The moment I arrived, I instantaneously felt like I was seeing a long lost friend. “Hey! It’s been awhile, but I’m so happy to see you again!” In reality, I have never been here before, but surely I had in my dreams. My heart was full and happy beyond words.
I know I was excited to share our adventure in Halong Bay, but Hoi An takes the cake…. the largest and moistest slice of chocolate cake you could ever dream of. 🙂
Be aware… LOTS of photos in this post. Besides being my favourite place in Vietnam, I’m absolutely in love with the photos from here!
I’m a bit sad that this is our final adventure in Vietnam, but I have absolutely NOTHING but great things to say about it. Hoi An is located pretty much in the middle of the country. We took a very roundabout way of getting here- Starting from the South Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh City, stopping along the way at various places, finally reaching North Vietnam- Hanoi/ Halong Bay, then making our way BACK down to the middle. Why did we do it like this? Simply because of the Full Moon Lantern Festival taking place in Hoi An. Which just so happened to be at the very end of our trip.
As we have met fellow travellers along the way, every single person has absolutely raved about Hoi An. Because of that, you start to have very high expectations, which I’m not usually a fan of. When this happens, I usually end up severely disappointed, but in this case I was NOT at all.
We started our day by literally dragging our overly tired asses out of bed at Lucky Bee Homestay in the city of Danang- 30 minutes outside of Hoi An. If you remember, we arrived after 2 a.m. after a very hellacious day of transit. The lovely host arranged a private car to drive us to Hoi An and stop along the way at some attractions. This cost about $30 AUD… with no hustling or arguing about it. It was FABULOUS! We stopped at China Beach, some hand made stone sculpture warehouses, rice paddies and the famous Marble Mountains! Marble Mountain was the absolute highlight along the way. I didn’t research much about this place, I just assumed you drive through mountains and eventually make your way to the top for breathtaking views. Nope, not like that at all. You have to pay a small entrance fee, and a fee if you want to take the giant glass elevator to the top, or you can walk. This place has numerous highlights to check out, you will probably end up lost (like we did).
After our wonderful driver dropped us off at our hotel- Hai Au Hotel in Hoi An, it was still too early to check in so we just dropped our bags and chatted with the exceptionally nice receptionists. Eventually we wandered off into the streets to start exploring this gem of a town. I instantly felt like I landed in little Cuba meets Tuscany meets Vietnamese. If you can even wrap your head around that combination. The very narrow streets were lined with very old mustard coloured buildings, beautiful Vietnamese lanterns hanging every which way, rustic shops offering an immaculate selection of clothing and various items, and of course the smell of intoxicating food filling the air. In this moment, I knew this would forever be a special place to me. Like anywhere else in Vietnam, of course you’re going to be harassed to buy things and end up haggling the price down, but it was completely different from anywhere else we had been. It was comfortable… it was exotic and authentic… I felt safe (crazy)… it was still life threateningly hot and humid…. the food was delicious and still made me sick as all hell…. people mostly kept to themselves and were not seeking to royally rip you off (or steal your damn shoe)…. it was a slice of Vietnamese paradise.
Hoi An is known for its food, culture, lanterns, silk, beautiful beaches, incredible scenery and custom made clothing/bags/shoes. Choose from various tailor shops (I mean there are literally ten on every street). Walk in, tell them exactly what you want, get measured, give a down payment, and return the next day for your final product. If you aren’t really sure about what you want, they give you various magazines to help with your ideas.
The cherry on top of all of these happy feelings, the HOTEL. I almost started crying because I was so overwhelmed with appreciation and gratitude for this room AND being here in general. I booked this hotel months ago because I was worried we wouldn’t get a room during the Full Moon Festival. I do recall I paid about $28 a night. Up until this point, we were averaging about $14 AUD a night everywhere else. Let me just say, the extra $14 makes a very significant difference. We had a proper hotel ROOM consisting of a giant bed, a small balcony with a door and WINDOWS, a proper bathroom with a shower/tub combination (YAY!!!) a mini fridge, a desk with a computer, and the holy grail of all: AIR CON whenever we wanted it! This room was large enough to drop all of our bags, unpack a few things and actually WALK around. This bed was big enough for four people, so you can bet your ass we sprawled across every inch of it. Not only was this room incredibly large and utterly amazing, it included free bike rentals, a swimming pool, and a glorious buffet breakfast every morning. The happiness and relief I felt in this very moment: Insurmountable. This is the perfect (and well deserved) ending to our adventurously dirty and exciting trip in Vietnam.
Now compared to most places in the world, having custom made clothing here IS in fact very cheap…. but because so many people repeatedly said “Oh it’s SO cheap, you can get anything made!” I somehow embedded in my mind that it would be Vietnamese cheap- not Australian/American “cheap”. With that said, a custom made dress will probably set you back between $35-60 (depending on the fabric of course). A custom made suit will cost you around $200-300 (obviously that’s super cheap compared to anywhere else). That was our mistake in this case. We budgeted our money-for this part of our trip- to literally stock up on clothing and shoes. Once we learned it wasn’t as cheap as we visualised, we didn’t have as much money as we would have liked. I was so excited to have custom made clothing made because my body is incredibly awkward and difficult with most clothing. Call me a cliche girl that isn’t happy with her body, but honestly it makes shopping a completely frustrating event. I was very disappointed I wouldn’t be returning back to Australia with as much clothing as I would have liked, but oh well!! After shopping around quite a bit, I ended up getting a dress made (about $35) a bikini ($30 ish) various clothing items (not custom made) and a leather camera bag!! If something doesn’t fit right or you just want to make a change, don’t be shy about…. TELL THEM. They will happily fix it for no cost until you are 100% happy with it. Screw the clothing, at that point I was more excited to find someone that would make a camera bag the way I wanted it! Even when we are not “backpacking” I’m usually carrying around my giant orange camera backpack because it’s the only bag that fits everything I need/want to use for photography. It gets old always looking like a backpacker, so I wanted something a bit more sophisticated to fit one camera, 2 lenses, my laptop, and of course batteries and whatnot. After walking into various leather shops, showing them photos of what I want, repeatedly being told “No, we don’t do that”, then moving onto the next place… we FINALLY found someone that would make it. I originally wanted a backpack style with custom made pockets for my camera, lenses, tripod, etc. but it just wasn’t happening. I settled on a “messenger” style leather bag. After measuring everything out, choosing the colour of leather I want, how many pockets, etc., we had to agree on a price, pay half the amount, then return the following day with the full amount. I was SOOOO happy with the bag… My dress and bikini were alright (even after a few adjustments) but this bag…. I was absolutely thrilled with it!!! So how much did a leather custom made camera bag set us back? Well, as Patrick likes to say: “That bloody rickshaw in Ho Chi Minh City was more expensive then this leather bag!!!” 😀 We agreed on $115 AUD…. which is a serious steal of a deal!
Patrick was keen to try out some tours while we were here, but I was 110% OVER tours at this point. So far we have been on 6 tours consisting of half of our trip…. I think I’m done with them for awhile. Since we were finally in a place where we felt safe and secure, I wanted to to explore the town on my own terms, wake up when we want, eat when we want, and just have the independence that we hadn’t really had for 3 weeks. We spent 4 days/ 3 nights in this amazing place. Lots of shopping, eating til our stomachs couldn’t hold anymore, drinking cheap beer, renting bicycles and venturing out of the town, exploring the nightlife, getting incredible full body and foot massages for dirt cheap, more shopping, and we even rented a scooter for even more excitement. I know I said renting a scooter is probably an extremely stupid decision here, but I must say: If you are going to do it, do it in Hoi An! Their driving is still reckless, there’s still zero road rules, and the narrow streets are daunting sometimes, but it was SOOOOO much fun. I could not wipe the smile off of my face!
June 18th is finally here….. The day of The Full Moon Lantern Festival!!! Now when you picture a lantern festival, you are probably visualising the same thing I did: The large lanterns that float into the sky… Right? This has been a dream of mine for a very long time. It wasn’t until half of our trip was already paid and planned that I learned this festival is NOT like that. After looking at some pictures of what to REALLY expect, I was a bit disappointed, but it still looked pretty incredible. I must say, it was nothing at all like I expected, even after looking at photos. It takes place at the river and begins right as the sun is going down. You can come down here any night of the week, buy a “lantern” and let it off into the river. The only reason this night in particular is so special (besides the fact it’s a full moon) the entire town shuts off ALL of their lights for this magical evening. Once you arrive to the river, venders will bombard you trying to sell these little lanterns. The only reason this experience was disappointing compared to what I visualised, is the fact they were not lanterns at all. In fact, they looked like colourful Chinese takeaway containers with a candle sitting in the middle of it. Not that cool, no…. but once you let your lantern go, the various coloured “lanterns” soon light up the entire river. Being completely surrounded by thousands of people in darkness- except for the beautiful bobbing lanterns slowly floating down the riverbed- listening to local music playing nearby, it was a surreal and magical moment that I will never forget. It may not be my original lantern festival dream, but it was a dream that I would not trade for the world.
I was very devastated to leave Vietnam… particularly because the last few days were incredible. If and when we ever return, we will definitely visit SAPA (the place we didn’t get to see), return to Phong Nha National Park, and Hoi An. I can’t tell you enough how much I love Hoi An.
Funny story about our journey back to Australia. We had over 10 hours (overnight) to kill in the Singapore Airport. We ended up buying food and vegging out in the movie theatre- in hope to pass out! I eventually fell asleep, but I was quickly woken up by lights shining in our faces. I thought I was dreaming. There were at least 10 men holding rifles, shining lights on every single person, and demanding our passports. I obviously instantly jumped up, still half asleep and wondering what the hell was happening. Once they looked at our passports, and everyone else, they left. It was pretty obvious they were looking for someone.. but damn! That was a hell of a way to wake up in a foreign airport!
I hope you enjoyed the photos and my never ending stories and commentary. Vietnam is a very unique, terrifying, beautiful, shitty (pun intended) and intimidating place. I hope this inspires you to visit someday… or just live vicariously through the pictures. That works too! 🙂
Thanks for reading!