Hoi An is a chocolate-box town. Picturesque, charming and smack-bang in the center of Vietnam's coastline. It's particularly pretty at nightfall when lanterns and floating candles illuminate the old quarter, and show off the old architecture and the Japanese bridge to their fullest. It's so pretty in fact that it almost seems artificial; I'd say it has a kind of disneyland-esque quality about it. Unlike the other Vietnamese towns we visited, this seemed like a town built for tourists, not a real living, breathing Vietnamease working town, but I really wouldn't let that put you off. The streets are filled by tailors from whom you can buy anything from a silk sleeping bag or some custom flip-flops, and the food in Hoi An is some of the best we tried on our trip through Vietnam.
Well we came by an 18hr overnight train from Saigon --- a six-to-a-room, hard-sleeper carriage, with a Vietnamese guy who snored like a congested warthog for most of those 18hrs --- but that wasn't the stressful part (Aside: we tried the soft-sleeper four-to-a-room carriages on our next journey, and really didn't note much of a difference, so I'd suggest sticking to the hard sleepers, preferably not a top bunk though as these have less room). The stressful bit was getting from Da Nang, the closest train station town, to Hoi An. You can read online that the bus should cost, 17,000VND per person from Da Nang to Hoi An, and indeed it is written on the wall of the bus for the world to see. The lady conductress has, however, other ideas. She really will try everything in the book, to get you to pay 50,000VND or more. Tactics she used on us
She will periodically come to you and offer one of these reasons that you should pay more. If you stand your ground (I found eventually that shaking my head and pointing to the sign, is a simple yet effective strategy. Verbose eloquent arguments really are wasting your breath), she'll go away for 15mins before coming again. You'll probably start to doubt yourself, are the Vietnamese people really paying the same? Did the price really change recently? But remember this, if the price was really 50,000VND, she wouldn't be doing this dance, you'd just find yourself thrown off the bus in short order, and you would have absolutely zero chance of lowering that price in the slightest. The fact each time she comes back the price will be a little lower, 40,000VND then 30,000VND, is a dead give away that she is chancing for whatever she can get, and this is all just hot air. Stand your ground, go sit on your luggage if you have to (we did), but in the end, probably near to your destination of Hoi An, she'll give in and take the correct amount or something damn near it (20,000VND per person for us). Of course, only you can decide if the stress is worth the small saving, but for me it was just annoying more than anything. We had the same problem when leaving Hoi An, but this time I knew for sure she'd give in, and it was a lot easier. In Indonesia at least they were upfront enough with the pricing, foreigners pay “$3x”, locals “$x”, fine. Just do that if you must, but I wish they'd cut out these games on what are supposed to be public services in Vietnam, it's just a headache for both parties I'm sure.
It's just fun walking around Hoi An during the evening, it's very pretty (did I mention that already?), and there are some nice treats to eat as you stroll down the candlelit river. I particularly liked the chewy mango balls that were sold by lots of vendors (5000VND per ball seems the going rate). There is fresh beer for just 5000VND for a small glass too, and riverboat bars upon which you can enjoy it. Some of our favorite eats in Hoi An were:
Cao Lau: a kind of udon like noodle dish with slices of pork and greens (this was very cheap and our staple lunch time snack). The urban legend is that the taste is achieved by using water from an undisclosed ancient well, just outside of the town.
White rose dumplings: shrimp wantons with translucent dough bunched up to shape the dumpling to look like a white rose
Banh Mi Phuong:
The best Banh Mi in town is at
Banh Mi Phuong. You can find it by the queue out of the door, and it is pretty cheap. I tried the BBQ chicken the first time and then the next day I had tried the sausage followed by the BBQ chicken again. Reputation well-deserved.
Dingo Deli: If you're in need of some western food then you really can't go wrong with the Dingo Deli. The nachos and Aussie burger were heaven, and the lemon meringue almost brought a tear to my eye. You can get everything here from specialized cheeses to Heinz products. It's quite pricey though, so be be warned. Find it on the way to the beach.
Namaste: We stumbled on Namaste by chance cycling back from the beach, but it does some great, tasty Indian food, with voluminous portions, so I'd definitely recommend it here
After eating so copiously in Hoi An, we thought it best to hire some bikes out for a couple of days, and on the first day we cycled to Cau Dai beach. It was an easy cycle, taking about 25mins perhaps, and going through some scenic countryside. The beach itself, whilst nothing mindblowing, is perfectly adequate for some relaxation in the sun, with loungers usually being offered free if you buy drinks. We were there is the rainy season, and it was still very warm but a little cloudy. The next day we cycled to the other beach, An Bang. In my opinion this wasn't quite as nice, but maybe that was largely because when we visited they were in the process of moving sand from one part of the beach to the other, and it created the impression of building site.