We had spent a fantastic amount of time relaxing on the gorgeous beaches of Da Nang before we headed to our next stop. We inelegantly walked from our hotel to the main Le Van Hien road which connected Da Nang and Hoi An. Cutting through the hoard of space invading taxi drivers attempting to lure us into their taxis we waited for a local bus. Eventually the number 1 to Hoi An came and picked us up, the forthcoming 22km journey cost us 20,000 dong (66p) and we were ready for an adventure. Arriving in the mid afternoon sun we casually hit the road on foot and after a small amount of confusion reached our destination. It is common in Hoi An to stay in Homestays or Guesthouses rather than Hotels. Our homestay was called Hoi An Viet House and it was virtually a 4 star hotel. Van the woman who ran it was really sweet and we all really got on, she helped us with everything we needed. The clouds started to slowly drift over Hoi An and as we sat down a small alleyway eating Vietnams most sacred dish; Banh Mi, the rain started to fall. I took this opportunity to get my hair cut as there was a salon next door. My intentions before I entered the salon was to get the sides and back of my head shaved to a number 2 and to have a beard trim. Of course nothing is as easy as you think it is, lost in translation the bloke shaved my entire beard off but left a fluffy nibble under my bottom lip and my moustache. Initially I could feel my face go bright red with disappointment and reluctancy however after a few complimentary remarks from Georgia and a couple of the girls in the salon I was quite happy. I only went in there for a trim and came out looking like Napoleon Dynamites weird uncle.
We took advantage of the rain outside and got settled into our new room which we were to spend 5 nights. As night fell we heard that there was a burger place down the road that sold English ale. Normally I am probably one of the most adventurous eaters out there, I’m usually pretty happy to try anything and everything. However, sometimes it is quite nice to sink your teeth into something familiar. Also, when English Ale is involved I simply cannot deny the offer. I hadn’t had an ale since 6th February (sad I know that) and it is pretty much all I drink at home so I was well chuffed. One demolished burger later we walked in the direction of the Old Town where we were greeted by an abundance of tailers, lanterns and a fun, friendly atmosphere. We stopped off at each decent looking bar to have a drink and soak up the vibe. Our favourite was a boat in the middle of the river which you had to board, with a live band and cheap drinks it made for a special evening. We ended the night by cruising around the night market which was good for souvenir shopping.
The next morning in a hypnagogic state we lumbered downstairs to be in receipt of another delicious free breakfast. Demolishing a tomato and onion omelette in a baguette, some watermelon and of course a cup of Vietnamese coffee we were ready for the day. Strolling to the Old Town we were pleasantly surprised how Hoi An looked just as radiant and gracious in the early morning as it did the night before. To contribute to the maintenance and preservation of the UNESCO World Heritage Site you are encouraged to buy a 5 ticket stamp for £4 which allows you access to 5 of 22 sightseeing places in Hoi An. On foot, we circled around the back of the Old Town and approached it from its most North Western Point, passing Catholic Churches and handsome buildings. We then progressed in the direction of the Japanese Covered Bridge, which is arguably Hoi Ans most famous landmark. Built by the Japanese in the 1700’s it linked them and Chinese merchants on another Island which encouraged integration, friendship and trade. Since it has become a well loved monument which pays homage to Hoi Ans diverse and cultural history.
We continued towards the central market where being hassled to buy tat is becoming my new favourite past time. We approached the Ming Huong Communal House which was charming. The building that was erected in 1820 was the home to many Chinese immigrants who fled Southern China in the wake of the Qing Dynasty. Spending 2 months in China made this communal house feel very familiar to myself and Georgia. We relished in the structures native and recognisable spirit, sat calmly in the prayer hall for half an hour hypnotised by the ancestral figurines and chanting mantra.
Leaving the house the guy who ran it approached me and asked if I wanted to donate money in return for a lucky coin. The thought of turning down the opportunity to owning a lucky coin seemed silly so I informed the man I was born in the year of the rooster to which he nodded and handed me my necklace, which I now wear occasionally as a reminder of a very special place.
Phuc Kien Assembly Hall was next. Now transformed into a temple for the worship of Thien Hau, a deity from Fujian Province in China. The building embodied everything there is to acknowledge about the history of Chinese immigrants venturing to Vietnam in the 17th century, with 2 big murals depicting families of voyagers.
A short distance away was the Old House of Quan Trang. A traditional Vietnamese home which is in its 6th generation of ownership from the same family. We were greeted by a lovely, wrinkled fellow clipping his inch long toe nails in our direction. We somehow swerved the onslaught of the airborne crustations and wandered around looking at how the family lives. It did feel like we were intruding abit though. Along with the man in dire need of cutting his nails there was a woman who looked to me at least 200 – 250 years old arguing with a nearby chair and a younger woman cooking something ghastly in the kitchen. It did make me question if I had come into the correct house and not the asylum for the insane next door but it turns out I did get the (mad) house right.
On our way back to our hotel we stopped off at the Hoi An Museum. Which in hindsight was pretty average. The museum was small and had quite uninteresting facts on the development of Hoi An. What was more interesting was the photography exhibition on a lower floor which housed some stunning pictures.
We timed returning to the hotel perfectly as the warm mid afternoon sun turned to a dramatic downpour of rain. We held out until it started to ease and went to a local cafe. It was called Cafe 41 and despite its modest exterior, it served the cheapest beer I have ever drank in my life. A decent sized glass of locally brewed beer cost 3000 dong (9p).
Incredibly we drank 6 glasses of beer each which cost us a combined total of £1.08. We headed in the direction of the night market to get some food as it looked delicious when we walked by the previous night. We tried lots of Hoi An specialities which included; vegetable fried pancakes, Cau Lau, a pork and noodle soup dish, vegetable spring rolls and an aubergine dish. All of which was scrumptious and cost us £3 each.
The following morning we woke up at 6:30am. We decided to cycle to nearby An Bang beach but wanted to avoid the sizzling mid day sun. We set off on our bikes at around 7:30am after breakfast. As we exited the already busy streets of Hoi An we became emerged in the green, blooming Vietnamese countryside. On our right were drenched rice paddies, waiting to be harvested. On our left ginormous fields crowded with water buffalo. We rode 2 more kilometres before reaching little villages where children were playing games in the morning sun whilst their parents prepared breakfast. Riding over bridges and along motorways we reached An Bang beach just as the sun was starting to shine down heavily. I somehow forgot to bring my swimming costume and towel so having to strip down to my (quite tight) boxers I went for a swim in the sea. It was much, much more cooler than the ocean in Thailand. It took me a while to get used to the temperature but once I did the crashing of the waves against me was a welcome refreshment. As I was riding the waves on my back a small, silver orb darted across my line of vision. I thought nothing more of it than a random entoptic vision and continued cruising. But, it happened again only that this thing almost skimmed my face. I stabled myself and looked around in complete confusion, as if thinking someone was throwing stuff at me. A Vietnamese guy looked over and shouted ‘the fish like you man’. I had no idea ‘jumping’ fish knocked about in the shores of salt water, but there you go. As I looked in more detail at my surroundings there were a haul of little fish galloping horizontally in the air, riding an out of control zephyr.
By mid morning we had attained our beach fix for the day and headed back. Passing our hotel we rode into the old town. Hoi An is a collection of small, varying islands that we had yet to explore properly. This was the perfect opportunity for us to do so and we enjoyed every second of it.
Engrossed by the relentlessness of the south Asian sun we spent the majority of the late afternoon and evening relaxing in the shade before heading to our 3000 dong beer watering hole, to which we then filled up on vegetables in banana leafs and a couple more bottles of Larue.