I think I made my tour group go cycling. We were on the bus heading towards Hoi An when our guide, Bao, asked who wanted to go on a bycle tour of the town. The silence on the bus was deafening, until I said “I do.” The others slowly agreed and so the plan was hatched. We had spent the morning climbing the Marble Mountain in Da Nang and so agreed to cycle the next day.
Hoi An is a very different part of Vietnam to Ho Chi Minh City. It does not have the same frenetic traffic and energy. You can walk along the streets without the danger of being run over by a scooter. You will, however, be accosted by 1845638 shopkeepers who with varying degrees of urgency implore you to come into their shops and buy something, anything.
I had organised a suit to be made, prescription sunglasses to be created, sandals to be crafted and a dress to be altered all in the first afternoon. By the time dinner came around I was ready to sleep, not eat. Somehow I had missed the fact that dinner was going to be a cooking class/demonstration and when we turned up at the restaurant I just wanted a quick meal so I could go back to the hotel and watch American Idol on Starworld (Yes, I know I was in Vietnam…but I never watch it normally. You do strange things while on holiday).
Anyway, the menu was set for us and we gathered closely around a table to make our Vietnamese pancakes stuffed with prawns and bean sprouts, spring rolls (by far the best I had on the trip), snapper cooked in banana leaf and green papaya salad. After a few cocktails I got stuck in frying up the spring rolls to a crisp and showing off my hopeless chopstick stills to the amused waiter. The meal, like everything I ate in Vietnam was delicious – though by this stage I was in danger of turning into a spring roll.
And the cycling? I loved it! I’m not sure about the others, but for me it was an absolute highlight. We cycled through town, beside rice paddies, through market gardens, past buffalo and near people picking coconuts. It was a gently warm day in comparison to the heat of Ho Chi Minh, the sun was out, and there was a boat ride at the end. Brilliant!
We chugged back to Hoi An in a small boat, as the sky slowly faded to dusk. Ready to re-enter the throng…”Madam, want you want? I give you good price! MADAM!”