So it was now the 8th of April and time for us to head to Hoi An. We had heard good things so were looking forward to chilling out for a few days.
On leaving Hué, we paid the reception for the tourist bus transfer and a minibus came to collect us and we were whisked to a tourist office for transfer to the coach. Only we had no ticket!! Rookie mistake there. Luckily when we said we had paid the hotel, they went off to confirm and we were allowed on the coach. It was another sleeping/sitting bus as you can see and we got to sit next to each other this time!
So off we sped through the city and on into the countryside. It was very picturesque (photos are a bit crap as the windows on the bus were filthy due to the condensate from the aircon).
[For anyone thinking of coming to this part of Vietnam you can drive from Hué to Da Nang or Hoi An by motorbike and go on the Hai Van pass as popularised by the Top Gear boys. Its supposed to be gorgeous but also an accident hotspot so didn’t fancy it on a bike with someone I didn’t know and it was a long way on a bus as it was. A day trip from Da Nang is probably a better option for this road.]
About an hour into the journey the aircon vent above me started leaking-at one point it was nearly flowing out and I was getting soaked so I was forced to move, leaving Gav abandoned on his own in the centre of the bus. From this point on I had no seatbelt as the one on the seat behind was completely broke!
The drive went through a place called Lăng Cô, it had both a beach to one side and a lake the other. In the lake there was a lot of interesting fishing going which looked to be using old motorbike tyres as an anchoring medium for shellfish.
The journey took us through Da Nang (which looked like a mix of London, Glasgow and Dublin- lots of glass high rise but interesting buildings by the river, and the Costa del Sol- lots of hotels and a massive long beach by the coast).
On leaving Da Nang the road out was lined with loads of marble shops, the marble mountains are just south of Da Nang – if you ever want a 6-10 ft sitting or standing budda, an enormous lion, greek gods, a 4ft virgin Mary or anything else you could think of to adorn your mansion or garden/yard then this is the place to go.
A short while later, 4.5 hours after leaving Hué we arrived in Hoi An bus station- right into a swarm of taxi drivers and xós (motorbike taxis) which surrounded the bus. We managed to get through and grab our bags with a few guys around us asking us which hotel we were going to etc. We figured it was only 1.5 km so we’d walk it. It was hot. So hot! After 20 mins and horrendously sweaty we arrived in our hotel. We decided to splurge a bit and get a hotel with a pool, so went for a 3 star at a wallet breaking $17 a night including buffet breakfast. It was grand but the room had too much furniture in it for the size of it, comfortable bed though.
Our first night there we went out to explore. Hoi An (another UNESCO World Heritage site), was an old trading port for many years before it was usurped by Hué. It is gorgeous! Like taking the classy parts of Disneyland mixed with Blackpool (basically at night it turns into a city of lanterns and it is very pretty with a really cool Night Market that takes over from the equally cool Day Market).
Our first meal out in Hoi An was Com Ga from a little street food place. It came with a little soup starter of a broth containing congealed pig’s blood cubes and pork (I think). Followed by Com Ga (chicken and rice- with mint, onion and chili sauce). Washed down with two beers.
The following morning was a lazy day, basically as I had fallen so far behind on my blogs I needed a day to finish at least one of the two I had left to do. So We had a pool morning and my view was this:
It was a good morning. That afternoon after a quick dip and a shower we headed off into Hoi An to do some shopping- well window shopping to see what the average prices were. On the way we stopped for a snack- which seemed to end up in a full meal- of grilled pork skewers. This was another assemble your own spring roll in this case you had rice paper upon which you placed wet rice sheet, the de-skewered pork, lettuce and herbs, wrapped up and dipped in peanut chili sauce. It was nice but more than we were expecting (and I forgot to take a photo). I also bought a few pairs of shorts (starting price 220K for one pair, I got 3 for 200K in the end) and a long dress for $7 (down from $9, not as good a deal there).
Now particularly delighted with myself we continued on our walk around and we discovered the market and grabbed a juice. We were pointed in the direction of it by one of the “helpful” ladies wandering the streets of Hoi An trying to get you to go to their friend’s shop/their shop- who will give you “best quality at best price”. It is often a rip off.
If you are ever in Hoi An and come across this- it’s best to say you don’t want to buy anything or that you are leaving tomorrow-that tends to make them leave you alone, otherwise you can end up in a shop that you don’t want to be in, being asked by 3 women what you want to buy and the response “I don’t want to buy anything, your friend just asked me to look” doesn’t sit well with them- we know this happened to us!
Anyway back to the market. Its a great spot and a hive of activity- there seems to be one juice section that serves a few places so the lady is always busy.
As we were still full from our epic snack we decided to wander down to the night market which was just starting up.Basically every evening we did this loop watching the town go from day to night, here is 5 nights worth of photos!
By day it’s busy, but once the dusk starts to fall everyone comes out
The night market:
As you can see, it’s a lovely spot and we didn’t do much while we were here! The following day we did a tour of the historic old town, the ticket which allowed entry into a number of historic houses, small museums and temples in the city. It was quite interesting, and in the houses and one of the chapel we had a tour by a family member and a volunteer so that was quite nice- though they did try to get us to buy stuff during/at the end of the tour.
After that we went shopping again, I was looking for a long sleeved top and some vest tops. I ended up getting 2 strappy tops, a dress and a 3/4 sleeved top for less than 300K ($15). After our, or my, excellent shopping trip we went for a wander and came across a little cafe called the Nocturnal Artist. We popped in there for a quick snack of Wantons and juice.
It was after this that we decided to head back to the hotel to chill out and this is when we got caught by the woman wanting us to go to her shop- there was only one road so we were stuck! We got away quickly though and after a few hours chilling at the hotel we headed out again in a search for sustenance! We decided to go to a place recommended by Rusty Compass called Ba Le Well. We had gone looking for it on our first night but couldn’t find it. However now savvy with the town’s layout we knew roughly where it was.
Ba Le Well does a set menu only, spring rolls, pork skewers, pacakes, fish kebabs:
After dinner we went for a walk again on the waterfront.
The following morning it was raining a little- we stayed in and made full use of the amazing TV. I haven’t mentioned it before but Vietnam has great TV for westerners- we watched films almost every night, even as background noise. [They are censored for some more intimate scenes but we have seen, amongst others “Machete kills, 300, 300 Rise of an Empire, Mom’s Night Out (not as bad as it sounds), Talladega Nights, Anchorman 2, …. ” loads basically- they have HBO.]
That evening (Saturday) we managed to make it back to the market at 6 to get dinner before it closed. We went to this lady’s stall, as we had promised her the night before:
Food below, the Cao Lau is from her stall which she makes with great care and attention. The others are from other stalls but they all seem to work together. We also had more delicious juice and organised a cooking class for Monday with a neighboring stall.
We then went for a walk and grabbed a cheap (and unfortunately nasty) pair of cocktails from some random bar with a 2-4-1 and a roof terrace and played with the camera.
The following day it was raining a bit again- but we didn’t want to stay in so we went our for a wander. It didn’t look to bad but within 30 mins of walking outside we were both drenched- even with our small umbrella. It was so miserable we decided to just get some postcards, get them written and posted and then head back to the hotel. We found a place selling postcards and stamps quite easily so after a quick selection we headed for a coffee shop to write them up.
The coffee shop we went to was pretty crap in fairness. Anyway it did the job and we got the postcards written and saw this go past:
After that it was to the post office and then back to the hotel- via a massage place. Gav headed back to the hotel but I got a full body Vietnamese massage- for $14 (280K dong)- its was maybe a bit expensive but not too bad when compared with other places. Unfortunately after a nice, but random massage (you could hear other negotiations going on and people taking). I headed back to the hotel, in the pissing rain (Gav had the umbrella). Luckily it was only a 5 min walk.
That evening as it was so miserable out and I was somewhat relaxed from my massage, Gav went out to get dinner and so we had our first Vietnamese take-away! Pho!
The following morning we got up early to get breakfast before catching up with the first episode of Game of Thrones. (Sad I know but it was available so why not!). We had our cooking class booked for 2 pm so we had a lazy start and then headed into town and grabbed a coffee. Gav had a cappuccino (the are not common and quite expensive) and I had a normal Vietnamese coffee. It was then a short walk to the Market.
We decided on a market cooking class as it was a lot cheaper than the restaurant ones and we figured it might be more interesting. Our 4 dishes were: Wontons (yum!), White Rose (a Hoi An specialty),Cau Lao and Spring Rolls. So exciting. We managed to get the class for $25 rather than $30 for the pair of us.
So we started with Wantons, they came pre-made with shrimp and pork in a rice paper- this was a bit disappointing but we made the topping which was a type of salsa. The White Rose also came pre-made, it is a closely guarded secret buy one family in Hoi An and at least we got to try it, it cooks like fresh pasta. the third dish was Cao Lao- but not the one we were expecting- it was more like a stir fry than the soup. We felt a bit cheated on this one in particular but then they served the same thing the following morning in the hotel. The last was spring rolls so that was fun to roll and cook them and we both had a go at that.
I was quite full after this and as the weather was still crap we had a quick take away juice and wandered around a bit before heading back to the hotel. We didn’t do much that evening other than another walk and Gav picked up some Cao Lao from a nearby place on the way home for tea- I wasn’t hungry.
The following morning we headed our on the moped to go to My Son Ruins (another UNESCO World Heritage site) about 40 km west of Hoi An. It was a site of the old Chama people who were based between South Vietnam and the current boarder with Cambodia reaching a peak around the 9-10 century AD, They were slowly annexed by the rulers in Dai Viet in North Vietnam over the centuries. It is not considered to be well preserved but the setting makes it more spectacular than other Cham ruins as it is pretty much ringed by mountains. Unfortunately it suffered some damage during the Vietnam war bit overall is better preserved than I was expecting. It was about 50km from Hoi An.
So that was My Son, and it was a really lovely spot. If you like butterflies there was loads to try to photograph but in the heat they move so fast! It was now 2 pm and time to go to the Marble Mountain, which was a little over an hours drive (another 50 km). It was still baking hot and full sunshine so wasn’t the most pleasant of drives.
About 3.30 pm we arrived at the Marble Mountain and, while looking for the entrance, got caught by one of the locals who indicated where the “entrance” was. She said she’d look after our bike and we could look in her shop and buy something after! Caught again! Arrgh! Anyway it was the old entrance, the main entrance it was further down which we discovered later. That was a fun look around later with no intention to buy due to our low baggage allowance and lack of space in the backpack.
Anyway the mountain was ok, I would definitely recommend My Son rather than it if I could only do one. It has a Monastery on it and numerous cave temples.
That night we just grabbed a quick bite at a street food place- sticky rice with pork, we were both exhausted and I had manged to get horrifically sun burnt on my back due to my backpack pulling my t-shirt down exposing unprotected skin. I was not the happiest backpacker that evening but then again these things happen.
So we went to bed early as the following morning we were due to fly from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon)!