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Action and Adventure in Hoi An

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.photo (53)photo (54)

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.photo (55)

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.

Get a hot pot, or you might regret it.

Get a hot pot, or you might regret it.

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.

My illegitimate son loved my bike.

My illegitimate son loved my bike.

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.photo (51)photo (56)

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. photo (46)photo (48)photo (47)521442_10151359208745960_1806798635_n

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.photo (49)

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?


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Adventures in Vietnam: Hanoi and Halong Bay

If you’ve ever been to Hanoi, you probably know what it’s like to play a real life game of Frogger, mopeds zipping past you only inches away. And let’s not forget the incessant honking that often seems as necessary as a raincoat in the desert.

We arrived late to our hostel in the oldworld city, our senses overwhelmed by movement and sound, a significant contrast to Laos. We checked in to our swanky hostel, (Hanoi Backpacker Hostel) that had been recommended by a friend. On top of being very new and clean, it had a popular bar/restaurant, computer access, a TV and games room and rooftop patio. Luxurious, but at a price. We mainly chose it for the fun and social atmosphere, although a hot shower was really nice too.

We’d worked up an appetite on the flight into Vietnam and were excited to find our first late night Vietnamese meal. As we ventured down the curving narrow street in search of tasty bites, we grew confused, as the previously noise polluted area seemed silent and increasingly dark and still. Apparently we had missed the memo that there was a curfew, and as we grew aware we noticed shopkeepers peeking out windows and shutting the blinds. Kind of creepy. But we had gone far enough and were determined to find some sort of food. Chances seemed bleak, and the only place we’d heard word of staying open late was KFC. I think I’d rather ‘starve’. In the distance we spotted the glowing red sign and scurried across a giant multiple way intersection that in regular hours would be a deathtrap. We came to a halt at the locked door. (phewf.) A man was standing outside, and we expressed our desire for something edible. In an almost zombie-like manner, he lifted his arm and pointed across the intersection. And there it was. A tiny restaurant on the corner still had a couple of hope-giving lights on,  like a light at the end of the tunnel. We bolted for it and peeked in the door sheepishly. It seemed like we’d just interrupted a family dinner, but were quickly herded into the closed windowed upstairs of the place and given menus. Dinner in hiding is one of the most fun ways to do it. I’ll call it a ‘hide ‘n’ dine’. Exciting.

Hanoi, and Vietnam as a whole was so different from Thailand and Laos, and despite the regular massive Adidas and Victoria’s Secret stores, the culture is so prominent, and shines through in every bustling street, park and roadside pho restaurant.

Who doesn't like a box full of puppies? On the roadside in Hanoi.

Who doesn’t like a box full of puppies? On the roadside in Hanoi.

During our stay in Hanoi we visited the Vietnam Military History museum, which was super interesting and full of old artifacts and photos, as well as combat vehicles and planes outside. We also visited the old prison (now a museum) which did offer some information, but was a tad talked up for what we saw. A good walking distance away if you go by foot, you get to stroll by the big lake in the city, home to a fabled giant turtle that brings good luck to those who witness it (I didn’t see it, but some friends did).

Passing shop upon shop of shirts, Tin-tin wall art, shuttlecocks (hackysack meets badminton birdy, popular game throughout Vietnam), eye catching souvenirs and you name it, we came to a celebration site for a friend’s birthday, one of Hanoi’s many ‘beer corners’. A must-do activity in the city. As you sit on tiny red stools on the literal street corner, a local barkeep will keep the (25 cent?) bia hoi flowin’, from a big homebrewed keg. Loud conversation is to be expected as the sounds of the street, vehicles whizzing past your head and friends’ voices bombard your eardrums. And what do you do when the keg runs dry? Evacuate your stool and move on to the next bia corner, where a happy vendor awaits.photo (31)

photo cred: Jessika

photo cred: Jessika

One of the natural wonders of the world, Halong Bay, was our next destination, via the Hanoi Backpackers Halong Bay Tour. Pretty pricey but nothing short of an amazing time, the tour departed from Hanoi with a busfull of excited passengers. It felt like a school fieldtrip. The 4 hour bus trip turned into a scenic boat trip through the bay, where we were fed various delicious dishes onboard before heading to the top deck to let the party begin.photo (32)

We coasted between the massive and beautiful limestone karsts that make up the stunning scenery, taking a stop for some liberating swimming and jumping off the boat. We would spend the next two days on Castaway Island, where kayaking, wakeboarding, swimming and extensive partying were on the itinerary. Upon arrival we were enthusiastically greeted by the island’s current residents (people on the overlapping tour), followed by a welcoming introduction of the tour guides and the days’ agendas. After checking out our accommodation, which were the classic open style bungalows with mosquito nets, we indulged in a buffet packed with tasty options. Then the real party began. The rest is history.167467_10151359205415960_276844231_nphoto (36)photo (34)

photo cred: Holts

photo (35)

photo cred: Keaton

photo cred: Keaton

photo cred: Tanya

photo cred: Tanya

I succeeded in acquiring my only (minor) sunburn of my whole trip that day, which also happened to be the night of shenanigans where many photos were taken. Tomato face or not, it was a hell of a time spent with awesome people in and extraordinary place, and I’m glad for the visual souvenirs.

photo cred: Tanya

photo cred: Tanya

photo cred: Jessica

photo cred: Jessica

Getting back to the hostel after a whirlwind couple of days, our group parted ways as the impermanent way of travelling goes, but taking with us beautiful memories (some blurry) and experiences that I won’t soon forget.

photo cred: Tanya

photo cred: Tanya

photo cred: Tanya

photo cred: Tanya

 

 

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