It’s amazing how you can pick up on similarities with home regardless of where you are in the world. I’ve found myself on a number of occasions on this trip saying “This reminds me of that place back in England”, but without a doubt I did this more in Hoi An and Dalat than anywhere else we’ve been so far. The city itself reminds me of the backstreets in Brighton, with a mix of Cambridge and some hipster-esque ends of London too. The place is tiny though, and there’s only really a handful of key roads that people frequent in Hoi An. Regardless of this, the place is awesome, and has a huge amount of character different to many areas of Vietnam we’ve experienced so far.
We decided we wanted to stay closer to the beach than the city centre, and also decided to spend more time here than initially planned so we could just chill out and do nothing for a couple of days, which we definitely managed to do! In fact, we loved where we were staying so much, we booked an additional day beyond our initial stage. We booked into a place called SeaSun Homestay, close to the famous An Bang Beach. To be honest I couldn’t really rate this place higher for anyone traveling on a budget. We had a private room with AC and a BATH (yes, a bath, remember those kids). Every morning we had fantastic breakfasts made up of banana/pineapple pancakes or baguettes with an array of fillings; a great way to start the day. The host also let us use her scooter whilst we were there, which really helped out on a couple of days! The best thing is we paid less than £8 a night for all of this! If you are visiting Hoi An, I would say stay closer to the beach, drive into the city when desired and make the most of the sand and sea.
In total, we had 6 days in Hoi An. This consisted of a couple of days doing very little on the beach, a day exploring the city centre, a day on an un-planned pub crawl (thanks to a day of rain and randomly bumping into 6 people we met across Vietnam previously), and a trip out to My Son that became way more of an experience than we expected thanks to a flat tyre on the highway!
Hoi An City
There are 2 things that apparently everyone should do in Hoi An; get a suit made and do a cookery course. Initially, we intended to do both, but realised quite quickly that all the cooking courses were set at a really low level (I know how to make spring rolls and Pho thanks), and the idea of getting a suit made 2 months into a year away was a pretty shit idea (i’m very likely to expand or contract over that time). We decided fairly quickly to sack off these cliche activities and just explored the city, and realised very quickly that listening to ‘what the tourists do’ is often a TERRIBLE idea when backpacking! As i’ve said already, the city itself reminded me so much of places like Brighton. Imagine the back street architecture mixed with the boutique nature of shops in Cambridge. This place is trawling with little boutique coffee shops, art shops, and independent furniture shops, not to mention the deluge of tailoring places that absolutely litter the whole area. Oh, and the street food and small shops are pretty much all amazing! Seriously, I think i’ll come here when i’m a proper grown up to just buy some suits, get some art and table decorations for my house (that I currently don’t have), and stock up on epically good coffee!
Apart from all the shops and stuff, there isn’t that much to do in the centre. The whole main area is accessible by walking, and you can easily see it all in a day. The thing is, there appears to be a charge to see some specific parts of the old quarter, but to be honest I wouldn’t bother paying (we didn’t and had a great time regardless). I would suggest spending a day exploring the old town is good, maybe spend a day getting something made, then a day on the beach and that would be enough.
Seeing familiar faces
It’s funny, regardless of where you are, you still see familiar faces. We’ve spent a month (ish) in Vietnam now, and have stopped in about 6 towns/cities, and we constantly bump into faces we recognise. In Hoi An this went to another level though! We arrived at the homestay and immediately saw a couple we became friends with in Phong Nha from Denmark, so went for lunch with them. We then discovered another couple we met (from Colchester) were also in the city, so they joined. We THEN found out more people were in the city (via social media but also just bumping into them) so had a good little crew with us for the day. On this day the heavens decided to open, so we took refuge in bars for the whole day. This was actually quite a nice blow out!
Alongside this, we also bumped into loads of the guys we met at the bar in Phong Nha (the Buffalo run crew) on the beach near our place, totally by chance. For those that haven’t traveled, it can actually be quite a solitary activity. Yes, Kelly and I always have each other to chat to, but spending every living moment in each others pockets can be challenging sometimes. Seeing people we’ve met along the way is a really nice reboot to the system and can really make a trip! Obviously, we linked up again in the City on a few occasions which was also lovely.
Working on my beach bum
To note, this has nothing to do with my bum…
An Bang Beach is quite famous, but to be honest I can’t really work out why. After arriving in Hoi An we went to check it out, and realised pretty quickly it’s totally saturated with expensive beach bars and, well, PEOPLE! We’d been told by a buddy in the city to find other areas along the beach, which we did. We discovered an area called Hidden beach (not that well hidden, it had a sign on the road) that was perfect. We were 2 of about 10 people on this large stretch of beach, and there were smaller restaurants we could make use of that weren’t that expensive (not all that good either, but you can’t win them all).
I must say though, this has quickly become one of my favourite beaches anywhere! The water was lively but okay to swim in (see note below though), and an absolutely beautiful temperature! The beach itself was clean and lovely sand, and the fact it was quiet at this stretch just made it. To top it off, I squeezed in a 4mile run along the beach which i’ve been dying to do for ages! If you’re ever in Hoi An, search out hidden beach and avoid An Bang like the plague! The only thing I’ll say is be careful here. The water is choppy, and we aren’t 100% sure, but we may have seen someone drown the day we arrived (we saw them get pulled out then carted off the beach, locals were saying they weren’t breathing).
Expect the unexpected
It’s often the way; you follow others reviews and find totally the opposite. Likewise, the stuff you don’t expect is often the best stuff you never forget. This trip had both experiences in about 7 hours…
After a few days of doing very little, we decided to ride to My Son, a Hindu temple area and UNESCO Heritage site that sadly has been ruined from all the wars this country has endured. After a 90min scooter ride we made it there (but check out these roads, they are certainly testing!)
To be honest it was cool, but somewhat underwhelming (and bloody sweltering too, making walking about 7k a battle). We rode back and got caught in a monsoon, which again, was quite the experience. En route home, we managed to get a flat tyre on the highway, surrounded by thousands of lorries and other bikes. As you can imagine this wasn’t the greatest experience ever. Kelly managed to run across to the nearest built up area, and somehow managed to get a family to call a mechanic via Google Translate (thanks Uncle Google). An hour later, and an extortionate (apparently) 300k (about £10) we had our rear tyre fixed and were back en route. This was actually quite a stressful situation; we literally couldn’t have broken down at a worse spot, and were still wet from monsooning it 30mins earlier, but it’s certainly something I won’t forget anytime soon.
After a number of wonderful days in Hoi An, we decided to head to Dalat. Dalat is the main area in Vietnam where fruits and veg are grown; nearly 80% in fact (other than rice, obviously). Dalat is right up in the mountains, about 2000m above sea level, so the temperature is much more like Europe than anywhere else in Vietnam (it was about 20c most days and actually chilly at night)! After a 12 hour sleeper to Nha Trang, we moved onto a smaller bus to take us to Dalat. It was actually only 150km from Nha Trang but with the crazy windy roads through the mountains it took about 5 hours! I must say though, the roads were amazing and the views probably rivalled those on the Hai Van Pass.
Dalat is famous for canyoning, which is basically abseiling down a waterfall. I’d been really looking forward to this. Sadly whilst getting off the bus, I managed to roll my ankle on one of the steeply angled curbs. I know, how very rock’n’roll of me! This somewhat scuppered our plans whilst in Dalat, but at least we saved some money!
We hadn’t booked a hostel, so spent the morning we arrived trying to find a good one which didn’t break the bank. After a couple of hours, and far too much walking on a recently twisted ankle we checked into Dalat Backpackers, where we discovered the guys we shared a room with in Phong Nha were in the room opposite! That evening I went out for drinks with them whilst Kel went to bed. We explored the evening market and literally ate everything that we could see, including satay clams (probably my favourite thing to eat in all of Vietnam), a Dalat Pizza (a rice paper cooked over coals, with egg, spring onion, and dried shrimp), but then we went somewhat off piste and ate an array of the organs on sticks freshly barbecued.
I sampled brain, liver, lung and heart (I think mainly Chicken). Whilst not all were my cup of tea, it was good to try some different things and to be honest, I really enjoyed the heart and liver! I would definitely say to anyone get out of your comfort zone and try new things! That night we ended up in the 100 drop bar. Just go, it’s absolutely crazy and like no bar you will have been in before.
The next day we met up with Sam from Colchester. We hired bikes and headed to the waterfalls. By doing this ourselves we saved about $20 each at least (another backpaker tip from me, sack off the tours to save mega bucks! En route, we stopped by the Crazy House, another must see in Dalat. Now the name is bang on, this place is utterly crazy! It’s actually a hotel, but i’m not sure i’d want to stay. I’d love to know what drugs the owner was taking when designing this place.
The waterfalls were really cool, and these are nothing by SE Asia standards, but my first experience none the less. We stopped by the Datanla waterfall as we kinda fell across it (plus it had a rollercoaster type ride to get to it).
We hiked to the fall (and snuck past guards to get further down the fall), saving ourselves probably £5 extra each, which was just great! I’d really recommend seeing this if you’re in Dalat; the whole experience was just great, very laid back, and quite easy. Many people recommend the Elephant waterfalls too which look much more grandiose, but i’ve heard they are quite polluted now.
The following day, we went to explore the town on our own. It was a very chilled day that didn’t consist of much, but was just lovely. It’s so nice to see the proper town as it is day to day just by walking around. We stumbled across the markets and became immediately mesmerised by the vibrance surrounding us. I’d like to think I am fairly good with produce, but I literally didn’t have a bloody clue at half the stuff I was looking at. What I did recognise looked so much nicer than the stuff we get back home too!
That night, I headed out with some guys from our hostel (more people we just happened to bump into that we’d met previously) , and ended up at a bar playing live western music. The band were AWESOME and we had a cracking night, until en route home a card machine swallowed my mates card. 2 hours later and still with no card, we made it back to a locked up hostel, so spent about 30mins trying to wake someone to get in. As you can imagine, at this point, I just wanted bed, especially as we had a bus at 8am the next day.
Hoi An and Dalat were great areas to visit. I’d highly recommend at least 3 days in each area, and try to get off the beaten track. We’re now in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) staying with the wonderful Kelly’s (family friends from Dedham). I’ll try and write that blog whilst crossing the boarder to Cambodia in a couple of days.
For anyone who has done this kind of trip before, I literally can’t get over how quickly it’s all going. Today is day 65 of being on the road, and a day before we reach our third country. It all feels far too quick for my liking! What I can say is we are both having the absolute time of our lives, with absolutely no regrets, a shit ton of wonderful memories and another 9 months of memories to make.