Although the beautiful weather and friendly hostel owner of Da Lat could have kept me there for quite some time I wanted to make my way to the North of Vietnam. I booked myself an overnight bus ticket to Da Nang and crossed my fingers for the best. The bus ride wasn’t terrible despite the fact that I was the only foreigner and was stuck in the middle aisle between two very curious old men. After arriving in Da Nang my adventure was far from over. First, I had to fight off the motorbike drivers that literally were begging to drive me to the bus terminal, a destination I could see from where I was standing. Once there I had to negotiate my fare for the bus to Hoi An, a notorious ‘scam’ where foreigners are asked to pay 50,000 when the going rate is 15k ($.75). Apparently, I had a real cheeky driver as he first quoted me $10 but eventually walked away happy with 30k.
This short bus ride was more enjoyable than the one I had just gotten off of and came complete with a chatty Vietnamese boy from Hanoi. He gave me some tips for both my current destination as well as my future travels north, should I want to visit Ha Long Bay or Sapa. I appreciated his friendliness but really just wanted to stare out the window. Once in Hoi An I phoned my hostel, Sunflower hotel, and was instructed to wait “5 minutes” for my pickup. After 20 minutes I decided to give them another call and was told: “Yes, van coming in 5 minutes”. I was this close to accepting the moto drivers’ offer of 30k when my van pulled up and whisked me away to a waiting room. I knew it might not happen but I was really really hoping I’d be allowed to check in early, shower and nap, but this was not the case. I was told my room would be ready at 12 and pointed to a heap of bags where I could add mine.
I immediately realized that this hostel was not for me, the organization was shit and the clientele matched. I somewhat felt like I was thrown into a horrible Spring Break themed movie; I was kicking myself for taking Peace’s advice and pre-booking at this place. I was offered a $3 buffet breakfast but decided to venture out into town and find something on my own. Before eating some delicious Cau Lau I decided a massage at Queen Spa was the perfect idea and couldn’t have made a better decision.
Eventually, I was able to check into my room, meet and listen to some obnoxiously annoying girls (aka my roommates) and catch some zzz’s. When I awoke from my slumber I went out to explore the town, find a new guesthouse for the next day and of course, more food. I made my way through the old town, in and out of numerous shops but was determined not to buy. My resolve eventually faded when an adorable dress caught my eye and the smooth-talking store owner persuaded me into getting fitted for one. If you didn't know (like me) Hoi An is home to the ‘made to order’ clothes shops. It’s almost impossible to walk down a street without seeing a tailor, or being asked to “Just take a look”. I really had no intention of buying but it’s hard to say no when there are offers literally everywhere you go!
Although my roommates (with their make-up, full wardrobe and straighteners) were planning to drink and go out for a crazy night (all you can drink specials) with the rest of the hostel, I was content with dinner beer and an early night (who am I?).
I woke up early the next day, packed my bags and checked out before taking full advantage of the breakfast buffet, included with my room price. Having went to town on that and snuck a few bananas for the road I made my way to my new home the Hop Yen Hotel. The dorm room was nothing special but I was able to check in early and there were bike rentals conveniently located across the street. After a few days of cool in Da Lat and a failed first day in Hoi An I decided to head for the beach. It was a pleasant bike ride and the beach was nearly deserted. I parked my bike at one of the various seafood restaurants and figured they would force me to order something to sit on their beach chairs but that was not the case! No beach in SE Asia is complete without at least a few peddlers trying to sell you their goods (postcards, jewelry, and other random trinkets) and Cua Dai was no different. I said no to the first two but there was something about the third woman that came by that just wouldn't let me say no. She left happy after I settled on two coral bracelets and two Chinese zodiac necklaces, of course, one was not enough "don't you want to buy your mom one?".
I had to be back in town that afternoon for a dress fitting, yes it was made in one day, which was a blessing in disguise as my burn was already forming. The dress needed a few more alterations so I was sent away and told to return that evening to pick it up. I figured I was already hot, sweaty and had a bike so why not cycle around and explore the outskirts of town. I was sitting on the waterside when two older women toting their fruits came along. After seeing my camera they urged me to take their picture and before I knew it I was getting my picture taken with their fruit. Of course, this turned into me purchasing fruit from them, and for a steep price because they "did not have change", cheeky old women.
I soon found myself on Cam Nam island, not much to offer but a pleasant place to ride a bike. I saw many heads turn as I rode by and was greeted with many "Hello's" from the old men at the roadside coffee shops, I'm guessing not many tourists venture out that far. I came back to town for dinner with Mrs. Hay one of the various roadside vendors whom I passed early in the day and promised I'd return. The old town of Hoi An is beautiful but the authenticity of the buildings has worn off as they've all been converted into restaurants, souvenir and tailor shops. This is definitely a city that has learned to cater to the tourists who pour through it every day. I enjoyed the city but felt like just another visitors cycling my way through, there wasn't much of an opportunity to meet and connect with the locals, which is a favorite part of my travels. Not only that but it has somehow turned itself into a backpacker hotspot complete with a bar night scene, which I unfortunately missed out on.
I could've stayed longer to spend more money on clothes, food, and drink, but I decided to move on and continue with my journey to the north. I was planning to take the local bus back to Da Nang but after considering the various negotiations I'd have to be making settled on completing the entire journey with the motorbike driver I met in Hoi An that morning, after talking him down to more than half of what he first offered. I gotta give it to them for trying but these people were seriously trying to penny and dime me to death and after a few weeks, I was sick of it.
You can tell that this was once a city of beauty, and still is I guess, it's just a shame that everything has turned into a tourist attraction. I go back and forth between feeling sorry for the natives of Hoi An and being proud of them. Is it unfortunate that their hometown has turned into one more stop along the tourist trek, with people pouring in and out every day, OR should these people be viewed as entrepreneurs making their city so accessible to the tourist and bringing in a new industry and thus form of income.
I was warned that I'd either love it or hate it. For some Vietnam is a food and adventure paradise while others just can't seem to find their grove. With a turbulent history and remains of division between north and south, it's an interesting place to say the least.