After leaving Sapa we went back to Hanoi for one night and then took a local bus to Cat Ba Island. We decided to go to Cat Ba Island instead of Halong because we have heard good things about it and it's basically Halong minus the tourist crowds. It's really easy to arrange the trip by yourself without booking with an agent. Just go to the Loung Yen bus station and there you can buy a ticket for VND220000 that includes the bus, a minibus to the ferry port, the ferry and a minibus to Cat Ba Island. The journey takes about 4 hours door to door and is really easy. All the accommodation is pretty much on the sea front and they offer good deals. We found a nice one for $10 with lovely sea views.
I went to Slo Pony Adventures to book a tour of Cat Ba Bay which gives you an option of kayaking and rock climbing or just kayaking for $25 including lunch. It's a bit pricier than the other operators but as a solo traveller I did prefer to be with like minded people and I don't really like the tours where you have
to follow a schedule. We had great people on the boat and kayaked for about 1.5 hours, then had really good lunch followed by more kayaking for me and some others and rock climbing for the rest of the group. We jumped off the boat into the water and had a lot of fun. The waters there aren't really clear and I was really surprised that some tours offer snorkelling?! There are also huge jellyfish - the biggest I have ever seen. The bay wasn't busy which was really nice. You do see a lot of oyster farms though which apparently you don't in Halong Bay.
After two nights and 1.5 days in Cat Ba we made our way to Hoi An buy bus. The journey took a long time and we had to take a minibus back to the ferry port, a ferry and then another minibus to Haiphong. From there we took a sleeper bus to Danang (19 hours). From there you can either take a taxi (at that time we were 5 people and should have opted for the taxi VND50,000 per person) or you take a local bus which we managed to get down to
VND30,000 per person) but that takes another hour. Once you get to Hoi An, you are met by a lot of moto drivers who tell you that you can't take taxis into town, only motorbikes or walk which is 1km. The old town is free of cars but where the hotels are, cars are allowed. We took a taxi as walking with our heavy bags wasn't an option. We got ripped off with the price though. We found a lovely hotel after walking around for quite some time. There are places for all price ranges, some even have swimming pools.
Hoi An is such a pretty town with loads of flowers and lanterns on houses. It wasn't bombed during the war because of some sort of agreement they had in place and you see loads of nice traditional houses. You also see a lot of the ladies walking around in their local dress (long silk tunic with trousers). They look so pretty. There are plenty of nice restaurants and bars with international and local food and people haven't been lying when they said that the food is great in Hoi An. The best so far! You have to try
the won ton soup or the clay pot dishes. Yum. Hoi An is also famous for its tailors. I believe there are about 2000 or so of them.
The next day I spent walking around comparing prices for various itmes of clothing I wanted to get done. I settled for one - some of the stuff was great, others caused me a lot of stress because I had to argue with them to get it to fit. I went to another tailor to get some jackets done and a third one to get a dress done - both of these tailors where fantastic. I also got carried away and got shoes made. Again, the first pair was great and I should have gone back to the same shoemaker. I went to a different one and I had to go to 3 fittings up to the last minute before leaving Hoi An to get them to change them for me. I heard about good and bad experiences about the tailors. It's really difficult to find the right one as prices vary and the cheapest quotes are often for cheap materials. Once you are in the shop the selling starts. You
choose your materials, which obviously gets more expensive if you choose better quality, then you choose the lining (silk or other). I can only say stay firm and make them change it until you are happy even if it's stressful and they don't like it. After all it's tailored stuff and what's the point of getting a tailored suit if it doesn't fit. I shipped a 7kg parcel home which cost me as much as my suit!
I also did a day trip to My Son which are temple ruins about 2 hours bus ride away. It was a nice day out and we went back by boat.
It's so easy to get carried away with the tailoring and shoe making in Hoi An because every second shop is a tailor or a shoe shop and if you love your clothes and shoes like I do it can be heaven or hell. Still it's a must visit place. There is also a beach not far away but I didn't manage to go there (too many fittings :-().
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