Hoi An - the quaint town that has it all

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Asia » Vietnam » South Central Coast » Da Nang
May 21st 2014
Published: June 17th 2014
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As we wandered aimlessly and lost ourselves amongst the beautiful weathered french style yellow buildings, lanterns adorning every street and taking in the quaint river through the centre of town, we knew we were going to love Hoi An. Adding to the picture perfect town Hoi An is superbly positioned with vast countryside (namely rice fields) and a glorious sandy beach all within a 6km radius. Anyone looking to retire who is arguing with their spouse about whether to choose a country/beach/town retirement need look no further - you can have it all here! Hoi An old town is a strictly walking and cycling area, and the elimination of crazy vietnamese cars and scooters zipping about everywhere certainly adds to the romance and charm of the place.

We arrived in Hoi An to the not so charming Vinh Hung 3 hotel. Thankfully this was just a transition hotel as we looked for our perfect place to set up camp for at least 2 weeks and maybe up to a couple of months. So the hunt for this idyllic little Hoi An home was on. On referral from some travelling buddies and from our online research we met a real estate agent to see what was available. After looking at a few online rentals and seeing some ads here and there around town we were feeling quite positive. Sadly for us this optimism was quashed after meeting the agent as we found out our visa type didn’t allow us to legally rent accommodation in Vietnam! Tip for other travellers, if you want to stay long term in Vietnam don’t get a one month tourist visa, you either need at least a 3 month visa or a different type of visa altogether. Nonetheless we didn’t let this stop us, we knew we could rent from regular tourist type accommodation for longer term, so we set off on our bicycles to hunt through every villa, apartment, home stay, house, hotel and everything in between to find our retreat.

After nearly 2 whole days cycling in the excruciating Vietnamese sun, getting burnt to a crisp and drying ourselves out like freshly harvested rice on the burning bitumen, we finally found ‘the one’ - Hoi An Greenlife Home Stay. For those not familiar with home stays, they are basically small hotels run by families - so technically you are living in their home, although in reality it has the same standards as a hotel - private room, ensuite etc. Greenlife was really just that, it backed onto expansive rice fields as far as the eye could see…...think farmers in their conical hats, raucous little ducks waddling around and water buffalo plodding along. Up on the rooftop you could indulge in views right across the town and into the marble mountains. Only 1 month ago this homestay would’ve been a perfect “green life” with lush green rice fields to complete this picture, however as Williams’ luck would have it we had arrived in harvesting season, so most of the fields were hacked rice stalks and filled with raging fires to prepare the fields for the next harvest. Green or brown, it didn’t really worry us too much as we were just intrigued by the daily goings on in the fields. It was very insightful, we learnt so much about the rice growing and harvesting process and just how much hard work goes into those tiny little grains we take for granted.

When we weren’t studying the farming process behind our little home you would most likely have found us at our little slice of paradise in Hoi An, known only to a few as “Hidden Beach”. This was a top find that we were put onto after reading a fellow bloggers travels in Hoi An. Funnily enough it isn’t hidden at all, or maybe it’s hiding in plain sight, but this beach is about 1km from the main beach area and just a delight. It is a picture perfect spot, there is no hassle from beach sellers (like at Cua Dai), everything you need for free (beach lounge beds, umbrella, shower), soft golden sand and best of all refreshingly cold gorgeous blue water to swim in. To top it all off the area is run by a sweet very friendly Vietnamese family. They have a great little menu to order food and drinks from and they don’t harass you at all. They just let you do as you like when you like at your leisure - PERFECT! The only slight detraction from our near perfect beach was the little Jellyfish. Unfortunately we couldn’t swim freely without worrying about the smack of jellies around us - they were pretty harmless but we are such scaredy cats.

After a leisurely morning at the beach we would generally retreat to our home stay for some reprieve from the heat and literally chill out in our air-conditioned sanctuary. The other bonus about our Greenlife home was the lounge area, it had a big L lounge that we frequented most afternoons lazing about reading our books, having a wine or beer, a sneaky charcuterie platter and just enjoying the view. But after so much indulgence, relaxing and lazing about our bodies called out for exercise. We searched high and low for gyms in Hoi An, but unfortunately besides one ill equipped dishevelled outdoor weights gym the only gyms in Hoi An are part of two of the big luxury resorts. We visited the first resort only to be told that memberships were not being sold as the hotel was so busy, so we headed to the next resort hoping for better luck. Upon arrival at Sunrise resort we asked about the gym and the staff pointed us in the direction, telling us to keep going. So we kept going! In fact, we kept going so far that we walked straight into the gym and no one even blinked an eye. Vince and I looked sideways at each other and had a slight giggle. Could we really come to this gym everyday with no one blinking an eye…..for free?! Considering the going rate for a membership is a minimum of $50 for a month each we were pretty happy to bypass the actual paying of this. Now that’s true slack packing. So we casually walked back out and decided we would return the following day as any regular guests would 😉

The following day we prepared ourselves for our “gym thieving”. We knew confidence was everything, so we had to act like we belonged there and own it! We drove our scooter into the underground car park keeping our cool as the security guard gave us the once over. Once upstairs we slid into the previously scoped out bathrooms to change into our fitness gear. Slipping back out of the bathrooms we then walked the corridors sussing out where our “room” was if anyone asked. As we walked back to the gym Vince disappeared into a housekeeping closet, only to appear with two towels draped over his shoulders. Now thats’s how you look like you belong….hotel towels! Towels donned, heads held high, we strode through the hotel like any regular guests, nonchalance oozing from our pores. And bang before we knew it we were back in the gym working out. Everything was working so well……..until, the PT came in. And that PT was none other than the guy who ran the local hotch potch gym we had visited the day before! He stared at us for what seemed like forever and finally Vince crumbled and struck up a conversation with him. He asked us how long we were staying here - 2 weeks replied Vince…... in a $500 a night resort!! Our story got worse and worse and to top it off, as we left the gym in a torrential downpour, lightening and thunder ensuing, the PT was in the car park and saw us drive off into the rain in our gym gear. Hmmm, not sure if we are professional ‘gym thieves’ after all.

So needless to say, we were too chicken and we couldn’t return to the gym the next day as we felt too guilty, we aren’t good scammers clearly! So instead of using the fancy but small air con gym, every other afternoon we would either go for a run through the rice fields or do a “Vince & Suz metabolic conditioning” session, think skipping, lunges, push ups, squats, sit ups and so it goes on. Getting our heart rates up and keeping fit is really important to us and its amazing how crappy we feel when we don’t exercise.

After sweating our little tooshy’s off we would then refresh and head out for an evening cycle to town, finding the best dinner spot. We had some fantastic experiences once nighttime fell in Hoi An town. We experienced the hive of activity of a full moon, when both all of the the shops and all the street lights are turned off. The town is filled with floating candles on the river, lanterns to light the way from shop to shop and people milling about giving the town a definite buzz. Every night there is also some horrendous live singing in the centre of town. After nearly 1 week in Hoi An when Suz’s friend Nat was in town we got a little closer to the action only to see that this “horrendous singing” was actually a game of Asian bingo. Who doesn’t love bingo?! Needless to say we got involved and had an absolute ball, and to top it off Suz won - winning a Hoi An lantern and their “horrendous songs” on CD! Too funny. We also had another fun filled night at the 3 Dragons pub, deciding to go and play some trivia with the “locals”. Well it wasn’t really locals, more UK/Aussie tourists, but nonetheless it was a cracker of a night. We met a British couple, Sam and Nim, who we paired up with to play trivia. The night was filled with hilarity and mostly terrible knowledge on our teams part, wetting ourselves laughing cause we were so bad. Thankfully we went from last (6th) to finish 4th during the final round, so we saved face!

As anyone who has been to Hoi An would know, no trip to this picture perfect little town is complete without getting some tailor made clothes! After wandering past what seemed like hundreds of tailors we too had to join in this experience. For any female fashion enthusiast the tailors are impossible to refuse, their entrances seducing you with cute little blazers and signs inviting you in for custom made “quality” cheap clothes - how can you say no?! Going past one home stay we even found a little family making suits in the bottom of their house for a major UK label (name escapes me now of course!) - but it is so enticing thinking of the fabulous clothes on offer at dirt cheap prices. So with our iPad stocked with photos, some sample clothes to show them and brimming with anticipation we went to a few different tailors to get a gut feel and finally agreed on our tailor of choice. The woman running the show was so happy and so helpful, seemingly a lot more flexible compared to other tailors we had spoken to, we thought we were on to a sure winner. We got quickly measured up, chose our fabrics, directed them on every little detail we wanted and left them to it. The following night we came back for our first fitting and well let’s just say things started going pear shaped from there. Our happy helpful retailer had turned abrupt and sour, as did the rest of our experience. SIX, yes six, fittings later we were nearly tearing our hair out with the poor quality, poor customer service and just ridiculousness of the whole situation. Sadly Suz’s initial 7 piece order was whittled down to 4 pieces (as the other 3 were too atrocious to even consider). Vince’s 4 items made it through the experience relatively unscathed, only 1 pair of pants that ended up too tight as the fabric had basically no stretch in it - probably our fault for not picking that up when we chose the fabric.

The whole tailoring experience was painful to say the least and recounting every detail still gets Suz’s blood pressure sky rocketing. Of course Suz, the ever persistent fashion lover tried a second time with a different tailor, glutton for punishment it would seem! Suz was desperate for some nice little summer dresses which she couldn’t buy off the rack in Asia. So with her purse filled and determination flowing, she went off to battle once more heading to one of our previous tailors (Maya) we had spoken to who wasn’t overly friendly and charged higher prices but had great materials and great designs out the front of the store. So with fingers and toes crossed Suz went in and ordered 2 custom fit dresses from them. Being measured within an inch of her life it seemed like maybe this store was going to be different….or so we were hoping. Suz returned the same evening for fitting one and wouldn’t you know it, the clothes fit perfectly the first time. Beautiful fabrics and just what she asked for. Lessons learnt when getting tailor clothes in Hoi An 1) look at what is in the front of the store as that is what they are good at - in our horror experience we were getting clothes made from pictures - big mistake 2) price isn’t everything, a little bit extra in cost equalled better clothes and an astronomically better experience.

As our days drew to an end in Hoi An we had some other must buy items on our list. Being big Asian food lovers (Vince the Thai/Vietnamese fan and Suz the Japanese/Vietnamese lover) we wanted to buy something kitchen/dining related as a keepsake from Vietnam and given our love for Hoi An it seemed like the perfect place. We bought a beautifully carved chopsticks box set complete with coconut wood chopsticks (another of our favourite things - coconut!). What was even more special about this chopstick set was the beautiful family (Husband & Wife) we bought it from. We must have stood and talked with the husband for nearly an hour, gaining amazing insight into how a local family makes a living, all while his wife was running around to get us the perfect set. That alone made the purchase worthwhile. As well as our chopsticks, Suz was desperate for her turquoise Japanese/Vietnamese fusion ceramics. With one of the nearby towns (Than Ha) famous for its pottery, this too seemed like a wise Hoi An purchase. Bartering hard, we managed to buy ourselves a gorgeous 37 piece set and we can’t wait to cook up some Asian storms at home, entertaining friends and showing this off!

Our time was pretty much up in Hoi An, but not without one final rush of madness to see our days out. At the end of our time in Hoi An we decided to wander the town some more to get some artistic photos of the area with the brilliant blue sky shining behind the weathered buildings. During this leisurely stroll through town Vince just so happened to encounter a not so happy, very small, stray dog that (without warning) bit him on the hand! Nothing serious but it drew blood. Suz was off looking in shop windows and didn’t notice the kerfuffle until Vince sheepishly returned and told her the news. As Vince feared Suz’s wifely alarm bells started sounding and although he tried to resist her worrying that he had contracted rabies, Suz demanded he was taken to the doctors for a vaccination. After a 45 minute ride to the main town (Da Nang) nearby we made it to an international medical clinic where Vince was poked and prodded within an inch of his life and then told after the 3 shots he had that day he needed another 4 needles to go over the next month! Talk about human pin cushion. Arriving back home and looking into the potential harm of the matter further we found out that Vietnam had actually had a recent rabies outbreak in September 2013…..thank god we headed straight to the doctors for the vaccine. Fingers crossed the vaccine "nips it in the butt" and he doesn’t start frothing at the mouth!

So after nearly 3 weeks of relaxation and bliss (rabid dog biting aside!) it was time to say goodbye to Hoi An. We had truly experienced all that was on offer in Hoi An, but could definitely have stayed and repeated the process much longer. It is a fantastic little town and a must see for anyone travelling to Vietnam. It seemed though that Hanoi was calling us and the nearby idyllic clear waters of Halong Bay.

Favourite Food Finds:

• Cao Lau and Beef Pho at street vendor in town, 30,000 each and simply delicious
• Green peanut sticky local desert - not sure on name or exact ingredients but vince loved it!
• An array of treats from Laugh Cafe - namely their fantastic Cao Lau
• Red Dragon - banh mi chicken - best in town
• Dingo Deli - getting some comforts from home, roast chicken dinner, egg salad sandwich, blueberry crumbles, meats and cheese platters
• Good Morning Vietnam - delicious pastas - the clam spaghetti and spag bog beef ragu was delicious
• Not so favourite - swamp weed - bloody awful stinky bitter herb added to many soups and dishes, still don’t know what’s its proper name is!

Favourite Exercise Experiences:

• Running through the rice fields behind our place for exercise
• Sneaking into Sunrise resort to use their gym
• Metcon classes in our courtyard area and at the beach (after watching the beautiful sunrise)
• Cycling around Hoi An and particularly the lush delicious looking Hoi An herb village

We’ll remember this place for:

Hired a scooter and had bicycles from our home stay to get around town. Suz looking like toady from mario cart with her huge helmet and teeny head. Vince speeding over the bridge and Suz going airborne on the back of the scooter.Painful breakfasts - lost in translation frustrations daily with our friend at GreenlifeDaily intrusion of Greenlife staff into our room - I swear they come in at least 3 times a day. Once for towels, one for cleaning/tidying and one for mopping the floor and just generally being inefficientArmy rifle practise in the open field near our home stay - with the road behind the targets that we drove past as they were practising their shooting - safety first, yeah right!! Felt like we were ducking and speeding along in a movie to avoid being shot!Day 2 hiring our scooter - we donned our helmets and safely stashed our wallets and handbag under the seat, only for the owner to ask us if he could take the scooter back for one minute to fix the flat looking tyre. Of course we obliged, he then rode off and as the realisation hit us that all our valuables were in the bike he just rode off in we nearly died on the spot. Thankfully he was back in 2 minutes and all was still there safe and sound. Idiots!!The sound of the garbage trucks coming down the streets is akin to greensleeves just like the ice cream trucks at home. Such a joyous friendly reminder to take the rubbish out!Hooded, masked clad women, covering every inch of skin from the harsh Vietnamese sun - the whiter the more beautiful - western mantra, the browner the more beautiful - as the saying goes, “the grass is always greener…!"

Additional photos below
Photos: 45, Displayed: 35


18th June 2014

Great Post!
You guys captured Hoi An so well in this post. We found oursleves nodding at both the photos and writing and laughing at the "atrocious singing". It was great meeting you guys - enjoy the rest of your travels!
2nd July 2014

Glad you loved Angkor as much as us!
Doing awesome at keeping your blog updated, well done! It seems we did the same elephant mahout training as you guys and stayed at the same park and accommodation as we saw your name and signature in the guest book. Pretty funny as you were there only a week or so before us. Luang Prabang blog is next on our list! Safe travels, can't wait to see where you ended up after your Hoi An rental ran out.
18th June 2014
I want to ride my bicycle...

What a fantastic place and great blog! Love this picture too.
2nd July 2014
I want to ride my bicycle...

could be me entire trip favourite photo also!
Thanks Andrea... Hope the Aussies treated you well on your African overland adventure! Im sure they were always polite and introverted! :)
20th June 2014

Good job guys!
Excellent adventures and nice photos. Look forward to following along...
2nd July 2014

Thanks Nanci
Glad to hear you enjoyed the blog.... Its at that 3-4 month mark now where we all know it starts getting harder and harder to keep the blog updated, but we are trying! :)
5th October 2014

Hoi An
Loving your SE Asian blogs and the photos in this one just remind me what a pretty and colourful place Hoi An was. After reading about your experiences with tailored clothing, was very glad I didn't go ahead and order a suit there after all though I'm sorry it didn't work out for you. Look forward to reading more about your adventures, take care and enjoy!

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