After our bucket list experience in Ha Long Bay we were really excited to continue further south to continue our Vietnam journey. All the guests on the cruise were well seasoned travellers and raved about Hoi An, giving us loads of recommendations and getting us really excited about our next stop.
Getting back to Hanoi, we had a few hours before our sleeper bus arrived, we wolfed down some food, showered and got ready for our 18 hour journey. We’d been assured by the hostel that they had booked us seats at the front of and it was a direct bus so we wouldn’t need to fight for multiple seats on the journey. Oh the blissful ignorance! Getting picked up from our hostel we soon joined a crowd of backpackers keen to get a good seat on the bus. Thankfully with Fitz able to manage our bags (we are still yet to meet someone with smaller bags than us), I hopped on and nabbed us two seats at the front – seat reservation my a*se!
The bus quickly got underway and while the sleeper bus meant the seats reclined, we did have to fight the neck pains and aching limbs in the not-quite-sleeping position we were forcing our bodies to endure. Sleeping at intervals throughout the night, everyone was just about settled when the bus came to do a stop at 6am. It turns out the bus isn’t direct to Hoi An – ah!
Getting kicked off the bus sleepy and blurry eyed, we realised that the bus driver (who had borrowed fitz’s cap) had up and left with the hat still on his head. While I ran around trying to find out where the next bus would be, Fitz ran around trying to find the drivers friends and angrily shout at them to get the hat back. Thankfully, it turned out the bus driver either wasn’t a thief or Fitz managed to scare his friends enough that he came back to return the hat. I had located the minivan taking us to our next sleeper bus and we were all on our way feeling slightly less like two headless chickens 🐓
Dropping us off on a random road, the minivan driver told us our bus would be here in 5 mins to pick us up. After he drove off we realised that we were sat outside a closed travel agency that opened in a hour and we had a sneaky suspicion that the ‘5 minutes’ may not have been entirely accurate. Lo and behold! 1 hour later, the travel agency opens and confirms that yes we are on their first bus out to Hoi An – that leaves in an hours time. Flash forward an hour and a half later, and another minivan arrives to pick us up, tear up our tickets (to which me and all the girls in the van squealed in distress) and then drove us to the next – and thankfully last – sleeper bus. Unfortunately for us, we were obviously the last people to be collected and crammed onto a completely full bus with only the dirty, grotty seats right at the back still free. Thankfully we only had about 8 hours of this (how sad that we consider this a short time) and finally stumbled off the bus in the blazing heat, celebrating another long journey is finished and ultimately just being thankful that we got there in one piece with none of our luggage stolen!
The trudge to our guesthouse was slow due to the bags and heat but we made it there in the end and while I stripped off my bag and tried not to melt, Fitz very valiantly checked us in. Taking pity on the weird English girl who was following the rotating fan around the room, the owner made us watermelon juice with lots of ice while her daughter talked us through a map and all their recommendations for their hometown. Taking us to our room, we were amazed at the size of the house which was more like a hotel with its high ceilings and professional standards than a guesthouse. Our room was huge with two double beds, AC and an Ensuite bathroom with a waterfall shower. Extremely happy with the room, we thanked them, collapsed on the beds and cranked the AC all the way up!
Once we had recovered from the bus journey and the heat, we were finally able to enjoy Hoi An. Off to a very good start, we found ourselves in a continuously positive state. The town of Hoi An is fairly small in terms of its main attractions which means everything is within walking distance. Should you not want to walk, everyone opts for cheap bicycle rentals to meander down the wide roads at their own pace. Better yet, Hoi An’s old town is a moped free zone meaning pedestrians and bicycles are unimpeded by the hectic traffic normally associated with Vietnam. Famous for their lanterns, old town streets are lined with every type imaginable, along with an unspoilt, green haven along the roads with trees and lanterns complimenting each other on and on and on …
📷 The colourful lanterns light up along with other more elaborate decorations. This one was to celebrate the year of the rooster.
The beauty of Hoi An is far from lost on the guide books and it’s one of Vietnams most loved destinations. It’s most definitely a relief that mopeds aren’t allowed in old town as after midday, you have enough trouble squeezing past all the pedestrians let alone trying to bring motorists into the mix! Thankfully the heat tends to cause everyone to scatter and we – with our hardened travellers skin – tended to brave the blazing heat in exchange for some peace and quiet without tripping over any small children – which was a more than regular occurrence.
And so it was that we spent four glorious days in the lovely Hoi An. While I picked out the perfect lantern collection for my future mansion, Fitz pondered the thousands of tailors who for $50 could make you any ‘designer’ suit/dress/coat/playsuit/trousers/wedding dress/dog outfit/fancy dress/etc etc etc you want. The list is endless. During our stay I heard heard a guy tell his friends he had $500 worth of suits in his bag #WealthiestBackpackerEver. Crazy spenders aside, pretty much everyone gets caught up in the tailor world with many commissioning a few suits or dresses and some going with the ‘when in Rome’ attitude, have Union Jack flag suits or ridiculous banana print shirts. We managed to resist this time around but vowed that we would return for our completely new wardrobes one day 💅🏻
📷 Enjoying a delicious local dinner and 2-4-1 cocktails. I was distracted by a dog in this picture 🙄
Other than tailor shops and lanterns, we were excited to visit Hoi An due to the rumour of its beach being more than agreeable. After 2 months of no beaches, my legs had managed to become a Durex paint palate moving from ‘salted caramel’ all the way up to ‘powder white’ and were in desperate need of a sunbathe. Fitz’s legs were similar. Moving from a ‘powder white’ to a ‘pure white’, he agreed a day cycling to the beach would be a nice break and a great excuse to break out our dusty swimmers for a bit of a splash.
While cycling in Vietnamese traffic was less than agreeable and we had a few near misses due to the attitude that if you’re cycling, you’re essentially under an invisibility cloak, we did make it to the beach in one piece. Shelling out for a sun lounger and some shade, we spent the day relaxing, applying 50+ to Chris at regular intervals and going for a dip in the gorgeously calm sea.
Lying around in my bikini, I could not get over the local women selling their souvenirs or fruit to the tourists on the beach. Covered head to toe, these women wore socks under their sandals, two piece tracksuits and jumpers with hoods up, fingered gloves, face mask, and a classic Vietnamese hat – all of this in 35 degree heat 😳.
Impressed they were so conscious of sun safety we asked one of the women why she didn’t take her velvet tracksuit jumper off if she was so hot. She answered that if she took it off she wouldn’t be able to have light skin and it was make her go browner. It broke my heart to think that every woman who works in the sun (every street seller, shop owner, bus operator, even women just popping out on their mopeds) cover up religiously to try and achieve light skin. While its nothing new -with white skin ideals plaguing Asian cultures with bleaching creams for decades – it was incredible to see someone go to such lengths when I had almost fainted from standing up too quickly in a bikini. Talk about (misplaced) girl power 💪🏻.
Having tanned – or in Fitz’s case, ‘shaded’ – ourselves thoroughly we headed back to drop off the bicycles of death and relax in the room while Fitz tried to shift his flu that he’d developed. Coughing up a lung at a time, I was thankful for the two double beds in our room that meant we could set up a perimeter to try and minimise our chances of prolonging the illness. Like a trooper, Fitz managed to fight it off within a couple of days taking it all in his stride and not at all reacting like I do to illness; sinking into a pool of self pity and not getting out of bed for a week. 😷
To celebrate Fitz’s recovery – and come to think of it, every day – we went to our favourite Banh Mi stall. Recommended to us by an Australian traveller, we had first approached ‘Madame Khanh, Queen of Banh Mi’ because we got fed up queuing at the guide books ‘best banh mi in Vietnam’ stall which had a huge queue of tourists and – we realised quite quickly – not many locals. Deciding to try out the recommendation we trudged over to Madame Khans and picked our banh mi from two options; pork or veggie (laughing cow cheese). We both picked pork, took a bite, died and went to heaven. I don’t want to get ahead of myself and make a statement that cannot be substantiated as — IT WAS THE MOST DELICIOUS THING YOU WILL EVER TASTE IN YOUR LIFE.
For those of you that don’t know, Banh Mi is a dish developed in Vietnam with the traditional French baguettes that France’s colonisation left behind. Filled with meats (normally pork), cucumber, leaves, special sauce, chillies and coriander, these breads are an Asian infused burst of flavour inside a sandwich. Normally they’re pretty delicious, sometimes they’re really great. But Madame Khanh’s combination of stuffing the baguette to the brim with fresh produce, adding in her incredible homemade sauce along with her homemade chilli sauce, produces something out of this world. I still dream about this Banh Mi every day. We ate this Banh Mi every day we were in Hoi An. We have talked about this Banh Mi every day since leaving. I want to be buried with this Banh mi. We also tried the guide book’s stall when the queue died down and it was pretty good – but did not compare at all to the joys of Madame Khanh. I’m going to move on and stop talking about this banh mi because otherwise I would go on for ever, but trust me: Oh. My. God.
All in all, Hoi An was one of my favourite towns so far in South East Asia. It’s beautiful lanterned streets and hectic touristy nights left a little something for everyone and we found this one of our most relaxing stays thanks to an amazing guest house, amazing food and a lovely getaway beach.
The only bad thing about Hoi An was having to leave it, and quite particularly so. With a 25 hour bus ride ahead of us to Ho Chi Minh city, we very quickly gathered all our renewed zen around us and prepared for the big drive south.