Back seat bandits in this overnight bus; worked well for the boys who could stretch their legs in the aisles, the rest of us didn’t benefit quite so much – but no one was expecting a five star sleep after our previous overnight bus experience. This time when we arrived though, a shuttle was waiting to escort us to our hotel; that was definitely a step up. We stayed at Hoa Binh hotel, which had been recommended to us by Abby’s parents, and a place we would further recommend to others. Despite the pool in the foyer probably being slightly redundant, the staff were extremely helpful, the facilities were highly adequate, and the breakfast simply outstanding.
Tailors: First task, like almost every other tourist in town, was to choose which tailor would become our best friend over the next few days. Our hotel had highly recommended Peace which, after checking out, we had absolutely no problem signing up with. In fact, I went from ordering one three pieced suit and additional jacket, to another suit, two dresses, and a further jacket. And it was all so cheap! Naturally, we were all pretty dubious about the quality, but six months down the track, I can vouch for the fact that everything’s holding up relatively well – especially the suits.
Food: For lunches, we quickly made a regular out of the local food market (a must see, and hard to miss) – repeat offending with a kind little lady who made fantastic Cao Lao (beef noodle soup) and White Rose (shrimp and prawn dumplings – a Hoi An speciality). Dotted along the riverside are plenty of places to grab a drink or two; we found one place that had beers for NZD 25c. We went to Mermaids, supposedly one of the longest standing restaurants in Vietnam; they had to reshuffle the tables to accommodate us.
Activities: like an artist’s palette, vibrant colours decorating the streets only added to the charm and quaintness that was Hoi An. It was extremely easy to lose yourself in its charm, especially as night approached and the lanterns, markets and riverside came to life. I think it was everyone’s favourite city in Vietnam.
One day we crossed the river and explored the adjacent island; very ruralised, we got some great cliche Vietnamese photographs. Another day we hired bikes, and went and explored some nearby rice paddies, the beach – Cua Dai (an average day, although some still swam), and some neighbouring towns. The shopping was fantastic – as well as tailor-made clothes, Hoi An also specialises in silk and ties – I think we all indulged.
On one of our days there we signed up for a cooking school; after a tour of the local markets (we saw chickens going through the alive à dead process, Jimmy first-hand learnt the difference between red and green chillies, and we were taught the reason that the animals at the markets are kept alive for as long as possible was not out of blatant animal rights ignorance, but because the locals place a huge emphasis on ensuring the meat is as fresh as possible) we caught a boat out to the school, where we learnt how to make rice milk (even having an opportunity to churn it ourselves) before making a huge variety of different foods, and treated with unlimited passion fruit juice.
After a few days in Hoi An, it was time for us all to go our separate ways. Cam was continuing his stay in Hoi An, Abby was off to Myanmar, Kelsey back to New Zealand, and James, Summer and I were flying from Da Nang Airport back to Ho Chi Minh to begin our journey into the Mekong Delta. Various alarms were thus set by the group – after a smooth ride to the airport (about 25 minutes) bright and early in the morning, we had to do some serious reshuffling of our luggage; after all our purchases in Hoi An, there was no way that we were under the 7kg limit each – we all ended up wearing about sixteen layers.