The Vietnam Diaries 2011: July 26th – Da Nang & Hoi An

Our cab-ride companion’s name is Eddie, he’s British and works as a project manager in procurement of UK Ministry of Defence. Seems most Brits who backpack in Vietnam have something to do with the army. Da Nang is a pretty industrial-looking city, which is rapidly expanding. It has its own airport and caters to foreign investors and business people. It also serves as a major transportation hub for tourists (like us) on their way elsewhere. It doesn’t have the small town appeal of Hue or the charm of Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

We zoom through Da Nang itself pretty quickly, passing by some massive luxury resorts for the rich on the outskirts of the city. During the cab ride we chat to Eddie and exchange contact information and travel experiences. The ride to Hoi An takes less than one hour. Eddie ends up taking a room at the cab driver’s friend’s hotel. We proceed to Hai Au, a hotel we’ve booked online in advance.

Inside we’re greeted by a lady named Ming, who speaks excellent English (I bet she knows what “regular milk” is). She escorts us up to our room, while “security” (as she jokingly refers to the two young hotel employees following us) carry our bags. The room is not very big and is taken up by a huge bed. There are two swans constructed out of towels resting on the bed cover, and there are some petals thrown over it.

Nice touch, you flower-murdering savages!

Our small balcony offers a view of some nondescript buildings and a night club called Karaoke Eden – nnnnnoooooooo, not again! We snack on some leftover canned beef and beans. We have some instant noodles left from our initial shopping spree in Hanoi, but we haven’t found a kettle to boil the water for them in Hue. Seems our hotel room here doesn’t have one either. Take note of these instant noodles, we’ll return to them in future diaries.

Downstairs Ming helps us book a trip to My Son the next morning and a connection to Dong Hoi via Da Nang. Then we set out to explore the town. The predominant colour of the place is yellow and narrow streets are lined up with mostly new (or at least well maintained) houses. The reason the buildings are so well-kept is that essentially all of them serve a business purpose. Most of the town’s residents are tailors, so the ground floors of their houses are shops that sell clothing of all sorts: shoes, hats, t-shirts, tailored suits, tailored dresses, etc. This is the place where foreigners come to stock up on their wardrobes for years to come. The rest of the buildings are restaurants or hotels.

If you can't feed 'em, clothe them!

Just like in Hue, it’s a clear and sunny day (as those who have paid attention to the picture may have already gathered), only this time we’ve got no bikes to help us explore. We turn to Lonely Planet for help and set out on a quick walking tour recommended in the book.

The walking tour goes through a number of so called Assembly Halls, Houses (belonging to historically important families) and temples. We mainly walk past and take pictures from the outside, although some places have an “open house” so we walk in and explore. Eventually we pass through the central market and end up doing most of our gift shopping right there, killing two birds with one stone (note: no actual stones or birds were harmed).

We continue to follow the walking tour and bump into more people playing badminton right in the middle of the street. Eventually we come upon one of the most notable landmarks in Hoi An: the Japanese Covered Bridge. It’s a rather small wooden bridge built over a canal and it’s crowded with people. We do a customary walk over the bridge, just because we can! Then we see a guy who looks like he got accidentally painted over while being by the wrong tree at the wrong time (along with his formerly blue motorbike):

Tree painting crew spares nobody!

We hang out in the area and as it gets dark we sit down at one of the many open air “cafes”, which are just a bunch of plastic chairs and tables placed outside by the river. Each table has a menu card and some chopped up lime and chilli sitting in the middle of it. We order a meal of Cao Lau, which is Hoi An’s contribution to the Vietnamese cuisine. It’s quite delicious! While we eat we once again notice many rats that come out at sunset.

By the time we’re done with our meal darkness has fallen. Just like Hue the town livens up in the evening. People are done with work and are out on the streets. Vendors sell sweets and food and also some strange “flying saucers” that glow in the dark. In addition to that quite a few locals are setting down paper boats with candles on them onto the river. Pretty soon both the water and the night sky are lit up by the multitude of boats and flying saucers. Truly mesmerizing! Take that Hue – your kites have nothing on Hoi An’s lights!

Arguably, some of Hoi An's night attractions are creepier than others

After hanging around the city and soaking in the night atmosphere we buy ice cream and head home. On our way back we bump into Eddie (our cab companion). He’s spent the entire day ordering suits, shirts and other garments and arguing down prices at many different spots. Well, we all have our own priorities. We make our way back to the hotel via the now-busy streets and capture a few more curious sights on film.

Who says you need lots of space and advanced equipment to run a gas station?

Our hotel has a pool, so we decide to treat ourselves to an evening swim. Surprisingly, we’re the only ones in it (maybe that has something to do with the fact that the water is 110% chlorine). Back in the room we pack our bags for the early My Son trip and go to bed. We’re moving quite fast this week.

The journey continues right here.

Also, check out Katka’s pictures from the trip.

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