a close to cuteness: Hoi An pt 3

Our third and last day in Hoi An began early with a mercifully spider-free shower, and then a dash out to find a bahn mi: the ubiquitous roadside sandwich in Viet Nam. The first likely-looking stall we found was serving bahn with chicken, fish sauce, veggies, chilis and some sort of bbq sauce: we ordered two and munched them happily as we headed out toward the morning’s destination: Chuc Thanh, Hoi An’s oldest pagoda, which is a few km outside of the town proper, down what the Lonely Planet guide described (roughly paraphrased) as “the sandy path past the end of Doung Le Loi.”

Of course I got the directions completely wrong, and we ended up spending a good hour wandering around completely lost in Hoi An’s rural residential section, much to the amusement of all of the locals. (Why Miranda ever consents to let me navigate anywhere is some kind of testament to the triumph of optimism over experience.) Eventually we realized that we had been supposed to take a left at the end of Le Loi before getting onto the sandy path, so we backtracked to the town’s outskirts and got ourselves headed in the right direction.

On our way there, we were joined by two 16-year-old boys sharing a bicycle, who spoke a little English, and spent the time chatting us up with the usual questions: where did we come from, how long were we in vietnam, were we married, did we have kids, did we like vietnam, etc etc etc. They guided us to the pagoda, which was a weatherbeaten but still impressive affair, tucked away in the semi-jungle, with a very few sleepy monks and attendants still patrolling the grounds.

The boys stayed with us as we walked back, and sadly their purpose became clear at the end: once we reached the town, they declared that they were “very thirsty” and demanded that we buy them drinks at a nearby cafe. Their previously expansive English vocabulary dwindled to repetitions of “very thirsty now” and “just one minute” as Miranda extricated us from the situation (I was wavering: it was hot, and I had appreciated their company) — apparently this is an all-too-common scam all across Asia, and the unwary westerner who falls into it will find him or herself presented with a massive bill for the drinks (and often soundly thumped if they try to refuse payment). We left to what was presumably a torrent of abuse in Vietnamese from the boys, and trudged back into town. It was a little thing, really, but it cast a bit of a pall over the next few days, as all of the touts and hawkers started seeming a lot less harmless and a lot more irritating.

On the bright side, our last mission in Hoi An was to pick up our clothes at Ms. Lan’s. As usual, the service was impeccable: this clothes that had needed alterations were ready for us to try on, and everything else was being packed. Ms. Lan decided to do a few last-minute alterations to Miranda’s dress, but everything else was perfect. Realizing that we’d bought a rather heavy load of stuff, we inquired about getting it all shipped to the states, but it was basically a nonstarter: air shipping would have cost over $250, and surface shipping would have taken over three months! Luckily, Ms. Lan had a solution: for $7, she could have the clothes shipped to our hotel in Ha Noi, 7 days hence, so we would just have to deal with schlepping them to the airport — we were more than happy to agree.

After an extended series of goodbyes, we grabbed about a dozen of her business cards to distribute at home, and went back to our hotel to wait for the bus to Hue.

On the way back, we stopped for one last bit of street food: Banh Xeo, Hoi An Pancakes, which are basically a rice-flour batter pancake made with beansprouts, rolled up into a sheet of ricepaper with cilantro like a spring roll, and eaten dipped into peanut or chili sauces. The stall was one of those ones that took a bit of aggressive suspension of disbelief about the sanitary conditions (the chopsticks were “cleaned” by wiping them off with a rag that had obviously been in use for a very, very long time, and there were rather a lot more flies around than I might have preferred), but the pancakes were straight out of the frying pan, very hot, and very good. We ate about a dozen and headed back to the hotel to sit in a kind of stupefied silence while waiting for the bus to Hue.

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I can definitely vouch that slow boat from Thailaind (at least - and presumably Vietnam is similar) is - well - slooooow. My silk took months after the presumed arrival date to appear.