Aussies: They wear bright clothing of places they have recently been (e.g. a pink shirt from their tubing expedition in Vang Vieng), have dyed blonde hair, and a sporting the sunglasses made famous by this guy
(Ken, let me know what color you want as we will need to fit in when we are in Australia).
French: Usually the nicest dressed. They are also the loudest and will push to get the best seat on the bus/boat/plane/train. They win the award for being the most disliked by all other nationalities.
Brits: Usually keep to themselves, but are friendly if you intiate conversation.
American: Not sure, haven't seen any yet since they don't like to leave their hometowns (of course that does not include our loyal readers of this blog).
Canadians: By far the friendliest. Go oot of their way to point you in the right direction, start conversation, give recommendations.
Germans: A hybrid of all of the above. They also have a similar body type to me, which is unusual in this part of the world.
And now back to the blog. The drive to Hoi An was fairly short at 4 hours. During the drive I had my second "I can't believe we are doing this" moment of the trip as I was looking out the window at the scenery. I also predict that Danang will be the next must go to city in Vietnam. They are building 5 star hotel after 5 star hotel along a strip of beach in Danang (on the other side of the road is all golf courses). Fairly unusual after seeing poverty for the previous two hours.
Once in Hoi An, we checked into our hotel, the Sunflower Hotel, to drop off on bags. The Sunflower hotel got pretty good reviews but is about a 15-20 minute walk to the main action in town. It seemed good enough for our brief stay so we headed out to dinner. Based on the recommendation of the Canadians in Hue, we ate at Bale Well.
There is no menu at the restaurant, the only thing we were able to order were two Bier Larue's (local brew). After sitting down for three minutes, a lady dropped off 5 plates on our table and quickly left. Amy and I looked at each other having no clue what to do. I guess she noticed this as the lady came back to our table and took the rice paper, threw in some greens and slaw, added some fried rolled item, then topped it off with some grilled meat (pork) on a stick. She wrapped the whole thing, dipped it in the sauce, and handed it to Amy to eat. She then repeated the process for me. She stayed at our table for the next 5 minutes and I got the feeling she took a liking to me (probably because she told Amy how lucky she was to have a handsome husband and when she directly fed me). The food was excellent and the second one of our plates were half done, she would come over to give us a fully stocked plate of that item. Finally stuffed, we were not allowed to leave until we finished what was left on the table (we didnt want to make her angry).
Since the Canadian's recommendation for dinner was so good, we used their next recommendation to check out the custom shoe store around the corner. In case you are unaware, Hoi An is the tailored (custom-made) clothing capital of the world.
It used to be a trading port, so it has very cheap materials. There are hundreds of tailor shops throughout the city (which is only 3 streets by 5 streets) who will customize anything. You just need to bring in a picture of a shirt, dress, shoe, etc, then get measured and receive your clothing the next day. Neither Amy nor I were impressed with the display items in the shoe store, but the young lady convinced us to look through her catalogs. There were hundreds of pages of any shoe you can think of. I found a pair of sneakers and Amy created some sort of shoe that I cannot describe and a sneaker as well. After spending an hour choosing what we wanted, down to the color of the stripe on the back of the shoe and getting our foot measured (by drawing the outline of our bare feet on a piece of paper), it was time to negotiate the cost for all this. We were quoted a price that was barely a discount to new sneakers in the states, so we countered. After a few miutes we were too far apart, so I tried the "walkaway" maneuver. I guess the Vietnamese are more sophisticated negotiators than the Chinese as they let us walk. We made it about two blocks when we were chased down by the young lady (on bicycle) and agreed to our price as long as we promise not to give away the details so she can rip off some other tourist.
All excited, we decided to head to the next store on the recommendation list. This was a store that specialized in suits and shirts. I have enough suits and don't think I need a custom suit since a 42R fits me like a glove, but I wanted to see if I could get a few dress shirts made.
Once again I had to look through hundreds of samples in order to find two patterns of material I liked. I picked out the collar and cuff of my choosing and then started the negotiation (or lack thereof). This store was sticking by their prices and let me walk. After two stores I was getting tired of the game being played, so shirts would have to wait for the next day. We walked around a little longer stopping to enjoy bia hois and to look for a tshirt. It was finally getting to that time where Amy and I had to switch into short-sleeved clothing. All the long sleeve clothing was moved to the bottom of the bags. This was also a problem for me as I knew packing only two short sleeve shirts in 90 degree weather (30C for our non-American friends) would not work. So I picked up a $2 (they charge more because my size of XXXL uses more clothing) touristy beer tshirt. Afterwards we finally headed back for the night.
The next morning started off a little rocky during our free breakfast buffet (not because the food was bad). It was our last full day in Hoi An and we needed to make plans for the next day.
Our options were to take the overnight train to Nha Trang (we know how Amy feels about overnight trains in Vietnam), the overnight bus to Nha Trang (which is described as some as a rolling coffin either because it is not safe or because the beds are tiny), or fly right to Saigon (skipping Nha Trang, a beach town, and Dalat, the honeymoon capital of Vietnam). Amy was really pushing for the plane option. I wanted to take the bus as the budget is always a concern of mine and I wanted to visit Dalat (which is supposed to have a fantastic motorbike tour). In the end I agreed with Amy to buy plane tickets (for $65 a person) and save 23 hours on a bus (and have a safer trip). This was our first called audible of the trip (Japan was not by choice).
Amy here (to describe why it was my perfect day): Now that we made the decision to fly to Saigon, we wanted to venture back to the tailors to pick up our custom shoes. However, we also made the decision to not extend our stay in Hoi An (since we were flying we were contemplating sticking around for a few more days), so getting a shirt made was officially out at this point since we didnt have enough time to get it made (and our Vietnam budget disappeared with the flight). Instead, we went on a walking trour of the town visiting the market, the penninsula, the Japanese covered bridge, ancient houses and some assembly halls.
We then went back to the hotel to book our flight online. Amazing that you can book an internal flight the day before departure for less than $70/per person. That would never happen in the states! By the time we finished the flight booking and found another reasonable hostel on hostelworld.com (our current site of choice), it was midday and the sun was beating down on us. Luckily our hotel had a pool so we decided to lay out for a few hours till the sun was less punishing. The water was refreshing and we enjoyed a brief siesta until we got hungry.
We had spotted a street pho place across the street (time to get adventurous). The pho was good, but a bit different than I am used to (sweeter than most and had peanuts added in). After pho we walked towards the downtown area but on the way stopped at a clean looking salon and I enjoyed a lovely pedicure for peanuts. I had been weary of any beauty treatments here because most I see are happening on the street corner in unsanitary conditions. This spa advertised sterilizing equipment and I watched them use it so I was satisfied. Dave considered a massage but we have to stick close to the budget these next few days to make up for our flight. Afterwards, we continued back to town stopping at several cafes for bia hoi (fresh beer).
Our first stop was the Banana Split Cafe, recommended by Lonely Planet but we enjoyed the street-watching as it sits on the corner by the market.
We then made our way to the waterfront and found another place with some friendly Brits so we joined them for some bia hoi. I guess this was turning into some sort of a Hoi An pub crawl. The Brits had just arrived from Saigon via the overnight bus and reaffirmed our decision to not take it and fly instead. They also made us feel better by letting us know that train and bus travel was much nicer in other SE Asian countries. This was good to hear because after this first audible Dave is now rethinking our whole trip and wanted to send me home I think. After several bia hois it was well after 5pm and our custom shoes were ready to be picked up. We headed to the shop and tried on our new kicks and were quite pleased.
The sun was starting to set so we decided to enjoy some dinner along the waterfront in town before heading back to the hostel. We had borrowed a Lonely Planet from another traveler to look for recommendations as I wasn't carrying mine with me. We found the Phone Cafe and since we were right around the corner we headed over. We were the first customers of the night and enjoyed traditional Hoi An dishes: White Roses, a dumpling, and Cao Lau, a noodle and pork dish that's unique to the area.
That's because the noodles can only be made with water from the Bale Well. Dave ordered the 7-course tasting menu and I ordered fish wrapped in banana leaves in addition to the above specialities. The meal was quite the feast, delicious and homemade. I felt like a Vietnamese grandmother was in the back sending me dishes she was making at home. And the whole feast came in well under $12US. We continued date night with a movie on our computer (using our new dvd player and new dvd) where I enjoyed The Tourist. Dave slept through it but I really liked it.
Between the pool time, spa time, shopping and custom shoes time, and the fantastic meal to cap it off, I declared today my perfect day.
We have discovered the term "flashpackers" today. A flashpacker is simply someone that has a bigger budget than a backpacker (because they aren't in a gap year but are older working types). They stay in slightly nicer places, carry around electronic devices, and spend their budget in more places than the bar. Amy and I are now defined (We R Who We R). Speaking of flashpackers/backpackers, we have gotten pretty good at picking out the nationalities of other travelers before they open their mouths: