We’re not big fans of the whole tour group sightseeing malarky usually. The tour groups are usually too large, you can never hear anything and the english isn’t always great. Today was an exception though, we went on the waterwheel tour in Hoi An and it exceeded both of our expectations as one of the highlights of our trip so far. Having a super friendly tour guide who spoke excellent english definitely helped and instead of being crammed in with 20 other tourists it was just us and 2 others.
The day started with Helen (our tour guide) picking us up from our hotel. Everything other tour I’ve done has involved getting picked up by coach but nobody drives cars in Vietnam, let alone buses, so we set off by bike across Hoi An’s busy streets. this was an experience in itself, navigating through roads that seem to have no highway code certainly keeps you alert at 8am in the morning!
Our first stop was the Hoi An market. Helen took us around different stalls in the meat, fish, vegetables and spices sections. We were amazed at how fresh things were, a lot of the fish was caught at 3am and then on sale by 5am. we learnt how the clearer a fishes eye is, the fresher it is and how the darker the insides of a shrimp are, the fresher it is. The market stalls were mainly run by women who’s husbands are local farmers or fishermen. These women sell from 5am – 7pm every single day, yet they were all smiling and seemed to love their way of life which was lovely to see.
Fully stocked with the likes of mint leaves, bean sprouts and dragon fruit we set off to one of the local villages to start the day. The ride out of the hustle and bustle of Hoi An was lovely, it became really peaceful and scenic as we got nearer to the village and I was pretty impressed that we hadn’t been knocked off our bikes for at least 20 minutes by now. Upon arrival at the village we were greeted with water infused with ginger and then off we went for a ride on a buffalo, like you do. I was just getting the hang of steering my new form of transport when my go was over ;(. It was then nicks turn and he took Helen up on the offer to stand on top of the buffalo;
Next up we hit the lake in small round boats which I assume were made of wicker and bamboo. On arrival one of the farmers was balling water out of the boat, was this thing even waterproof? Fortunately we stayed dry despite 4 of us weighing down the boat. Helen joined us on the boat but left myself, Nick and the farmer to do the hard work of paddling (she did warn us we’d be working like vietnamese farmers today). We stopped over under some water coconut plants and Helen ripped a few leaves off, we wondered what she was making out of them but within 30 seconds we both had new hats! She also made us wedding rings out of the leaves which was very impressive (like our parents, she was amazed we wasn’t married after 7 years!).
A day in the life of a local wouldn’t be complete without a spot of farming. Helen’s Auntie joined us for this and as a group we successfully planted beansprouts. Apparently they’ll be ready to eat in 2 weeks so Helen said she’d send us each the profits when they get sold at market 🙂 Although our shift on the farm only lasted 30 minutes it gave us a good insight into the hard work that goes into being a farmer and certainly explains the extra price you pay at a local organic market as opposed to the mass produced stuff you’ll find down Tesco’s fruit and veg isle.
If you know Nick and I you’ll know we never cook from scratch, in fact we probably only used our kitchen once a week when back home. So the afternoons cooking class was particularly good for us. Rice paper is very popular over here and is used in many different ways, so firstly we learnt how it was made and even had a go at grinding our own rice into flour. This is a slow process, it takes 2 hours just to produce the flour and then you have to cook each one individually over a fire. We gave this a go and then wrapped an array of fresh vegetables and pork into it to make spring rolls. Tasty!
The second part of the cooking class is where it got serious, the aprons and hats came out and we were let lose with a number of spices, pork, shrimp and mixed herbs. Luckily Helen showed us exactly what to do as otherwise I know we would have ended up with something inedible! We cooked off the pork and shrimp in the spices and then used a spring onion leave to wrap it all together. I’m not a fan of fish but this was actually really nice, it tasted so fresh and the combination of spices and mint leaves was surprisingly nice. It was then on to pancake flipping, these aren’t the kind of pancakes we’re used to which are usually swimming in melted Nutella. Instead they were savoury and the mix included spring onions, grinned pork and turmeric. We filled this with beansprouts and then wrapped the whole pancake between rice paper. It wasn’t quite as good as a pancake swimming in Nutella but it was a good second place.
After honing our chef skills we relaxed whilst Helen and the locals at the farm served us up some local Vietnamese dishes. these were delicious and you could really taste the freshness. I think Vietnamese is becoming one of my favourite cuisines, we’ve had some lovely meals since being here. A lot of the dishes are similar to what you would get in China but the taste is completely different, the way they cook and the ingredients used make the food taste much lighter, healthier and fresher.
Back on our bikes we set off back to our hotel through the quaint and charming streets of Hoi An to cap off an fun filled afternoon. Being a farmer is hard work so we spent the evening in relaxing. Although we did pop out to get a takeaway pizza that we enjoyed on our hotels balcony overlooking river (Vietnamese food is good, but I’m not ready to give up pizza just yet!)