Hoi An, ancient city of lanterns

Hi everyone, so after the drama of the night before we were keen to get away from the hotel in Da Nang, only the hotel’s card reader wasn’t working so for a short while it looked like that might not happen since we couldn’t pay for our room. The receptionist was on another planet so I suspect she was doing something wrong. Luckily a taxi driver who was driving us the 30 minute journey to Hoi An paid it for us, we paid him back at the other end. I was sat in the cab rather awkwardly as I’d pulled something in my neck the day before and couldn’t turn my head. I had to get Emma to lift my head up off the pillow that morning as it was that painful.

We arrived at the hotel in Hoi An which was stupidly cheap and yet had a free breakfast buffet and a swimming pool. We had an extra bonus when we were upgraded to a better room for free, result! So our time in Hoi An was shaping up quite nicely, we would be chilling out for a bit and doing some light sightseeing.

Hoi An is famous for its ancient town, beautiful yellow-washed houses line the streets with red lanterns hanging everywhere. Seeing Hoi An is a glimpse of old China with a dash of Japan, the town is full of temples and old trading houses and a Japanese built bridge, all in remarkable states of preservation. The majority of the houses today are now tailors so the town is very popular with tourists looking to get clothes made to fit. Unfortunately for us we didn’t have space to fit suits into our backpacks so we never had anything made. Besides, I’m pretty sure that once we’re back home and have bulked up a bit, none of it would fit anyway! So as we walked through the town we ignored the many ladies kindly shouting at us “hey you mister, you will buy a suit”. I’m not sure whether they were asking me a question or giving me an order.

Down by the river a fleet of brightly painted boats are docked, their captains all competing over the tourists trying to take them for a ride, in more ways than one probably. They all use the same phrase in order to try and entice you, “you buy motorboat…..one hour”. We think the trip must last one hour but aren’t too sure, it’s the way all of the guys repeat this same phrase that’s quite funny. They all wait varying degrees of time before throwing in the “one hour” line, usually after the target has replied “no thank you”. It’s as though people wouldn’t be interested until hearing it. We enjoyed sitting in a bar watching and hearing these guys hassle the passing tourists and seeing how much everyone paid when they did take a trip. Some were paying hundreds of thousands for their ‘one hour’ trip, others eighty thousand. Bargaining is a very handy skill in south east asia. We never took a boat trip in the end, I think our time in Laos on the slow boat was a fair few ‘one hours’ enough.

Being a big tourist stop, there are some great restaurants about too. When we ventured out to town for the first time, as we passed the restaurant next to our hotel, a very nice Vietnamese girl invited us in. Though we weren’t ready to eat we promised we would later stop there for dinner, so we did. We both had the Hoi An speciality menu and as we sat waiting for our food to arrive we wondered if we’d been a little stupid, lazy and unadventurous in eating next door, but the food turned out to be excellent. Sat near the kitchen we could hear the chefs chopping away furiously which is always a good sign that you’ll be getting something fresh. The food that came up was beautiful. First spring rolls (you know what these are) and ‘White Rose’, soft dumplings stuffed with prawn and pork, topped off with crunchy onion pieces. Next we had ‘Cao Rao’, local speciality noodles in a light soup with strips of roasted pork belly. Following that we had a wonton with a sweet and sour salad topping, like a Vietnamese version of Nachos and finally a fruit salad. We were stuffed and had eaten this feast for next to nothing. The waitress, Trang, was the girl we’d spoken to earlier in the day. After the meal she gave us a crash course in Vietnamese. We asked her what the loud recordings said that the scooter riding food vendors were playing. We tried to recreate roughly what we’d heard, in a monotone robot like voice “what’s your name…proper Dave” and her and her family burst out laughing. They had no idea what we were saying but suspected it may have included some roasted sweetcorn somewhere!

Another night we stopped for dinner somewhere we’d been recommended by our Canadian friends, Shahan and Donna-Lee. The food was some of the best we’ve had so far. We’d ordered ‘shrimp in green pepper sauce’ and ‘fish with a chilli and lemongrass crust’. Both were amazing. The green pepper sauce turned out to be made from fresh green peppercorns still on their stalks in coconut milk. The taste was so fragrant and rich, I’d eat it again now if I could. The fish was tender with a fresh and punchy crust, amazing.

In south east Asia it’s fairly common sight to see a rotund, balding middle aged white gentleman strolling about with a barely legal Asian beauty. I’m in fact no longer surprised at the sight, however, we noticed a man at our hotel meeting all of the earlier criteria, albeit pushing the upper limits of rotund, mincing about with a barely legal young man. We were a little shocked to say the least, each to his own. One night at dinner we found ourselves sat across from this extravagant Australian chap. He was wearing bright red shorts and the same red Vietnamese flag t shirt that I’d bought earlier in the day. We were just about to leave when he started up a conversation with us. We got talking about haggling and I mentioned that I’d bought the same shirt he was wearing for 60,000 dong (about £1.90). The girl in the shop threw it at me when she accepted my offer, so I left with a huge smile on my face thinking I’d done well. I was quite annoyed to find out that for half the price he’d got his and it must have been four times the material.

Ten minutes down the road from our hotel was the lovely Cua Dai beach. We hired bikes for a dollar a day and spent a few days there basking our t-shirt tanned flesh in the sun and swimming in the sea. There were some big waves coming in so we enviously watched two surfers wishing we could find some boards to hire so that we might get a go. One day at the beach we stopped for lunch and bought a plate of huge grilled prawns and two glasses of Vietnamese white wine, really posh food for next to nothing.

Walking through town one day we bumped into our Aussie friends Harry and Lisa, we hadn’t seen them since Laos and so arranged to meet up for dinner. We spent the night sat next to the river with all the beautiful lanterns lit up everywhere drinking very sour Bia Hoi. We were joking about the recordings that the scooter riding food vendors played when suddenly we heard some funky music playing loud from crappy speakers. The guy playing it cycled past the restaurant with a huge container of whatever food he was selling attached to the front of his mobile stall. As he passed us he pulled an expression at us like he was saying “hey, you wanna see what I’ve got in here”. He then lifted the lid expecting to impress us as a huge cloud of steam rose from the container. I’ve got no idea what food he was selling, we were eating anyway, but the music, steam and his facial expression made the four of us burst out laughing. I think maybe his technique works better on the Vietnamese.

Keep an eye open in the gallery for some interesting spelling mistakes we found on a menu at our favourite Bia Hoi bar. We sat chuckling away with tears in our eyes whilst we took those pictures.

So there you have it, Hoi An, a beautiful town where we stayed for four nights, now we wish we’d stayed seven. I really recommend this place we absolutely loved it and want to go back someday.


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