It’s high time for us to jump right back into my highly acclaimed, self-titled, summer spectacular aka The Upside Down Heart Tour. I’m sure as an avid reader that you’ll remember back in May that me and The Wife started our UDHT (sounds like an STI when abbreviated…doh! It’s too late now… I’ve got to roll with it) in Hanoi before visiting Halong Bay and enjoying some questionable dog/duck meat. If not, click the links below and get yourself acquainted because…. drum roll… It’s time for Part 3, Hoi An. Thinking back to our times from Part 1 in Hanoi you will remember that we were not too overly impressed with the hustle & bustle of the busy, ancient city. It was ram packed, felt very third world and lacked basic sanitation in far too many areas, despite possessing some beautiful, captivating eastern charm. It was also home to one epic hangover and lead to some serious soul searching over a Domino’s pizza. Our time in Part 2 at Halong Bay was the perfect contrast and was pure heaven. Our semi-private overnight Junk Boat comes with a heavily stamped DreamFlyDiscover seal of approval.Next stop on our journey was Hoi An, a famous old, river fronted town that comes highly recommended for its bespoke clothing stores and highly popular cooking classes; we opted for the latter.
1.1) My Domino’s Dilemma
2) Halong Bay
3.1) Hoi An (you’re here)
Flying from Hanoi to Hoi An (Da Dang airport) was a fairly hassle free experience taking just short of 2 hours by air and setting us back a crazy £42 per Discoverer. It was pointed out to me that this is perhaps the only route that you’ll ever take where the arrival city is an anagram of your departure city. Interesting. This popular route is also serviced by a train route that will set you back 16 hours on an overnight train and that’s a price we just couldn’t afford to pay. Time was of the essence on our 18 day, 6 city trip.
Our home for the next 3 nights, Sincerity Hotel provided transfers from the airport to Hoi An. We found the brand spanking new, modern hotel (still in the process of unloading furniture) to be ideal for us. It was spotlessly clean, housed comfortable rooms and contained countless, super friendly staff. It’s location could have proved a slight hindrance to some, being located halfway between An Bang beach and Hoi An town centre; too far to walk to either in scorching heats. This is solved by a simple £1 8 minute taxi ride in either direction, or you can take advantage of the hotels cycle hire scheme (I think it’s free…). For us, it was ideal and the pool time spent here was well earned. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t just walk into town but the cheap taxis and free shuttle bus gave us options and also the privacy and quietness that comes with staying slightly further from the buzzy centre were a big plus after hectic Hanoi.
We spent our first evening perusing the old town. We were accosted into buying a ticket to visit the ancient attractions by an official looking stall that seemed to be run by the local government tourist office. The ticket book allows entry to lots of small local attractions, temples and community centres. In honesty, it was completely unnecessary -it wasn’t required at all- but I’d like to think that the few £ that it cost gets funnelled back into keeping the charming Hoi An so beautifully manicured and for that thought alone it was worth it. We enjoyed walking up and down the many twisty lanes of Hoi An, taking in the beauty of the colourful lanterns, charming canoes and quaint night market. We stopped at Tam Tam for dinner at the recommendation of TripAdvisor before continuing our journey to some live music and premium cocktails besides the night market. An ideal people watching spot.
We rose early the next morning to Sincerity Hotels lovely morning buffet breakfast. It had everything you would expect at an international hotel buffet and was a huge upgrade compared to the dark, dank, cockroach-friendly eatery at our Hanoi hotel. I’ll have to admit that by this point I was easily falling for Vietnam. It contained all the Asian charm we were expecting but at a much more relaxed, slower, old fashioned pace than the likes we crossed even in rural Thailand. Today we were heading in the opposite direction to last night’s town centre; and on to An Bang beach.
Once upon a time (we’d heard) An Bang was a hedonistic, backpackers-only, off-the-beaten track beach but now we were slightly disappointed to find a heaving beach packed shoulder to shoulder with beachfront restaurants and straw parasols as far as the eye could see. I didn’t mind this sight but it did take the wife by surprise. It seemed that lots of traveller-type groups and parties stop by here and the crowd was very young, social and carefree compared to the busy, older more frivolous spenders of the town centre.We decamped for lunch at a “lovely-jubbly”, “cheers guv’nor”, “down the local boozers” beach side restaurant with the funniest of Vietnamese hosts who constantly stunned us with her London cockneyesque attempts. We would smile from ear to ear whenever she approached us with her “cheers mate”, “another beer geezer?” or “Yes, cor, blimey. There’s no apples and pears here.” British patter. Hilarious.We stayed for many beers. She tallied up our bill as her shift finished and we left soon after knowing that the experience could not be bettered. Interestingly, she see was shocked to see that we left a nice tip. See, herein lies a big difference between North and South Vietnam. Separated by their Communist v Capitalist ideologies the North folk work for their community whereas the South is much more money driven. Tips aren’t really expected in the North and the general area of Da Nang is pretty much on the borderline. In fact, Da Nang was home to some pretty tough battles during the ‘American War’ and it was also the landing place for thousands of untrained, unprepared American soldiers. Take note of the tall chalk mountainous regions during the commute from the airport and see for yourself the American military airport. (Here’s a great read on American Vets returning to Da Nang to find peace http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-36363537 and here’s a slightly wordier article on America’s landing in Da Nang: http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2015/05/02/403597845/in-danang-where-u-s-troops-first-landed-memories-of-war-have-faded). As a result of the war you will find many Vietnamese in this region ‘hassling’ tourists by trying to sell their souvenirs etc which is often accompanied by a sob story. Nothing that can’t be ignored (I’m going to hell) and nothing too overbearing, but worth mentioning- it’s a way of life, it happens.
Following our beach explorations we stopped by the hotel for a nap then hit the town in search of food and we then spent a lifetime checking Tripadvisor for a cooking experience day to enjoy on our third and final day. Hoi An is known for its cookery courses and walking through the town you can see there are plenty on offer. We used a combination of TripAdvisor and good old fashioned leg work to go restaurant to restaurant to try to find the right course for us. Our only real requirement was no fish. We’d also prefer a smaller group. A hygienic work space. A knowledgeable chef. An authentic menu… and all at a time that suited us. As you can see, the more we looked the harder the it was to find the right place. There was a lot of seafood on the menus, a lot of dishes we didn’t fancy and a few highly recommended classes that we either could not find or could not get in contact with. After many efforts we decided to call it a night, return home and continue our search online or via telephone in the morning with the help of our concierge staff.
As we breezed back into Serenity Hotel and made our way to the small, empty bar we noticed a few leaflets at our hotel’s ravel desk. Our hotel had its very own cookery course. But it started at 8am. It was currently just past midnight. We asked receptionist if they could book it for us but we were informed the travel desk opens at 7am. We returned to the bar which was now blasting out some Backstreet Boys which we gladly sang along to, wholeheartedly, happy that we had finally found our cooking course – right in our doorstep. Closer, in fact.
We were up bright and early for our travel desk rep who seemed a bit alarmed that we wanted to do a cookery course that started in one hours time. There was a panicked frustration. She phoned the chef. The Food & Beverage Manager made an appearance. The kitchen staff worked up a panic and even the gardener popped in to see what all the commotion was. We got the thumbs up and had a bit of breakfast to kill some time. Word had obviously spread amongst the staff that we were doing a cooking course here and we would soon notice heads popping up from hiding places to see our faces, fingers being pointed at us and embarrassed, smiling staff staring at us everywhere we looked. What had we let ourselves in for?!?
8am rolled around and it was time to learn to cook Vietnamese food. I’ll tell you all about it in the next blog…
Carl from the future speaking here: Now that I’m back perhaps you’d like to check out what happened next, or indeed what happened before…. The following blogs are from my Upside Down Heart Tour; click until yours is content!
WITH THANKS TO:
Will Anderson (Main Image)
Have you ever been abroad and went looking for something that was right under your nose? What’s the biggest contrast you’ve seen between two cities in the same country? Ever guilty purchased local products from a local Street vendor? Let me know in the comments below…
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