Have been in Hoi An now for a couple of days. What a great place. I decided to give Nha Trang a miss, having heard it described as the Miami of Vietnam. After a five hour bus ride, I waited there for two hours and had a quick look around and realized immediately that I'd made the right decision.
The only problem was that I then had to take a 12 hour trip to get to Hoi An. The buses are pretty comfortable, with reclining couches and wifi. The main problem is the roads, which on the whole, are very bumpy, so it's very difficult to sleep. Add to this the fact that the Vietnamese are hooter happy; they beep their horn on overtaking and it made for a sleepless night. Just as you start to doze off, there is an enormous jolt as you hit a bump, or the driver decides to warn a pedestrian that he's going past with a beep on the horn which has the resonance of the bell in the Buddhist temple I visited the other day.
Finally got to my destination after maybe two hours sleep and had a quick nap in the place I'd pre-booked. Took it very easy for the rest of the day and ventured out in the evening with two guys I met at the hostel: Alex, who's from Manchester, and a Danish guy called er, Murphy, believe it or not. (His Dad's Irish).
Old French Colonial.
They took me to an open mike evening in town. I took my guitar and arrived at a comfortable bar with a mixed tourist/local clientele. There was a house band of four Vietnamese guys and an impressive array of instruments, including a pedal steel guitar. The band started with a rock version of Pachelbel's Canon and the guitarist stood out immediately; a very accomplished musician playing fast, melodic stuff. After a few more numbers, I was invited up and did a couple of songs on a borrowed guitar, which went down pretty well. I was more interested in hearing the guitarist again.
This time he played a nylon strung guitar and was incredible. There are a lot of gypsy guitarists round where I live, in Gypsy King territory, some of whom play well. This guy was streets ahead of any of them, playing a melodic, tasteful lines, instead of the speed for speed's sake stuff which is more normal. He even managed to interpret a couple of rock classics, which I've never liked much, and make them sound good.
Next morning, I was greeted by locals and tourists alike: 'Nice gig last night.' Ahh, fame.
Went out that evening to a little back-street café which Alex had found. They sell the local draught beer, which is not very strong, but cold and refreshing. After putting the World to right and going through 12 halves between us, we asked for the bill, which was 36,000 dong, less than 2$!
Vietnam gets better with every passing day. I was panicking, as I don't have much time left on my visa, so it was great to discover that I can renew it for another month. There's just so much to see here which takes a long time, due to the heat. Another month will give me time to really explore.
Yesterday was just wonderful. Two girls turned up at the hostel, having just met each other on the bus. Annie is Dutch and Hannah is English. I'm old enough to be their grandfather. We went out for a stroll before Alex departed and looked around the old part of town, which is beautiful; (must stop using that word). Annie said she wanted to visit a tailor who had been recommended to her. There are 400 tailor shops here in Hoi An, which is well known in Vietnam and beyond for its quality garments.
It was about 4pm when we rolled up at a tailors with a plaque outside announcing that they had been awarded the Trip Advisor best Hoi An tailor award for 2015. The owner Ron, a lovely Australian guy and his equally delightful Vietnamese wife, Hoa, welcomed us in and offered us drinks. Unlike all the other shops, they didn't make the slightest attempt to sell you as much as possible.
The girls chose some materials, got measured up, and we started talking. Ron realises that westerners hate the hard sell, so has told his staff not to try to pull people in off the street. It obviously works. We were given a fantastic meal, a local dish with pork, herbs and crispy rice things which looked like pieces of bacon, at which point I made a tentative enquiry re the possibility of a linen jacket. I'd decided that I didn't want to lug a suit around for another 4 months, but under the circumstances...... I chose a classic beige linen material and asked how much. Quick tap on the calculator: 58$. I was expecting a lot more. In the end I went for a suit which came to less than 100$, about £60.
I was measured in every direction and am going back this afternoon for the final fitting.
We sat chatting, eating sliced watermelon and mango and Hoa showed us a ten minute DVD she'd made at a local hospice, which takes in people who have been left in a terrible state by Agent Orange. It was very harrowing indeed. I never realized how really awful the effects are. (They are passed on through generations). My immediate reaction was to ask if I could go there to photograph a tragedy which has been largely forgotten. It's a little complicated, but hope I can do it, as some of the sights are horrific and should be shown.
I haven't heard much about the war since I've been here. Hoa told me that when she was 8 years old, a live grenade was thrown into the basement where she was sheltering with her family. She picked it up and threw it out again and heard a loud explosion seconds later. She said that she still has nightmares about the incident.
We chatted about the local culture and finally left at about 10.30.
On the way back, went into a welcoming Irish bar, where one of the girls knew a couple of Irish people. We got chatting whilst watching the Roland Garros final. One guy, Levi, had quite a strong Dublin accent. When I asked where he was from exactly, he told me that he was Swiss. Amazing. His English was right up there with a couple of friends who speak it perfectly as a second language. Even the body language was Dublin.
He told me that he loved traveling and that Hoi An was his favourite place on the planet. He'd been running the bar for 18 months. The longer I stay here, I can see why he's so struck by it.
One for Blue Peter fans.
A quick plug for the tailors:
21, Phan Boi Châo St,
Hoi An City, Vietnam.
+84 510 3863 280