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Monday 22 Jul 2013
Hoi An, Vietnam

Trains, tailors and missing transport

When we'd booked our train tickets, the 'soft sleeper' cabins were sold out so we had bought the next option, the 'hard sleeper' bunks.  Each compartment had three flat bunks stacked on each side, each with a 1" thick mattress, and a narrow table reaching halfway into the central space.  There was already a Vietnamese man on the top bunk, who smiled down at us as we bundled in.  We played a few rounds of Yanneth and then slept our way through much of the 930km journey to Danang. 

I woke up around 11am, just as the food trolley arrived.  Peeking out the compartment door to see what was on the trolley felt a lot like being on the Hogwarts Express, but instead of chocolate frogs and pumpkin pasties the choice was chicken or spring rolls with steamed rice and vegetables.  A plateful cost only a couple of quid and tasted surprisingly good after the dubious stories we'd heard about train food.

The train reached Danang early afternoon and we shared a minibus to Hoi An and the Sunflower Hotel, one of the main backpacker hangouts.  We'd booked three nights in Hoi An to allow us to get clothes made at one of the many tailors in the old town.  It is almost compulsory to get clothes made here and all four guys wanted new suits.  Josh and Simon both had new jobs lined up at home so were ready to look the part.  

Kye and Krysia had bought suits and boots here a few years ago so we went to Yali's on their recommendation.  It took us a while to find it in the maze of narrow streets in the old town, not least because there was so much to look at.  The French influence was unmistakable, but accentuated by the Vietnamese culture to create a wonderful blend of East and West.  This could easily become one of my favourite places on the trip so far. 

At Yali, we looked through folders of pictures taken from catalogues and magazines, covering everything from suits and red carpet evening dresses to the latest Next Catalogue.  Once we’d chosen what we wanted, the girls took us upstairs to choose the material from their many shelves and rolls of fabric.  I chose mine and found the boys trying to decide between the bright patterned silk linings for their suits.  It was the first time I'd actually wished I still had a job, as the work dresses on display were beautiful.  I will definitely be coming back here when I start working again.  In the meantime, I ordered a couple of pairs of shorts and a pair of chocolate brown linen trousers to replace my favourite Jane Norman ones which finally died a death in Australia on my last trip. They took our measurements and asked us to come back for a fitting the next day.

That evening turned into an impromptu party night to celebrate the birth of the newest heir to the British Throne, it's a boy, but the name hasn't yet been announced – congratulations Kate and Will!  We had a few drinks at the hostel bar and went on to a club called Volcano.  Entry was free, but £3 bought you a glass with unlimited refills of vodka, whisky, rum or gin plus a mixer – at a ratio that favoured the spirits, as the mixers were more expensive.  Needless to say, it is a popular place with backpackers and we had a great night, but paid for it with hangovers the next day.

With sore heads all around, the guys decided it was the perfect day to hire motorbikes.  I opted for good old pedal power and met them down at the beach, where we started feeling human again after lots of water, some lunch and a swim in the sea.  We headed back over to Yali for our fittings.  I was so pleased with the linen trousers that I ordered some more and some three-quarter length shorts as well.  Seeing the boys in their suits was a change from shorts and beer-logo vest tops!  They scrubbed up well.  Josh and Jon left their bike parked by Yali, while Simon and Carl had left theirs near a café a few streets away.  We found a nice little place by the river for dinner where we could sit outside and watch the lights and lanterns come on as the sun went down. 

Hoi An has a famous Japanese bridge which is lit up at night.  In the daylight it had looked a little bit sorry and uncared for, but it became a lot more interesting when the lights came on.  It was illuminated from within, so the Japanese shapes and pictures glowed over the water like giant lanterns.  Josh and I both bought floating candles from a tiny little lady who cackled impishly and insisted on having her photo taken with us.  We set the candles on the end of a long bamboo pole and lowered it gently to float them on the water, then made a wish as they slowly drifted down the river.  (I won’t tell you what mine was, but it seems to be working so far…)

We went back to pick up our bikes, to find Josh and Jon’s bike had been moved inside the shop, with no apparent explanation. Simon and Carl had gone off to find their bike and would meet us back at the hostel.  They finally reappeared several hours later.  We’d assumed they’d got sidetracked and gone to a bar somewhere, but they’d actually spent the last three hours looking for their bike.  As with Josh and Jon’s bike, theirs had also had been moved from where they’d left it.  We later learned that the roads in the old town are pedestrianised at night, so any bikes left unattended tend to get moved off the street and replaced in the morning.  We’d found our bike easily because Yali had just brought it inside.  However, the other bike had been moved somewhere else entirely and they’d spent hours following ‘helpful’ suggestions from locals and even reporting it to the police, with no success.  They went out to drown their sorrows, dreading the bill they'd have to pay in the morning if it didn't turn up.

 

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