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Vietnam – Hoi An – Beach & Cooking class – 14th/15th/16th January

We had our breakfast which was not very good, although they did have a lot of fruit (always a bonus). We checked out as had booked to stay at the same hotel as Justin and Jules for the rest of our stay in Hoi An. We confirmed the next leg of our journey to Nha Trang and checked into our new place, Hoi An is conveniently small so it was only a 5-10 minute walk from our last place. We decided to hire bikes for the day as a group and head to the beach, before doing this though Jules and Helen wanted to look into getting some clothes made up in town, we chose the shop that was recommended by the hotel and is also in The Lonely Planet called Phuoc An. It doesn’t look much from the outside, in fact it looks a little too smart if anything and Helen was a little dubious as to what type of clothes they would be making. After going through various cookbooks (next catalogues and gossip fashion columns) we decided on a blouse and a dress. Jules was going for a whole new wardrobe but Helen had to think about budget!!

I sketched out the dress so that they would know what style I was after and the blouse was to be kept quite loose, more like balloon style sleeves and nothing too clingy. Choosing the fabric was a nerve-racking experience. We were taken out to another shop area and Jules was swept off to a separate room, suddenly I felt a little alone in deciding what material to choose…so much choice, not exactly what I had in mind…second thoughts going through my head. In the end though I opted for a floral pattern on the dress with a green hem and a white blouse with small polka dots all over it. I was excitedly nervous about what the final garments would turn out like. We had to pay half of the money up front and the remaining amount was to be paid upon collection.

So with the little fashion moment over we met the boys a few streets down and set off to find the beach. It was around 5-6 km to the beach and the scenery was rather lovely along the way with lush riverside banks and palm trees. As we approached the seaside resort town we were whistled off the road to a parking area, this is because the locals want to make some money from those of us on bikes. We decided to ignore them and carried on, we soon realised we weren’t allowed to park our bikes pretty much anywhere on the main stretch of beach. So we went onto cycle further up the coastal road until we found a path that led to the beach without being charged to park up the bikes. When we got to the beach it was pretty wild stretch with mainly bowl like fisherman boats ready to go out to sea and one lonesome fisherman fighting against the waves. It was too rough to go in and a little too windy to play frisky, but we found a spot and enjoyed the warmth. This was the hottest it had been for us so far on our travels so it was nice to be there. Unfortunately there are quite a few spots of oil on the beach which is hard to avoid. Perhaps in the more touristy area this wouldn’t be there.

After an hour we set off back to the village to get some grub. The boys decided to take us off on a detour to other villages which didn’t appear to be serving food, so another hour later and we were back at the main strip eating at one of the first restaurants we passed on our way in. Still it meant that we had worked up an appetite. Food done and we went back to Hoi An and got ready to join up with Jules’s brother and wife for some cheap food at Cafe 43 located next door to the Phuoc An Hotel. You can eat here very cheaply indeed at around 50p for a reasonable vegetable curry and beers that cost 15p for half a pint. No drinks for Helen due to antibiotics but the rest got nice and merry and many laughs were had with the local beer staff.

(Leica M9, Summicron-M 50mm f2.0 & Olympus PEN, 17mm f2.8 & 100mm f2.8, processed in Lightroom 3)

The following morning we were up early for an 8.30am cookery class with The Morning Glory Restaurant. We met at the restaurant and as a group of around 15 were split into two for a market tour. We had a delightful guide who showed us around the local market, some of which has been kept to resemble it’s original appearance and features from the 1940′s. You can buy pretty much anything at the market throughout the various levels and areas, first we came to the fruit stalls, were talked through the different fruits and their uses, then onto spices which were all fresh from their plan form, from there we went to pick out some herbs and we ended in the fish section. Parts of the market are covered under cloth and other areas are in newer built multi-story buildings. We always enjoy doing a market tour as it gives you a great insight into the local culture.

Back at the restaurant we were taken through to a class area, at the front of the class was a table with a large mirror positioned above so we could see what was happening on the head chef’s cookery area. We all had our own stations with herbs and ingredients ready to go. We started with some fresh spring rolls which we have both learned to love over here, Helen had shrimp and vegetables and Dave had some pork in his. The herbs and dipping sauces allow for a bursting of flavours and we followed this up with a pancake on a similar scale, again tasting very deliciously. Another course was fish or chicken on skewers accompanied with a spicy mango salad, reminiscent of a Thai Sam Tom papaya salad. We prepared the marinade for this and made the salad and then it was taken away to be cooked. We did some cooking with instruction from the main chef and her fellow helpers and the food was extremely tasty. The head chef also gave a demonstration as to how to make a beef pho – the local noodle dish, it was introduced as a desert which is odd to think about.

It was a pretty good class all in all but as always improvements could be made; there was quite a lot going on in the classroom with other chefs moving plates, food around and so on, this became quite distracting as the teacher was only ever based at the front of the class. We would have liked to do more hands-on preparatory work and cooking, and the head chef was a little bit of a diva…she was quite impersonal and like to boss around her fellow staff.

After we left the restaurant it started to rain, we cycled quickly back to the dress shop where Helen’s pieces were ready to collect (we’d been in the night before to make a few changes – all of which had been performed) we were very satisfied with the service and quality of the clothes. We took advantage of the rain and did some editing back at the hotel before going to our favourite cheap eats next door, we followed this up with a lemongrass ice-cream from the Cargo Club deli. Our market guide had talked about it earlier that day on the tour so we thought it would be rude not to follow it up, she was surprised and pleased to see us there that night enjoying the ice-cream – oh and it was very good indeed.

The next day the rain continued to pour, we packed our bags, did some more work on the blog and strolled around the town before getting ready for our overnight bus journey. Before we left we went back to the deli to pick up a sandwich and chocolate brownie pack lunch (we also got a piece of fruit and water with it too) so that was our treat for the day. Helen wasn’t feeling too good so we intentionally did very little.

(Leica M9, Summicron-M 50mm f2.0 & Olympus PEN, 17mm f2.8 & 100mm f2.8, processed in Lightroom 3)

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