5 things we got up to in Hoi An that you should too

Hoi An houses Hoi An houses

We got off the train in Danang and true to form there was a taxi waiting for us. We have read the taxi fares depends on your negotiating skills, but as soon as we got in the driver turned the metre on and we were on our way. So I guess that was that, no negotiating. As it turned out it was a mistake. What we thought was going to be a 200,000-300,000VND ($AU10 – $AU15) fare turned out to be a 470,000VND fare ($AU23). When we arrived at our hotel the taxi driver didn’t have the right change to give us, so we were the ones who were left short changed. In my opinion if the person offering the service can’t give you the exact change then they lose out. Not here in Vietnam, and this isn’t the first time it’s happened. From now on I am going to stand my ground until I get all of my money back. It’s not a money thing, it’s not like a dollar here and there is going to make much of a difference to us, but it is a principal thing. They don’t say sorry, or ask if the change they’ve given is ok. They simply smile, laugh a little, turn their back on you and walk away. Well not again on my watch that’s it.

Our hotel, Thanh Van 1, was perfect for us, and at $AU34 per night we thought was a bargain. The room was big with two beds which comes in handy for Jack, has a great pool two metres from our door, and the staff are exceptionally friendly. In fact, towards Jack they are almost too friendly. Whenever he is around the staff virtually surround him, touching and stroking and kissing him, to the point where Jack gets a little agitated. It can be quite full on, the Vietnamese absolutely adore white kids, and they will come from all directions when walking the streets to touch and stroke him. Like I’ve said in a previous post, if you don’t think this is something you can handle then this isn’t the country for you.

When we first drove into Hoi An my first impressions were quite negative to be honest. I was expecting this amazing small town to be like the Champs Elyssee from the moment we crossed the municipal border, but it wasn’t. I felt a little let down and thought booking for five nights may have been a mistake. How wrong I was. Once we dropped our gear off in our room and went for a walk I quickly realised why everyone raves about Hoi An. It is truly one of the most magical places I have ever been. It was dusk when we started our walk and the lanterns were starting to have their effect on the narrow streets. As we were to discover over the course of our stay, while Hoi An is incredibly picturesque during the day, it’s at night when you truly appreciate what a stunning place it is. The thousands of lanterns dotted around the Old Town light up the cosy streets, alleyways and the Japanese Covered Bridge, the main symbol of Hoi An. There’s a hive of activity in and around the market place where locals and tourists alike barter for produce and goods, and while there are a lot of tourists roaming the streets, particularly at night, we never felt crowded or claustrophobic.

Here’s what we got up to during our five night stay:

We hired a couple of pushbikes for two days

Somehow Jack fell asleep on the pushbike riding back from An Bang Beach

Somehow Jack fell asleep on the pushbike riding back from An Bang Beach

This was by far and away the best decision we made during our stay.  The bike hire place was right outside the front door of our hotel, and for 100,000VND ($AU5) we had a bike each for the whole day. And they were really good bikes to, very comfortable and were perfect for touring around town. We also hired a little seat attachment for Jack that sat between the handle bars and the seat. This meant riding with your knees slightly spade, but Jack had a great view and he was a very happy boy. Despite the perceived chaos on the roads we never felt unsafe at any time, which is good because no one wears any helmets and they weren’t offered anyway.

Hiring a rickshaw driver for an hour was our worst idea

Us on our rickshaws in Hoi An

Us on our rickshaws in Hoi An

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t an unpleasant experience, in fact quite the opposite. It’s just paying 350,000VND ($AU17.50) for two rickshaws for an hour, and that was after some heavy negotiating, made no economical sense. The drivers don’t speak any English anyway, so there’s not exactly any commentary to value add to the experience, and we saw 10 times as much on our bikes which cost a fraction of the price. Our advice, don’t bother with the rickshaws, hire bikes and ride around town and to the beaches at your own leisure instead.

Spend some time at the beach

An Bang beach

An Bang beach

We spent half a day at the beautiful An Bang beach, about four kilometres from the centre of Hoi An. We rode our bikes out there which was a really nice ride, albeit a little hot, as it gave us an escape from the closed in narrow streets of the Old Town. What should have been a relaxing, enjoyable time on the beach was ruined a little by the hard core vendors you encounter from the moment you arrive. As soon as you ride or drive through the gates you are set upon by the vendors looking after the parking bays. There are two places to park and because of the competition for your Dong they virtually push you into their open air parking shed. We made a point of parking our bikes in the shed of the guy who was the least pushy, and it costs just 5,000VND ($AU0.25) per bike. Once you’ve disembarked and head for the beach you’ll be confronted with the food and drink vendors trying to sell you one of everything they stock, then you’ll come across the sun bed vendors. These guys blatantly lie to get you to sit on the sun beds in front of their restaurants. With proclamations of free sun beds I’m sure many unsuspecting tourists get sucked in, but when something seems too good to be true, it generally is. The beds aren’t free, they cost 70,000VND ($AU3.50). However if you buy a drink from the restaurant the price comes down to 30,000VND ($AU1.50), and if you eat the sun bed is free. The price of food isn’t expensive by Western standards, between 70,000-100,000VND ($AU1.50-$AU4), and the drinks are the same price as you’d expect to pay from a street vendor, about 20,000VND ($AU1). But again it is the principal of being told one thing, but the truth is something else. While Vietnam is a beautiful place, and the people are super friendly, when it comes to money they are going to get every penny out of you they possibly can. Once you’ve settled into your sun bed the vendors on the beach replicate the experience from the food and drink vendors at the entrance, before you experience everything in reverse on your way back to collect your bike. What should have been a thoroughly relaxing morning on a beautiful beach was sullied slightly by the constant harassment from the vendors.

Wander around the Old Town

A typical Hoi An street scene

A typical Hoi An street scene

We did this every day and it didn’t get tired at all. The Old Town isn’t very big, and you can see pretty much all of it in a few hours, but it’s just so quaint and full of charm that it’s virtually impossible to get sick of it. No matter how many times you navigate the streets or cross the bridge you find something new and interesting. There’s plenty of museums and old houses to enter and check out if that’s your thing, or you can just wander the streets and soak up the beauty, the choice is yours. There’s been a recent charge added to enter the Old Town which has many travellers up in arms, but if the money is used to keep it in pristine condition, then we had no trouble paying it. The 120,000VND ($AU6) per person charge allows you access five attractions: one museum, one old house, one assembly hall, the handicraft workshop (and traditional music show) or the traditional theatre, and either the Japanese Covered Bridge or the Quan Cong Temple. Tickets are sold at various entry points into the Old Town, including Hai Ba Trung Street, and also at some of the attractions, including the Cantonese Assembly Hall. However, no-one actually asked for our tickets when crossing the Japanese Covered Bridge, and we never used the coupons to enter any of the sites, so really we didn’t need to pay. But like I said, if the money is used for the upkeep of the town, then we’re ok with that.

We had a few pieces tailor made just for us

Woman tailoring at the marketYou can’t come to Hoi An and not have something made especially for you at one of the 400+ tailor shops. It’s insane how many there are for such a small place. It makes me wonder how they all stay in business? On our second night we decided to go and get a few things made for us. While the weather is warm for us at the moment, we’re probably going to hit Europe in the winter so we decided to at least get a couple of jackets made. The great part about getting something made just for you is you can either select an item of clothing on display in the store, or you can take a picture of what you want and they will make it for you. Sarah and I did some research, found a couple of jackets we loved, and with iPad in hand ventured into town. Disappointingly we came home that night empty handed. We were so overwhelmed by the sheer number of tailor shops that we hardly even stepped foot in one let alone had our measurements taken. The next night we reassessed our strategy and had far more success. Sarah found a pair of shoes she liked, so had a new pair made to her specifications and the colours she wanted; then found a handbag that she said just “leapt off the shelf at her so she had to have it”. Again, she had a new one made with her choice of lining. Then she found a nice pair of flip flops, the shoemaker recreating them in her size that same afternoon. Finally it was time for our jackets. We came across a store that had a jacket similar to the one I’d save on my iPad so we went in. We showed the lady in the store our images and after we’d agreed on a price ($AU45 each), our tailor Na was measuring us up. Na was simply amazing and we couldn’t have made a better choice. She was so lovely to Jack, filling his pockets with little bite sized chocolates, and there weren’t any problems creating the jackets we wanted. We returned the next day to try on our jackets, and after our fitting they were sent away again for some final alterations. I’d also requested a change or two which wasn’t a problem either, and Jack left happy as his pockets were filled once again. We returned on the morning of our departure to collect our jackets and we couldn’t have been happier with the final results. A couple of tips for getting something made:

  • make sure you start the fitting process three days before your departure. You’ll need time to come in and get alterations done until you’re happy with the result.
  • don’t pay 100% before the item has been finished. We did for our jackets, and luckily for us the finished product was great, but if you don’t like the finished product you won’t get a refund. If you don’t take the garment away with you they’ll simply sell it to someone else once you’ve left. The standard is a 25% deposit with the remainder due on final collection. If they don’t accept these terms simply walk out and see another tailor, after all there’s so many of them!
  • get your item reworked as many times as you like until the finished article is what you want. Don’t take no for an answer, stand firm and you’ll get what you want in the end. This is another reason why you don’t pay in full upfront, by withholding cash it makes them do what you want.

So that’s pretty much what we got up to. Over the course of the two days with our pushbikes we also saw a lot of the outskirts of town which was really fascinating in it’s own right and highly recommended. If you’re coming to Vietnam, you must spend a few days here in Hoi An.

Make the time to get here, you won’t be disappointed.

Click through the photogallery below to get an idea of our time spent in Hoi An…

2 Comments on 5 things we got up to in Hoi An that you should too

  1. Nick Murphy // April 29, 2014 at 4:34 pm //

    I seriously hope your jacket is Miami Vice style – linen with the sleeves rolled up and a pastel t shirt to go underneath.

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