The airport in Dalat is small and new, and the check-in and security felt like any other airport, but only took about 5 minutes. We boarded our propeller plane and relaxed for the duration of our 60 minute long flight ($57 each – props to Jordan for finding a good deal) to Danang. On arrival, we negotiated for a while before getting in a taxi ($5.25 per person, shared with a random German who seemed clueless and was lucky to have stumbled upon us) for the 45 minute drive to Hoi An. We checked into our hotel ($20/night) at around 11am and set out to accomplish a few things before Shabbat.
We walked through the old town in stifling heat and humidity (probably the worst heat we’ve felt yet), crossed the historic bridge, and spotted an oasis -an ice cream shop! This was no ordinary ice cream shop – you got to choose from over 30 different flavors and serve yourself ice cream and toppings, which were weighed at the end. Like we said, no ordinary ice cream shop, it cost $7 for our two skimpy servings, which we enjoyed immensely (Jordan had red bean, taro and salted caramel; Felix had pistachio, black sesame and rose). A little cooler and more relaxed, we walked back through town, Jordan bought a traditional Vietnamese bamboo hat ($2), and we purchased tickets for the historic sites and museums ($6 each for a choice of 5 out of about 20 options), which we planned to visit over Shabbat.
Hoi An is known for two things – a bunch of old buildings which are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and more importantly, as Vietnam’s capital of tailor-made clothing. 70% of shops in Hoi An are tailor shops, and while tourists wait for their clothes to be made, a 1-2 day process, they can visit old buildings and enjoy overpriced restaurants. We were eager to indulge, as we had been looking forward to this since the early planning stages of our turtle days. Felix wound up at a slightly upscale place called Kimmy’s, where he had a gray pinstripe suit (jacket, pants, and shirt) made to his measurements ($135 down from the quoted $165). Jordan thinks he looks very dapper in his new suit! After searching on Pinterest for some dresses that met her fancy, Jordan brought three photos on her iPhone to the “Israeli” tailor (endorsed by countless Hebrew signs hanging from the walls of VyVy’s shop) and ask them to recreate them according to her vision ($78 down from $100 for all three). By the time the bargaining and measuring was complete, we had just enough time to grab an early dinner (tofu with tomato sauce and fresh spring rolls, $7 including overpriced drinks), purchase Shabbat lunch at the minimart ($6 for cheese, baguette, crackers, yogurt and chocolate), and head back to our hotel to prepare. After bringing in Shabbat and relaxing a little, we went down to the pool, which is awkwardly located smack in the middle of the lobby, to cool off a bit at the end of a long day.
Shabbat morning, we enjoyed a breakfast of fruit and cakes (included with our room) and relaxed for the rest of the morning (rudely interrupted by an ant infestation in our room). At about 1pm, we set out for our fittings (only small adjustments needed) and to see some old buildings. The Japanese covered bridge was cool, and since construction began in the Year of the Monkey and was completed in the Year of the Dog, monkeys guard one entrance and dogs the other (statues, that is). The Museum of Trading Ceramics was boring, but not as boring as the Museum of Archeology, and the Ancestor house was a paid-entrance tourist shop. The Assembly Halls of a few different Chinese congregations were interesting – temples full of incense and strange demon/smurf-like deity statues. After Shabbat ended, we searched for a worthy dinner spot, and ended up at Wrap&Roll, where we enjoyed pizza and a local specialty – rice pancake (looked like an omelet) with mushroom and tofu, which we wrapped into thin rice paper and dipped in sauce ($6 with drinks).
Sunday morning began at 7:30 with a quick breakfast, and off we went to one of the nicest restaurants in town, Morning Glory – the launching point for our first cooking class in SE Asia ($27 each). The class began with a guided tour of the market, which helped us fill in some blanks. We learned what certain things were and how they are used. In addition, we had the opportunity to speak informally with our guide and learn about her life and eating habits which fascinated us. Next, we went to the new “The Market” restaurant, the third restaurant owned by the founder of Morning Glory. Here, we saw demonstrations of food preparation at various stations around a large dining area. We were also given samples of a variety of dishes including: toasted sesame, peanuts, rice crackers, fresh rice noodles, coconut candy, ginger candy, and Felix’s favorite, lemongrass ice cream.
Eventually, we made our way upstairs to the cooking school classroom where we rocked bright green aprons and prepared to create some yummy Vietnamese dishes of our own. The class was instructed by an entertaining and somewhat robotic woman named Ms. Moon who taught us to prepare Pho, a traditional Vietnamese soup, followed by marinated chicken (or in our case tofu) on a skewer and spiced with chili, turmeric, garlic, shallots, and anchovy fish sauce (a staple in pretty much every dish). We moved on to a crispy rice pancake with pork (or in our case, mushrooms), scallions and spices, similar to the one we’d had for dinner the night before, which we scarfed down as soon as it was ready – careful not to burn our tongues. For our last trick, we prepared a green mango salad, mastering the art of the center blade machete (across between a shovel and a peeler and looks like a caveman tool). Just as we finished preparing the salad, the kitchen assistants brought back our tofu from the grill. We sat down along with the thirty other people in the class to a lovely lunch which was augmented by their signature dish, sautéed morning glory (water spinach) with garlic.*
With our tummies full, we went to pick up Jordan’s clothes from the tailor shop, Felix had his second fitting, and we headed over to use our last tickets at the Folk Art Museum’s traditional dance show, a 45 minute cultural experience. From there, we went through the market and into a strange area beneath a building (a long corridor of exposed concrete and curtain stalls), where we found Mai, who we had met in the market the day before. Jordan had her eyebrows threaded and her toenails painted ($5), while Felix had some foot petting done (a little too amateur to be called a massage, $5). This was definitely a unique experience, and not one we plan to repeat. At about 5pm, we picked up Felix’s suit (an extra few minutes were necessary so they could complete the free handkerchief he requested), and we went back to the hotel to regroup before dinner.
At the recommendation of Happy Cow, we found a nice and very local veggie restaurant a 10 minute walk from our hotel, but in the opposite direction of everything we had already seen. Set in a nice garden and surrounded by bookshelves (the restaurant doubles as a bookstore), we enjoyed some local specialties, of which we were excited to have found the veggie versions. White Rose was small rice paper dumplings with fake meat filling and a yummy sauce, and Cao Lau was a noodle dish with tofu and some crunchies ($4 total with drinks). With our tailored clothes in hand, we had accomplished what we had come to Hoi An to do, and were ready to move on to our next adventure.
* For those of you who enjoy our culinary updates: don’t you want to come over for dinner now???