The past two weeks or so have been like an exciting jigsaw of days and ideas and trial and error plans that have often turned out to be the worst decisions, but at other times have pleasantly surprised us. It’s been a detailed board game of buses and hostels and modes of transport and destinations we’ve set out and reserved for ourselves to find and reach. As each step of the journey is ticked off and achieved, each bus made in time, street navigated, and budget accomodation located without too much struggle, there’s a sense of achievement and autonomy akin to successfully completing an Easter Egg or treasure hunt , only this time it’s real life and the prizes at the end are a free breakfast or cold beer at the hostel, and new incredible views and interesting accquaintences every day. It’s exciting. It’s nerve-wracking. It’s fulfilling…it’s living. The next two weeks have been planned out in a pretty similar way, a brief outline and a date to be in certain places by – but nothing further than that.
We spent a few nights in the stunningly dated and historical town of Hoi An, and although I’ve said it before on discovering new places, this town really has been my favourite stop off on our journey so far. Quiet and reserved during the day, the main activities chattering in the market stalls at the docks as the pushy vendors use their select phrases to entice Westerners to purchase many of their ‘homemade’ mass produced goods; ‘You buy something?’, ‘Special price for you!’, ‘No Pushing here! You Buy!’ (ironically), and regular river-tours departing from the docks.
Collect 1 Million Dong when you pass Go, (aka the ATM), and this will see you through to the next few rolls of the dice as you take the next uncertain leap forward.
After the chilled laziness of Mui Ne, the sheer amount of things to do and see in Hoi An was amazing, and we went full throttle on the tourist clichés on our first evening and got sucked into having skirts made by one of Hoi An’s most renowned traditional tailors. It was a bit of a blow to the bank balance but definitely worth it when I consider the skirt I had made was modeled on one I’d seen in Topshop before leaving home that had retailed for about 90 euro, or something outrageous like that. I paid 30 dollars in Hoi An, it fits me to a tee and is also a uniquely crafted original piece that I won’t run the risk of seeing on someone else at home! Everyone’s a winner! (except for Topshop).
It was an unplanned purchase, but considering everyone we encountered in the town seemed to have paid a visit to one of the many family-run tailors dotted here and there between the market stalls, be it for tailored suits, dresses, boots or otherwise, I would have felt like I’d missed out on a brilliant part of the experience had I not partaken (I also adore clothes and couldn’t say no, so I suppose it was inevitable really..!).
Although quieter during the day, the main walkways along the river and over the main bridge of Hoi An come alive as soon as the sun sets with an array of stunningly lit lanterns, floating candles, and even more stalls selling everything from pancakes to marinated and sugar-coated guave fruits. The sights and smells and easygoing flow of tourists wandering, tasting, talking and moving in the general direction of the restaurants and bars which line the streets is a real treat for the senses, especially considering the warm air means that even after nightfall a light Summer dress and sandles is perfect attire to explore the bright lights and pretty colours of the night markets.
‘Happy Hours’ abound on every corner, ranging from anywhere between 10am and midnight with specials and yet more pushy staff offering discounts and deals all day. These gain intensity once the older couples and families begin to drift sleepily back to their more expensive lodgings in the various higher end hotels, making way for the backpacker generation, easily persuaded after a few $0.75 beers to try the ‘Tiger Tiger Bar” or “Funky Monkey” along the mainstreet. Our venture to the Tiger Tiger Bar served as an introduction to some new Scottish, German, English and Belgian friends, who became out companions for the night and shared moto-taxis on to what is supposedly the most lively bar in town – the persuasively and aptly named ‘Why Not Bar?”. The music here was varied but it yet again pulled through with the wonderful mix of travellers and identities all willing to make new friends and have a good time.
I became a member of the ‘Moto-exhaust-burn Club”, as a shocking amount of fellow backpackers revealed similar burns to the one I received over 2 weeks ago now, all at varying stages of healing and the source of much disbelief at how easily obtained they are over here – uncovered exhaust pipes not proving successful partners when combined with short-legged trousers – another thing left unconsidered whilst travelling. It was honestly one of the best nights out I’ve had since coming to Asia and was only briefly tarnished by the rain on our way home – although it was welcome change to the heat we’d grown accustomed to.
Our accomodation Phuong Le Villa had incredibly friendly and helpful staff; as well as being brilliantly located and extremely clean they also offered a huge amount of information regarding tours and transportation, 2 cute fluffy ducklings keeping guard of the main reception area each evening, which proved popular amongst the international clientel.
We also rented bikes for a dollar a day and meandered around the streets, avoiding the more expensive guided tours and instead challenging ourselves one day to find the vaguely signposted beach (to be honest everything is quite vague here). We succeeded shortly before the midday heat properly hit, which meant the journey home through open rice paddy fields and over bridges was a rushed affair to limit our exposure to the naked sun.
One final trip into the town on the evening of our last day saw our senses get the better of us as we sampled some of the street food – a personal favourite and high point being the discovery of a sweet potato, coconut and peanut grilled patty-cake thing – yum!
Hoi An is honestly a dream destination for a chilled couply getaway – a few nights for us was enough, but if you were one of the many couples I observed jealously around the town with a slightly larger budget allowing for tours and more thorough exploring, I’m sure it may have proved a more fruitful experience. All in all I was sad to leave, and regret already the strain on my budget the market stalls and stunning colours everywhere have brought.
Jenny Ní Ruiséil’s mantra is to look, listen, travel, and breathe. Her blog’s name Upward Facing Blog shows how much she loves yoga. Follow her adventure through her narrative!