Hoi An, Vietnam

The lonely Planet describes Hoi An as a 'culinary Mecca'. The same could be said for the shopping and the painting, it's been hard to strike a balance between all three. I am here for a week in total but thought I'd split my stay into two blog posts to stop me waffling on too much.


I had not realised until I arrived in Hoi An quite how much I'd hated Ho Chi Minh City. I'd felt on edge a lot of the time and would never have been able to relax enough to paint. A man even followed me upstairs every night to 'clean' outside my bedroom until I managed to fall asleep with my earplugs in and my eyes tight shut. Hoi An couldn't be more different.

In the fourteenth century the town was one of South East Asia's most illustrious ports; boats and merchants came from all over the world leaving a significant impression on the town's architecture, trade and treasures. The streets are lined with buildings influenced by the French, Japanese and Chinese amongst others and decorated with hundreds of handmade lanterns. During the day these lanterns fill the town with colour and at night they light up the streets alongside the thousands of candles which are lit each evening to float down the river. It's a spectacular sight. 


The place is teeming with tailors, which I've taken full advantage of and had lots of pairs of silk trousers made. The shops are overflowing with handcrafted embroidery, jewellery, laquerware, wood carving and anything else you could possibly want. And then there is the food. If anything the Lonely Planet was grossly underrating Hoi An's cuisine. I have been in heaven, and will probably never be able to fit into any of the trousers I've had made. The well stocked market provides an endless supply of fresh fish, seafood and veg to the plethora of restaurants around the town. I've had prawns marinated, cooked and served in a whole coconut, shredded papaya, mango and beef salad, dumplings, noodles, you name it. And that's before I've even mentioned the fresh fruit juices and home made icecream.


The scenery around Hoi An is glorious too, lots of canals and paddy fields. I've been cycling everywhere as my homestay is a little out of town and riding my bike all around the paddy fields before sunset is lovely. Last night I had a blind date with the parents of a friend of mine who'd noticed on Instagram that we were in the same place. They were two couples coming to the end of an epic trip around Cambodia and Vietnam. They were great fun and by the end of the evening I felt like we'd known each other for years. A welcome treat from trying to read my book and eat noodles with chopsticks at the same time!

Reading  this you may well think that I have yet to pick up a paintbrush, but that is certainly not the case. The place is utterly beautiful and it would be a crime to come here and not paint. It's pretty busy though and the snapping cameras are relentless. If one more selfie stick comes between my face and my easel... Very amusingly I found myself playing a key part in a Chinese couple's wedding photo shoot where they posed around me in all their finery for a good twenty minutes or so.  I've painted streetscenes, canals, river views and am warming up to attempting a nocturne with all the lights but I haven't been brave enough yet.


One morning I forgot my turps, very annoying! Using Google Translate I asked a passer-by where I could buy White Spirit. He yelled instructions to a boy nearby who sped off on his bike and brought me back some lethal looking and smelling liquid decanted into a water bottle. It turned out to be fortified wine. Needless to say it did not thin my paints! The same morning a very shy Vietnamese spectator turned out to also be an artist, and he'd often painted the same streetscene that I was tackling at that moment. After a bit of coaxing he showed me his paintings and I liked one so much I bought it, it's of exactly the same view I was painting at the time. I bumped into him painting today and found myself mesmerised by how he handles watercolour, a medium I've never got my head around. Suddenly I was the one snapping away with my camera, how the tables have turned.


This morning I went off to My Son, a group of ancient ruined Hindu temples dating from between the fourth and fourteenth centuries. Sadly most of it was bombed during a single week of the American- Vietnam war but what remains is fascinating. My early start paid off and for most of the morning I was totally alone, before being surrounded by wonderful traditional musicians and dancers for the latter part.  I enjoyed painting there so much I wished I'd factored in Ankor Wat to my trip. But perhaps that's one for next year.