Friday, November 27, 2009

2 Hoi An, Vietnam

It's pretty easy to live the good life in Vietnam. Twenty dollars in Hoi An will buy you a spacious hotel room with canopy bed and flat screen TV, and the food in town was plentiful and cheap. When we were lured into Cargo Club on our first afternoon by a mouthwatering pastry display case and entered into an elegant dining room with a second floor patio, we were sure we'd be leaving with empty pockets. But nothing cost more than a few dollars and their chocolate mousse was out of this world. Patrick himself ventured into outer space three times during our stay as we proceeded to frequent Cargo Club on a bi-daily basis for the rest of our stay.

It wasn't all croissants and baguettes for us in Hoi An. We took a private cooking class at Yellow Flower Restaurant and learned to make wonton soup, lemongrass chicken, sweet and sour pork, and some killer spring rolls. Do expect us to show off the next time you are our guests.

The town of Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and they don't let you forget it. The entire downtown is preserved, frozen in time, with a $4 ticket gaining you access to historic houses, assembly halls, museums, and of course temples. Though in most cases these tiny buildings obscured by countless shops catering to the many packs of roving tourists didn't have much to see once inside. The two standouts of the lot were the lovely Japanese Covered Bridge and the Phuc Kien Assembly Hall. The ticket also entitled us to a cultural performance of live music and women dancing with clay pots on their heads and silk fans. Not at the same time though, which sorely disappointed Patrick.Setting aside the charm of Hoi An's colorful streets, the main tourist activity is shopping. More specifically, shopping for custom made clothing and shoes. There are more than 200 tailors in tiny Hoi An that make the historic sites often hard to spot. The general drill is: a tourist walks in to a shop, points to one of the model garments on display, selects a fabric, negotiates a price, poses for some quick measurements, and 12 hours later returns for alterations to the essentially finished product. It's kind of like being a Project Runway model. In most cases the price negotiation also involves the commission of more clothes--the more you buy the more you save. A couple we ran into from our Halong Bay cruise had ended up with several suits, a dress, two pairs of jeans, and new sandals after three days in town. We, however, limited ourselves to a winter coat for Patrick and a silk dress for Katrina. The coat won't be needed for another month, and the dress has no use on this trip at all, but $38 for two custom garments is too hard to pass up. Even Nina Garcia would be impressed with the speed and craftsmanship of Hoi An's tailors.

View more pictures from Hoi An here.

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