There are not many places that can completely win you over after just one day of walking around in the rain. Hoi An is one of them. 24 hours is simply not long enough here, and had we not had Christmas plans in Ho Chi Minh City, we would have stayed much longer.
It’s a small, photogenic, laid back place. We immediately noticed the absence of buzzing scooters and traffic noise. Everyone wanders around or meanders about on bicycles. When the few cycle rickshaw drivers need to get past a crowd, it’s not horns you’ll hear but an apologetic call of “beep beep!” from the driver.
Some advice: before going to Hoi An, empty your wardrobe and fill your wallet; it’s definitely an ’empty suitcase’ destination. But, with 40l backpacks already bursting at the seams, we were limited to window shopping and making wish lists for next time.
Famous for high quality, cheap tailoring, many people come here just for the shopping, some even to get outfits for whole wedding parties tailor-made. There’s a street for sharp suits and elegant dresses, a lane for leather jackets, bags and brogues, and alleys filled with novelty t-shirts (‘Buddha is my Omboy’), and a road lined with market stalls. A rainy day proved a good time to drive a hard bargain on some new sunglasses for Rebecca, and a few pairs of Kalvin Clones for Timian…
Hoi An managed to look good even under heavy grey skies and a misty drizzle. Streets were lined with flowering trees and trailing vines, set in front of ageing mustard yellow buildings, interspersed with ancient buildings belonging to Hoi An’s trading families, whose great great grandchildren now run as museums and tea shops. At night, the streets are lit by strings of colourful paper lanterns.
People-watching and street-snapping was proving more fun than sightseeing. We did see the 16th century Japanese covered bridge (Cau Nhat Ban), the traditional Tan Ky family home home and the Quang Cong Confucian temple, somehow managing to avoid ticket fees by crossing the bridge the wrong way, or coming into the Tan Ky house through the back door.
We decided to use our bonus Dong to get out of the rain with some cafe-hopping. For a nice change, espresso was easy to find instead of the sweet coffee syrup and condensed milk used in Vietnamese-style coffee. Chocolate eclairs and caramel muffins went down well too.
With lots of tourism, come the standard warnings about scams. “Watch out for touts“, said our hotel receptionist as she handed over a city map, before proceeding to explain the precise route to the ‘very best tailor in Hoi An’, giving us their business card, and emphasising the big discount if we said Nhi Trung had sent us…
The sun came out on the morning we left, and would have been the perfect day to cycle to the nearby beaches, or take a boat to the Cham islands. Hoi An was now firmly cemented on the list of must-come-back places.
It was a short drive to Danang where we boarded the sleeper train for Ho Chi Minh City. We settled into our carriage at 1pm so weren’t expecting the ‘sleeper’ part until later. The two ladies sharing our cabin had other ideas though, and before 2pm they’d shooed us up to the top bunks, drawn the curtains (on what was shaping up to be a great view of rice paddy fields and the Marble Mountains) and were asleep under their blankets. Sorry, did we say asleep? We meant lie down and shout to each other for a few hours. Only 17 hours to go…