Why did I go to Hoi An again??


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March 25th 2009
Published: March 25th 2009
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Why did I go to Hoi An again?? Hoi An
14th - 16th March 2009


Whenever someone tells you the bus will take X number of hours in Vietnam, take the longest and most conservative estimate, add 50%!a(MISSING)nd you’ll be somewhere in the ballpark! At least that’s what experience has taught us thus far.

The bus we’d arranged to catch from Hue to Hoi An departed at 8:30 from outside our hotel as most of the tourist buses do. We had been told previously by numerous and unconnected people the bus journey to Hoi An would take 3 hours. From boarding the bus at 8:30am we circled the city of Hue looking for more passengers for approximately 45 minutes and finally got underway on a journey which would wind up taking in excess of 5 hours, but all was not lost - I managed to read a full 5 chapters of The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg which so far seems like a very interesting read about the origins and evolution of the English language.

The bus company we travelled with (Trekking Travel) was really taking the piss I think, trying to save money by driving so slow they didn’t use any fuel - we were sat immediately behind the driver and I didn’t see him breach 40 km/h once (~26 mp/h) in the entire 150k journey. We were frequently overtaken by locals carrying 20 chickens on a motorbike - enough said!

Arriving In Hoi An

Eventually we arrived in Hoi An and as soon as stepped off the bus were pounced upon by hotelier after hotelier after moto-taxi driver all trying to take us to their hotel and to be honest it made me instantly dislike the place (first impressions count for a lot I think!). Every hotel we enquired about was far too expensive ($12 a night or more) and seemingly all accommodation was in a single ‘tourist ghetto’. I’m not saying the accommodation wasn’t nice, in fact I suppose it represented some of the best value, in terms of quality for your money accommodation we’d seen anywhere in Vietnam, but the problem is I just want a bed - nothing more - so this really looked like screwing the budget for a day or two. We eventually found a place for $10 a night and stayed there.

Hoi An is super touristy and I know I’ve moaned about this before, but just because I can’t help myself I’m going to again - once more I found myself surrounded by fat foreign people - you know the kind - women who walk with their arms out at 45 degrees from their body because there’s so much fat between their arms and torso that they can’t put their arms by their sides, and walk swinging their arms like military soldiers in order to help gain some important forward momentum for that next difficult step forward. Ahhhhhh! Get me out of here!!!

Walking around the centre of Hoi An sadly made me dislike it to an even greater extent after discovering the ‘UNESCO protected’ world heritage site was scarred and marred by the fact every single building had been converted into one of three things; either a shop, restaurant or café. It reminded me of Lijiang in China - one of the most famous attractions in Yunnan Province. They bear no visible similarities however you could see they both must have been special places once upon a time with a great deal of character and nice architecture, but they’re now truly spoiled by mass tourism and a poor respect for cultural heritage. Like someone once said to me before though, perhaps I shouldn’t be so bothered about that because after all, perhaps I’ve just been conditioned to believe the European method of preserving every last historical detail exactly as it was is the only way to preserve history.

Having said that, to crown it all, it’s not possible to walk down any of these streets without being shouted at by workers of the shops all trying to harass you into buying something you don’t want at overinflated prices and that really irked me. I wanted to leave Hoi An within an hour of arriving, but then perhaps I hadn’t given it a chance yet.

Leave the town centre was exactly what we did and we decided to undertake the 5km excursion to the nearest beach by foot. The road passes through some beautiful scenery and for a while tracks the course of a river onward to the sea, the periphery nothing but beautiful and lush vegetation. The road is lined with a number of cafes each protruding out into the river providing a great place to stop for a drink, relax and take in the view in relative peace and quiet.

The beach itself is nice to the eye however quite heavily used - the people on the huge arcing beach probably numbered five hundred or more, and spread across the beach was café following café in either direction from our road of arrival. The beach was red-flagged (and was for the entire time we were in Hoi An) although most people just walked down the beach away from the beach Gestapo and went for a swim without problem.

A decision that might surprise you

Veering away from the subject a little, that night Caroline and I made a decision I’m sure some of you will find surprising, even disgusting, even sickening to the core of your soul; we have decided to try and become vegetarians. It’s not that we have any particular problem with killing the poor defenceless little livestock bread for death or anything like that, it’s more a case of living in Asia enlightening us that there are actually so many great vegetable dishes to eat that we don’t feel there’s a need to eat meat or fish anymore. We’re not going to become part of the ‘shoot me in the head please’ carping brigade who refuse to eat something off a barbecue because meat has been cooked in the same spot, or refuse to eat a piece of cake because somewhere 6 months ago one of the ingredients required the use of an animal related product or anything - worry not! On the good side it’s of course healthier and could also be construed as a great advantage considering some of the countries we’ll be travelling to, in the sense that if we’re not eating meat the chance of getting ill from food is greatly reduced.

A much better day!

After perhaps suffering the effects of a long bus journey yesterday, coupled with Hoi An not exactly meeting the mental image I had of the place, I concede I was perhaps a little cruel about it - but I still wasn’t fond of it so we decided to leave town for the day and have an explore on motorbike.

The first place we visited was My Son which are some semi-ancient Champa civilization ruins about 50-60km from Hoi An - I couldn’t say for sure how far because most motorbikes in Vietnam seem to have their speedometer disconnected as did ours. The further south we’ve travelled the more impressive the scenery has become and I have to say the countryside in Vietnam is outstanding, even breathtaking at times. Both Caroline and I agreed the countryside of Vietnam is more impressive than anywhere we ever saw in either Thailand or Cambodia. Greenery and forests sprout out of what must be incredibly fertile land at every opportunity, in every nook and cranny, and most Vietnamese houses have gardens which the people plant with all kinds of flowers giving the place a nice feel.

The ruins weren’t very impressive, especially if you’ve seen any of the great world ruins such as Angkor in Cambodia; Ephesus in Turkey or Chichen Itza in Mexico for example - they simply can’t compete, but the nice thing about this place was the setting. It’s surrounded by thick jungle in all directions which makes for a pleasant walk for an hour or two. The place is very popular with bus tours and as we arrived we sighed at the sight of 10 huge coaches parked outside but actually the place was large enough to absorb them so it didn’t seem busy in the slightest.

A third night?

Our previous prayers for better weather worked and during the last few days the weather has been scorching! Not one day below 30 degrees! After My Son we decided it was prime weather for some beach action and decided to head back to town at a leisurely pace and ended up at a beach about 3km south of the main drag where we were the only people lest a strange local filling up barrels with sea water and putting them on his motorbike??

We briefly contemplated staying a third night however considering neither Caroline nor I were lauding the place and accommodation was expensive, we decided to leave that evening - which brings me to a discovery I think we’ve made about the people in Vietnam.

As previously mentioned, people visiting Vietnam often don’t like the place because of the Vietnamese people. I would have to agree the Vietnamese certainly aren’t as friendly as the people of Thailand or neighbouring Cambodia however I’ll add that with a footnote: Vietnamese people who work in tourism from my experience (but not without exception of course) are a little rude, money grabbing, conning and often ill mannered - but I think it’s the conning part which most infuriates travellers. Compare that to people outside of touristy areas and the Vietnamese people are extremely friendly, in fact some of the nicest people of any country I’ve visited.

Take for example the simple task of buying a bus ticket. I asked our hotel staff:

“How much is the bus to Quy Nhon?” - He thinks for a second..
“$16 a person”
“Sounds expensive” I say
“OK, I can do it for $14 a person”
“Right, thanks for your help” I say and start walking away
“OK, $12 a person - it’s a good price”
“We’re only thinking about our options at the moment” I tell him and he responds
“Alright, how much do you want to pay?”

The price! That’s what I want to pay, the price! Why can’t there just be a price! Instead I just said again we would think about it. I have a principle when buying things in foreign countries; if I think they’ve tried to con me then they won’t get my business - end of story - I couldn’t care if they offered it to me for the best price in town.

Why do these people do that?? Can’t they see it gives them and their country a bad reputation and further creates a stigma which I’ll tell other travellers about, and other travellers will tell me about and we’ll all tell our friends about? All these people are doing is further perpetuating a cycle of bad press about Vietnam. They might gain $1 today, but they’ll lose thousands of dollars in the future when tourists go home and discourage their friends from visiting Vietnam. Can’t they see it only takes one bad occurrence and often that’s what people will remember - more so than five other fantastic occurrences. This hotel by trying to con us only managed to con itself - although we never actually decided to do this specifically, we never ate a single meal there, bought a single drink, bought any bus tickets, or hired a motorbike - and all because of their rudeness and trying to con us. Often if a hotels staff are nice we would buy all of these things from them. They got a high price for the room but at the cost of everything else which was probably much higher profit. Fools!

In defence of the less conning people here in Vietnam which we’ve also met plenty of, maybe it was simply a case of that particular guy just being an innately rude person to the extreme. I also heard him having another conversation with an older French couple staying in our hotel. They wanted to complain about the fact they had paid extra for a room with air conditioning, but in fact the air conditioner was broken. The man walked up to reception and very politely asked:

“I told you about the broken air conditioner yesterday and you said someone would come to repair it, but it’s still broken”
“What do you want me to do about it?”
“I want it to be repaired today or to change to a different room if possible”
“And you want a discount?”
“Of course, we paid extra to have AC”
“Out of the question - impossible”
“So what are you going to do about it?
“Nothing ”
“Because you don’t care?”
“No, I don’t care”
“Fine, we’ll check out today, forget the next 2 days”
“Good, you can have your passports back when you’ve paid”

The French are stereotypically infamous for their short tempers however to his credit this guy remained calm and polite but looked shocked at having been spoken to in such a manner by a hotel worker over such a trivial matter - and in front of perhaps 10 customers sat in the hotel reception. If he had spoken to me unprovoked in such an audaciously rude way I fear a small war would have started. I don’t know how many customers the hotel managed to lose from that incident, but we certainly weren’t the only people to notice and overhear this conversation and probably weren’t the only people who decided to leave that day because of it. Not only was it unprovoked, it was rude, ill-mannered and provocative. That kind language and attitude would earn you instant dismissal in the west regardless of the context - you just don’t speak to people who are paying your wages in that tone.

Anyway, we eventually found an honest looking guy from whom we purchased our bus tickets and decided we would catch an afternoon bus which was expected to arrive in our next destination, Quy Nhon, at about 11pm. This gave us most of the day to wonder around Hoi An and get some more beach time. That was the first of a few mistakes we made that day!

A day of mistakes

Mistake number one was to decide to walk to the beach - 5km away. Within 1km Caroline’s flip-flops had broken and being the gentleman I am, I decided to just give here mine and walk barefoot until we happened upon a shop where we could buy some new ones. As I approached the beach 4km later with rather sore feet I conceded there perhaps wasn’t quite the proliferation of shoe sellers I had imagined along the route. I guess my feet just aren’t as tough s they were when I left home. In China I wouldn’t walk bare foot in my own apartment, let alone on the street - consequently after one year I have very soft and fragile feet!

Mistake number two was to go to the beach. After a couple of hours on the beach, a large portion of sand was practically welded to my skin creating a fair amount of discomfort and I’d also forgotten to bring my swim shorts which meant I couldn’t rinse off in the sea. We had also checked out of the hotel and packed our bags which meant a shower was out of the question. Damn! It’s going to be an uncomfortable bus ride.

Mistake number three was getting the bus at that time of day. We arrived in Quy Nhon as expected at about midnight which meant there was no transport available from the bus stop to our hostel we’d booked. This meant a full 5km trek across the city with the entirety of our luggage to find a place not marked on our map. We arrived at our hostel just after 1:30am.

PS - This is the last of me writing so much! It takes so long, and to be honest I’m not sure it’s even that interesting. Expect all blogs from me to be much shorter from now on!!



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