Fresh off our motorbiking week, Lou and I were able to discover the ancient city of Hoi An, located on Vietnam’s east coast about halfway between Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi.
Lou and I were at a crossroads. We’d been traveling for about three and a half months now, and during this time had become well versed in how we could travel and what we could take with us. Assisted with vacuum style bags Lou always managed to fit all her clothes into her suitcase and then help me with mine. I was usually the grunt labor that would sit on the bags and try to squeeze all the air out.
In Hoi An we were faced with a difficult decision. How many new, fully tailored clothes, could we fit into our suitcases? Hoi An, as I saw it, was home to two things – tailored clothes and the quaint old Chinese part of the town (which housed many of the tailors).
Lou was not shy about her desire to shop, having got rid of most of her clothes in California and then living from a suitcase with me in Bondi and on the road – this woman needed to buy something! Before I knew it we were being measured up for new shirts, dresses (Lou) and footwear. In Hoi An you can take a photo of a garment to the tailors and they will make it to your size. You have to be very specific about fit, material, and design. We also discovered you need a bit of time to go through all the stages of fitting, especially with footwear. Our tailors were great and no matter how many adjustments were required, they were happy to help.
In between fittings we were able to discover some of the old town of Hoi An. It is quite quaint and set around a river and canals that run in from the nearby coast. The architecture in the town is influenced by French colonial buildings, Chinese houses and Japanese bridges. This is quite a mix and the colors also set the town off – much of the cladding exhibits tones of yellow and oranges which are set off against the exposed dark wood timber frames of the buildings.
At night the town comes alive with a throng of street traders, open cafes, restaurants, and bars. Tourists will light small paper lanterns and set them off on the canals and many shops will hang paper lanterns that light up the streets. This colorful lighting dances off the buildings and gives the town a mystical feel. On a few occasions, we enjoyed venturing into town for meals, drinks and walks to discover the area. Following Ho Chi Minh city, Hoi An is the most international place we had seen in Vietnam, and although somewhat of a tourist trap, it was a nice place to be for a couple of weeks.
Somehow Lou managed to talk me into taking a bike ride out to the beach, about a 20-minute journey on push bikes. My apprehension came from the fact that I’d seen the quality of the push bikes here, I knew I’d look stupid on them, my limbs are clearly too long for Asian bikes of any kind. My other reservation was the safety on the roads, I felt exposed on a motorbike with an experienced rider which didn’t give me much comfort at the thought of trucks screaming past us on the bikes. For anyone that has kept up with the blog, I seem to have assumed the role of Chief Safety Advisor within our relationship. The problem is that I’m giving advice to a reincarnation of Evil Knievel who likes nothing more than prioritizing “the experience” over all else.
To be fair, our journey was pretty safe, and like all these adventures, Lou would lead with little fear of consequences and I would follow whilst trying to avoid every piece of traffic on the road.
We arrived at the beach in Hoi An and, what struck me, was that it was quite spread out with quite a bit of development happening. We cycled through housing estates that seemed like ghost towns and made a couple of stops at the beach to scope out the area. Much of the beach here is collapsing into the sea so you will see giant sand bags buried into the sand and propped up towards the beach to help stop the sand from washing away. We stopped for some food at a resort where we could park our bikes for free provided we ate.
For us, Hoi An was the perfect way to relax after a hectic week on the motorbikes. Much of our time here was spent wandering the old town, working from some nice cafes and enjoying the local food. As part of a larger trip, I can see that Hoi An makes sense, it is quaint and beautiful, although I wouldn’t recommend taking a dedicated holiday here. Lou was already anticipating our next stop, Da Nang, which is about 40-minutes north, on the coast.