Saturday 18 August 2012

Hoi An

31st July - 5th August

Since arriving in Asia, we’d been keeping up a pretty hectic pace. The sheer distances involved make sure of that. So, as we arrived in Hoi An, it was time to take things a little easier.

It’s only 100km or so from Hue to Hoi An. We resisted numerous attempts to persuade us to take the trip by motorbike and got the train to Danang followed by a short bus ride on to Hoi An. The train part was very memorable, winding through hills and over viaducts, with fabulous sea views all along the route.

Mmmm, wood effect plastic veneer, nice
View from the train
Another view from the train
So far so good. Next up, getting the bus to Hoi An. For this bit, we hooked up with another British couple, Stuart and Jess (or Jen?) who were going the same way. Our research told us where to get the bus and that it would cost between 15,000 and 18,000 Dong. Cue yet another Vietnamese scam. *Sigh*

Basically, this con involved the conductor (if you can call him that) demanding 50,000 Dong instead of 15,000 for the trip. So far, so expected – our research said we should just be firm, refuse and insist on paying the correct fare. In a new twist however, as spotted by Stuart, he roped the other locals on the bus into the trick. He would make a big show of receiving a 50,000 Dong note from them, and then, when he thought we weren’t looking, slip the note back to them and charge them the normal fare (well spotted by Stuart.)

This was all very entertaining until, when he realised that we weren’t going to pay up, his accomplice (the trainee conductor presumably) made a big, noisy show of threatening to throw our luggage off the already moving bus. Again, the rest of the locals on the bus thought this was just fine. Not so funny. Eventually he accepted 25,000 Dong each – mysteriously half of the original asking price.

After two months travelling using public transport in China, nothing like this ever happened. After two weeks in Vietnam, these two idiots could not have made us feel less welcome in their country. The shame of it all is that most Vietnamese are amazingly friendly, some of the warmest people we've met while travelling. But the actions of a self-serving minority are not helping the country’s reputation.

For the record, if you’re ever getting the public bus from Danang to Hoi An, here are the two jokers to look out for. Pinky (the trainee) is on the left with the cap and Perky (the conductor) is on the right in the yellow T-shirt. The rest of their unofficial posse are behind them.

This would never happen in Japan...
Putting things into perspective, overall this was just a tiny blip in what has been a great trip through Vietnam so far and we got back on track as soon as we arrived in Hoi An.

Everyone we met before we left Scotland and during our travels have all raved about Hoi An. And rightly so, for it is lovely. A maze of bustling streets are nestled next to a quiet river. There only seems to be two types of shop: restaurants and tailors. Unfortunately, there are so many, it’s hard to tell the good from the bad. We weren’t in the market for a bespoke suit so we just had to work out the restaurants. Luckily, Hoi An is a bit of a foodie town so it’s hard to go wrong. We found this little place next to the river for a snack and some Bia Hoi.

"Oi! No photos!"
Only 12p a glass
We also ate in a lovely restaurant called Dao Tien. Most restaurants offer some kinds of cooking class and I tried to get on courses at both of these restaurants but alas, as I was the only potential student, they both cancelled. Hmpf.

In our five days there we did very little apart from pootle around the streets and eat great food. I had my first pomelo salad at one place – now my favourite salad replacing the one that comes with a beefburger and chips in UK pubs. Every month they also celebrate the Full Moon Festival where the street lights are turned off and the town is decked in hanging lanterns. A few streets are freed from cars and motorbikes and the locals wear traditional dress, recite poetry, perform scenes from ancient operas. Although we didn’t see much poetry or opera going on, with the lanterns and the peace and quiet from the lack of motorbikes, it was all very romantic.

Normal bridge in Hoi An
Japanese bridge in Hoi An
Full Moon Festival
Lovely lanterns
Our hotel was about 1km out of the main part of town and about 3km the other way is the sea. To get there, it’s an easy and picturesque 20 minute ride on hired bikes. Unbelievably, this was our first chance on this trip to get in the sea, so we did!

Yes, I am holding my breath 
Finally, the relaxation had to come to and end and it was time to leave. Rather than brave public transport again, we arranged a taxi back to Danang and then onwards by train to Nha Trang.

Seeing as I’m now a good two weeks behind in my blogging duties (and in a different country), I promise to post the rest of our Vietnamese adventures in the next couple of days, so stay tuned!

Current location: Phnom Penh until 23rd August
Next stop: Siem Reap