With the one exception of my scary night ride, Hoi An was a safe, quaint town with so much to see, do and explore. Because we only had 18 days in Vietnam, Selma opted to move on to see more of the country with her friends, but I wasn’t done with Hoi An so I hugged Selma goodbye and hung back with Melanie.
Melanie is 19, Swiss, has the most beautiful singing voice I’ve ever heard, laughs more than anyone I know and her favorite party trick is to make people guess how old I am. We were in the same dorm room on Gili Air and thanks to an enormous gecko (affectionately named Vince by one of our other Dutch friends) we bounded. The gecko’s home was in our outdoor bathroom, behind the mirror. I preferred to admire him from afar, but Melanie insisted that he was “beautiful” and that I simply had to look at him close up. A fair amount of squealing and laughter solidified our friendship.
We spent the next few days in Hoi An wandering through the beautiful city streets, snapping pictures and gorging ourselves on amazing food.
Once, while walking through the market after another great meal of spring rolls and morning glory, I was nabbed by a Vietnamese woman. Through broken English and charades, she described to me just how hairy my face was and how badly I needed it threaded by her. Threading is a process done with a single thread looped into a hand-weaving contraption that when worked back and forth pulls the hair out by the root. I tried to politely decline and explain to her that because I’m a mammal those tiny, fine, blonde hairs are normal and no big deal. She disagreed and tugged me into her shop, which more closely resembled a witch’s lair than a beauty salon.
In order to show me just how disgusting I was, she covered my face in chalk to accentuate the fine hairs. I attempted to fight her off, but it was useless and she had catch phrases to combat all of my protests.
“You do once, never come back again.”
To her and Melanie’s delight I agreed to have my lip threaded (before you freak out, the answer is NO it does not grow back black – but thanks to all for your truly terrifying promises that it would). She chalked me up and I braced myself. She promised that it wouldn’t hurt. The witch lied. She worked the thread back and forth over my face that felt something like a combo between a hot knife and tweezers. My eyes watered and I reared back in stinging pain.
“No pain, no gain. No hair, no monkey,” she said.
Excuse me? “No pain, no gain” I’m familiar with, but “NO HAIR NO MONKEY?!?” Did she just compare me to a monkey? I wanted to be offended, but it was too damn funny. Plus Melanie was ROLLING with laughter, which only got me going more. I was already in so I took a deep breath, squeezed Melanie’s hand and thrust me face back forward. I whined, tensed, and protested throughout the painful process, and all the while she repeated her catch phrases over and over.
“Never come back again. No pain, no gain. No hair, no monkey. Never come back again.”
So far the witch’s spell has worked – my tiny, blonde, insignificant hairs have never come back again.
The following day we biked to the beach (about a 15 minute ride away) and it definitely exceeded my expectations. It was clean, clear, the sand was soft and the water was warm. But I had broken one of the cardinal rules of traveling and hadn’t packed my swimsuit, so I waded in as far as I could and spent the rest of the time sunning myself, girl talking with Melanie and cursing myself for not being able to play in the waves.
That night we headed to Melanie’s hostel to make/eat spring rolls and while we were there we booked a cooking class for the next day. I’d heard of Red Bridge Cooking School from a few others, all of whom raved about it, and it did not disappoint.
The cooking class was a half day deal that started with a tour of the markets (fish, meat, vegetable/fruit, and spice areas respectively), then a river boat ride to where we’d be cooking (which was spectacularly beautiful) where we were greeted with welcome drinks. The chef was wonderful and hilarious, which made the whole day even more fun. We observed each process and then cooked our own Vietnamese pancakes, seafood salad, a sort of eggplant stew and – best of all – fresh spring rolls with rice paper that we made from scratch. After our hard work we feasted at a long wooden able overlooking the river. The cost of this whole experience: $32. Boom.
That night we did our customary bike ride around and ended by hitting up the hole-in-the-wall restaurant, Banh Mi Phoung – renowned by Anthony Bourdain as having the best banh mi sandwiches in the world. Guess what? THEY WERE THE BEST BANH MI SANDWICHES IN THE WORLD!!!
That night, after writing time for me and music time for Melanie, we went to bed full and happy, but more than a little anxious about our next adventure: driving scooters from Hoi An to Hue.