Vietnam - The Magic of Hoi An

Published: June 9th 2013
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Thankfully, the train from Sapa to Hanoi was much quieter and smoother and I actually got some sleep! Everyone was woken around 5.00am by an attendant walking down the corridor and banging on all the doors. I couldn't understand what he was saying but I knew we had to be close to Hanoi Station and he wanted everyone up and ready to disembark.

I hauled my suitcase out of the train and followed the crowd of people heading for the exit. I had booked myself back into An Hung Hotel for Thursday night and was sharing a taxi with a couple who had slept in the same compartment as me, as both our hotels were in the Old Quarter.

We walked passed the taxi touts at the entrance to the station and headed out into the street. The taxi drivers who gather around the station entrance usually have meters which run faster than they should, thus costing you more. We flagged down a taxi from Taxigroup, as they are one of the recommended companies to use in Hanoi, and it cost 90,000 dong or $4.50, to drop off at both hotels.

I arrived at An Hung hotel to find the front glass doors locked, but I could see at attendant sleeping on the couch, so I knocked. Honestly, you would have thought an alarm had gone off! The reception was suddenly a buzz of activity, and it was only 5.30am. Lights were switched on, a receptionist appeared from nowhere, the doors were unlocked and within minutes I had the key to my room. This early checkin cost me $15, but once again, well worth it. I showered, drew the curtains against the dawn light, and crawled into bed. Might as well get a few extra hours....

Besides putting in an appearance for breakfast, I didn't leave my room until after lunch. My original idea was to catch the overnight train to Hue on Friday night but all berths were taken for days ahead, so I had to change my plans. I guess the good thing about having no plans is that I can be flexible. Thankfully I was able to book a flight at such short notice, so I'm now flying to Hoi An instead. Accomodation had to be booked, which involved lots of internet research to find a reasonably priced place with good reviews. All this
Hoi An LocalHoi An LocalHoi An Local

This lady would have taken me for a row on the river had I given her the chance.
takes time to accomplish. So I spent my morning in my air conditioned room, and got it organised.

After lunch I was happy to browse around the Old Quarter again and do some retail therapy. I had purchased very little since leaving Cambodia, and wanted to buy gifts to take home. I enjoyed browsing in some gorgeous shops, the plastic was handed over more than once and I had an enjoyable afternoon! I walked back to the hotel to drop off my purchases and headed straight out again. I still haven't seen the Water Puppet Theatre and planned to buy a ticket for their 5.00pm show.

The traditional content of a water puppet performance centres around the daily life of Vietnamese farmers, communal entertainment or historical legends. The show was performed in a small theatre with a pool of waist deep water where the stage would normally be. A large rod supports the puppet under the water and is used by the puppeteers to control them. The puppeteers are hidden behind bamboo screens at the back and sides of the 'stage'. Thus the puppets appeared to be moving over the water.

The show lasted for less than
Candle SellersCandle SellersCandle Sellers

These girls had candles in paper baskets to sell to the tourists to float on the river.
an hour, and wasn't that impressive. The puppets weren't huge and all the action was around the edges of the pool, owing to the length of the rods they were attached to. Admission was 100,000 dong or $5. After leaving here, I ate in a nearby eatery and walked back to the hotel.

I flew out of Hanoi on Friday afternoon. A taxi for the 45 minute trip to the airport cost 250,000 dong, about $12.50. There is no airport in Hoi An, my destination, the closest one is in Danang, 35klm away, so this is where my flight landed. I had organised an airport pickup with Loc Phat Homestay in Hoi An, where I had done an online booking for the next three nights. Sure enough, a driver was waiting for me with the usual sign. He grabbed my suitcase and we were soon underway.

Loc Phat Homestay was a good choice. The rooms were only three months old and very comfortable. They were built around a courtyard with lovely gardens and my room was on ground level, a much appreciated fact when I seem to be lugging my suitcase up and down steps all the time.
Riverside ArtistRiverside ArtistRiverside Artist

Have your portrait drawn on the spot.
Situated midway between the beach and the Old Town (2klm to both), with bicycles to hire for a dollar a day, I knew I would enjoy my stay here.

Hoi An is on the coast of the South China Sea and is located in Quang Nam province. It is recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Hoi An Old Town is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th century. Its buildings and street plan reflect the influences, both indigenous and foreign, that have combined to produce this unique heritage site.

I was given a map of the Old Town with instructions on how to get there, and after settling into my room, I headed out on foot. I found my way without any problems, and what a beautiful place it was! Dusk was falling, and the lanterns, which hang everywhere in The Old Town, where being switched on. The colour, the atmosphere, the beautiful shops, and the river with it's boats won me over straight away. Classical piano music played all evening over the speakers in the streets. It added to the atmosphere, and I enjoyed walking around, browsing in the shops and taking a few photos. I dined at Seedlings, a lovely restaurant which overlooked the river. Braised duck washed down with a Tiger beer was a lovely way to celebrate my arrival in Hoi An.

It's awfully hot here, the temperature is hovering around 40 degrees by the middle of the day, and it's too hot to be out. I hired a bicycle from the guesthouse on Saturday morning and headed back into the Old Town, to find the streets practically deserted.

Whilst riding around I found the shop run by the Lifestart Foundation. This foundation is a not-for-profit charity that helps disadvantaged people and their families become more self-sufficient. It is designed to provide an outlet for the creation of fine arts and crafts. I purchased from their shop, and took their brochure to file. They hold traditional painting and lantern making classes, and I'm considering doing the painting class after my return from Hue next week.

I left my bike at a 'bike park' where, for the princely sum of 3,000 dong (.15c) it will be looked after until I get back. I wandered around the shops but it was just too hot, so I retrieved my bike and returned to my airconditioned room. I will venture out later when the world has cooled down a bit.

On Sunday, I hired a bicycle again and headed in the opposite direction, to Cua Dai Beach, the closest to Hoi An, and only a couple of kilometres away. It was a hot ride and it was only 9.00am! Once again I had to leave my bike in a parking area, and walked the last 100 metres to the beach. It was a lovely spot - scorching hot sand, azure blue waters but no surf to speak of. In the distance were deck chairs under thatched umbrellas, much needed in this hot weather. It reminded me of Bali....

I sat under a palm tree, enjoying the shade, when I was joined by one of the trinket sellers with her basket of bits and pieces. She complained of how hot it was, as she removed one of her two hats to fan herself with. She was wearing three layers of long sleeved clothing, two pairs of socks, gloves, two hats and a face mask! I told her she was wearing too many clothes and she
Hoi An Street SceneHoi An Street SceneHoi An Street Scene

Everyone has gone home....
was aware of that but does so in order to protect her skin from the sun. It's not cancer she's worried about, she doesn't want to get any browner. For her, white skin is beautiful, but she doesn't have white skin to start with! I pointed to my very tanned arms and said, for me, brown is beautiful. She thought I was very funny. I bought some fridge magnets from her and she eventually moved on.

A nap during the midday hours was great and I headed back to the Old Town on my bike around 3.30pm. I 'parked' it again and headed down Bach Dang Road, which followed the river. A local ferry was unloading motorcycles, bicycles and passengers, and I asked one of the men there if that was the ferry to Cam Kim Island. Indeed it was. Seems they move constantly between the mainland and the island, so I decided a trip on the river was the way to go. Before I knew it, I had parted with 50,000 dong for the fare (Ripped off! - the return fare was 10,000 dong). Never mind, I jumped (literally) on board, sat on the plank seating and watched
Hoi An Street SceneHoi An Street SceneHoi An Street Scene

The shop makes lanterns. Note the bamboo lantern frames on the footpath.
them load all the motor cycles. The trip to Cam Kim was only ten minutes, not the 30 minutes written in the Lonely Planet Guide. I was a little disappointed my expected half hour journey was cut short, but there's nothing I could do about that.

I spent an hour walking around Kim Bong village and took a few photos. This village specialises in wood carving and most of the carved items for sale in Hoi An come from there. I returned to the wharf and boarded the next ferry back to the mainland. I had a great meal of Spicy Chicken in Curry Sauce, washed down with a couple of drinks in the Old Town. I then retrieved my bicycle and returned to the guesthouse.

Tomorrow, a new adventure starts. I spend the next two days on the back of a motorcycle on a private tour with Hue Riders. Check out their new website at

Additional photos below
Photos: 25, Displayed: 25


Hoi An Street SceneHoi An Street Scene
Hoi An Street Scene

Lots of shops to browse in...
Lanterns For SaleLanterns For Sale
Lanterns For Sale

All locally made..
Snake Wine For SaleSnake Wine For Sale
Snake Wine For Sale

You can buy almost anything here.
Hoi An River SceneHoi An River Scene
Hoi An River Scene

Boat on the river.
Hoi An River SceneHoi An River Scene
Hoi An River Scene

Fishing net spread out over the river.
The Japanese BridgeThe Japanese Bridge
The Japanese Bridge

A well known landmark in Hoi An.
Beach RideBeach Ride
Beach Ride

Plenty of photo opportunities on the ride to the beach.
Cam Kim IslandCam Kim Island
Cam Kim Island

The ferry I arrived on with another waiting to dock in the background.
Cam Kim IslandCam Kim Island
Cam Kim Island

A wood carver hard at work.

9th June 2013

Lifestart Foundation
Hi Deb, this is where we volunteered for 3 months - run by Karen Leonard (based in Melbourne) - know her very well. Ok to take the painting lessons with Sing - we have one of his art works on our walls at home. so glad you found Lifestart - they do good work and for many years. Enjoy. Regards, Ros

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