And so, feeling slightly weary from our overnight train journey, we pulled into Hue – the former royal capital of Vietnam.
It’s an interesting place with lots of old buildings to have a poke around, including a citadel (and an extra special inner citadel within the citadel). Thankfully these escaped the bombings of the Vietnam War.
We also visited a pagoda, alongside the evocatively-named Perfume River, with attractive, peaceful grounds with a temple with a gong-bonging monk. Photo opportunities galore for Neal, our budding David Bailey.
The sun by this point was still pretty much in hiding, but Paul and I tried to coax it out with a lazy afternoon by the pool, while Roland and Neal got in the mood for Wimbledon with a spot of tennis.
From Hue, it was on to Hoi An (yes, everywhere we’ve been to in Vietnam begins with ‘H’).
Hoi An is a very picturesque Unesco world heritage site (yep, another one – as is Halong Bay I think) with lots of charming, crumbling old buildings and a blissfully traffic-free old town. We hired bikes and had a jolly nice time pootling around and about, including cycling to the lovely nearby beach when – finally! – the sun put in an appearance.
Hoi An is known for its (I would think) hundreds of tailors who can rustle up whatever your heart desires in just 24 hours. Roland got a beautiful, high-quality suit made – perfect for interviews, ugh – and work shirts. Whereas I went for the cheap and cheerful approach and got everything from a silk kimono to a trench coat with a cool bright pink silk lining. Getting customized, good-value clothes is totally addictive though so it’s probably a good job we left Hoi An when we did as, even with an extra bag, we’d pretty much run out of space (and long ago run out of spending ability!)
In Hoi An, I also did a cooking class run by an excellent restaurant we’d eaten at. It included a market tour to learn about the different herbs, fruit, vegetables and fish before trying some hands-on cooking back at the restaurant. We made a host of really tasty dishes including soup with cabbage-wrapped shrimp parcels (much nicer than it might sound), traditional crispy Vietnamese pancakes stuffed with shrimp, pork and beanshoots, fresh spring rolls, marinated chicken and spicy mango salad. I love all the zingy, clean flavours of Vietnamese cuisine and especially all the fresh herbs. I shall be scouring the Asian supermarkets of London to bring a little of what I learnt back to Ingleside Close.
We loved our time in Hoi An, but it was also where we went our separate ways with Paul and Neal (who were doing a couple of days in Ho Chi Minh before heading home). They were great company and we were sad to say goodbye, but also looking forward to finishing off our amazing trip just the two of us.
From Hoi An we caught a horrendous sleeper bus to Nha Trang (three rows of double-decker bunk beds which were similar in style and comfort to dentists’ chairs). After kitting ourselves out with new wardrobes in Hoi An, we couldn’t afford the hour flight so the sleeper bus was our penance for our retail splurge!
We’re in Nha Trang now, but we’ll post that as a separate – and the FINAL entry! – in the next couple of weeks.
For now, we have nine days left (and really trying not to count!) so we’re absolutely going to make the most of it, although we are of course very much looking forward to seeing friends, family and a decent cup of tea back home.
Huge congratulations to the parents of the various babies who’ve arrived in the last couple of weeks (Danny and Rebecca, with baby Joseph; Patrick and Carole with little brother Rex for Theo; and Haydn and Kat with baby Henry, making Eloise a second-time aunty!) Spring is definitely in the air…
Hope all good with the rest of you – and see many of you rather soon!
Lots of love,
Helene and Roland xxx