With our stay at Hoa’s made short, the obvious decision seemed to press on and forward the river to Hoi An. Asking around we learn that the others, in a natural progression to the south, will head to Hoi An as well. So Cory rode ahead since he had a moto and Sarah with Joe, Morgan, and myself got a car pickup from a Hoa contact. Playing cards Morgan and I pass time while our surroundings are being chipped away slowly slowly. With laborers swing their sedge hammers salvaging all materials until the bulldozer comes to push the rest into the ground, we somehow block out the sound and attempt to appreciate the oceans soft salty smells and cool breeze. Just as one, of many, rounds of Ezra ends, a burn pile of plastic and a fresh cut tree is lit. Luckily a call came out from Hoa that our car was here and we loaded up with another quick good bye, “fuck you Hoa.”
“Fuck you guys, and just be cool ok.”
Hoa’s famous last words…
Driving away we look at Morgan’s bedbug bites, Joe’s new stomach ache, my wicked sunburn, and think, it was worth it…
With only a short drive we arrive in Hoi An. The bustle of traffic in a new city and the sun high above making its presence known, seemed to bum me out. This was not China beach and this wasn’t the laid back atmosphere of Hoa’s Place. But as we drive on Corey is spotted in the streets and he signals us to where he is staying. Later we would find out that it was maybe the cheapest deal in Hoi An. Welcome to Hop Yen. Getting settled into our windowless room, the overhead fan is turned on high. Both exhausted, we stay in our first day and wait out the intense part of the sunny day. Catching up on some writing and washing off the construction dust we grow to like the concrete box (our room) that is keeping out the noise of horns, roosters, and loud talkers. Needing to do something about my sunburn we head out in the heat of an early start. At this point of our travels it’s hard to not bump into someone you’ve already met and Mikey was not an exception. He had been in Hoi An now a week, having gone here when we went to SaPa. Thinking he had a good grip of the layout, we ask about a shop that might sell some cheap aloe and sun block. He said he knew of a place and we wonder around in the sun (now straight overhead). I was starting to loose my patience when we spot a stall with the goods. Having a cornered market on a much needed product in a beach town we shouldn’t of been shocked by the price. But with the sun having me on edge I argue with the woman saying “you’re crazy, Too much!” Holding her ground and me not letting up we find a middle where we get an aloe, sunblock, and a large bottle of cold water for all the money I had in my wallet (90,000 dong or $4.50) plus 30,000 dong from Mikey. I was ready to just suffer and walk away, but Mikey jumped in and said no problem while taking out the 30. So I fell in and joined the deal with our remaining cash on hand. All in all we saved maybe $4-$5and spent about $9-$10. Another big thanks to Mikey because as we got back to our room and put the aloe on, it was like having new skin.
Feeling rejuvenated from our new products we head out into our new home town and explore Hoi An in high hopes. Wondering over to the old side of town we are met in an alley by a food cart. Bánh Bao? he asks. We’ve heard of these from Cory and were excited to try em out. With no surprise we both look at each other and know this is our new favorite thing ever. Bánh Bao is an airy fluffy sweet dough pinched closed at the top like a dumpling. Inside this fluffy goodness is an awesome mix of spiced veggies and meat accompanied by a boiled quail egg. So basically the best thing ever!
With our delicious savory treat in hand, nibbling away slowly as to make it last forever, we find a truly beautiful historic French style village on the other side of the bridge. This side of Hoi An is full of color and accented with hanging lanterns in all shapes and sizes. All this with something else… Sitting back to take it in… What set Hoi An apart? We would later reflect and recognize the new atmosphere was changed by the locals, the food, the river, the beach, everyone seemed happy, smiling, and just living life. A good life, and an attitude that would become contagious as we see it now with everyone around us. Hoi An was growing on us and was ranking up there in our top best places visited on this trip so far.
With a few days of dodging the sun, because of my healing sunburn, we explore almost all sides of Hoi An finding its gems. Our favorite place ended up being just around the corner from our hotel, ViCafe. Besides being the first place we found flavorful local food , ViCafe also had a friendly staff of women and an amazing home made beer for only 3000 dong or $0.15 a mug! Here we fell in love with their Vietnamese pancake, Bánh xēo,and so much so, that I adopt the nickname from our usual waitress. (Bánh Xēo is pronounced Bon So…) With so many other dishes we found in Hoi An, we are inspired to write a separate story just for the Vietnamese foodie favorites, TBA.
Now a week plus in we decide to check out their beach. The normal thing in Hoi An ,when going to the beach, is to rent a bicycle. They say the cost is $1 for the day, but I saw it as us only using them for a few hours. We only planned on using the bikes for going there, swimming, and coming back. So I went to work bargaining with one lady and she has to ask someone else and we wait for a few minutes and she comes back and says “no $1 each” I say again that I’m coming right back and she says wait. But we look at each other and decide to split. Anytime you’re bargaining you gotta be prepared to walk away, and let’s face it there are ten other people selling the same thing. So the next stall we say 20,000 ($1) for two bikes. With a nod the woman brings out two rickety old bikes from behind all the nice new ones. It gives us a good laugh thinking “You pay for what you get.” The bike ride to the beach was actually pretty short and quite beautiful with rice paddies on both sides and a well maintained flat road.
At the beach bikes are not allowed, but shockingly there are people with stalls that will watch your bike, for a cost. Another way for us to spend our money… You could maybe try to stop well short of the beach and lock up on a tree but really it’s not worth it. On the beach you’ll be charged to sit on a chair so we brought a sheet from our room and found a shade tree. Although this beach seems prepared for tourist and taking their money, we see it to be mostly consisting of locals and there families eating dinner and playing in the surf. A few days of the beach leads us to the next reason you go to Hoi An, clothes.
It’s something you can’t miss as the streets are lined by tailors and seamstresses. It’s almost too much as everyone is trying to sell you a custom suit or dress. And for me not being a fashion material expert, I couldn’t tell if I was getting ripped off. Thankfully Hoa gave us a reference to a friend tailor, Sarah’s Boutique. Being on a main street the location was easy for us to find (41 Tran Hung Dao St.) and Sarah proved to be a nice easy to talk to person. Although, Morgan didn’t see any patterns that she liked. But she could go with Sarah to the market and have her choice of just about any color/pattern she could think of. We decided before going we should explain what Morgan wanted and how much it would cost. With a little bargaining it was a deal for two dresses @ $15 each and a pair of linen slacks for me @ $10. With the patterns and sizing of Morgan’s dresses figured out the ladies head off to the market on motorbikes to buy her 4 meters of soft cotton.
Before I can finish a beer they return and I am sized for my pants. We return the next day and with only a slight resizing for my pants, we leave happy customers. Morgan got her beach dresses and I scored an unexpected pair of linen slacks.
Walking through the night markets, like we did most every night, we see candy and cigarettes littering the street as if we just missed the parade. Scratching our heads as to what was going on, we realize it’s a full moon. In every shop, stall, and home you’ll notice small shrines with gifts placed at there base. These are gifts for lost loved ones that usually consist of odd everyday wants and needs. (ie: fruit, coffee, burning incense and cigarettes, money, shots of rice wine, and anything else that individual enjoyed in life…) I always wondered what they did with everything as coffee or fruit would be offered and would sit there. We could see that the coffee was there to stay as it was usually molding by the time we saw it, but sometime there would be pineapples and mangos. Would they just let this fruit go bad and through it out old and moldy? On this full moon in Hoi An we started to see what happened to all the offerings. In rotation with the full moon the locals burned the offering of money (usually fake) candies and cigarettes, almost as if one last way to get it closer to their loved ones. A pretty cool and beautiful way to show homage to the loved and departed. It started to seem as though we got everything we could get out of Hoi An. It was time to make our way further south so that we can exit into Cambodia before our visas run out.
Hoi An was a very fun city for us. With swimming, good food, and super cheap beer, but also very cool crafts and craft makers. Loaded up with gifts we make our first major expense, mailing our gifts. After lightening our packs from the little treasures to now, we take our time to book a sleeper bus at a good price. Our next stop is the mountainous agriculture city of Dalat. All we know about Dalat is that there are waterfalls and its not the tourist trap of Nha Trang which is the first stop of our long bus ride. Dalat here we come!