Hoi An, where do I begin? Let’s just say that I L.O.V.E Hoi An.
Located in central Vietnam, this pretty town has everything going for it. From it’s Old Town which is recognized as a World Heritage site by UNESCO (where the streets are for walking & cycling only), to beautiful houses & buildings, to quaint cafes and riverside restaurants to a beach only about 3kms away. Hoi An has it all and still manages to retain a very peaceful atmosphere. “Hoi An” correctly translates into “peaceful meeting place” in English.
I stayed in this town for 5 days and enjoyed every bit of it. It was great luck that that my hostel was fabulous as well. Well, it was actually a villa which had one dorm but there was no bunk beds, just single beds so it was a very comfortable 5 nights.
I fell ill on the way to Hoi An. I was running a fever, had an upset stomach and a terrible headache. But once I recovered, most of my days were spent cycling around the town (with my travel buddy from Hue), riding at the same slow pace as life moves in this town, visiting some beautiful historical houses, relaxing at riverside cafes (or chilling in a hammock in a restaurant at the end of the town where there were no tourists at all) to sunbathing on the beach to eating delicious food.
I’ve noticed that the more south you go in Vietnam, the better the food gets. In the north, in Hanoi for eg, I did not have the courage to eat street food. It was partly coz I wasn’t ready for it and partly coz the stalls looked so dirty. But it gets better as you move down the country. In Hoi An itself, I’ve eaten delicious chicken pho, white rose dumplings, fried wantons, fresh spring rolls with shrimps and the delicious bahn mi ever!
We took a day trip to ride the Hai Van pass which is the highest pass in Vietnam (500m above sea level). It is a 21km stretch of mountainous winding roads and hair pin curves offering stunning views and forms a boundary between North and South Vietnam.
The roads sometimes pass through heavy mists that rise from the sea, giving it the name “Hai Van” which “Sea Clouds”. This isn’t a destination, just 21km of beauty at it’s best, of lush greenery against the stunning blue sea and well worth a trip from Hoi An -> Danang -> Hai Van. The day was loooong as we rode a total of 150km but I was lucky that Sev (my travel buddy) didn’t mind riding the whole way as I wasn’t well enough to ride at all. On the way to Hai Van pass we stopped in Danang for a coffee and let me tell you, I had the best iced coffee ever! I’ve never enjoyed coffee more (or never missed green tea less). The little I saw of Danang I wasn’t sad that I skipped it in my itinerary, it’s just a big, well developed city, with a lot of resorts and shopping centers, worth it if you want to be in a city but there are more beautiful places in Vietnam.
One (more) thing that Hoi An is really famous for is cheap tailoring. You can get anything made from suits to leather handbags to shoes to leather jackets (for as little as $50!!) and god knows what else. A shopper’s paradise. Me? I avoided all this coz I can’t stand shopping unless it’s absolutely necessary.
A sad thing about Vietnam though can be the money mindedness of people. It’s very much about the money they can get from you. The sheer number of people trying (more like harassing) to sell you things or trying to charge sometimes twice or 3 times the actual cost is a bit sad. For me, it’s got to a stage where if a local asks me the usual opening question of “where are u from?” my first thought is “I wonder what are they going to try and sell to me now”. Having said that, I still believe that the Vietnamese are really friendly and nice and with some luck you’ll meet some genuinely nice people who want nothing more than to know a bit about you.