The perfect trip: Vietnam
The merchants who brought Hoi An its fortune have long since departed, but their presence lingers on in the town’s gastronomy. Hanh reaches for a plate of cao lau – a noodle dish thought to have been inherited from Japanese and Chinese merchants, but which purists insist should only be made using water from a particular well in a backstreet of Hoi An.
‘In Hoi An, we cook food from all over the world,’ says Hanh. ‘We just make it better.’
Where to eat
Set in a French colonial building with an ornate façade, Lantern Town serves up numerous local specialities. The upstairs balcony has waterfront views (from £3).
Where to stay
Actually nothing to do with the sport, the Golf Hoi An Hotel offers large rooms with dark-wood furniture, air conditioning and balconies overlooking a central swimming pool. From the hotel it’s roughly a fifteen-minute walk to downtown Hoi An (from £30).
Mekong delta: Best for river life
A heavy rain is falling on the Mekong Delta, flooding the footpaths, swilling in the gutters, turning riverbank mud from light tan to a rich coffee colour. In the villages, everybody runs for cover – men, women, infants, enough animals to fill Old MacDonald’s Farm: chickens, geese, dogs and cats, all scurrying under iron sheet roofs and looking hopefully up at a slate-grey sky.
It is the rainy season, and ‘water, water everywhere’ might be the job description for the Mekong Delta. A tangled network of rivers, tributaries and canals, the waters of the delta criss-cross the lowlands of southern Vietnam, before emptying out into the South China Sea through mighty, yawning estuaries. For centuries, life here has ebbed and flowed in tandem with the current of the Mekong – an all-in-one launderette, bathtub, highway, toilet, dishwasher, larder, social club and workplace for the communities surrounded by its waters.
‘If you live on a river island with twenty other people you have to learn to get along with everyone,’ explains Mrs Bui Nguyen, beckoning strangers to shelter in her bungalow beside the Cai Chanh canal. ‘That’s the reason why people in the Mekong are so friendly!’
A 77-year-old who attributes her longevity to a lifetime avoiding doctors, Mrs Nguyen wistfully reflects on the delta of old – in days when the only artificial light came from peanut oil lamps dotted along the riverbanks; an age long before roads had reached the villages.
Times have changed. However, human life still instinctively congregates on the water’s edge. Lining the riverbank nearby are grocers’ shops, cafés, a gym, a billiards club and a blacksmith’s, whose owner makes kitchen utensils from helicopter parts left over from the Vietnam War. Floating markets, too, are still held every morning at nearby Cai Rang – with creaking barges from across the delta bashing into each other as they offload cargoes of watermelons, pineapples and turnips.
The rain eases, and the rhythm of delta life slowly begins to gather pace – sampans cast free of their moorings, children arrive home from school on ferry boats and mud skippers hop along the riverbanks. Setting out downstream, the Mekong seems a place of Eden-like abundance. Rafts of water hyacinth drift along in the current, spinning in the eddies. Skirting the riverbank are shady papaya groves, banana trees bent double under the weight of their fruit and palms that seem to bow deferentially to the boats that pass by.
Swollen with rainwater, the river seems to quicken as we round a bend. The current tugs at boats tethered to wonky jetties – seemingly inviting them to join the river in its procession onward through the delta and into the sea.