Vietnam - Hoi An

Trip Start Dec 05, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

The air-conditioned bus from Hue to Hoi An left our hotel and pulled up 30m down the road. We then all got out and changed to another air-conditioned bus - pointless? The ride was bumpy and didn't really give the kind of scenery we were expecting to see, especially as this section of the east coast is supposed to have the best views.
The bus ride wasn't the most comfortable (Andrews seat kept falling backwards and the air-con was faulty) but for £2.50 each we weren't going to complain!
Arriving in Hoi An we were given the grand tour of everybody else's hotels before finally getting dropped at the bus company. En route a number of hotel representatives were allowed onto the bus to try and sell rooms, they even managed to convince some passengers to forgo their booked accommodation and stay with them instead! We waited at the bus company for our pick-up, which came at first in the shape of two mopeds - we laughed and called for a car.
Checking into the hotel we agreed a price of $38/night for 2 nights and sat down to our welcome drink and snacks. On reaching our room the receptionist called us and asked us if we wanted to get a better rate of $35/night for 4 nights - we agreed and confirmed the 4-night stay. The rooms were excellent; modern with traditional influences and all the facilities we could want. (PICS)
We had a wander around town, along the riverside and to the Japanese Bridge (PICS). The town had an old, artisan feel similar to Luang Prabang but with a bit more tourist-oriented shops. The colourful local life set amongst temples and hotels was infinitely more relaxed than that of Hanoi and even Hue.
We spent the rest of the day and night at the hotel, meaning to start as we would continue our stay in Hoi An - doing very little!
Leaving the hotel the following day we were called to reception to be told, in a completely nonchalant way, that the hotel was full and we would not be able to stay the 4 nights as booked!
To cut a very long, painful and aggravating story short, we argued with reception for well over an hour to get this sorted. They wanted us to leave the following morning and we refused as we had already confirmed that we would stay for 4 nights. They replied saying that the staff member we arranged this with had no authority to do so and we HAD to leave.
They admitted that it was their mistake, they had double booked, and soon after they even admitted that the hotel manager wasn't happy that we were paying such a small amount for the room (even though we had been offered this rate).  In trying to speak to the manager she just shrugged and walked off - leaving us stunned.
They eventually suggested they could kick someone else out and move us into their room - we said no as we didn't want to put someone else in the same situation as us! They then tried to move us to a standard room but we would still have to pay the same price as the superior room - er no! They couldn't understand why we were unhappy and wouldn't 'help them out'!
Finally we told them we wouldn't leave and that they needed to sort it while we went out for the afternoon.
When we came back to the hotel it was sorted! Verdi must have scared them into submission!
Trying our best to make the most of the town we took another stroll around during another afternoon. No sooner had we left the hotel than a Jeep with two loudspeakers decided to grind into action (PIC) - yelling out Vietnamese instructions to all and sundry. This continued for about an hour and seemed to follow us around the town - we're hoping it wasn't some ploy by the hotel and the Vietnamese message following us didn't warn the locals of "Two awkward English tourists!"
We found a shop that was going to make Verdi some sandals. After some haggling she negotiated a price of $7. After triple-checking the price, going through the rigmarole of getting her feet drawn around and measured, and confirming the material / style required the price suddenly shot up to $16!? Verdi got up to walk out and the price suddenly dropped back to $7 - ridiculous! We bought them anyway!
In the meantime Andrew purchased a few 'new release' DVD's from a nearby shop - at a dollar each it didn't even matter too much if they didn't work, though Andrew did make them play the DVD on their system before parting with his not-so-hard-earned cash.
Stopping for a late lunch Andrew realised that we didn't have enough cash to pay the bill so asked for the nearest ATM (we were told it was 5 minutes around the corner). Andrew went to get the money while Verdi stayed put. 35 minutes later Andrew was still not back and Verdi was getting VERY worried. Eventually a hot, sweaty and flustered Andrew returned, having been sent in all directions, trying 4 ATM's and finally getting money from a currency exchange on the other side of the town!
When Andrew returned Verdi was still waiting for the last course of her set menu. We thought that perhaps they were being considerate and waiting for Andrew to return before serving the dessert - that was until the bill arrived and no dessert materialised! What was even better - the bill was more than it should have been. After asking we were begrudgingly given the final course and they acknowledged that they had 'mistakenly' overcharged for both drinks...unfortunately this is a consistent and very tiring theme in Asia.
Ultimately we headed back to our hotel to try and forget about the exasperating day we had encountered...this was when we realised that the date was...Friday 13th!!!! 
The following day we stayed in bed for as long as possible - fewer things can go against you when you stay in your hotel room! We returned to bed after breakfast and arose again at 2:30pm. After speaking to the folks on skype, and being interrupted by a series of power cuts we gave up and walked into town.
The power cuts meant that most of the (few) ATM's in town had reset and stopped working. We found the only functioning ATM in town and withdrew as much as it allowed so we didn't have to go through that again.
The power outage must have been caused by a distant lightning strike because it soon caught up with us and we were treated to an impressive electrical storm as we sat in a restaurant in town. The lightning show was better than the food - the restaurant 'Café Des Amis' was recommended to us but the food was far from great. There is no menu, the chef just decides upon a fish, meat, and veggie set menu for each day and you have no idea what you're getting until it appears in front of you. We were well aware of this and it sounded quite interesting - unfortunately the quality of food was really bad and many of the 'meat' dishes that Andrew had could not be classified any further than just 'MEAT' - we suspected some of it to be 'DOG'.
The next day, after another lazy morning and some trip planning activities we had a great lunch at a restaurant called 'The Cargo Club' on the waterfront in town. It's a shame we hadn't found this place earlier as the range and quality of food there was superb. Another power cut meant the fans and air-con went off so we rushed our final course but it did little to dampen our enthusiasm for the place - one we would highly recommend!
On the way back to the hotel we called in at a Fair trade shop, run by disabled locals. It had some really original, good quality stuff and Verdi decided to give in to her urges and buy a couple of handbags. Luckily we had cash as the continuing power cut meant that the credit card machine was down - leaving one tourist couple with a problem trying to buy an expensive tea set.
We then did the typical tourist thing and bought a couple of conical hats - well, 'when in Vietnam!'
Our 4 days in Hoi An had come to an end and we had to travel northwards to Da Nang to catch the flight down to Ho Chi Minh City. Hoi An had seemed like such a nice place and had the potential to be one of our favourite places in Asia - up there with Luang Prabang.  Unfortunately, yet again, the attitude of many of the locals (tourists are to be cheated and ripped-off at every opportunity) had spoiled our stay and impinged on our impression of the whole place. We would have loved to recommend the Ha An hotel as it was a beautiful place with excellent rooms - perhaps we just had an unusually bad experience with the staff. We would like to think so!
The less said about Da Nang the better:
The city is a mainly industrial and commercial sprawl, mainly frequented by tourists solely for its international airport.
The marble mountains between Hoi An and Da Nang looked pretty but we didn't have time to stop.
The hotel was another case of terrible management, disgraceful staff and below par rooms, especially for the money we were paying. We arrived at 1pm and eventually sorted our room at 10:30pm. Enough said!
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