A new dawn, a new day; unlike most dawns of untainted promise this day carries some of the frayed nerves from the past two days of toil and trouble. But the sun does rise, it is a new day and what’s more we’re in Hoi An, the town that many describe as the pinnacle of colonial beauty in Vietnam making the battle on the road all worth it. First stop is coffee at a small place we saw yesterday evening on our necessary food and beer scout, to sit by the river and soak up a different side of Vietnam where French colonial history comes to the fore. The waters of the Song Thu Bon delta slowly slip by as this city wakes to a sunrise illuminating the first images of rustic historical building facades caught between Europe, Asia and imagination. The past two days dramas finally slip towards to ocean like yet another of the coloured lamps that drift on the slow waters now.
Tight streets weave between roughed up buildings that cling to a former glory in the blessedly unplanned patchwork that only old cities can manage with elegance. Let the gorging begin, breakfast is two bowls of different noodles that carry the typical Vietnamese sumptuous warmth that artificial imitations can never reach. Fine white rice noodles swim in a pool of hot nutrition laden with slices of pork, chilli and awaiting the herb garden and fish sauce we are about to add. There’s no alternative possible or even thought of here, soup broth is an art form and not a single sachet, bottle or jar is allowed anywhere near it setting up every day with authenticity, optimism and slow hand made love; pun intended.There is love in the beginning of a Vietnamese day to accompany a dark side. In Ho Chi Minh we had our first taste of street food narcotics, a mysterious lady we have take to calling the Dark Heron gave us the first illicit hook of Vietnamese street food and as the saying goes, there’s no replicating the first taste. In Hoi An however the junkie fix is close to being sated, we had our first taste of Cao Lau last night, the dish only available in Hoi An making us wonder if we can stop craving the pork pattie baguettes of the Dark Heron for a new fix, a more extreme hit to drown the needs of all that came before it. The day proceeds without Cao Lau but we need it more and more.
Hoi An is famous for Cao Lau of course, along with its history, beautiful river bridges and gracious architecture but it’s also a home for tailoring. In a nation that boasts much of the worlds clothing manufacturing there exists a booming undercurrent of skilled labour tailoring custom clothing at market prices; it’s off to replenish the wardrobe. In a tailors we sit at a table having been brought two bowls of the classic Pho to keep us in the shop, it seems that even buying clothes this day is about food. It’s not Cao Lau but delicious of course and we leave on an insistence that we must not pay; apparently home lives and shop lives blend and we’re told that in the shop or the home it’s a Vietnamese welcome to feed and we must accept the hospitality.We leave without spending a cent but we follow the matriarch to her sons shoe shop, yes they hand make shoes as well in this nation of limitless endeavour. Not too fussed about the clothes we are uncertain about a purchase, but the shoes are spectacular; we select leathers and styles for our first fitting unbelievably tomorrow. Still no Cao Lau as we set off to another tailor for a comparison. In a plush looking store we are sat at tables and talked through styles, fabrics and of course costs. Annoyingly the plush place is of notably greater quality so we fork out the notably greater quantity of cash and book in for the measure up for three coats and one suit for Charlie. Apparently this will all be done for first fitting in a day and a half with a final fitting just two and a half days away, lets see how this goes.
It never ceases to amaze me how tiring shopping is, we’re incapable of going on so it’s a fast retreat from the oppressive heat to our rooms for a shower and air con. We now have a conundrum, there’s Cao Lau out there but there’s blessed cool in here; a tough decision needs to be made. Drawn like a junkie to a fix we stroll the riverside taking photos on the look out for the bigger and better drug that’s going to make the Dark Herons magic finally fade to a distant memory. The temporary appeasement of a small cities grace keeps the withdrawals at bay but before long, somewhere in the twisting lanes of Hoi An there’s the magic sign like a ray of light from the clouds to a non believer: Cao Lau.I’m usually an attentive photographic assistant but right now I’m abandoning my post, Charlie can deal with his own tripod; no pun intended. As usual there’s no need to order, sitting down is ordering but in this case it’s more like a holding room in a drug dealers apartment a little later than our cravings can bare. The first bowl arrives before Charlie does as courtesy goes out the window, I really need this. Thick firm noodles loaded top a bed of herbs and topped with pork, crackling and some kind of magic sauce is my saviour, confidant, guru and lover all in one, leaving me to a near spiritual moment on a child size red plastic chair. They say admitting you have a problem is the first stage to recovery. While this may be true there’s a far simpler solution, if we don’t run our of Cao Lau there’s no problem in the first place. They also say that prevention is better than the cure; don’t they?