(August 3rd) The minibus was late to pick us up, because there are two hostels named ‘Vitamin Sea’ in Nha Trang, and it had gone to the other one. The drive ended at a dock, where we boarded a ship that took us to a small island about 45 minutes away. After a brief refresher course (Lily and I had only scuba dived once before), we were suited up and at the bottom of the ocean, practicing breathing, buoyancy and emergency techniques.
There are no big fish in Nha Trang, but a lot of small ones, giant black worms, star fish, coral, and nemos hiding in pink grass. We swam for much of the time holding hands, then got a little braver and started swimming solo. Eventually I stopped being able to equalise, and had to surface. We moved onto a second reef, did some snorkelling, then got the boat back to land.
We went back to Nha Trang for a barbecue we could cook at the table, then went for a walk where we got a coffee, and saw for the first time the proper Vietnamese way of making a coffee. A massage showed me just how sunburnt I was. We returned to the hotel, changed, packed, and caught the night bus to Hoi An. The bus was no wider than a normal bus, but still managed to accommodate three rows of bunk beds separated by two aisles. People were also sleeping on the floor. It was cold, I was in the bed in front of the toilet, which was used regularly throughout the night. Neither of us slept well.
(August 4th) The bus got in at 6 a.m, by which time I was sweating, dizzy and felt like throwing up, a common reaction I get to sunburn. Motorcyclists tried getting us take them to our hotel, saying “no cars are allowed in the city center”, which turned out to be a lie. We opted for a cab, and, at our hostel, the Tribee Ede, I lay down for a while, with a fever that would last the rest of the day. I wasn’t sure if it was food poisoning (the thought of eating anything made me want to puke) or the sunburn.
Lily went out to get a dress tailored, ate a wonton soup and got mad at the motorbikes. She came home upset, angry and wanting a bit of normalcy. Or at least people not to just honk at her. We went for pho at dinner, then home again to bed.
We were sharing our room at the hostel with Kash and Polly, who’d slept in the same single bed the night before. Polly told us the story. They were an ex-couple who’d actually split up two months ago, but amicably, and decided to keep their Asia travel plans, even if they’d be travelling separately for most of their time in Vietnam. They weren’t even supposed to be sharing a bed, but last night Kash had been locked out of his room, so he slept next to Polly, apparently without incident.
They were both mathematicians, but Polly had taken an extra year to do her masters thanks to delays caused by her dad’s death. She was accepted onto her course when he was diagnosed, and was set to graduate shortly after he died. She might go to New York and get an internship when she feels she can leave her mother. Kash has gone, as his name would suggest, into finance to be a quant.
(August 5th) We woke and walked around the town. I was sweating buckets from the fever. Visited a gorgeous 17th century house that we were shown around by the niece of the man who still lives there. Black wood, old paintings and tablets, a very open house design with an upper floor balcony around the living room.
Temple, a bridge with two monkey gods at one end and two dragon gods at the other, walking along the river. Then onto Lily’s second dress fitting (almost there), and I bought a hat. I was sweating profusely and feeling pretty dizzy from the sun. Back at the hotel, a van picked us up for our cooking class tour.
On the tour we met an attractive Italian called David, a haughty, well-mannered, polite man who said some wonderfully unfortunate statements; Trump shouldn’t be damned for doing exactly what he promised during his campaign; Berlusconi was a strong administrator, which is what Italy needed at the time, and he’s simply maligned in the foreign press; English is the queen’s English, it should be spoken as the Queen speaks it, and he hates the current trend of people trying to sound more working class. You’ll be surprised to hear that David went to a private boarding school, spent his summers at a camp in Switzerland, and speaks English with a posher accent than almost anyone I know.
We were also joined by Luke, a 22 year old accountant about to start his first job ever, getting a suit here tailored in Hoi An for his first day at work. Oinh (pronounced “won”) was our tour guide.
We stopped at a market, where we bought basil, lemon basil, bean sprouts, spring onions, coriander, carrots, taro root, cucumber, white radish, beef bones, shrimp, pork, mushrooms and tofu and put it into baskets, which we carried back onto the bus.
At the river we got on a slow, wide wooden boat. 30 minutes upstream we swapped over into the circular fishing boats we’d filmed in the fishing village of Mui Ne. On the river bank we were given small wooden rods and instructed to try to fish for small crabs among the bamboo shoots on the riverbank. We were unsuccessful, although one crab had latched on to my bait, dropping off just before I could get him over the rim of the boat.
Up on land, we went into a large hut with several rows of tables waiting for us to start cooking. First we bashed rice with large pestles in a giant stone mortar, to separate the white grains from the shells. We then put them in a small palm leaf sieve, which took out some of the dust. We put the rest on a larger leaf mat, flicking it up in the air to separate even more of the bits, until only the white rice remained. They then brought out rice that had been soaking in water for hours. We poured the rice and water into a large, hundred-year-old stone mill, that, when twisted, crushed them into rice milk that spilled through a pipe into a waiting bowl.
We poured shrimp and garlic into hot, oily pans. After a few seconds we added a ladle of rice milk, mixed with herbs and veg, and cooked it for about 5 minutes until it had crisped into a pancake, which we then flipped. We rolled them around shrimp and pork and herb fillings, wrapped them in rice paper, and ate. We also made spring rolls, fried noodles and pho. The food was amazing, including the oil, chilli, garlic, hoi sin sauce and peanut butter we fried together to make a gloopy dipping sauce. We returned to the hostel by bus.
We ventured back out for a romantic walk around town, bought a couple of gifts for people back home at a night market, enjoyed the lanterns and watching people float down the river in gondolas, floating candles in paper boxes, had a couple of drinks, and went back to the hostel to watch a couple of David Mitchell rants on YouTube before sleep.
(August 6th) Lily woke a little grumpy, but we had an easy day of doing little. We went in the morning to buy me shorts, and ended up getting them to match a new jumpsuit Lily took a fancy to. The hem of my shorts matched her dress – but would only be visible if I tucked in a T-shirt. We also got a massage at a fancy spa. Well, I got a body massage, and Lily got a “deluxe” package that focused on her feet, including a “leg wrap”, sand papering and manicure. We sat by the pool drinking and reading, then packed up our bags before going to sleep.