Hoi An is a beautiful historic city in Vietnam, just south of Da Nang. The Old Town of Hoi An is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is a must see.
After a late night arrival in Da Nang, with the smallest plane (Bruce didn’t even fit standing in the corridor! the lanky oaf) we got our cab and arrived in Hoi An at 10:30pm where LAM, our night guardian at An Bang seaside village was waiting for us. He was all smiles even if he had zero English. I thought we could watch a film later – maybe Silence of the Lam. (sorry it was Bruce’s joke)
We had a good night sleep and the following day we met Na, who is looking after the homestay while the real owner is on maternity leave. Na was very helpful and she helped us plan our days here as well as booking some train tickets for the coming days.
We had a very nice breakfast on the terrace of our HUGE room, and had a bit of an admin morning deciding which trains to book and what to do in the coming days (this takes a while as we are both indecisive and I get stressed and unbearable very easily). We ended up booking a bike tour called Heaven and Earth which has great reviews on Trip Advisor, and we booked our train for Hue in a couple of days and from Hue to Dong Hoi.
After that we went to take a look at An Bang beach, which was nice and big, soft sand but the water was much much colder than in Cambodia and Thailand, and also much greener and less inviting than the latest beaches we’ve been to.
We had lunch around the corner in a place called Cay Me, which we found out later being in the top 10 here in Hoi An. We tried the traditional Wontong (fried croutons with pork and shrimp, very tasty) and the fish in banana leaf (mackerel with spices and tomato and pineapple). It gave us a great first impression of the food here in Vietnam!
In the afternoon we took a cab to visit Hoi An old town, which is so pretty. All yellowish, pedestrianised, with colourful lanterns hanging from the top of each road, pretty silk shops (amongst some very bad tourist traps) and nice cafes all over. The bridge that links it to a smaller island on the south are nice and there is a ticket that gives you access to up to 5 tourist attractions like ancient assembly halls, the famous japanese bridge, and some other japanese style houses that can be visited throughout the town. Visits to this sites sometime include a free guide and a nice shot of hot tea. It’s a place where you want to get lost, just wondering around the pretty alleyways and nosing into shops or having a tasty cup of coffee or a milkshake. The only down side are as always the tourists, it’s not a hidden gem but a very well known one!
In the evening it’s pretty to see the lanterns light up, and the streets getting quieter.
We got back to our homestay and had dinner around the corner at An Bang Beach Village, which was also very tasty and very recommended.
We had an initial panic during breakfast since it we saw the forecast and it showed rain all day and we had booked the Heaven and Earth bicycle tour across the Hoi An countryside. Luckily we decided to man up and go anyway and bring a rain jacket and a dry bag.
Best decision ever, since we had a blast, great day, and it never rain throughout the whole day.
The tour started at 8:30 am and ended at 3pm, it was very well organised, the 2 guides were lovely, and they taught us a lot about the countryside life and how people can make a living of working the wood here, building boats, working in the rice fields, how they make rice wine or “happy water” as they call it, and how they live in their houses.
We met some very nice people: Alison and Jo, two lovely sisters from Australia that made us laugh a lot during the tour with their great sense of humour, and a group of four friendly South Africans from Durban, two brothers, one cousin and one family friend travelling together. Our guide Vu and Flower (Hoa in Vietnamese) were so nice and they also had a very good sense of humour. It was such a nice day and we will surely remember it! Just before lunch, after cycling 9km we had a chance to learn how basket boats are made, and we learnt how to paddle on one which was very fun. The lady in charge of this is over 60 and she is a real pro on this little boats. We named her Gollum as she had a very low voice (probably too many strong fags) and was quite scary at times, whispering to her boats like if they were her “precious”. She often had to come to the rescue when we had a go! She also tricked Rob into thinking a fly was landing on his neck by using a bit of grass to tickle him several times – which made the whole group crack up laughing.
The tour made us realise how lucky we are with everything we have. Here people live with very little, they work on the floor all day without a chair, they sleep on bare wood. The ground floor needs to be ready to get emptied during the rainy season, hence why they don’t collect many things and don’t have many possessions and very simple furniture that can be replaced easily. If they get a flood warning they have to move everything under the roof, food and drinks first, as they don’t know for how long they will have to live up there.
They build boats themselves, and all the boats have eyes. The eyes have different meanings and stories about their origins vary, but Vietnamese people are hugely superstitious so it doesn’t really matter which story they refer to as long as the boat have the eyes carved on the front to make the evil spirita run away.
We cycled across a very scary wobbly bridge made of wood, with nails popping out, broken wood and holes everywhere. It wouldn’t have passed the health and safety check let’s put it that way. We went fast and we hoped it would end quickly. One of those things that you glad you did once you arrive at the end, but you keep asking yourself why you did it while you are still on it.
Lastly, we saw how bed mats are made (in Vietnam people don’t sleep on mattresses but on the wood of the bed with just a mattress made of reeds/straw to keep them cool in the hot months) and a 90 years old lady was still woking hard, producing about 1 mat every three hours.
Our guide also told us that whenever there is an American tourist in the tour they tend not to say where they are from to the local people, since the wounds from the war are still there.
The guy that owns the wine rice production that we visited, for example is a landmine survivor with a wooden leg. Many more families are still suffering Agent Orange – one of the herbicides and defoliants used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971.
4 million of its citizens were exposed to Agent Orange, and as many as 3 million have suffered illnesses because of it; these figures include the children of people who were exposed.
It was hard to hear some of these stories, even to see some of these people exhausted by their jobs and realising that it might not make them enough money for the family despite their hard work, but we definitely came out of the experience knowing much more about the local tradition and way of living than before.
We arrived back in Hoi An, said goodbye to everyone and spent a couple more hours tingering around Hoi An Old Town, using more of our tourist attractions allowance and having a tasty cake and coffee.
We got back to our homestay to shower and then went for dinner at the Purple Lantern, the restaurant around the corner owned by Na (her real job when she is not on maternity cover).
I bought a pretty silk blouse as well – couldn’t resist!
We had a lazy day, since the weather was not amazing we tried to start getting some information about South America since we haven’t planned any of it yet and it will come around much sooner than we thought.
We attempted the beach once, and had a quick lunch there, but we soon had to leave as it was getting too windy and cold there.
In the afternoon we went to a local class, to help local kids learn a bit of English. The main teacher was an American bloke from California. He was running the show, but we helped the kids to practice and repeat some of the new words they’d learnt. It was very sweet.
We then went for dinner and beers at Miss Ly with Alison and Jo – our new Aussie friends – which was great fun ! We hope to see them again when we get to Melbourne!
We had a tasting menu of the local specials – white rose, cao lao, wantons and spring rolls – LUSH!