Five days in Hoi AnHoi An was just about the right amount of time to spend there and the coastal town was definitely favoured by me over Hanoi. The past few weeks have made me realise that I can be much less of a city person. Don’t get me wrong, I love London and plan on moving back there when I’m home, but in places like Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines there are just so many more attractive and exciting places in comparison to the concrete jungles.
Hoi An is more of a village/ town. Time seems to be at a steadier pace here and locals go about their day seemingly more slowly. It isn’t as busy or noisy, but once again there are lots of repetitive shops and stalls (especially in the markets), selling the same fabrics and bags, jewellery and clothes. Holding back from impulse buying all the bright- coloured, baggy patterned trousers and playsuits and two- pieces, bags and jewellery proves difficult.
There’s a couple of temples and gorgeous Assembly halls, mainly painted in red and white. Lots of shrine- type stands can be seen by each one, as well as in shops and restaurants, where people can leave their offerings for the mother Goddess. I’ve noticed there are a lot of tailors and seamstresses here too. Mainly in the market. You can’t walk five feet without one of the workers popping up and following you and asking you to go their shop and choose something to be made. It makes such a change from walking down a high street with shop after shop with well- known brands. If I had the money and room in my bag I would happily get an item of clothing made from each place!
Recommended by Moira, we’re staying in a hostel called the Sunflower. It’s great here and has everything you need- free drinking water throughout the day, free breakfast, swimming pool, games, near the town, near a beach and so many jaw-dropping drink offers- the best one being that between 20:00- 22:00 you can pay 100,000 Dong (about £3.40), for unlimited drinks. After having a few more relaxed days, it’s nice to come back into a livelier environment to meet new people.
The only negative point to make about this hostel is that almost all the staff look miserable and can be quite rude and don’t give you any information until you ask (and even then it’s usually one word answers). Everybody else in Vietnam is so warm and friendly so it makes the negative attitude more noticeable. Also, in evenings they don’t have easily accessible taxis if you want to go out, so the only option is to get on the back of a randomer’s motorbike (which we didn’t do). Apparently they work for the Russian mafia so there must be some sort of dodgy deal going on. They have signs up on the walls of the hostel saying that lots of the drivers have stopped in dark places before to get more money off the traveller, or even beaten them up and stolen their things. If you’re a girl and you’re drunk as well they might even do worse, so it’s not worth it.
Hoi An has so many restaurants and cafes and bars and we’ve been able to try a lot of them- not a single one has disappointed. Shockingly cheap and selling everything from Vietnamese and Thai food, to American, Italian and British, the food has been one of the most memorable aspects of Hoi An so far. There’s one next door to our hostel (on the right hand side as you leave the Sunflower) and it is amazing. I got some simple vegetable noodles from there and they were hands down some of the best noodles I have ever had. The roasted veg was so fresh and flavoursome, the noodles were thin and sticky and there was a slightly spicy kick to them. Later we would find ourselves going back there for a hangover cure- a greasy four cheese pizza with crispy fries.
Moira also made us aware of a place called the Kebab shack, which sells English food. Like proper English food. It’s run by a British guy who has imported over real Heinz beans and sells everything from chips and gravy, a full English, kebabs, Haribo AND A ROAST DINNER! It was just what we needed and so good that we were gutted when we showed up a second time and it was closed. It’s safe to say I’m definitely going to put on a few pounds whilst being away.
Another place, called Karma Waters, is a vegan restaurant and the food there is incredible. It’s all freshly made, full of flavours, and serves everything from Vietnamese to Indian cuisine. Even if you’re not a vegan, I strongly recommend you give it a go.
The nightlife, the variety of delicious freshly made cuisines and intricate souvenirs at the markets are just some of the things that made Hoi An such an unforgettable and popular place. The beaches and the rivers are just the cherry on top. One morning, we headed down to the beach with Mia and Harry, who are from East London and staying in the same room as us, to have a day of tanning and found ourselves on easily one of the most beautiful beaches I’d ever been on. It was on par with some of the beaches in the Philippines! We’d hired out bicycles and had such a liberating ride down to the beach. There was so much to see on the way from bustling tropical foliage and a wide river with boats sailing down it, wide fields and rice fields with that same luminous green colouring, inhabited by buffalo. I’m surprised I didn’t fall off my bike as I couldn’t keep my eyes on the road.
As if they’d been intentionally grow that way, the palm trees on the beach stood side by side. The sea water couldn’t have been nicer. From being the perfect temperature to having the perfect kind of waves and being almost see-through, it was another taste of paradise. We felt like kids again jumping over the waves shouting and letting them push us back towards the shore. I’ve never had so much fun in the sea in my life. On top of that, the beach was really quiet so it felt a lot more private and less like a resort.
Cheap sunbeds, a few beers and a fresh salad were other small details that added to this day being one of the best I’ve had so far. At one point, I was swimming out on my own with my face to the horizon and my back to the shore, and I had such a carefree moment. The only sound I could hear was from the slight breeze and gushing of the waves and I got such a sudden rush of euphoria which lasted for ages. I think it was because I felt so mindful, I was completely present in what felt like such a peaceful and special moment. Everything else in the world was blocked out for a few minutes whilst I soaked up the nicest feeling of gratitude, triggered by something so simple.
After losing it in Japan, my tan is starting to build back up again. What’s weird out here is that the Vietnamese women often make comments on how beautiful and white our skin is, and explain how one of the reasons they cover almost every inch of their body up is to avoid being darker. Someone had even spotted a moisturiser in one of the shops that make your skin more pale- the opposite of fake tan!
Having a couple of quiet days chilling and tanning by the pool has been really chilled. One day we literally spent all day in bed and only headed out twice to get food. We had such bad hangovers, we couldn’t even get ourselves dressed! That’s what you get for drinking local spirits! That’s another thing to bare in mind when in Vietnam- you want to stick to beer (or wine but wine here is pricey). We’ve heard some really awful horror stories about people dying or being hospitalised or blinded for drinking spirits that have turned out to be window cleaner or polish or something else. The only reason we chose to drink Vodka is because it was being sold in our hostel and everyone else was fine drinking it. But yeah, the hangover was not nice. .
The night was funny though, so it made the crumble day worth it. We met so many like-minded people and learnt so many different drinking games that we will be taking with us on our way. We all seemed to reach our drunken peaks at the same time that night. One minute we were all talking and drinking and playing, then next thing you know we were all stumbling round and shouting and slurring.
On another night, me, Jenny, Mia, Harry and our new roomies Roisin and Sadhbh from Ireland, had a couple of drinks in the bar. After getting up to the same antics but luckily not getting as wasted, we headed to this fried chicken place to get some food. The guy working there is a bit weird (he shouts vegetarian at me every time I walk past), and we just knew our orders were going to mess up because it was all shambles in there. Part of the order of three portions of mozzarella sticks and we literally ended up with three mozzarella sticks. We thought he was playing a prank at first but after about ten minutes we realised that wasn’t the case haha.
When we went back to the hostel later we were all on the same level, feeling a bit weird about the chicken shop experience and all having the case of the giggles. We whacked out the face masks from Japan and all put them on. It was sooo creepy but so hilarious and it was even funnier when Harry and Sadhbh went into other people’s rooms to scare them and wake them up, whilst we did the same with people in the hallway. It was really nice being with people that you instantly get on with and get no bad vibes from, that you can just have a laugh and be yourself around.
Our final night was a good way to finish up our time here. We headed back to the ancient town, because there was some sort of ceremony taking place as a close up to all the lantern festivals or something. Everywhere we looked there was just lantern after lantern in every colour and size. I so badly wanted to buy a thousand but that’s the last thing that will be able to fit in my bag. Beautiful candles in paper holders were being sold, so that people could let them into the river to float down the stream. Not having a decent camera to capture all of this properly (iPhones don’t like lights in the dark) was frustrating. But Jenny is working on a photography blog and has managed to get some amazing snaps! – Link Here: http://www.jennymacvicar.com
We crossed the bridge into a carnival-like atmosphere- there were even more lanterns and lights, loud music, fireworks. Bars and restaurants played music where people drank and smoked shisha and the promoters pulled people in from outside.
For weeks we’ve been watching satisfying videos online of people making roll up ice cream, by adding the ingredients onto the block of us and chopping and slicing it as it freezes. Finally, we stumbled across somewhere that sold it! I went for Oreo and raspberry and it was so good. I couldn’t work out if I enjoyed the ice cream more, or watching the man make it.
Hoi An has been one of the highlights of my trip so far (easily one of the top two or three), but tomorrow it’s time for night bus number two. I wish we could spend more time with everyone, but Roisin will be in Bali at the same time as us and Mia and Harry are going to be in Thailand for the full moon party so we will get to see everyone again soon! Next stop Nha Trang!