Down By the River

Yesterday was a total wipeout. It bucketed down heavy rain all day. We hardly ventured out of our rooms all day. At lunch we went down the lane over the road from us to Minh Hien vegetarian restaurant. It’s just a few hundred metres to walk and was really the only choice in such awful weather. Midway through our lunch there was water gushing from a leak in the ceiling directly into the restaurant. Restaurant staff placed a stool precariously on top of a chair. One climbed onto the stool while his colleague steadied the makeshift ladder. But he couldn’t reach high enough to fix the leak, so they rearranged the furniture so he could go a little higher. Thankfully he didn’t fall … and he fixed the leak. Meanwhile, Layla amused herself by taking manga comics off the shelves. The food was amazing.

Today, the weather was great. Sticky and quite warm, but no rain. Just what we wanted for our final day in Hoi An.

After Layla’s morning nap, we all wandered down to the Old Town. We stopped for a vegetarian banh mi on the way. Next stop was the Hoi An Roastery for Vietnamese coffees, although I kept going all the way to the other end of the Old Town because I had to pick up two jackets I’d had made.

Five years ago, Marg had some dresses made at a stall named Kim Only. Kim takes the measurements, you choose the cloth, and a couple of days later you can call back and pick up your ready made clothing. Kim doesn’t make the clothes – she sends them off to her tailors. On this trip I got Kim to make me a couple of lightweight dinner jackets that I can take on next year’s European trip – they cost me AU $75 each. By the time I got back to the roastery my coffee was waiting for me. I drank it quickly as the kids had to get back to the resort for massages they’d booked and Marg and I were going to attempt to get Layla to take an afternoon nap.

Layla wasn’t happy about taking a nap, so we changed our plans and took her down to the pool. She loved splashing around in the water and taking each of us in turn for a walk around the pool surrounds.

When Layla’s folks finished their massages, they took her up to the room for another (successful this time) attempt at getting her off to sleep. Marg and I went back down to the Old Town to pick up the prescription sunglasses she’d had made. $130 – another good deal. We walked down to the river and along the row of shops and restaurants. The spruikers were out, trying to tempt us to come into their establishments, buy their wares or take a ride in their cyclos or boats. We found a good place for a drink or two with a view overlooking the river. We spent an hour or so up there, sipping our drinks and watching the boats heading up to the bridge to prepare for the evening’s activities.

As evening approached the lanterns all along the river began to light up. First on the shops and restaurants, and soon after on the boats that would ferry tourists up and down the river after dark. Marg and I walked up to the bridge and across to the other side of the river. We were disappointed that the bridge is no longer decorated or lit up like it was on the previous two occasions we’ve visited Hoi An. I can’t really explain why not.

Plenty of people had the same idea that we had to cross to the far side of the river. A colourful market had been set up there. Food vendors, souvenir sellers, lantern makers and trinket peddlars were all vying for the tourist dollar. It was fun walking through their midst. They did their best to coax you into buying something, but smiled and waved you on when you told them you wouldn’t be parting with your money on this occasion.

Marg and I stopped first for a pork banh mi each. OMG, it was fantastic. Only 40,000 dong apiece – about AU $2.40. A crusty baguette filled with tender pork and crunchy salad. And soon after, a banana pancake each topped with Nutella. 30,000 dong each – about AU $1.80 for each amazing pancake. You really have to try this street food for yourself to appreciate how good it is.

We found a bar near the bridge and ordered a couple of drinks while we waited for Tess, Adam, Casey, Nick and Layla to join us – they had dinner at Silent Garden, where we’ve had a few good meals in recent days. Layla was tired. It was past her bedtime, but she really sparked up when she saw all the colour and all the activity that was going on along the river and in the street market.

It has taken us until our final night in Hoi An to all get down to the river in the evening as a family group, mainly due to Layla’s sleep time arriving not long after it gets dark over here. But it was worth waiting for. There were plenty of boats carrying tourists up and down the river. Each carried one or more brightly coloured lanterns. It was quite a spectacle to see how they lit up the darkness all along the river. If these images are our lasting memories of Hoi An, I think that’s appropriate. It is such a friendly, welcoming place, and the river is its beating heart.

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