Occasionally, the journey and the destination are equally as fun as each other, and this was certainly true of our trip from Hue to Hoi An. There was oodles to see between the two cities, including the magnificent Hai Van pass (we got to stop for coffee at the top), My Khe Beach ("China beach") and Marble mountain. While it was technically possible to fly between the two cities, we are glad we chose the slower option - it was great way to combine transfer and tour all into the one day (and it also worked out cost-wise - to private transfer was USD$75 which is well worth a day of sightseeing).
It was love at first sight for us when we arrived in Hoi An. Our expectations had been slightly tempered by a drive through the city of Denang - a charmless place littered with flash coastal resorts that are mostly under construction. Bleh. Luckily just 10km out of Denang we entered the lovely town of Hoi An - and fell in love.
Hoi An was a major trading post in the 16th and 17th centuries. What this means is that the ancient town is a hodge-podge of Chinese, Japanese, and French influences. Rather than making one big crazy mess, the mix of East and West is completely charming.
Our first stop was a visit to a local tailor - there are 500 of them in Hoi An so it wasn't hard to find one. Paul had done his research and led us through the town to a little tailors shop called Five Seasons, where we duly ordered 5 shirts & a suit for Paul, 2 shirts for Dylan, a pair of shorts and a jumpsuit for Scout and a dress for me. Scout and I went around the corner to another tailor and purchased two more dresses and jacket for Paul. Oh, and some (actually lots of) shoes. And Paul also got new glasses and sunglasses. And the cost? Well - lets just say it was cheaper than dinner at the French Cafe.
Lucky we bought that extra bag...
While it would have been easy to spend 4 days shopping, we needed to do something while we waited for our clothes to be made, so we went on an 'Ecococonut tour' which involved a long bike ride through the Rice paddies, a trip to the local market herb gardens (aka Nadine nirvana), and an up-close and personal water buffalo encounter...
We also did some fishing - at which both Scout and Dylan were very successful. This was lucky, or we wouldn't have eaten dinner otherwise....
We finished the day with a ride in two bamboo boats - paddled by us alongside Nana and Aunty Nana. Dylan nearly capsized us a few times but by some miracle we all managed to stay afloat (which was lucky, as the Vietnamese seem to feel the same way about life jackets then they do for cycle helmets - nice to look at but ultimately unnecessary).
We had some of the best meals we've eaten so far - or perhaps ever - in Hoi An. From teeny little banh mi stands to great Cafes to lovely restaurants, Hoi An had it all. It's probably lucky we spent most of each day walking, or we wouldn't have fit into our new clothes. Our meal on our last night, at the Secret Garden restaurant*, was one of the nicest meals we've had yet, in the most amazing setting. Best of all - we stumbled upon it by accident when we tried to take a shortcut up an alleyway. How could you not love a place that has incredible restaurants at the end of a dark alleyway?
Hoi An - Information
Where we stayed: Banana Garden Villa NZD$416 for two rooms for four nights including breakfast (later voted 1= "best place we stayed".)
How we got there: Tour from Hue (USD$75).
What we did: Ate and shopped, mainly. Our favourites were Secret Garden Restaurant, Five Seasons Tailor, Hoi An Roastery. We also did the Eco coconut countryside tour, which included dinner (USD$35 pp). Spent half a day on An Bang Beach.
*We thought we were the most incredibly intrepid travellers who magically stumbled on a secret place until we caught sight of a giant billboard advertising the Secret Garden as we were leaving for the airport. Oh. Not so secret after all...
At Cong Caphe in Hanoi (which we then stumbled on again in Ho Chi Minh) coffee was made with coconut and coffee and ice........ We will be making one last dash for a final fix.
But to top it off - today in Can Tho we visited the floating markets and and had our coffee delivered via motorised canoe. After 2 cups of that pungent sweet cold concoction (yep, we called her back for 2nds!) we were charged and ready to go! (Imagine coffee delivery on the Auckland motorway..........)
With access to an array of fresh fruit, it is little wonder that the kids have been enjoying a wide range of juices and smoothies. Mango or banana smoothies are common fare, but a peach iced tea with mint went down a treat! Limes (lemons here) made into an ice slurry with mint have also a great find.
The price for juices range from Vnd40000 - Vnd80000 ($1.20-$2.40) so the kids have been enjoying a few.
As we ventured into Ho Chi Min the local beer is Bia Saigon. My first bottle of this didn't go so well - I suspect it was loaded with sulphites which left my eyes and nose running........
Never one to be daunted by a challenge, we stepped up to Bia Saigon "Special" This was a distinct step up in beer qualify and taste and we've been enjoying a few of these.
So what's the cost been? I mentioned that the kids drinks have been Vnd40,000. Well, beers are around Vnd25,000 ($1.25) but I did find Hudas at one place for Vnd15,000......($0.95)
What I have struggled with (in the loosest sense....) is the cost of beer vs. a smoothie. They're half the price!!!!!! So yes, we've enjoyed a few beers at the end (and to be fair, sometimes earlier - but not before mid day I'm proud to say) of a long day.
Btw - the cocktails have also been cracking. Particularly mojitos with access to lime and mint. And the price? As you'd expect - less than $5 for a tall glass of Limey goodness.
So there you have it. The beer in Vietnam is in good hands - just not in my good hands for much longer as we only have 2 days left now. Guess I'll need to make the most of it!