Stepping out of Ho Chi Minh city into Hoi An was how Alice must have felt when she fell down the rabbit hole. It seemed disorientating and confusing to suddenly be in a place where beauty reigned and the pace slowed.
At first we couldn't quite believe it- walking through the streets were startling- the colours of the lanterns just made our hearts swell and we couldn't get enough of it. It seemed that the tourist board had done a number on this place, pedestrianising the centre in the evenings, good hotels, furnishing the ancient houses with cups of tea and guided tours and each street you turned down was a thing of beauty. Locals went about their business too though, it didn't feel just like a tourist trap. Someone had got this place very right.
Don't get me wrong, it wasn't without its drama as the motorcyclists just drive wherever they liked without warning. We saw a tourist get run over by a local on a moped and get taken to hospital with a mangled leg and then minutes later I SCREAMED when a Mororbike almost ploughed into the youngest. We realised there was a hierarchy- each person just looks out for bigger things around so if you're small, you have to jump out the way if everything. Simple!
We decided to take a bicycle tour one day to see something of rural Vietnam, and how people lived on the delta. This afternoon tour was money well spent and the boys were thrilled to be able to let off steam and cycle. Lots of local children shouting and waving at these westerners, riding past their school whilst water buffalo ambled past the rice paddies. Fishermen in round boats and triangle hats making their way home to their small, wooden houses. It was atmospheric and real- or felt that way, anyway.
On the way back from the tour, we were just in time for the night market where we tried some savoury pancakes and finished off with a regional speciality, Cao Lao. I wasn't sure about Vietnamese food before, I have to say. After the food of Thailand it seemed a bit... bland (controversial, I know!) Cao Lao though, was just what I was looking for- the combination of marinated pork, rich broth and the salad of aniseed flavour Thai basil just totally did it for me. You add what you want from the bottles on the table, treating the broth as a base- I finally got it. After that, my opinion had changed and I ate Cao Lao everyday.
We were sad to leave Hoi An, we weren't expecting to love it as much as we did, but who could fail to be captivated by the beauty of the twinkling lights and ancient architecture? We made the most of it knowing that our next stop was Hanoi. After a dreamy 5 days here, we took a deep breath and jumped in.
Where we stayed:
Hoi An Viet House Homestay. 25 GBP per night for a family room in a perfect location, on a quiet street 10 minutes walk from the Old Town- which was beautiful but expensive. Our host was a funny lady who had very fixed ideas about things and got a bit cross when she saw a bottle of water somewhere else.. she was eccentric but pleasant enough.
What we did:
Heaven and Earth bicycle tour cost 36 GBP for us all to do a half day afternoon tour of the surrounding islands. We cycled through beautiful rural villages, tried out rowing a basket boat (see below) saw how to weave a mat and visited traditional house.
Old Town ticket 4.20 GBP gave you access to 5 of the old houses (including tours), bridge and temples in the Unesco site. You could choose how to use it up.
Nightmarket- across the bridge in An Hoi each night. A lovely atmosphere and lots of stall to look at.
Where we ate:
Almost every meal we ate at Cafe 43 as it was across the road from us and was super cheap. We all ate for under 10 GBP per meal.
How we got around:
We walked everywhere around Hoi An as it was a treat to do so and everything was so close.
Taxi to the airport in Danang was 1 hour away and cost 14 GBP
Flights to Hanoi from Danang with VietJet was 32 GBP per person
Dangers and annoyances?
Hoi An was a breath of fresh air after Ho Chi Minh city- it felt much safer. The Old Town was supposed to be pedestrianised (bicycles allowed) at 3pm but that didn't stop the local who drove a moped into a tourist on a cycle. She broke her leg and it was distressing to see, but accidents happen anywhere. There were a LOT of bikes around though and as they aren't mopeds you don't really hear them!
The cost of food in the Old Town was extortionate! A lovely setting but very expensive so be aware.