Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Hoi An - Beaches and Suncream...oh, and Toothpaste

Hoi An takes up three days of our tour. It is a very pleasant, very relaxed corner of Vietnam just on the cusp of tourism greatness, ie. commercial destruction. At the moment though it boasts some good restaurants, cheap tailoring, a scenic Old Quarter, and a beach, oh what a beach.

The reason such a sleepy destination eats up three of our days, when Saigon uses two and Phnom Pehn just two nights, is because of the tailoring. In order for the group to get measured, fitted and purchase their suits, dresses etc. (and remember there are nine women in my group), three days only just cuts it. The thoughts of lugging around a suit, no matter how cheap, or even sending it home, depressed me, so I spent all the time the others took in the "Wonderful Anna's", to read by the pool, explore the town and laze by that beach (and oh, what a beach).

Outside our hotel a masked woman - who told me she loved me! - in her sixties, hired me out a bicycle and I braved the long, dusty road to get to the beach. Did I mention the beach? Five km away from the centre of town, it is well worth the easy ride down (the others opted for motorbike taxis etc.). When I got there I was stopped and directed to a bike park. It was just as well I was stopped as my brakes didn't work so well. Flat ride down or not, I was dripping in the heat, but I resisted the charms of the crone by the bike park offering me water. Maybe later. She was to be the first of a whole battalion of vendors I would encounter. But again, about that beach.

It goes on and on for miles. Golden sand, really. No rocks, no pebbles, not even any shells, just a wide sand beach. With palm trees along the fringe. And thatched sunshades with free deckchairs. And a beautiful roaring, but shallow sea. I laughed. Not only was it not crowded (relatively few people ever seemed to be there), I don't believe it could be, well not until Hoi An achieves touristic greatness.

Ambling along I was accosted by many a vendor. When I refused their beads or fruit, they'd say, 'Maybe later' and tell me their name ('Nuna', 'Maadi') so that I could call on them specifically (from all the other hundreds) later when I discovered I really did need beads. Almost as in your face were the deckchair girls, each pulling me to their line of chairs and pouting when I moved on. Eventually I settled on one chair and sighed back in the shade.

I lounged there for four hours or so, occasionally swimming with a Dutch girl, Christine, who worked in a local resort, or reading, or EATING. One of the conditions of the free deckchairs is that you buy a drink or meal (hence the scrambling for initial business) from the restaurants behind (a lot less intrusive than Koh Lanta). As it was lunchtime, I had no problem buying a crab in tamarind sauce. The full crab was delivered and the sauce on my fingers tasted delectable. Unfortunately no crab cracker came with the dish, so I had to be inventive with my fork and spoon, chopsticks, fingers and teeth. A few vendors stayed at a respectful distance while I ate, but were back as promised later. One young girl spent ten minutes explaining that my not wanting beads wasn't the point; she was bored, and I should entertain her by buying something. You probably expect me to have bowed under such pressure, but I resisted, each of us agreeing that I would have a swim, think about it, and get back to her if I changed my mind. I didn't.

Although I stayed in the shade reading, my swimming with Christine necessarily involved venturing into the open. Although I put suncream on my body, I forgot my face, and later I looked a little bit lobsterish. Not too unusual for me.

Later also involved a cookery course.

We had eaten a beautiful fish in banana leaves dish the night before and the restaurant offered a cookery course. Zoe, Yung and I joined a Northern Irish girl, Alison, and an English girl, Emily, for a course teaching us the finer points of making mackerel in banana leaves, spring rolls, squid with lemongrass, beef with lemongrass, etc.. All was going well until, using some outsize chopsticks (we all were) I accidentally let a spring roll slip into the oil. There was very little splash, but what there was hit Emily on the hands. There was a shout, a curse and Lee, our teacher came running with the toothpaste (a good substitute for burn cream). Whatever about Emily, I was traumatised. As it happened her hands were fine, but I was a subdued cook from then on, and enjoyed the feast we cooked up a little less than I would have liked.

I needed to calm down, so when we met the others for their dinner, I hit the cocktails. Passiona Rhumba, comprised of tequila, passionfruit and lime, is a discovery I made that I'd particularly recommend.

Making our way home in the darkened streets, where the markets had been that day, we tried to avoid the cockroaches and rats. An interesting day.


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