Hoi An: Round 2

I am disrupting the belated uploading of my Summer trip to upload my posts on my recent trip to Vietnam; 6th – 20th March. Apologies for the time-distorted mashup, but I hope this represents an improvement in my timeliness 🙂

06/03 – Goodbye to all that

It was approximately 6 months ago that I was last in Vietnam, a stop off on the condensed round-the-world trip that made me realise that I didn’t want to condense my world travel.

On a snowy day in London, I was waiting for a train to get me there again.

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I have 15 days (the maximum time you can spend courtesy of the visa waiver), arriving in Da Nang, leaving from Ho Chi Minh. I’m starting in Hoi An – but the rest is still TBC.

Whilst arriving at A to depart from B is great in terms of covering distance, in order to take cheaper flights one has to take a bit of a long cut, made up for by the cracking veggie food and empty plane aisle seats.

Flying via Dubai (flamboyant but mazelike with – queues)

and Singapore (an Australian-filled airport that has two rooftop gardens for some zen),

I finally arrived in Da Nang after 21 hours in transit.

I had a Hoi An Express minibus all to myself for just 110,000₫, but was told that I might need to catch a taxi from the main road to my accommodation as it was “about 2km away.” These 2km turned out to be more like 200m; thus I was reintroduced to the Vietnamese concept of giving directions.

07/03 – It’s beginning to feel a lot like Vietnam

With breakfast included at this homestay-come-B’n’B, Countryside Moon Homestay, I started my trip off with an omelette and bánh to ready myself for a re-reminder of Hoi An. Staying in a completely different part of town meant this ‘re-reminder’ was fruitless and it felt like being in an entirely new city. It’s amazing the impact a change of perspective offers.

Armed with bicycles provided by our accommodation, we cycled into Old Town for a wander around and bumped into some older Australian women who had got completely lost. We guided them back to the river, to then watch them head off in completely the opposite direction to which they said they wanted. As a destination particularly attractive to tourists, you’re really exposed to all sorts

As we continued to explore we came across a vegetarian restaurant called Ouán Chay. Though they didn’t speak any English, we ordered Szechuan tofu, rice and Pho to share. It came to a grand total of 50,000₫.

From here we cycled to the beach, where it cost a bottle of water (10,000₫) to park up, much to the frustration of my fellow traveller. Used to substantially higher parking charges, I was unfussed, and within 5 minutes we were at a part of the beach devoid of fellow tourists.

There was sunshine, there was a breeze, and there were philosophical ruminations.

Unfortunately Vietnamese bicycle saddles are even less forgiving than Western ones, so a rather sore ride back preceded watching the sunset over the river.

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Fighting the crowds to cross the bridge in the Old Town, we found a restaurant with reasonably priced veggie options. I went for the local dish of Cau Lau with Rau (vegetables), which again came in at 25,000₫. We then went for tea & coffee (25,000₫ & 20,000₫ respectively) at a coffee shop overlooking the river, where we watched a kitten take on a cockroach.

If you haven’t tried Vietnamese coffee before, you’re really in for a surprise. Presented with a glass with about an inch of condensed milk at the bottom, your coffee drips through a metal mini-cafetière at the top. Even after mixing, your coffee remains thick and syrupy, and often restaurants will provide a flask of hot water to Westerners that prefer to sip than eat their coffee.

08/03 – Motorbikes, maps and My Son (oh my!)

Our homestay’s breakfast selection still didn’t disappoint, serving up mango pancake realness on my second morning.

After hunting for a motorbike for sale, then for a manual to rent we finally ended up with a Honda from MotorVino for $10 for the day (instead of the advertised $20). My third ever time on a motorbike, I was ready to get off for the first five minutes, but soon settled into it. My navigating – via Apple maps – showed no such improvement.

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Proof that I did manage to stay on the bike.

 

IMG_1335At the lunch stop I downloaded MapsMe; it soon became quite clear quite how wrong we’d gone. As we went to correct ourselves, we ended up stopping next to a school, where lunch break was evidently under way. A small group of intrepid students came over to begin trying to talk to us and soon we had a swarm. There was joking and bashful giggling, excited tussling and curious surveying; eventually a shrieking mob waved us off.

The rest of the route to My Son was through beautiful and wide countryside; paddy fields, farmers, buffalo… standard postcard fare. We parked on the pavement for free, before having to stump up the ‘foreigner’ 150,000₫ entry fee.

Cham architecture used no mortar, adding an engineering brilliance to already sophisticated architecture. High domes and intricate arches are kept together through force; some are so well preserved that you can stand inside or beneath them. On the downside, the area saw some severe bombing both in the French and American wars, so enormous bomb craters separate the ancient buildings, creating interesting feature lakes.

We opted to have dinner at the same place as lunch yesterday, this time going for a 25,000₫ ‘buffet;’ a variety plate of different types of tofu, vegetables and rice, with some soup to finish.

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09/09 – Pottering about 

Today I opted for fried eggs and bánh for breakfast; despite the semi-cooked yolks I managed to escape without feeling any nausea. Having taken the wrong route yesterday, we’d missed a much-hyped pottery village, so set that in our sights.

En route, we arranged night bus tickets at a smidgeon under their asking price: 200,000₫ for the coach to Nha Trang. We asked the agents for directions to Thanh Ba, to which they responded about 2km “that way.” About a kilometre later, we asked someone else for directions; again, 2km “that way.” In their bid to be hospitable and friendly, it appears that if in doubt, the Vietnamese will guesstimate that whatever you’re looking for is about 2km away; take note.

Along the way, we walked through some slightly-rural villages that lacked the polished sheen of Hoi An’s UNESCO protected tourist-friendly visage. It was more granular, more buzzing, more like the Vietnam I’d been hoping to be in.

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It was only 25,000₫ to enter Thanh Ba pottery village, and there was no sign of any tour groups when we arrived. Expecting a small commune of workshops and ovens, the reality was a series of shops interspersed between cottages. With so few other tourists there we stuck out; half the potters persistently pursued us whilst the other half took the time to chat as they replenished their wares.

By the river there were less touristy shops, so we took some time there to enjoy the rural reality of a Vietnamese village, before taking a stroll through the museum’s display of ceramic artistry. We headed back to Hoi An for lunch, revisiting a vegetarian restaurant I stumbled across last time I was here. It’s evidently since taken off, as the restaurant was packed out with locals also coming to collect takeaway lunches. This time there was an English menu, so I opted for pho for 25,000₫.

We went for a final stroll through the Old Town, and found a riverside restaurant perfectly situated to people-watch. A sprite and an ice cream set me back a steep 60,000₫ but provided a prime spot to watch the surge of Chinese tourists arriving ready for an upcoming lunar festival.

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We collected our bags and prepared for the coach; a bag of spicy seaweed crisps set me back 8,000₫, whilst a laughing cow cheese (the most popular cheese in Vietnam, I kid you not), cucumber and tomato bánh was 15,000₫.

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The pick up was inevitably late, but we were one of the first on the coach giving us the chance to pick out the best bottom bunks at the back. Due to arrive in 12 hours, at 6am, we bedded down for the journey. The bus was inevitably overbooked, so a girl took the aisle floor between us.

You can read about how Nha Trang panned out here.

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