Thursday 14 October

Wake to overcast skies. There is no best time to visit Vietnam, if you are intent on travelling the entire length of the coast, as the country splits into roughly three climatic zones. In the south, the rainy season lasts from May to October. Along the central coast, the pattern reverses and the wet season is from September to January. Whereas in the north, the rainy season is in the summer, May to September. Having timed our visit to avoid the worst of the rains in the north and the south, we are now right in the middle of the rainy season in Hoi An.


Tailors’ Shop

Due perhaps to an error in translation, a banana pancake at breakfast turns out to be chocolate, but is delicious in any case. The heavy rain is easing off as we leave the hotel, but I borrow an umbrella just in case. A quick stop at the Vietcom Bank to replenish the money-belt, and then to the clothes shop where John, Jay, and James have a fitting-session. It takes about an hour while I loiter around the shop with my camera, trying for a National Geographic style photograph of the tailors, busying themselves with their treadle sewing machines and bright-coloured fabrics.

Most of the clothes that have been made fit perfectly, but John wants his trousers taken up a small amount. This seems to give the assistant an excuse to persuade him to order a second pair for his suit.


Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall

We visit the Phouc Kien assembly house, which is very ornate. It is decorated with statues of deities and Chinese characters, and joss-sticks fill the air with incense. Tan Ky house is less interesting—a dark wooden building filled with trinkets of inlaid boxes, and small carved wooden objects. Every year, the river floods the ground floor and everything must be move to safety upstairs. The house is still lived in by the family that owns it. Our guide in the house tells John that he mumbles, and asks whether he is Welsh to the amusement of the rest of us.


Japanese Bridge

After lunch, we visit the Japanese Covered Bridge. The muddy stream that it crosses doesn’t really seem all that worthwhile bridging, and the temple built into the side of the bridge is little more impressive. The room is small and bare, with a slight hint of incense. On the other side though is the art shop where I saw the silk painting yesterday, which makes the visit worthwhile. I return with four paintings—there did not seem to be a lot of scope for haggling, but the starting price was so low that it seemed a bit mean anyway. He asks $10 or 140 000 dong for the four and we settle on 120 000 dong.

The ceramic museum nearby is not very interesting, save for some notes on the construction and restoration of old buildings. The increase in tourist trade is causing problems for conservation of traditional hand-craft manufacturers, who are being forced out of the old centre, so there is a new emphasis on maintaining the old buildings that are left.

After so much exertion, Jay and I retire to a riverside café to watch the world go by, while John and James go off in search of a boat trip. Shortly after, it begins to rain heavily. We wonder idly how John and James are getting on.

We make it to the airport for our onward flight to Hanoi through rain and heavy traffic that evening—the journey is much closer to an hour than the twenty minutes we had originally supposed, but we nevertheless manage to meet the one-hour check-in.

The flight is away prompty as always—in fact, by my watch, it is ten minutes early. At Hanoi, we have the usual battle with the minibus driver over hotels—end up at the Hung Hiêp Hotel, 32 Thuôc Bác. Our two rooms are large with high ceilings, one above the other off a narrow stairwell. Jay’s and mine has a enormous L-shaped white leather sofa wheras John’s and James’ has dark carved wooden furniture.

We eat at the nearby Vinh Loi restaurant, recommended by the trusty Lonely Planet guide. It is a small café-like establishment, with a television above a counter in the far corner. The staff turn out to speak no english, so we use hand signals and pointing to order steak and chips all round—the restaurant speciality. Sounds of cooking and a delicious aroma coloured with garlic eminates from the kitchen, then the cooking stops and two plates arrive.

Meanwhile, the rest of the staff have gathered around the television and are now rivetted to the soap-drama unfolding on the small screen. After a while, we give up waiting for the other two steaks and politely negotiate who is going to start on the two we already have. It is not until the credits begin to roll that John is able to attract the attention of a waiter and explain that we ordered four steaks. A moment later the sound of cooking recommences, and shortly, four steaks appear. The steak is quite excellent though, and at only 10 000 dong each, we are not complaining as we share out the spare two portions.