After an overnight train from Vinh, we arrive in Danang feeling tired and grubby and slump into the back seat of a taxi for the 45 minute drive down the coast to Hoi An. As we pass the beaches where the Americans first landed in Vietnam during the war, instead there now stand mammoth luxury resorts. We finally arrive at the hotel and decide a few hours’ kip are in order, but when building works and a rather loud drill start mere minutes after our arrival, we decide to head into town instead to explore.
Our hotel is a 15 minute walk from the old town along a rather busy, noisy and dirty main road. But as we turn off towards the river, the scene is very different. French colonial architecture, old fishing boats, cute bars and cafes, a bustling market. In many ways, very similar to Luang Prabang and just as charming.
Having survived on crisps and biscuits for the last two days, we decide to sample some classic Hoi An food. We choose Cao Lau, a dish of noodles, greens and pork, White Rose, shrimp wrapped in rice paper, and a couple of draft beers. The food costs about £1 per dish and the beer an incredible 3,000 dong (about 9p)!!
In the streets, the locals are putting up New Year decorations and there are lanterns strung from building to building. On the river are giant paper models of dragons, fish and tortoises. Families are also burning what appears to be money in small bins outside their homes, although we later discover this is not real money and is a New Year tradition – they believe that by burning the money and other offerings, these will be passed to their ancestors in the afterlife. The streets are full of people carrying out this ritual, rice and salt also cover the streets in similar offerings.
Hoi An is famous for its tailors – I’m sure many of you will have seen the delightful suits that the Top Gear guys got made here when they were in Vietnam. We weren’t planning on getting anything made, but after some window shopping Rich spots a couple of jackets that he’s very keen on and we go for a fitting. The tailors here can make you pretty much anything in 24 hours but it’s better if you have a little longer to allow for alterations. After getting measured we head for a few beers and then bed, it’s been a long couple of days.
The next day it’s back into town for a first fitting and more exploring. We visit the Japanese covered bridge, sample some more Hoi An specialities (Wonton soup this time) and browse the shops full of beautiful bowls, tea sets and TinTin souvenirs. I also decide to buy a pair of boots (tailor made again) and a couple of cotton summer dresses from the same tailor that Rich is getting one of his jackets from.
If you’re feeling touristy, you can visit the My Son ruins easily on a day trip, but after our long journey from Laos we decide to just stay put for a few days instead – there are plenty of temples ahead of us in Cambodia. And so we enjoy more great food, beer and even a little wine and soak up the atmosphere of wonderful Hoi An. And having not planned on buying anything, we leave with two jackets, two dresses, a pair of boots and some presents for the folks back at home. Then it’s back to Danang and another overnight train to Nha Trang, the beach capital of Vietnam.