien Mu Pagoda--the xe om driver took me there, waited for me, and drove me back for only 60,000 dong (less than $3). I hate haggling, so I was proud of myself for that one. The pagoda is gorgeous, tucked between tall pine trees, high above the Perfume River. That evening I spontaneously had dinner with a fellow American who quit her job to go diving in Thailand for nine months, as well as a Canadian retiree. Afterwards we sat at a cafe along the river and watched the lights on the bridge change colors.
Like I said: aggressively charming.
My homestay is wonderful, too. I have my own gigantic room and private bathroom. There are bicycles I can take whenever I want for free. Mimi and Long and the other staff are amazing--about my age, and always willing to sit down and chat. It's fun to hang out with them. My first night in town, we all had a huge family dinner night. We bought food at the local market, and we made spring rolls and eggplant and morning glory and papaya salad and squid and soup. Not to mention all the fruit for dessert. Have you ever had a mangosteen? If not, you ought to make it happen ASAP.
Anyway, if you ever come to Hoi An, you must book Riceflower Homestay for your accommodations. But where should you shop?
The amount of tailors' shops in the town is overwhelming, so I just walked into one that had a good TripAdvisor rating. Fortunately, Cloth Shop Din Din lived up to its reputation. I knew I wanted a blazer, since I can never find any that fit in the U.S. If it fits my waist, it's always too small for my arms, and vice-versa. But I also wanted something more fun, so I decided to go for a jumpsuit. I got to select the designs and fabrics of both, and both pieces were ready the next day. I came in for adjustments, and they already fit perfectly. The price was so low that I didn't have the heart to barter.
Friendly Shoe Shop, and all my resolve crumbled. They measured my feet and legs, and they let me select the leather--they no longer had the display color, so I happily settled for a bolder blue. The boots were ready for adjustments later that same day, and when I double checked the final product today, they offered to ship it to the States for me. The cost of the custom boots plus shipping: slightly over $100. More than I'd normally pay for shoes, of course--but the shoes I normally buy are cheap and fall apart after a few months. I'm glad I made the investment, which was still a far smaller investment than I would have made for the same quality in the U.S.
It's a good thing I only have a part-time job right now, or else I might be lugging home a whole new wardrobe.
Where should you eat in Hoi An? Pretty much anywhere--everything I've tried has been delicious. I tried Cao Lau, a local specialty, at Vy's Market, on their patio along the river. I tried the "Mixed Bread" sandwich at the Anthony Bourdain-approved Banh Mi Phuong, which had a little bit of everything, and was ridiculously flavorful. I tried another local specialty, White Rose dumplings, at Coco, a restaurant tucked into a sleepy curve in the river. I tried Banh Xeo (Vietnamese pancake) at the town market. Tonight I'm going to give the much-recommended Morning Glory a shot.
This morning I biked to the beach, read a book by the waves, watched these tiny, translucent crabs scuttle sideways along the sand. By the time I leave Hoi An, I'll have biked something like 25 miles--nothing for regular bikers, but considering that I hardly ever do it, and that the last time I tried I literally crashed into a wall (goddamn fixies), I'm quite proud of myself. It's the small things.
I should stop writing. I've been at this cafe for hours, and they're probably tired of me taking up prime riverside real estate.
Next door they're playing "Cowboy Take Me Away" by the Dixie Chicks. Feels appropriate for some reason.