Hoi An

Trip Start Aug 31, 2008
Trip End Apr 30, 2009

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Friday, March 6, 2009

We arrived in Hoi An around 6:15 and immediately made a break for a Hostel International labeled establishment that we saw 100 meters before we stopped.  There were so many other Western tourists getting off of the bus that we were able to shake all the moto drivers with ease.  The owners of the Hostel International place explained that they had rooms available for $10 for fan cooled and $15 for rooms with AC, but that nothing was available for another half hour.  We sat and waited as several other groups of people walked in and heard the same story.  Knowing that surely not everybody would be checking in with a half hour, I began to explore for other options. 

A lot of the places wanted $30 a night (even when they had signs up listing room rates of 150,000 dong), but I found one a few hundred meters down the street called Hoa My Hotel (201 Ly Thuong Kiet St -  hoamyhotel2003@yahoo.com) that had AC cooled rooms for $12/night.  They told me that the room was available immediately, so I explained that I'd return shortly with my wife.  It took about 15 minutes to grab Lisa and return and then we found out that we needed to wait a half hour for the room to be cleaned.  This seemed fair enough since check-in time is normally well into the afternoon and nobody ever seemed to charge us for an early check-in.  Within a half hour they explained that we could have a room with no porch immediately or the room with a balcony around noon.  Since the rooms were the same price, I said that we'd prefer the room with the balcony, so they let us use the other room to sleep until that was ready.

Despite sleeping quite well on the bus, both Lisa and I were still quite tired and were soon sleeping until we heard a knock on the door shortly after noon.  Our new room was ready, so we moved our bags into the new space and were very happy to see what a nice room we had found for $12//night.  We were on the second floor directly above reception and the spacious and clean room included towels, toilet paper, hot water, tooth brushes, soap, Wi-Fi Internet, a fridge and a TV with lots of English channels.  The balcony was a nice touch to make this seem like really good value.

As I was playing around on the Internet, Lisa decided to explore the town with the camera.  The central, old part of Hoi An is a Unesco World Heritage site so she decided to head that way.  Before she got to far into the old town though she was stopped by an official who asked her for her ticket.  Tickets to enter the old part of town are 80,000 dong for a day, although of course this is only for Western tourists.  Lisa decided to wait until I would join her and headed back to the hotel.  We found nearby restaurants where I had a not-so-great duck dish for 50,000 dong and Lisa found a chicken noodle dish for 30,000 dong.  The prices for food seemed to be more expensive here than the other places we had been in Vietnam so far.

We slept very well at the Hoa My Hotel as they had the most comfortable bed and pillow that we had yet run across in our six months of travel.  The next day we woke up and decided to see the old part of Hoi An and brought the camera and video camera along.  This time there was nobody even at the ticket booth so we proceeded to walk around the town for free.  As far as we could tell there was only one place to buy tickets and more than a dozen ways of entering the old town, so it isn't exactly a difficult chore to escape this payment if you want to save some money.

Hoi An was an international trading port back in the 17th century and many of the buildings around the old part of town date back to this time.  There is a famous Japanese covered bridge that was constructed in 1593 that was one of the first things we ran across.  While Lisa was posing for a picture in front of the bridge, she kicked off one of her sandals (by accident) into the dirty canal water that the bridge spanned across.  It was over 1.5 meters from the surface but fortunately it floated while Lisa excitedly yelled for assistance.  There was one man who was fishing on the other side of the channel, but he did not seem interested in rescuing this shoe.  Instead I held on to the ledge and lowered myself so that I was able to grab her sandal with my foot and somehow retrieve it.  By the time I had climbed back to the surface an older Vietnamese lady was approaching with her little boat, but of course her assistance may have cost us more than the sandal was even worth.

After this incident, we started looking around for food and came across of string of street vendors that had plastic chair covered with tarps.  They served "bia hoi" that came from large plastic jugs (instead of metal kegs) for 4,000 dong a glass.  The beer was good enough that we had about four each and while we were drinking we ordered some of the local specialty foods.  Lisa ordered some Hoi An Spring Rolls for 30,000 dong and I got a dish called "Cau Lao" for only 15,000 dong a plate.  Cao Lau is a doughy flat wheat noodle, mixed with croutons, bean sprouts and greens, topped with pork slices and served in a savory broth.  The real deal is only available in Hoi An, as the water for the noodles must come from the Ba Le well just outside of the town.  This dish was absolutely delicious and is essentially the only thing I ate in Hoi An from this point on.  It will be a real shame if I cannot find this dish outside of Hoi An, because it is one of my favorite meals now.

After drinking and eating, we decided to head for the market area of town.  Although we did not really plan on doing much shopping, the market had some terrific deals that we could not resist.  One of the best deals that we found was on silk sleeping bags, which cost us $2 or $3.  We also bought silk cosmetic bags (which came in sets of three) for $1 or $2, a coffee container made entirely of cinnamon tree bark for 30,000 dong, t-shirts for 30,000 dong, military style hats for $1 and lots of other trinkets as well.  It may not have been a wise idea to drink so many beers before going shopping because we had no idea how we were going to be able to carry this much more stuff with us.

The fresh produce portion of the market was a lively and colorful place that made for great photographs.  The entire old town is lined by a river and with so many old buildings around it seems like there are good photo opportunities no matter where you look.  We toured around the old town for several hours and shopped until we could carry no more goods, ate another dinner of Cao Lau at the food stalls and then headed back to our hotel room.  After a couple of hours in our room, I got hungry for Cao Lau again and headed back to the same area for some more.  I ended up meeting a couple from Ireland that were biking their way from Hanoi to Saigon and another British couple that were on a trip similar to ours.  We ended up drinking a few more bai hois, but I made it home before 23:00.

Our first day in Hoi An was rather disappointing and we decided to buy our onward tickets on that day, only allowing for a 2 night visit in the city.  This turned out to be a poor decision, because after our second day in Hoi An, we both wished we could spend some more time there.  Besides having a great room and awesome and affordable food and beer, the old town had a lot of charm and great shopping as well.  The friendly Hoi An locals at Mrs. Nhi food stall (31 Nguyen Thai Hoc St) and Uncle Dong's right down the street actually tried to undercharge me (before I corrected them), which was a refreshing change to seemingly normal Vietnamese practices.

If I had more time in Hoi An, I likely would've ended up purchasing some tailor made suits to send home.  There are dozens of these tailor shops operating around Hoi An, but unfortunately the first one I checked at offered their cheapest suits at over US$200.  After talking to a couple from the UK, whom were pretty knowledgeable about clothing, I found out that reasonably nice suits could be purchased for around US$75.  He said that he had bought a few for 50 pounds sterling each, and although they were   not 1000 quid suits, they would've been a couple hundred pounds at home in England.  He laughed how some people expected top of the line suits at such cheap prices and explained that he felt that he had gotten great value for his money here.  I guess I should've looked around a little more before giving up on buying suits in Hoi An.

On March 6th, after spending two nights in Hoi An, we caught a bus to Hue around 14:00 (although it was supposed to be there at 13:30).  The tickets cost us $4 from our hotel, which was probably $1 too much but was very convenient since they picked us up right at the hotel.  It was a three hour ride from Hoi An to Hue and the bus stopped at a restaurant around half way.  We spent most of the trip chatting to an experienced Dutch traveler that was going on to Laos that same day.  He told us about how he had been ripped off by the police in Thailand twice (1,000 baht each time) and Cambodia once as well (another 1,000 baht) on his journey.  It made Lisa and I feel quite good about ourselves as we have managed to avoid any major rip-offs through the first six months of this trip.
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Where I stayed
Hoa My Hotel

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