Published: February 10th 2012February 10th 2012
An Bang Beach
Hoi An beach - in the distance you can see islands if you look close.
After our dreary weather in Hanoi, our visit to Hoi An was welcome relief ushering in blue skies and gorgeous beaches. Hoi An is another UNESCO World Heritage City that sits at the foothills of the Vietnamese mountains about 4 kilometers from the Sea of China. Our original reason for visiting, the full moon festival, was only a small portion of the charm that Hoi An has to offer.
To get to Hoi An we flew from Hanoi to Da Nang for a very reasonable price. We had set up an airport pick-up which worked perfectly again and we were on our way to Hoi An, a 30 minute drive or so. Almost instantly we were greeted by some immense development as we drove along the sea shore. It is clear that Da Nang is going through a huge change now and soon will become a tourist mecca – and rightfully so, the beaches in this stretch of Vietnam appear to be among the best that I have seen. As we approached Hoi An the development eased and the smaller more rural side of Vietnam poked its head to pay us a visit. Upon our arrival at our hotel we
Heading back from the beach.
were greeted with some tea, biscuits, and another group of absolutely delightful staff. I’m starting to think that Vietnamese are some of the nicest people in the world.
We settled into our hotel and went out to have some lunch and explore the city so we would be orientated for the full moon festival at night. The full moon festival drew quite the crowd of locals and tourists, but mainly locals seemed to partake in the festivities. The festival is concentrated around the Thu Bon River where boats with lanterns and floating candles meander down. The whole area is lit up with lanterns and makes for a wonderful stroll around, but the busyness does detract some from the whole experience. Since we arrived on the first day of the full moon festival Hoi An was a bustling place and we didn’t realize just how busy the full moon festival made it until our third day in Hoi An where the streets really calmed down. Besides the festival we fell into a routine that consisted of biking to the beach each day and the start of what has felt like a vacation as opposed to just travel.
Full Moon Festival
Lanterns in a tree.
the idea that traveling around the world is not necessarily vacation must seem crazy to most people who read this and think how lucky we are – which we are. However, there is a big difference between a typical “vacation” and traveling in the manner that we do. I think through our travels so far I have had less than a handful of days that have felt like “vacation.” That all changed in Hoi An. Our days consisted of leisurely biking 4.5km (9km roundtrip) to the beach and then relaxing with the sound of waves crashing and the wonderful smell of the ocean breeze have finally made me feel like we are on vacation! It is absolutely wonderful! The beach itself is almost completely deserted. If this stretch of sand and ocean was in the United States it would be one of the most developed areas in the country and hotels would run $200 at the cheapest. However, in Hoi An Vietnam the beaches max out at around 30 people with golden sand stretched as far as the eye can see. Just to add to the experience you can buy a 16oz ice cold beer for $0.75 and most food
Amy and I biking to the beach.
for less than $2. All of this while being waited on by attentive staff that with a smile could probably rival any service you receive in the States. I can only hope that as we visit Thailand beaches we don’t look back with regret that we didn’t spend more time here.
After three vacation like days in Hoi An we headed South to Nha Trang on another sleeping bus. This sleeping bus experience was nothing like our last one. The start of it was absolutely wonderful, but it seemed to get progressively worse from there. To start, we were picked up directly at our hotel – this was the first time this happened to us in all of our bus travels – we thought we were royalty! We were quickly ushered on the bus and told where to settle in. The guy yelling instructions in Vietnamese was pretty stern and we did not have much choice in where we sat, but our seats were OK. As we rolled through town we picked up a few more people and then we headed to Da Nang. As we rolled through town the driver clearly thought that the brake and the horn
Locals fishing. They use these round boats and paddle almost in a circle - really interesting to watch!
were toys as he played with them the entire drive. After a few minutes on the bus I thought to myself that you could make a drinking game out of the bus driver honking. Then I realized that if you took a sip of beer for every 100 times he honked you would probably go through a case of beer in about an hour. The braking wouldn’t be so bad except for the fact that each time he braked (every three seconds or so) you slid towards your feet and had to “straighten” yourself back out to try to be comfortable. On top of the braking, the tipping side to side had you constantly wondering if you would actually stay in your bunk or be tossed out the side. For the first 30 minutes you think you will get used to the braking and honking and then we stopped in Da Nang to pick up some more people so everything seemed to be OK. In Da Nang we added some locals…this turned out to be interesting. The bus was oddly designed; it had three rows of chairs, one down the center and two on either side with an aisle between
Boat with a Vietnamese flag.
all the chairs. The chairs were also stacked two high, we were on the top bunk (which I think is the preferred place to be, even though you get car sick easier). As the locals started to pile in, they filled up the aisles sitting in every inch of floor space available. I think between the two aisles we had 15-20 locals sitting on the floor. It should be noted that this is a scheduled 12 hour bus ride and the locals are taking this bus sitting on the floor with the knees of the person behind them in their back – not comfortable! Stopping at the roadside for a bathroom break made for an interesting affair as the people who got out had to essentially walk above the heads of the locals on the bunks to get to the front – something a gymnast would probably be good at. In addition, the bus had some babies on it and the changing of the diapers and crying for 11 of the 12 hours got to be a bit much. I was awake for the probably 75% of the 12 hour bus ride and the majority of the time I could
All the locals sitting in the aisle. I am the green shirt in the picture.
not tell if we were on the road, in the ditch, or hitting cars. When we pulled into Nha Trang I could not have been more ready to get off the bus and try to sleep some without a horn honking every three seconds.
Lucky for us our hotel had a room that we could sleep in until the people in our reserved room checked out. I crashed so hard for a couple of hours that when they called and told us our room was ready I just laid back down. They proceeded to knock on the door and then escort us up to our room – another nap and we were ready to go for the day. The misery of the bus ride quickly subsided as we walked towards the beach. The beaches in Nha Trang are equally as spectacular, but far more developed than Hoi An. Although, the development is not close to the level that Da Nang appears to be on pace for and nowhere near what I would expect in the States for such a spectacular beach. The golden sand beaches are located in a bay surrounded by Mountains that flow into turquoise waters. I
Nha Trang Beach.
would probably say that the beaches in Nha Trang are actually superior to the beaches in Hoi An, but the experiences at each are different so it is difficult to compare. One unique thing about the beaches in Nha Trang is that the water falls of rapidly – almost at a 45 degree angle. Due to this, the waves crash directly on shore in a thunderous manner – far different than any other beach I have been too. Two days have passed in Nha Trang and both days we have gone to Louisiane Brewhouse to relax on their chairs and sip some good beer. It is a great, albeit rather expensive, place to enjoy the sand and beaches of Nha Trang. A passion fruit Witbier and a Dark Lager have caught our attention at Louisiane and keep us coming back.
While swimming on our second day in Nha Trang I felt something brush across my chest. I looked down and it was a jellyfish. It didn’t seem like I was stung as it did not hurt or bother me, but I quickly paddled away from it. After a little more paddling around we got out of the water and
On the way to beach, the farming community.
my chest seemed itchy. Originally, I thought it was just the salt from the water that made me feel itchy, but it is about eight hours later and my chest is still really itchy and I’m thinking that the jellyfish got me. Hopefully it doesn’t get worse!
I had a second interesting experience on the beach…this elderly (75ish) Vietnamese woman with four bottom teeth and one top tooth came up to me with her left hand out requesting to shake my hand, I obliged. She then grabbed my boob (I like to think pectoral) with her other hand in groping manner and as she walked away slapped my ass. The whole time she had a huge smirk on her face. I could not help but laugh and wonder what the heck happened…certainly an interesting experience!
The European influence on Vietnam is prevalent on the beaches. Speedo’s are probably the majority and all women wear a bikini. Today we saw several women that in the United States would never wear a bikini, all of them were well over 200 pounds. It was refreshing to see people with such figures not hiding their bodies – something that the image conscious
Nha Trang Beach.
U.S. could probably learn from.
Tomorrow we are going on a snorkeling trip and then we take another sleeping bus to Ho Chi Minh the following day – we are praying that the bus experience is different!
There are more photos below