Killer waves, tailor made scams and late nights shrouded in adventure. Ah Hoi An. The enchanting pretty little city by the beach. I remember being super excited to arrive here and get back in the water. The manicured streets, lined with tailor shops in buildings of attractive, almost Tuscany-like architecture, especially along the river, where you can have your choice out of many upscale restaurants with glamorous and tasteful décor. At night, the riverside becomes much like a bushfull of fireflies, buzzing with people (not bugs) and romantically illuminated with multiple ambient lanterns. If you so choose, you can purchase one of the paper lanterns and send it down with a wish, alongside hundreds of other hopeful vessels (I should have wished that they were made of biodegradable material). We paid (20k dong?) each and in the dim red light of the street watched our little boats drift away. A magical sight, this spectacle is not to be missed on any visit to Hoi An. I think it was a full moon that night, or at least close, and our big flowing astral cousin added to the effervescence of the evening.
Across the bridge on the opposite side of the river was a string of bars, including ‘The Backpacker Bar’ that we attended one night, then continued onto yet another Why Not? bar where drink specials were playfully served in baby bottles, no spilling! (Although to save money I’d recommend hitting one of the many liquor stands and purchasing a bottle of vodka Hanoi for about 80k dong.) Outside many bars waited a troupe of young Vietnamese lads who would (for a price) sweep you off on a moped to your next destination. Just be sure to have a witness of all monetary transactions or you could end up like I did, in a heated quarrel outside the club over and ‘unpaid’ debt.
Even more important, it’s not advisable to leave alone, or you may end up (like my travel partner) out of town and not brought back until all your dong is surrendered. Better safe than sorry right?
I think this same night was when we met our ‘friend’ the tailor shop owner, who pretty much took us on a 3 day wild goose chase of unkept promises, all to get us to buy clothes at his shop. Other than the tall tales he kept slingin, he was a nice guy and did take us to a nice restaurant, makes for a funny memory.
Our hotel was cheap and simple, also extremely hot, with a bonus patio and rooftop deck. Upon waking I could look out at the street below, lured by bulging fruit stands of succulent tropical delights, and chicken rice mini-restaurants popping up along the sides. A must-try dish in Hoi An, along with White Rose (a translucent minced meat dumpling) and Cao Lau, this inexpensive meal (20k dong) is as the name states, chicken and rice, usually served with a soupy broth (that may include meaty chunks). My advice on chicken rice? It’s awesome! But smell the broth meat first, it may be a canine friend in there (personal experience) and trust me, you’ll know.
Although chicken rice is tasty, it doesn’t compare to one of my favorite street stall foods ever consumed, also at a tiny red chair establishment. I don’t know what it was called, bus as I sat down the old lady selling it hustled over, bringing a shallow bowl of greens in a vinegary dressing topped with cornmeal coated little fried eggs and a cup of tra da. Not only was it amazing, it was only 15k dong (about 75 cents). Not bad at all.
Now for the beach! As it is a little ways outside of town, many beachgoers rent a moped or take a bicycle down the scenic road towards the seaside. We took mopeds, as we also planned to check out some other attractions further afield.
China beach was just as picturesque as any travel magazine would have it. Seemingly endless shoreline, heaps of lounging chairs, and brilliantly blue-green water showing itself off to mystified eyes.
Bypassing the chairs (why lounge when you can swim?) we all ran straight into the beautiful crashing waves. And that’s exactly what they were doing. Crashing. So powerful and slightly intimidating, and way too much fun, the waves here would sweep us up swiftly to what seemed like multiple feet high, before dropping our vulnerable bodies back down to wait for the next one. We spent a long time screaming and laughing, happily frolicking in the washing machine tides.
Totally pooped from battling the merciless waves, and after some shuttlecock on the beach, we hopped back on our mopeds and headed down the highway. We were driving to Marble Mountain, about 45 minutes away by bike, home to of course, a marble mine and factory. Shops selling mass quantities of marble goods from giant Buddhas and dragons to gleaming eggs and tiny pendants sat at the base, from which you could continue upward via a shiny futuristic elevator built into the side or the long stone staircase up to the pagodas above.
From the top, where there were a couple rustic looking structures, there was also a large cave, with stairs leading down into it’s belly of golden Buddha shrines tucked away in the dim moist air. We took a ‘secret’ cave crawl through a narrow hole back to the outside, where the rocks continued upward to a magnificent viewpoint. We could see the Boddhisattva of Mercy statue to the left, and to our right, way off in the distance, the ant sized city of Hoi An. Straight ahead was the endless blue of the South China Sea.
Beckoning from afar stood the beaming white figure of epic proportion, the Boddhisattva of Mercy Statue. It had to be seen up close, especially with it’s location high on a hill top facing into the sunset. Zooming along the coastal highway away from Marble Mountain we tried not to get distracted by the lure of the water speckled with round bowl-like fishing boats and the spectacular view as we ascended up the hill on winding open roads. The statue’s size and appearance was impressive, but the real treat was the stunning surreal image of the setting Asian sun over the water and city of Da Nang.
The air was now cooling and we started our journey back to Hoi An, deciding to stop and get gas in Da Nang. Taking little backroads to get into the city, we were all increasingly surprised at it’s appearance from the inside. It had looking like a booming metropolis, but as we drove along, it seemed like only the skeleton of a city, almost ghostly and deserted. It felt like I was in a strange dream. But sure enough, to wake me up, was a typical multi lane highway that we ended up driving back and forth amongst hundreds of other high speed commuters, looking for a gas station. Darkness had fallen when we finally found one, all of us relieved to not have to spend a night here overtired and underdressed.
We still had to drive back to Hoi and, and with full(ish) gas tanks hauled down the dark cold freeway. Wind tears streamed from my eyes as I swerved dangerously between lanes and ahead of my speeding compadres, who would then rev up and pass me back. It looked like a video game racecourse lined with streetlights. Not that I recommend getting too fast and furious or anything, we arrived back to Hoi An safe and sound 45 minutes later.
Still one of my favorite cities in Vietnam, Hoi An is an amazing place to visit if you’re looking for fun, adventure, charm, proximity to a beach and really delicious and unique foods. Or a sharp new tailored suit at great prices!
Have you been to Hoi An? What did you get up to in this charming little city?