Day 17-18: Hoi An, Vietnam

by - May 14, 2011

Day One: The Old Town, the Tailor and the Easy Riders

The SE2 Train from Saigon to Danang
The over night train was a wonderful experience and I arrived in Danang at about midday, feeling pretty refreshed.  Hoi An, my final destination, doesn’t actually have a station, so I had to do a further 45 minute motorbike journey.  I took one of the first riders that I saw as I left the station and by a wonderful fluke it turned out that he was part of the ‘Easy Riders’.  This group of motorbike enthusiasts earn their money by transporting tourists around on motorbike tours.  They speak perfect English and are willing to take you as far as you can pay for.  It is not uncommon to meet one in Saigon and spend a month with them all the way to Hanoi.  As wonderful as a journey like that would be, I didn’t have time, so settled on his offer of a day trip from Hoi An to Hue on Monday.

Hoi An Bridge
We discussed this plan over a coffee that he bought me on the way to Hoi An and he showed me the notebook full of glowing testiments about his service that he had gathered over the last 20 years of riding.  His name is Tuan and when I got into Hoi An I arranged to have him pick me up at 8.30 on Monday morning.  Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and aside from its wonderful setting and buildings, is also home to hundreds of tailors.  Few people leave the town without a piece of custom made clothing and I was desparate to have a suit made.  It is difficult to decide on which company to use - there is always a risk that they are using poor quality materials, but I found one that seemed quite genuine and had them measure me up.  The whole process took about an hour and I asked for a three piece Cashmere suit, a spare pair of trousers and two silk shirts for what I thought was a reasonable price - though I am sure I could have knocked it down further with a bit of harder haggling.  It is certainly a fraction of the price of what it would cost to get one in England.  I paid a deposit and will have to go back tomorrow for a second fitting - which is all quite exciting.

Hoi An at night
After the tailors I headed into the old town to wander around a bit.  It is a really lovely place - somewhere truely special.  Many of the roads are semi-pedestrianised and are full of people selling things. The buildings are Chinese in architecture and a river runs though the town on its way to the sea, which is only 4km away.  Restaurants line both sides of the river and the river itself is filled with floating sculptures that are lit up at night.  I try to use the phrase sparingly, but I thought it was a really magical place.  I met an Ameican guy who worked as a chef in a ski resort and was over here to have work done on a tooth that was knocked out with a ski pole.  We ate together and then went out for drinks - which at 20p a pint are essentially free.

Day Two: Cua Dai Beach and sunburn

Hoi An is the best place I have ever visited.  Without a shadow of a doubt.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, it has good food, cheap beer, the best array of clothes you have ever seen and as I found out today, an unbelievably good beach.  It is supremely relaxing and while I saw loads today, I didn’t feel like I was rushing around.  I started the day by renting a bicycle for a dollar and cycling the 4km eastwards to the sea.  The roads weren’t anything like as manic as in Saigon, so it was a pleasant cycle through the Old Town and the rice paddies before I arrived at the stunning beach.  The area around the main road has been heavily developed with hotels, but after a short walk along the shore I had found some pretty deserted stretches of sand where the only people around were the fishermen who all waved and said hello.  It was one of the nicest beaches I had ever been to and while I didn’t fancy a swim, the water was warm enough for me to happily dabble my feet in.  After about 2 hours of wandering around in the sun I cycled back to Hoi An - I have to watch being in the sun too long, as my complexion testifies to.  The cycle ride was pleasant, but the sun was getting really strong and just makes you exhausted the whole time.

I had planned to spend the afternoon wandering around Hoi An - it is one of very few places that I enjoyed walking with no particular destination.  Unfortunately I ended up spending most of the time in the tailor, working out some last bits about my suit and making a few other purchases.  Luckily the suit I have bought looks wonderful and I just hope that it gets home okay.  I met the guy who I had seen yesterday and ate dinner with him, before one last trip to the tailors.  I finally got my wander around Hoi An, though it was now night time.

(photos to be uploaded tomorrow)

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