I'm back in Tokyo and suffering MAJOR post holiday blues: the 5 degrees of Tokyo weather to the 30 degrees of Saigon weather isn't really helping much... I had an 11 item 'to do' list for today. It's now nearly 8pm and I've done none of them.
Back to the trip though: Hoi An.
Hoi An doesn't have it's own train station or airport, so you need to go to Danang first. Of course, if you bus it you can go directly, but I didn't have time and I'd heard the Hue to Danang train route was one of the most beautiful in Vietnam. At Hue, and all along the stretch, there were no platforms, the train came into the level you were standing at. Getting on the train the carriage stank of oranges (could have been a lot worse, I know) but I had a nice window seat reserved and was forward facing. The girl next to me had the biggest bag I've ever seen stuffed in front of the two seats. She wanted me to put my feet on it. I wanted her to move it. I won. The train (the Reunification Express) absolutely crawled the route, but it was picturesque, although I didn't see many of the things I was to later see - the really bad houses, the people working the fields with oxen, etc. It took just over 2.5 hours to get there, and I got a taxi to the hotel, Green Fields. The hotel was very nice and the staff very helpful and friendly and I loved the green silk sash and flowers strewn on the bed! The hotel isn't very central though, but I was aware of that when I booked it and most of the time I walked between it and town, giving in to a motorbike only occasionally.
Hoi An is pretty. It has great architecture and a massive market and stacks of restaurants (I ate at the Blue Dragon, Ly Cafe 22 and various others I'll try and remember) and bars. I did a lot of wandering around there and watching people and on the first day it didn't even rain! I saw the Japanese covered bridge, the Phuc Kien assembly halls, Quan Cong Temple, the history and folk museum and a few other bits and pieces.
I noticed a lot of Vietnamese kids with Caucasion parents around Hoi An. I'm not sure what the significance was, but I can guess.
I shopped in Hoi An. Shopped like I have never shopped before. Hoi An, apart from being a very relaxing place, is best known for its multitude of tailor shops. I had a small list of recommened ones with me but ended up going to Thu Thuy at 60 Le Loi Street as it was the first from my list I found. I later got dragged into one (Ly Ly) in the indoor cloth market and gave in! I'm pleased with everything I got from both, namely: one suit, one pair of work trousers, three work shirts, one pair of corduroy trousers (Thu Thuy) and one pair of casual trousers, one pair of 3/4 length trousers, a pair of silk trousers and a beautiful silk top (Ly Ly). I also got two pairs of shoes made from a shoe shop. I bought another shirt and a necklace in Saigon to complete my clothes shopping - and shit was it heavy to carry back - I had to buy a bag especially. Oh, I forgot the 6 bags and 3 scarves I also bought in Hoi An and a double edged knife and special peeler that gives very long strips of peelings that I bought after a fun cooking course, where we learned about five different dishes and ate them all afterwards!
New Years Eve was going to be quiet, but I got chatting with an Aussie, Rachel, who also works in Tokyo (there were a lot of teachers from here over there) while in a cafe and we ended up hanging out and having a really fun time. She had a half bottle of champagne so we started out with that, then hit a restaurant for a lovely meal. There was another girl in there sitting by herself and we were giving her five minutes to see if she was being joined by anyone before inviting her to join us. Some other girls beat us to it though and she joined them. Unfortunately for her. One of their group became ill and went home, escorted by one of the others who returned. When the restaurant gave them the bill (and to say Vietnam is cheap to us is an understatement) they refused to pay for the girls food saying they didn't really know her and she wasn't their friend. We could see how upset and stressed the restaurant staff were getting as they were having to deal with this. The girl I was with went and spoke to them, but they maintained they didn't know the girl...
Anyway, the girl who'd been alone came and joined us and hung with us for the rest of the night. The restaurant we'd chosen had a bar downstairs and it was kicking! There's been rumbles about there being a street party, but it wasn't where it was meant to be so we stayed put in the bar which was packed! It was great fun and I staggered onto a bike around half one.
Two days later I did a trip to the ruins at My Son which, despite the weather, were amazing. And would have been even more so if they'd not been destroyed in the bombings... but enough of that. Again, something I'd recommend.
There was something else I did in Hoi An that I've dithered about writing or not writing about on this blog, but I will. When I first started thinking about Vietnam I'd thought about orphanages but decided to drop the idea. In Hoi An, in an internet cafe, was a poster advertising visiting hours for Hoi An orphanage. I mentioned this to Rachel, but said I really wasn't sure about it. She said she was also interested so we went along. I can't really exlain how it left me feeling.
We were hovering by the entrance deciding whether or not to change our minds, when one of the Vietnamese directors came over and called us in. He pointed us over to a group of girls and we went and chatted to them for a bit. A couple of them had pretty good English and they were very close to each other - hell, they were picking nits out of each others hair. We did see a three year old (they said she was three, but she was very small) in the process of being adopted by a couple sitting in the office there which was nice but also kind of sad because we knew the likelihood of the older ones being wanted was so low and who knows what will become of them when they have to leave the orphanage. The director then took us around the orphanage, through the sleeping areas, the disabled kids room, the eating area. Then we gave some money and left.
It was so drab there. So grey. I mean I know paying for staff, schooling, food, doctors, etc is the most important thing, but I just couldn't help feeling how much difference a load of paint would make to the kids and their living environment... and getting them involved in chosing colours for their rooms, helping paint it, etc. Oh well, that's just me. (Any 'Changing Rooms' producers read this blog?) One thing I do intend to do is get a little package together to send them - of little things - hair accessories, inflatable balls, that kind of thing. Again, not a priority in the day to day running of these places - but I can imagine how much the kids will like stuff like that. If I could do more I would. Anyway, if I sound a bit blase about the whole thing, I'm not. I just can't express how it made me feel.