Charming Hoi An

Trip Start Nov 06, 2012
Trip End Feb 01, 2013

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Having heard so much about Hoi An from all our friends who had previously visited the town, we were very much looking forward to spending some time here. It didn’t disappoint. 

Hoi An old town has oodles of charm and is by far the prettiest town we have visited so far on this trip. The two storey buildings are a golden yellow, traditional lanterns in a multitude of colours hang everywhere and, at night, tourists and local children can pay a few Dong to purchase floating candles to release onto the river. 

Hoi An was at its most serene at the times of day when motorbikes were banned from entering the old town. Peace and tranquility in a beautiful little place. It was wonderful. Children would come out to play in the streets and revel in the fact that they could say “hello” to us and we understood and acknowledged them! The delight in their faces was something to behold. Yes, it is touristy, with every shop being a tailors, souvenir shop or restaurant, but we loved it.

Again, as with everywhere on our trip so far, the food was fantastic. We’ve developed a love of iced coffee in Vietnam (seriously, does it taste this good in Britain?) and whiled away some time enjoying more of this while soaking up the atmosphere. We also had some of our best Pho (a traditional Vietnamese soup) yet. 

We lived well in Hoi An but luckily the cheap prices we are now so used to meant we weren’t spending our daily budget. This turned out to be very useful indeed as we found a tailor (doesn’t everyone who comes to Hoi An?!), who was more than happy to help us spend our money. We went in on our first day with the intention of ordering a blazer and shirt for A and two dresses for V. We left on day four with a blazer, two shirts and a pair of trousers for A and five(!) dresses and two jackets for V. They must have loved us as everyday we went in for our fittings, we were so impressed with their previous day’s work that we ordered more clothes...

The people were very friendly and would often approach us with “hello, where are you from? How long are you in Hoi An?”. The first few times, this led to us engaging in a ten minute conversation which would draw to a fairly abrupt end when they would suddenly ask “do you have a tailor?”. We learnt very quickly that any of the locals who spoke to us were either tailors or knew a tailor (to be fair, probably not difficult in Hoi An) and developed a technique for cutting short those conversations as politely as possible. 

We did leave the old town to visit My Son, an important site in the ancient Cham Empire. We had fairly low expectations from this trip as we were told that the complex of temples and towers were in a ruinous state due to sustained American bombing during the war. Some bomb craters were clearly visible amongst the ruins, but some of the site had survived and other parts restored. We thoroughly enjoyed our walk around the area. With a bit of imagination, where structures had been reduced to rubble and were awaiting restoration, it was easy to visualise them in their original state. The site itself is in a peaceful valley beneath the imposing Cat’s Tooth Mountain, thought to be one of the main motivations for the choice of location.

On one of our afternoon iced coffee/ beer sessions (we had tried the 4,000 Dong “local” unbranded beer and, after two sips, decided that we were definitely more “flashpacker” than “backpacker” and could afford 10,000 Dong for a Tiger), we realised that we recognised many faces of random tourists we had seen previously in HCMC and Nha Trang. It seems that Vietnam is a very small country or perhaps has a small group of tourists moving at roughly the same pace up the coast...

In Hoi An, we were only a few kilometres from the coast and took another opportunity to exercise our legs and cycled to Cua Dai beach. This was obviously more gentle on the legs than our Dalat to Nha Trang marathon, but posed another challenge in the form of a local scam. As we neared the beach itself, an official looking man whistled at us and flagged us down, pointing to a sign saying “Cua Dai beach parking lot” and telling us that no motorcyles or bicycles were allowed beyond that point. V questioned why all the locals were allowed to cycle past and was fobbed off with “hotel, hotel, they go hotel”. 

Having been specifically told “no pay, no pay, it’s free” and given that it wasn’t more than 100m from the beach, we pulled into the car park where another man screamed at us to leave our bikes in a designated spot and requested payment for parking. When we challenged this, he became somewhat aggressive and so, in an act of uncharacteristic rebellion(!), we hopped on our bikes, cycled past the man with the whistle and made our way to the beach, where, surprise, surprise, bicycles and motorbikes were abundant and could be left in various places for free. When we told our hotel that evening about our experience, they apologised for having forgotten to tell us about the “secret route” you can take to the beach to avoid the scammers! 

Pleased that we had busted the fraudsters, we spent a relaxing day on Cua Dai beach. The sand here was much softer than at any beach we’ve been to on this trip, the surf was much calmer than Nha Trang and the atmosphere more relaxed. There were also fewer people, but to reinforce our theory that Vietnam is a small country/ only has 10 tourists, the couple closest to us on the beach had been on the table next to us the previous night at dinner.

It’s a small world after all.
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