A UNESCO declared World Heritage Site, its ancient architecture, cobbled stone streets and famed paper lanterns make it a pleasant break from the hustle and bustle of the big cities...And there's a Beach just a cycle away.
27.11.2010 - 28.03.2011 27 °C
I wasn’t even thinking about the size of the taxi when I was negotiating a price for a ride to Hoi An. As Sam and I cram in the back of the taxi, I’m kicking myself for not looking for a larger one. The boot is so small that we have to place one of our backpacks on the front passenger seat. It’s only a 45-minute drive so I quickly forgive myself.
We afford him the opportunity of showing us their Pièce de résistance, their honeymoon suite
It’s good to be on our own schedule now after leaving the group last night from Ho Chi Minh City. No more having to get up at a certain time to catch a certain bus to go to a certain city. Hoi An is our next stop after spending no more than 10 hours in Da Nang. I’ve been looking forward to Hoi An after seeing photos of the old city. Fortunately it was left untouched during the Vietnam War. The old town was declared a UNSECO Heritage Site in 1999.
We haven’t booked any accommodation for Hoi An but have a list of hotels to check out. Fortunately for us, the first one we check out is perfect. The hotel manager shows us the different types of rooms, starting with the basic room, which is quite impressive. “This one is $35 a night” he says and Sam and I trade a ‘not bad’ look with each other. The next one, even more impressive had a balcony overlooking the pool and is “$45 a night”. I’m quite happy with this one but we afford him the opportunity of showing us their Pièce de résistance, their honeymoon suite. The room is awesome. There is a bar, balcony, a separate King size room and a bathroom almost as big as some of the rooms we had stayed in. It also has a sunken Jacuzzi. Thinking this would be in the $100 range, I don’t bother asking how much but when he says “$55 a night” we respond, “We’ll take it”. Now it feels like a real vacation and we can spoil ourselves a bit. I instantly explode my backpack, taking advantage of the space we have.
We don’t spend too much time in the room, wanting to head to the beach. We grab some bicycles, compliments of the hotel, and set off for Hoi An Beach 3 miles east. We ride down to the riverfront and before we know it, we are out of the old city and into the Vietnamese countryside. Traffic isn’t too bad on the two-lane road and it’s mostly scooters and other cyclists with the occasional hairy moment with a car or truck. We pass a couple of small villages and rice paddy fields. Although it’s warm, it is overcast and hoping it will clear when we arrive at the beach. Luckily for us, it does.
We walk up and down the beach to find a spot and fortunately it’s not too busy. We pull up some beach chairs just out the front of a row of beach restaurants and order some well-deserved beers. The cycling is the most active thing we’ve done for a while and so the sun, the beach and the Saigon Beer is perfect, and so for the rest of the afternoon, we laze on the beach and relax. Although Sam loves to travel and experience new cultures and has no aversion to roughing it out (She did camp in the Serengeti for 5 days), this is her idea of a vacation, and I totally agree.
At night we enjoy a very nice, but relatively expensive meal just a couple of doors down from the hotel. It’s empty except for Sam and I as it’s currently low season. We talk over our plans for the next couple of days as we have booked a beach front Bungalow on an island resort 2 hours south. I want to stay another day in Hoi An as I feel like we haven’t really explored it and the weather hasn’t been ‘island resort’ weather. After going over the pros and cons and some convincing from me, Sam agrees to stay another night in Hoi An, spend one night on the Island and skip the city of Hue. There just wasn’t enough time.
The river through Hoi An is illuminated with giant paper animal lamps. It illuminates the riverfront restaurants and shops and is complimented by the colorful paper lanterns that line the bridge and streets. We wander through the Ancient town, paved with cobblestones and lined with restaurants, bars and shops selling all kinds of goods. Hoi An is famous for the Tailoring Shops and a tailored suit will set you back a massive $70. With the minimum US men’s size one size to large for me, it is tempting but how am I going to travel around with a suit in a backpack. It just wasn’t going to happen. “C’mon Al, I can wear it for Josh’s bar mitzvah“ pleads Sam, pointing at a yellow dress. It does look nice and who am I to say no, so Sam gets herself a nice tailored yellow dress and I get 3 tailored business shirts all for less than a meal out in Sydney. That’s my souvenir shopping done! One beer at a popular bar for travelers and we were ready to call it a night
Waking up to clouds and light rain gives us a bit of comfort in thinking we had made the right decision to postpone going to the island resort. It doesn’t stop us though, from exploring Hoi An in the day. Yellow and red are the predominant colors in the Ancient Town. It’s a photographers dream and the grey, overcast condition doesn’t stop me for taking dozens of photos of the architecture, the locals and even the locals of the four-legged kind.
We visit a couple of small temples and head toward the local market. “Oh look at those cute ducks” Sam comments, pointing to some stunning white ducks, all sat in a row, when all of a sudden a lady picks one up by the leg and they all come up together upside down. “Well what did you think they were selling them for? Pets?” I try to stop myself laughing as Sam looks in horror. I see that she is actually very upset and I try my best to hide my smirk. “I’m never eating duck again!” she says walking away. The incident reminds me that I’m hungry and so we try some local street food called Banh Mi, which is basically a Vietnamese Baguette containing grilled meat, pâté, cucumber, pickled carrots, cucumbers, cilantro and a sauce combination of chili, soy and fish sauce. With the freshness of the baguette and the combination of various spices and flavors, it’s the best 50c meal I have ever had. All those Vietnamese rolls back in Sydney have nothing on this one-man Banh Mi street stall operation.
It starts to drizzle again and we head to the Cargo café, recommended to us by Jenny. We order some coffee and pastry sweets they are famous for. While Sam takes up our favorite pastime of people watching, I take the time to catch up on some ‘heavy’ reading, “Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. Being a motorcyclist, I can relate to parts of the book but the philosophical side of the book is interesting but slow going, and I’m not even a quarter of the way through. It’s getting late in the afternoon and we decide to head back to the hotel and enjoy our ‘Fit for a King’ accommodation. I grab a Hoi An Photography Tour brochure that looks interesting and put it in my pocket to read later.
Dinner tonight is at Hong Phuc, a small local restaurant on the riverside, another recommendation by Jenny. Looking it up in Trip Advisor, it basically says what she told us: Try the Grilled Fish in Banana Leaf. Of course we did and we were not disappointed. The food in the south of Vietnam did not impress me as it has here in the mid-North and with Hanoi still to come, my mouth is watering just thinking about it.
We spend the rest of the night checking out some bars such as the Mango room, which is more westernized but still has a nice balcony view of the river. On the other end of the spectrum is a local bar, also on the riverside but is the Vietnamese equivalent of a dive bar, but WITH the charm. Unfortunately, the owner isn’t as charming when he almost comes to blows with one of the patrons after being accused of ripping them off. The patron looks quite drunk and his friends try and calm him down. After a few angry verbal exchanges, the owner shouts ‘Puck You” and storms off out the back. Everyone is silent but the drunken guy and his friends stick around and continue drinking. The owner comes back after a minute and starts taking orders from other patrons as if nothing happened. With the ‘entertaining drama’ quota being filled for the night, we head back to the room and before I hit the sack, I do a quick sanity check of my camera equipment for an early start for the Photography Tour tomorrow