It was our last full day in Hoi An, and we decided to hire bikes (for all of 60p) to explore the surrounding area a bit more. Not, however, before we had got our last fix of tailoring. With only 30 hours or so before we would have to leave to catch our next flight, we made an impromptu decision to get dresses made. Our approaches to the process differed quite drastically. Ellen found a design on the internet which she wanted to replicate, and picked an appropriate fabric and colour. Emily couldn’t handle the pressure of choosing any dress from an infinite selection and simply asked for whatever Ellen was getting but in a different colour. Katherine decided to go off piste and create a silk dress in a design essentially of her own invention, having only got as far as finding a picture of the back she wanted. It turns out there’s actually quite a lot to designing a dress, and none of us really had the requisite powers of imagination to visualise what the end result would be. We had by then spent a considerable length of time confusing ourselves with the myriad options available so, after some brief sketches by the tailor, we decided to sack it off and go to the beach, leaving the fate of the dresses in the far more capable hands of the tailors.
We set off on our bicycles to a nearby beach, all the time competing for the limited road space with pushy mopeds and intimidating trucks, their horns blaring constantly. At the beach we left our bikes with one of the many cycle park attendants, who insisted that we couldn’t simply chain them somewhere nearby. We avoided the sun bed touts, opting instead to set up camp on the sand, and tried to top up our tans, which were significantly faded after a couple of weeks off.
The cycle home was even more hair raising, with the light now diminishing, and some sort of Vietnamese rush hour underway. We managed to stop off along the way to admire the beautiful views of the sun setting over the paddy fields, with cattle on tethers grazing nearby and rafts floating down the still river.
Given the time constraints, the tailors managed to fit us in for a dress fitting that evening, allowing enough time for alterations to be made before we had to leave. On the way into the shop we spotted a garish pink number, and wondered briefly who would have chosen such an awful shade of candy floss pink, before being handed our dresses. Unfortunately it turned out that the Disney Princess outfit was actually Katherine’s. She tried it on to the delight of the others and came close to just accepting that was what she was ending up with out of sheer British politeness. We even wondered if we were just such bad judges of textiles that the tiny swatches we had chosen from really did look that different scaled up. Eventually though, the sheer pinkness of the shiny silk was too painful on the eyes, and she had to say something. It turned out there had indeed been an error in the ordering of the silk, and the tailor hurriedly agreed to have a new dress made and ready to try on by the morning before our flight.
We were recovered enough from our gastronomical excesses of the day before to take ourselves out for a celebratory last dinner at what looked like quite a fancy restaurant. The local Vietnamese wine might have been an error, although it certainly did live up to the blurb on the label which described it as “unique”. Afterwards we managed to complete our pool match, which unfortunately ended in a loss for the girls, and found what seemed to be the one club in Hoi An, in which to spend our last night.
In the morning we packed up our staff, vacated the dorm and hurried down to pick up the dresses and other items the boys had ordered last minute. To Katherine’s relief, but everyone else’s disappointment, the new dress was a considerably less offensive shade. Our other purchases were a success too, such as the boys’ shorts with mismatched colours, and Emily’s and Ellen’s matching dresses. We were so inspired by our success that we proceeded on a veritable retail rampage for the rest of our limited time. Emily, in particular, over indulged to the tune of three coats, a jacket, two dresses, a purse, a pair of Harem pants, three silk robes and no fewer than seven pashminas. Making space in our luggage would be the next challenge.
We bid farewell to Nick and Ben, unsure whether we would see them again, given their plans to go motor biking around the rest of Vietnam, with almost no prior experience. We left them in Da Nang and headed back to Ho Chi Minh, where we spent a terrible night in a room essentially on top of the busy highway. This followed from one of our strangest meals of the trip in an entirely Vietnamese speaking cafe. When asked for prawns the waiter simply pointed forcefully at the picture of a goat on the front of the menu and performed other completely unintelligible actions, which left us completely at a loss as to what he was on about. In the end we managed to convey the notions of noodles and rice, which we shared resignedly while other diners eyed us suspiciously.
We caught an early morning flight to Singapore, and were able to spend most of the day with Kate back at her house, since torrential rain left us more or less housebound. Kate took us out for lunch at a vegan restaurant around the corner, which was delicious by and large (although bean curd fashioned into a fried egg was more than a little odd). The sun came out in time for us to have a few hours by the pool, before it was suddenly and dramatically overrun by several French families who embarked on a game of under water hockey to our bemusement.
Our last evening together was a poignant one, and we were all filled with a sense that something great was coming to an end. After this we knew we would have to get jobs and houses and behave more like responsible adults all together. We pondered this on the edge of the harbour, where the lights from countless ships reflected off the surface of the water in a picture postcard backdrop while we savoured our last cocktails. An evening stroll through the park lead us to a seafood restaurant where we finally tasted the chillie crab Singapore is famous for, and whiled away the hours before our flight departed.
The fourteen hour flight home gave us ample time to reflect on what an incredible experience we have had, and to savour the thousands of memories we have made together: 131 days, 15 flights, 6 countries, countless new friends, 3 young vets abroad and 1 trip of a lifetime. Until next time!