Vietnam: Hoi An – The City of Lanterns

After arriving in Hoi An in the early evening and checking into my hostel, I made my way out for dinner.

I felt I had been doing pretty well and sticking only to fairly healthy, local food but due to the gloomy weather and after the long bike ride I fancied some Western style comfort food. I skipped the first option I saw……………

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……….. and went to an English style café for a Cheeseburger and Chips. Met the owner there called Tim who was an English expat living in Hoi An and he gave me some information on where the nightlife was and recommended a place called the “Tiger Tiger bar”.

I must say that I wasn’t expecting anything special from the meal –  often when in these types of countries I find that the local food is a treat but the Western style fast food i.e pizzas, beef steaks, fry ups, burgers is often sub-par or ordinary at best unless you really splash out and dine at a fancy place. My mate Saul, if he is reading this, might relate to this if he remembers the T-Bone steak he ordered in the Gili Islands, Indonesia as an example. I have no idea how he digested that “thing”. I also still have no idea what meat that was supposed to be, maybe it was leather.

As another example, I honestly don’t think I have ever had a decent bacon roll outside of the UK. I mean when I was in Australia, they put beetroot on the bacon rolls?!? I always forgot to tell them not to put it on there, it was just there as a default. Even if you scraped it off, the disgusting beetroot taste remained. And during my time in Malta (which apart from this one issue did have incredible food otherwise), the bacon rolls always came with a full mixed salad, and I am talking the whole works – lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, carrot pieces etc and even mayonnaise or “foreign bodies” as one of the directors who worked there used to call it. On this occasion, I was to be proven entirely wrong – possibly the best Cheeseburger I have had in the past few years, and I know my Cheeseburgers! The name of the place was simply, the Kebab Shack.

I took a walk in an area known as the old town first which is very charming. It is closed off to traffic in the evenings (which was absolute heaven to be honest) and well basically there are lanterns everywhere. It really is quite “cute” I guess, is the only word I can think of to describe the town albeit at the risk of sounding a bit girly.

I was already starting to warm to Hoi An and it was a town that felt like it was essentially designed for tourists and travellers. There was all sorts of quirky little shops, restaurants and bars and it was a more relaxed vibe then anywhere else I had been. The hassle factor was fairly low as well but that may be because I am here in low season. I just felt instantly chilled out walking around the place.

A big attraction here which even a surprising number of backpackers on a lower budget seem to go for, are cheap, very well made and tailored suits or dresses which you can have made here and sent back to your home town but I wasn’t interested in that – I had come travelling to get away from wearing suits.

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All those lit up places across the river was on a street called “Pub Street” where the Tiger Tiger Bar was. My Pub radar was working correctly.

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After my heavy night out in Son Trach, I had taken 3 full days off the booze so I decided to make my way to “Pub Street” on An Hoi Island, across a bridge and have a couple of cheeky beers. After walking around a night market first and wondering why I was doing such a thing……..

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……….I ended up at the Tiger Tiger Bar recommended by my old matey Tim from the English Café. This place was highly sociable. Pretty much as soon as I sat down, or a few minutes after, this Australian Couple introduced themselves as Max and Ashley. They were very talkative and already pretty ticking. I enjoyed chatting with them and later made my way to another pub with them too. It was quite funny as another bloke in the pub kept coming up and bumming cigarettes of Max, he was getting pretty annoyed at this and kept calling him a name ending in “head” when he left but continued to dish him each time he came back. I think he asked him for about 6 cigarettes in the end which is pretty rude especially as he didn’t know him! They lived in Brisbane and when I told them I was on a long-term trip they even brought a couple of my drinks, even though I honestly tried my best to insist they shouldn’t. I talked to them a bit about my time in Australia when I did the working holiday visa thing in 2008. They were on a holiday for 2 weeks and it was the first holiday they had both been on in 3 years, Max said he had been really stressed out recently at work in an engineering office. They left about 10.00PM and then I got chatting to 2 Irish girls who were on the same table and later started dancing with them, or trying my best to anyway. They were longer term travellers and had already been to South America too and they were a good laugh. Tiger Tiger bar closed quite early at about 11.00PM so I was told about Tiger Tiger 2 bar down the road! In that bar, I  bumped into the Israel guy from Sapa for the third time! I still don’t know his name as I forgot what it was after Sapa and the next time I met him I didn’t want to ask again as he would know I forgot it! I guess we are following a similar route.

It was a great night and was really fun to socialise and talk to people a bit as I hadn’t met anyone at all in Hue apart from a couple of locals. I remembered the previous hangover from hell in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park and just sipped beers all night and was fine the next day apart from an unusual pain in my knees and lower back from all the dancing. Getting down with the backpackers!

I haven’t been taking many pictures of nights out in Vietnam as my camera is my phone, so for security I have mainly been leaving it in the accommodation at night but I decided to take it out tonight. Unfortunately, this was all that I found on my phone the next day. I really do need to work on my evening camera skills. I would also like to try to get pictures of the people I meet along the way as it is part of the trip but I always feel it is a bit weird taking pictures of people I don’t know that well or have only just met!

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This guy kept taking pictures of people including myself so I took one back.
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I think this was supposed to be a video, was going to film the club a bit but took a photo instead by mistake.

One observation I have made in my early stages of solo travel is that it is basically all about brief encounters. I am certainly meeting a much higher proportion of people then I would if I was with friends or family and more people seem to approach me when they see I am alone and it seems to be incredibly easy as everyone is in friendly holiday / travel mode, however, essentially you meet someone and you might spend an hour with them, maybe even a few, and you are just getting to know them and enjoy their company and then “poof!”, they are gone and you know that chances are you are probably never going to see them again (apart from that guy from Sapa who keeps popping up!).

I have considered trying to connect with someone on a longer term basis to actually continue our travels together, and there are also a surprising number of resources online where you can connect with people to travel with so I know it would be easy but to be honest I am not 100% certain if I want that at this point, I cannot make up my mind as on the other side of the coin, there are many things I am actually quite enjoying about solo travel, maybe later on in my travels I will. I might write more about my overall views on Solo Travel in another post when I have some more experience on it and a fuller view!

My goal in Hoi An was to keep away from the tourist stuff, temples, attractions, tours etc and just chill out and treat it like a holiday period after some of the tourist stuff and travelling I had done – take some nice walks, enjoy some nice food, maybe a massage or two, meet some people, chill on the beach if the weather came……

……..anyway, so here are the pictures from Day 2 when I visited some temples and ruins at My Son Park!! Well you cannot seem to get away from them in this country, they are everywhere! Plus the weather still hadn’t improved. On the plus side, these ruins were pretty interesting and quite famous so they are sort of a must see around these here parts.

My Son temple complex was built in the 4th Century I think and they were constructed to worship a Hindu God known as Shiva. The majority of them were destroyed by a sustained one, week carpet bombing campaign of the area by the US as Vietnam soldiers were sheltering there. Many people died in that bombing and the most sombering feature of the visit was the bomb craters which it had been decided to leave there as a grim reminder. That day, I also took a pleasant boat trip back from the temple ruins.

I did nearly get in a spot of trouble when visiting this site as it was made clear from the outset that you were not allowed to touch or stand on any of these ancient, historical relics. Towards the end, when taking a photo I stood on a small wall to get a better position and one of the attendants ran over shouting at me and waving his hands to get off. I honestly thought it was just a modern wall that had been placed there to circle around the main temples and didn’t actually realise that I was standing on a world heritage ruin. In my defence, I did see another girl do the same thing there so it was an easy mistake.

The first 3 photos are of bomb craters from the Vietnam War.

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You can see bullet holes here from the Vietnam war. 

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Respectful Temple Selfie.

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I was really impressed by the style and appearance of these buildings to be honest. This whole area interested me more then the sites in Hue. Scenery around the area was stunning too.
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The small wall next to the man you can see in this photo is the one that I briefly stepped on when I got in trouble from one of the site attendants. Another girl did it on a similar wall a few minutes later.
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There was a dance and singing show at the My Son site. As usual the cameras were out in full force. I joined the club.

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BOAT SELFIE! I took a nice boat ride back to Hoi An from the My Son site. They even sold cheap beer on the boat and believe it or not they had WIFI. Bonus!

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Apart from the visit to My Son, during my time in Hoi An, I did also do a lot of the relaxing stuff like I had intended to and I got on so well with the place that I extended my stay from 2 nights to 4 nights – the beauty of long-term travel I guess.

I took a few decent massages, went on some nice long walks and explored the area properly, and just chilled out generally. After the first night, I managed to stay away from any mad parties (although I was very tempted) and just had the odd beer here and there and some decent food, watched some live music to which included a rather enchanting version of Beyoncé’s “Put a ring on it”.

It was basically just a really chilled few days which is what I wanted after doing all the tourist stuff and bus travel.

The only downside to my time in Hoi An was that my stomach went. I knew with absolute certainty that my stomach would go at some point during my travels in South East Asia but I wasn’t sure or not if it would happen in Vietnam as I hadn’t been here before. I wasn’t exactly sick or anything, it was just that every time I ate things got a bit lo……………well lets not go into details but I had to rush back to the hotel quite a few times, however, I managed to find some immodium in the end. Hopefully my stomach will get stronger during my travels and it doesn’t happen so often. This is quite a common problem in South East Asia but when on a 2 – 3 week holiday it is a nightmare if it happens  as it can ruin a significant portion of your holiday but on a longer term trip I am hoping the stomach adapts and becomes used to it so the symptoms don’t appear so much – that’s the theory anyway!

Anyway, enough about my bowel problems. On the day I was leaving I skipped my usual morning shower after seeing this bad boy in the bathroom…..

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Picture doesn’t show the scale here, this thing was nearly as long as my hand!

And I left for the airport in Danang. Yes, you read that correctly, I said Airport. It had been a tough decision choosing to fly from Danang to Nha Trang. I must admit that I felt a bit ashamed of myself for a few minutes – I mean I have been trying to think of myself as a “backpacker” and travel in that style which means that during my transport between destinations I should be properly suffering and taking an overnight bus or train; unable to sleep for fear of having all my possessions robbed, holding on for dear life while the driver of said bus takes us on a wild hair-raising journey through hell and back again, yet here I was kicking back in my comfortable seat, cruising on a cushty airliner, munching greedily on my free peanuts like a total cop-out. I had a window seat and could even see some of the little buses on the roads below me trundling along as we soared past them like a bird and the guilt quickly subsided.

I had weighed up the options and the overnight 10 hour sleeper bus was £35, whereas the 1 hour flight was £85 and I remembered the horrible, death defying sleepless night I had experienced on the sleeper bus from Hanoi to Phong Na-Ke Bang National Park. For £50 (the price of a mere night out at the pub in the U.K.) I could retain 9 hours of my life which I would never ever get back if I caught that sleeper bus.

Unfortunately though, I think this has now changed my previous status of “Backpacker” to “Flashpacker”.

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Next stop: Nha Trang, Dalat and then Ho Chi Minh City (subject to change)

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1 thought on “Vietnam: Hoi An – The City of Lanterns

  1. Another excellent blog Dan.
    Look forward to next one.
    Hope tummy settles down.
    Xx

    Liked by 1 person

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