Last known location: London, England

Hoi An – Rain and Ruins

After a brief one night stay in Hue we moved further south down to Hoi An. Moving around by bus is quite easy in Vietnam – any hotel will arrange a ticket for you thanks to the kickbacks and commissions that seem to run everything in the country – anyone you ask will always be able to find you whatever you need, always with a few thousand Dong in it for them! Pickup from the hotel is always included with these bus journeys, which sounds good, but on this occasion it meant we spent an hour on a minibus going round and round the small town picking up other passengers, only to then be dropped off at a larger coach only five minutes walk from our hotel!

We seemed to strike it lucky with our hotel in Hoi An, with a huge bed and a balcony to sit on. The staff were also friendly but made a conscious effort to remember the names of every guest, so whoever we bumped into always greeted us by name which was a bit unnerving! After sorting ourselves out we went to explore the Old Quarter of Hoi An, which was built from the 15th century onwards and is quite well preserved as an old trading port with lots of original, if now slightly flaky old buildings. Our first stop was the market, where almost immediately Gem was hurried away into a small shop to have her nails done. All very cheap but the two women were trying to get us both to have all sorts of stuff done and we would have been there all day if we hadn’t managed to make our excuses and escape! The rainy season in the area has just finished, but the weather is still a bit unpredictable so all the market traders have formed temporary canopies out over their wares with plastic sheets, which are tied together in the middle. I was a bit too tall for this makeshift construction however, so i had my head poking through the gaps like a giraffe, periodically causing the rainwater puddles on top to fall onto shorter people’s heads!

The heavy rain was coming in repeated torrential downpours for the whole three days we were there, so every time one arrived we popped into one of the many waterfront cafe/bars, where, as in Hanoi, you could get cheap draft beer brewed on the day for around 3,000 dong (about 10p). The rain didn’t seem to stop the locals though, who covered themselves with plastic rain capes and carried on as normal!

Hoi An is famous in Vietnam for its tailors. There are hundreds in the town where you can get a western suit made-to-measure for $50-80, along with dresses, coats and any other clothing you can think off. They even have British clothes catalogues (Next etc.), where you can point at what you want and they’ll make you a copy to fit. We decided to have a closer look and I ended up getting a suit made, and Gem two dresses. After choosing what we wanted we had to be measured – the woman doing it was a bit of a comedian and was spouting endless innuendo about coconuts and bananas. Sure you wouldn’t have to put up with it on Savile Row, but it was quite funny! We had to go back a couple of times the next day for fittings. We went first at 1pm, when I decided to get a coat made as well for $30, and when we returned for another fitting at 6pm it was ready, so they don’t hang about! After all the adjustments we were happy with the results – fingers crossed they don’t fall apart the first time we wear them. We are now slightly laden, as we discovered it would cost almost as much to send them home as it had to get them made, so everything’s been stuffed in our rucksacks!

When we woke up on our second day in Hoi An the weather was terrible, with rain sheeting down, so we hid out in the hotel for most of the morning before dodging the showers in the afternoon exploring the old town, where several of the old houses are preserved for tourists to poke about in. The town was home to a lot of immigrant traders from Japan and China, so quite a mix of styles and interesting stories about how they used to live. You could also see the marks on the walls where the buildings flood every year during the rainy season – almost to the height of the ground floor celling in 2009. With the terrible weather the river was overflowing onto the road whilst we were there, but no-one seemed too concerned about a repeat of the sort of flooding seen last year!

On our last full day we went on a morning tour of the ruins at My Son (apparently pronounced Mee Sun); Hindu temples built from the 4th century onwards. The complex is surrounded by mountains on all sides and in the middle of thick jungles, which meant they went undiscovered until the late 19th century when it was mainly intact. Unfortunately its isolated location made it a good hiding place for the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, which lead to the Americans carpet bombing the area and leaving not much more than ruins and huge bomb craters! It was still an interesting place to look round due to the spectacular setting, and you could still get an idea of how it would have looked at its peak.

Our next stop is Mui Ne further down the coast for a few days on the beach, and a break from all the sightseeing. This either involved a 26 hour coach trip, or going via a £16 1-hour flight to Saigon. We decided to go for the latter!

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