Experiencing the lunar new year was a great priveledge, it did however come with a few small disadvantages. Not only were a lot of things understandably shut, but the prices also rose quite heavily (they even put a 20% extra charge on our morning coffees!). This somewhat affected our onward travel plans, as all the bus journeys were either already sold out or massively expensive. It was a toss up between 24 hours on a bus up to Hoi an, or a 45 minute flight, so off we flew to Hoi An in the centre of Vietnam. We decided to skip a lot of the beach resorts along the coast as the weather was being a bit temperamental.
Hoi An has very few hostels so we opted for a Homestay, which was a great shout. 3 generations of women live and run the Green House Homestay (well, little Sam is only 3, but she runs the entertainment that’s for sure). It was a little out of town but they offered free bikes, so our first morning we cycled the 15 minutes into town to start our big mission in Hoi An – getting tailor made clothes. This cute little town, a UNESCO world heritage site, is filled with Japanese merchant houses, Chinese temples and an absolute abundance of tailor shops. It’s also the town of lanterns, with every street beautifully decorated with hanging lights.
Easier said than done however. Who knew having clothes made would be so stressful. With such a huge amount of shops to choose from, our first task was to choose a tailor. We’d read a few blogs and had a shortlist of some good ones, but as we were walking around town we got lured in by a very persuasive woman who took us to her small market stall.
We didn’t love the selection she had, but she reminded us very quickly that it was the first day her shop was open after Tet, and we were her first customers – if your first customers buy something on your first day back, you will have luck for the rest of the year, or so they told us…
Needless to say, me being the sucker I am, I left the shop having bought a shirt for $15 that I was to go try on in a few days.
I will spare you all the boring details, but in the end we ended up getting four shirts made at the market stall, a dress and another 3 shirts at the high end tailor and then 4 blazers, a coat and two dresses made at the mid range one.
As you can imagine with all the trying on there was to do, our three days in Hoi An were all very similar – wake up, cycle to town, try on clothes, go for a cycle, go back to try on the clothes, drink coffee (it rained all week, and Hoi An is filled with great coffee shops), eat, sleep.
A few other highlights from our (rather rainy) few days that didn’t involve clothes were certainly our cycles across the town, across the bridge to a very local village and through rice paddies, and spending one morning being given a cooking lesson by our wonderful homestay family.
We all went to the market together in the morning, and then spent a few hours learning to make spring rolls, banh xeo (a type of rice pancake filled with shrimps and bean sprouts) and beef & pineapple stir fry. Despite not a huge amount of language in common, we had a great time and made so much food it lasted for both lunch and dinner. The grandmother even managed to make fun of my spring roll rolling skills despite not a word of English! I have never met such a friendly three year old as well – when she saw us she would immediately run into our arms and sit on our laps. She spent the evenings with us in our room and cried when she had to leave again! Bless.
One of my personal highlights was the karaoke – everywhere we’ve been so far loves karaoke, but in Hoi An, as we were cycling around the streets, you would often hear singing coming from several houses, and there would just be a guy, sitting on his sofa, singing badly at the top of his lungs. I’m yet to hear a good voice, but the amount of passion and energy people sing with is quite frankly inspiring.
On the Friday morning, we picked up all our clothes and took them to the post office, before getting on our rented scooters for the 5 hour drive up to Hue. The route between the two towns was made famous by Top Gear and as such is now a popular tourist activity that takes you across the Hai Van pass, a supposedly beautiful mountain road. It was something we were hugely keen to do and had been recommended by everyone we’d spoken to, however the rain was making us doubt it. We decided to risk it, and set off at 10am for the drive up there. The company we rented the bikes from even drove our luggage up to our hotel in Hue!
Of course, just a few minutes in, it starting torrentially raining and didn’t stop until we got to Hue, so the views on the Pass were miserable, but we still had fun! The roads were pretty empty and good, and we took a few detours to see some local villages. It wasn’t until we got to the outskirts of Hue that the traffic picked up and we could see the true colours of being a scooter driver in Vietnam – it wasn’t that fun. I’ve never seen so many scooters driving so close to each other, honking left right and centre, seemingly ignoring all traffic laws!
Our one day in Hue was spent at the city’s imperial Citadel, a forbidden city type complex, that used to house the Emperors, alongside various temples and palaces, built between 1804-1833. It was abandoned as communism took over in 1945 and the capital was moved from Hue to Hanoi.
We stopped for lunch at a cafe on our way home, and as the menus were only in Vietnamese we asked a waitress what one of the pictures was. She did a hopping motion, so Katie ordered what she thought would be rabbit. Sadly, the hopping motion was frogs, so a plate of barbecued frogs landed in front of Katie, which she was not too happy about.
The next morning we departed for Phong Nha, a national park close to the border of Laos that is home to the world’s biggest caves!
Bye for now x