There is no opportunity to scan the menu before a small Vietnamese girl with ragged hair and a cheeky smile sidles up to our table – ‘You want to buy my postcards?’ she giggles.
We are sitting by the window, in the best seats in the house at the Blue Dragon Restaurant. It is a lucky find, we’ve endeavoured to meet friends in the old Japanese quarter. Alas, the Hoai River has risen and covers the street, making it impassable. Taking a left turn has found us at the Blue Dragon. We watch the ferry boat loading up with a seemingly impossible amount of passengers and their motorcycles, then chug off into the fog.
Our day has been spent exploring the ancient town of old Hoi An and the surrounding countryside. Located on the central Vietnamese coast, it was once the international trading centre in southern Vietnam.
Hoi An is a welcome relief from the mania of Ho Chi Minh and Nha Trang. Life seems to travel at a slower pace here, with cars banned from the streets of the Old Town we are able to enjoy a leisurely walk without taking our lives into our hands every time we cross the road. Although the national love affair with motorcycles is well and truly alive here in Hoi An, unlike Ho Chi Minh, we don’t encounter walls of motor scooters bearing down upon us as we step off the footpath. That’s not to say we don’t find them weaving their way alongside us as we wander up and down the aisles of the market.
The lure of the shops with the opportunity to have a dress or jacket tailor-made does not appeal. Instead we opt to take a bicycle tour with a local guide. We hire bicycles from our hotel for 20,000 dong (roughly one Australian dollar) for the afternoon and head out of town.
Our guide leads us through residential back streets, where children play while their parents and grandparents keep a leisurely eye on them. We are thrilled to receive greetings and waves from the adults as the children run alongside our bicycles.
Cycling along beside the locals, we are amazed at how much they carry on their bicycles – they can juggle huge bags of rice with a couple of children, while one elderly lady even manages to carry four cages of chickens. On we pedal, passing workers toiling in the rice paddies. The water buffalo raise their heads as we pass, their mournful eyes watch us as we weave our way back towards town.
The weather closes in, but we arrive back at the hotel before the rain starts to fall. And it keeps falling. We don’t make it to our prearranged dinner date, instead finding ourselves people watching from our window at the Blue Dragon.
‘Postcards?’ We shake our heads. Not to be deterred she asks where we are from. She is delighted when we tell her Australia and pulls her very own Australian coin collection from her pocket. Do we have any coins we could give her? Of course. We each give her our spare change and she skips away happily. Do we care that the change we had given her was more than the cost of the postcards? Of course not.