21.10.2011 – 24.10.2011 Sunny 30 °C
After yet another twelve hours aboard an uncomfortable sleeper bus with a hooter happy driver (and this one was particularly hooter happy, beeping any potential ants crossing the road) we arrived in Hoi An. As we were chucked off the bus they tried to usher us onto a mini van heading for a hotel obviously affiliated with the bus company, but without our bags. Cue the next five minutes arguing with the driver who didn’t want to let us back on and an investigation as to where our bags could have got to when eventually they grabbed them from spare beds at the back of the bus. We found a hotel called Binh Minh for $10 a night (negotiated down from $15, I’m getting good at this), dumped our bags and went out for a look around. We were pleasantly surprised after the hustle and bustle of HCMC and the Benidorm-esque feel to Nha Trang, this place actually had a bit of character encompassing French colonial buildings and Chinese influences creating a quaint small town that’s closed off to traffic and where the shops have been forced to decorate within the same theme (presumably a condition when granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1999) the people were really friendly too which helped.
Following an afternoon nap and a lukewarm shower (there seems to be another theme developing with Vietnamese hot water, it was the same in Nha Trang and HCMC) a walk into town at dusk greeted us with softly lit lanterns and a real relaxing holiday feel. Along the river all the restaurants were offering ‘fresh beer’ for 4000d a glass (that’s 12p) as a carrot to get you in for a meal supposedly, although we spent the following day going from restaurant to restaurant sampling solely the beer and some were better than others. They ranged from flat to tasting of wine to being light piss coloured to just plain foul but at 12p who cares? There were one or two that were quite enjoyable.
There is a ticket scheme available in Hoi An where you can choose five attractions from a possible ten for 75,000d which goes towards the preservation of the old centre. These include the Japanese Covered Bridge (this seems to be free anyway) or Chua Ong, one of the Museums from the Museum of History and Culture, the Museum of Trade Ceramics or the Museum of Sa Huynh Culture. One of the participating Chinese Assembly Halls (the Phuoc Kien, Trieu Chau or the Cantonese Halls), one of the participating Merchant Houses or Family Chapels (the houses of Tan Ky, Phung Hung and Quan Thang or the Tran Family Chapel) and the Hoi An Handicraft Workshop. We chose not to buy a ticket and went round most of these taking pictures of the outside for free, bashed it out in an hour and went to the riverside for the cheap beer. Smooth. Come 3 o’clock and feeling a bit weary, we were clobbered by one of the river trolls who offered us a boat trip, for $5 an hour. Why not? Nothing better to do. This turned out to be a good decision as we spent the time lazing around in the sun at the front of the boat going down the river and out to sea. In true Vietnamese style we cruised towards a fisherman casting his net trying to catch his days quota. When he spotted us watching him he paddled towards us, held up a net of fish next to his gaping smile of three or four teeth and said photo, photo, photo. B obliged and then his plea changed to money, money, money with his hand held out. A 20,000d tip kept him smiling and he rowed off to continue fishing. Caught for a tip in the middle of a river, only in Vietnam The boat was well worth it for $5, it didn’t fly by as things like that usually do.
The following day we decided to head to the beach, a 4km walk or a fifteen-minute taxi ride away. We opted to walk to burn off the previous days beer and did it in just under an hour. Cue the day lazing around, eating lunch, drinking beer but being bothered by looky looky women trying to sell a peculiar mix of toot ranging from nail clippers to coffee beans – although they did tend to have a sense of humour, a great contrast to the usual Vietnamese ogres that were selling crap in HCMC. The weather was cloudy but the beach was in good condition and a nice compliment to the charm of Hoi An town. Walking back home we decided to book a trip to My Son for the following day for $6 each, not so much through real interest in ancient ruins covered in moss, grass and leaves but just to cross it off our list as it was another UNESCO World Heritage Site. You need only do this once in your life. They were, well, ruins. There was no actual literature to read (again) to gain an understanding of what, why, when and by who and our guide liked to play games whilst narrating of ‘do you know xxx?’ then waiting for half the group to have a guess before sharing his wisdom. Knobhead. This got tiresome and he lost over half the bus load of tourists by the second ruin. For $6 there and back though and $3 to get in, it was worth it but I don’t think they can get away with charging much more unless they significantly improve the overall site adding explanations and the like. They were renovating certain ruins, some propped up with scaffold poles but I didn’t see anything that suggested the site was turning more walking tour based like the Hellfire Pass in Thailand or the Killing Fields in Cambodia which included audio tours through headphones and were fantastic.
A Friday to Monday we had there and it was good. Unfortunately there was no night life in sleepy Hoi An as everything shuts around ten o’clock apart from the odd ropey looking backpacker bar but the food was great, the people were friendly and the beer was cheaper than water, lierally. There were enough attractions and things to do to fill four days but this was enough. The best place we’ve been in Vietnam so far, but it hasn’t been hard.