Hoi An Beaches and Ancient Town

We have to wake up early in order to catch a bus to Hoi An at 8am. We eat a quick breakfast downstairs with lots of time to spare, but somehow paying for everything takes well over 10 minutes. Granted, we’re paying for the room, the bicycles, and our meals, but the problem lies within the staffs ability to find change. They run around to other stores and restaurants in the area looking to break a bill, and we’re standing at the desk just hoping they come back quickly. It’s now 8am. We’re late. Everything is settled except for 10,000 dong ($0.25). I’ve given them 500,000 and need 190,000 back, but they don’t have change and I don’t have 10,000 dong handy. Had it been the other way around, I would have been happy to just forget about the extra 10,000 dong and run for the bus, but I can’t justify leaving 190,000 ($10)!! Luckily Tamara finds 10,000 to lend me, I get my 200,000 dong bill, and we boot out the door. 8:05. I know that most (if not all) things in South East Asia run behind schedule, but on the off chance that this bus leaves on time, we’re screwed.

The bus station is an 8 minute walk away by Google Maps estimate, but we get there in 4. No bus is in sight, but I have confidence that means it hasn’t arrived yet. We show the desk staff our tickets and are asked to sit and wait. Beautiful, crisis averted.

A taxi comes and we are piled in with 4 other people and all of our backpacks. A regular sized taxi. 7 people (including the driver) and 6 backpacks. You do the math.
I get the most unfortunate seat…in the trunk with the majority of the backpacks. Super comfy. Although, Tamara’s spot, crammed into the backseat with three other strangers and one large backpack across all their laps, doesn’t look too appealing either.
It’s just a short drive, and we are taken right to the door of our bus.

The ride to Hoi An takes about 4 hours and our bus is another down grade from the previous ones we’ve taken. They seem to be getting worse every time! For a four hour trip, I don’t care. We make a half hour pit stop at a place where a mango costs 30,000 dong ($1.50). No thanks.

Upon arriving in Hoi An we get the usual hawkers trying to bring us in to their hotels. Everything seems more expensive here already! Dorm beds are going for $9 each, and shared rooms around $15. That’s way too much! We find some motorbike taxis who offer to take us all around Hoi An to different hostels and guesthouses that they know to be cheap. We have to pay them 40,000 dong each, but it’ll be cheaper in the long run than committing to a $15 dollar room now.
The first hotel they take us to is $15 dollars a night, but the owner is willing to lower it to $12 if we stay for two nights, and switch rooms on the second night. I’m not super keen on that plan. When we come back out to the motor taxi drivers they seem confused and annoyed that we aren’t staying. I then get annoyed because we’re literally paying them to take us around to find something cheap. They reluctantly let us back on their bikes and drive us to a second location. I’m not sure if this is by design, but my taxi driver almost kills us like 3 times. We do make it to the next hotel alive. This one seems much better. Rooms are $10 per night and still clean looking with wifi and everything. It’s a close walk to the downtown area, and bicycle rentals are only 20,000 dong ($1). We stay. The motorbike taxi drivers start asking us for 50,000 dong each instead of our agreed price of 40,000. I make sure to only pull out the exact amount so they can’t run off with our change. I hate garbage like this, and it’s why I would honesty rather walk the 3km into town and avoid any form of taxi all together.

We rent two bikes and take a quick 3km ride to the beach! How exciting, I haven’t been to a real beach in ages. Unless you include Ha Long Bay, but I think that only kinda counts. This beach is much better! A guard blows a whistle and waves me away as I bike by him, just metres from the sand. So close! I don’t know what he wants, but I assume he wants me off my bike. Tamara and I pull over and try to figure out where we can park our bikes without paying an arm and a leg to do so, when a woman beckons us over from her patio. She let’s us park our bikes in an alleyway next to her restaurant and says we can leave them there for free if we come in for a drink or some food afterward. Seems like a good deal to me! We thank her and head off to the waterfront. The sun is shining, some local kids are playing soccer to our left, and a million palm trees line the beach to our right. What a great place to spend the afternoon.

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I’m a little disappointed that we can’t swim, and I suppose we could, but the waves are heavy today and the ocean looks unwelcoming. The shade of the palm trees provide me with enough cover to stay cool while I lay on my towel and breathe in the salty ocean air. I don’t fall asleep, but I am so zen that I might as well. For an hour I lay without really moving, feeling so calm. All of a sudden a group of 20 kids, who I’m guessing have never seen a beach before, come roaring onto the sand next to us, screaming, jumping, laughing and making an absolute scene. They take 15 minutes to take 400 photos of them doing classic beach poses like jumping in the air, holding hands and facing the sea, and a big group photo. They are having the time of their lives! Then they just leave. Good 15 minute beach day.

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After a couple hours of lounging, Tam and I stop for a quick lunch at the place where we parked our bikes. I also need a new tooth brush, after accidentally dropping mine on the street in Hue, and coincidentally this restaurant also sells tooth brushes. What good fortune!

We bike back to town and head to the market. Hoi An is famous for it’s tailor shops, where you can have almost anything made for a very good price. There must be hundreds of tailors in the city, and a bunch of shoe makers, too! I don’t really need any clothes, but who can say no to a good pair of shoes? I keep my eyes open.
We find some fruit for a decent price! 8 large bananas cost us 20,000 dong, after a bit of haggling. Numerous women try to lure us into their spas with the promise of a $1 pedicure (that could never go well) or eyebrow waxing. I jokingly stop to show one lady that I don’t need my eyebrows waxed because they’re already fabulous, but she tells me they should be thinner. My mother would have a heart attack.

All the shoes here can be made custom in any leather, design and size. I find a cool pair of blue desert boots in a shop, and ask how much it would cost to make a pair to fit me. They quote me 1,500,000 dong ($75). I think a good rule of thumb when backpacking, is to never buy anything that’s over 1,000,000… in any currency.
I pretty much run away screaming, but politely. Not being able to stop myself, I check another shop, just for comparisons sake, and they tell me 900,000 for what looks to me like the same pair of boots. More acceptable, but still too much. I’m sure I could bargain a little, but even at 800,000 it’s a little steep. I don’t know. I can’t even wear the boots around Asia because it’s too hot. But…custom made shoes… The internal struggle is too much! I leave the shop and ponder the prices some more.

We go back to the hotel around 5pm, where we are told we can’t use the bicycles past 7pm. I guess we’ll be walking to dinner. What a weird rule.

I take a shower and decide it’s time to shampoo my hair. I’ve been trying to avoid any hair products as much as possible on this trip, to save money but also to try to balance out my natural oils. If there’s ever a time I can have dirty hair and get away with it, it’s now, when I’m backpacking in a hot country. I don’t know what kind of life my shampoo bottle has been living at the bottom of my bag, or if there’s a secret knife in my backpack, but the plastic bag I use (ironically, to avoid situations like this) looks like it’s been sliced open and the bottle lid is open. There’s shampoo on everything. Not really everything, but it’s on some clothes, my book, electronics bag, and my bug net. The shampoo is supposed to be made with natural honey, so that bug net is going to come in seriously handy now that everything has honey on it.

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We do some errandy things, like research things we’d like to do around Hoi An, go to the post office (Tamara is a better friend than I am and she actually sends people post cards), and book our next overnight bus to Nha Trang. At the bus station, they also have a tour heading to Son My tomorrow morning. I’ve read that this is where there’s a museum dedicated to the My Lai massacre of 1968. I thought it would be cool to go in any case, and the tour is only $5 for a half day visit with a guide, so we take advantage of it. Even if it’s awful, I can handle $5.
After we’ve already paid for the ticket I find out that My Lai is further from Hoi An than My Son, and that the only way to get there is by private tour. That will definitely cost us more than $5, so we stick to the My Son tour, neither of us really sure what we should expect. It’ll keep us busy tomorrow morning at any rate, so that’s cool.

On our way to dinner I stop by another shoe store…just to compare prices. I find another pair of sweet desert boots, and that only cost 730,000 dong! That’s the cheapest so far, and only like $40 CAD. She measures my feet by placing a piece of paper on the floor and tracing each foot. I choose from a large selection of different materials, and agree to come back the next day for another fitting to make sure the shoes are comfortable. If they are, I get to take them home with me right away! If not, they’ll make some more adjustments. I’m excited, I’ve never had custom shoes before. I can justify it, because I’m going home in just over a month, and it’s like a practical Vietnamese souvenir. Every time I wear my new boots I will think of the time I traveled through Vietnam.
I think about how different the experience would be if I was in Italy getting a pair of custom made leather boots. It would be extravagant and they would cost a fortune. Here, my feet are traced like an elementary school art project and cost so little. I hope they turn out well!

Tamara and I walk to the ancient town for dinner. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and now requires a ticket to enter. I’ve read that tickets cost 90,000 dong, but now we’re told 120,000! It’s printed on the ticket and everything, so I know I’m not being ripped off, but apparently the prices have gone up recently. It’s pretty expensive just to walk around an old village, but we get included entry to five out of about seven attractions of our choosing, and is valid until we leave Hoi An.

Getting into the Old Town for dinner is definitely worth it. The trees lining the quiet streets are lit by the soft glow of hanging lanterns, and the river is illuminated by larger and crafted floating lotus flowers, and tiny river wishing candles. Independent vendors are set up near the bridge selling the small paper flowers with enough space inside for a candle, so that people may light the candle, make a wish, and send it floating down the river. What a beautiful way to make a wish! Small boats are also available for hire to take a romantic ride down the calm river.

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We stroll along the streets and over the bridge to the other side of the river, where there seems to be a busy row of restaurants. We find one with well priced meals, lots to choose from, and only 4,000 dong ($0.18) beer! We luck out and arrive when someone is leaving a nice to table over looking the water and the other side of the ancient town.

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We even get a small free cake dessert and cup of green tea.
We spend the rest of our night strolling around the streets and peering into tailor shops and cafés, which are plentiful in Hoi An. A close second to Sapa, I think this is one of my favourite places in Vietnam so far.

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