Hai Van Pass and Hoi An

7 Oct

In my humble opinion, the only way to get from Hue to Hoi An or vice versa is by motorbike. And given my less than successful history with driving motorbikes, you can bet I was going to be on the back of an easy rider’s bike. Not to spoil the story, but our day motorbiking was one of the best of my life. I could not stop smiling the whole journey from start to finish. Our drivers showed up at 8:30 in the morning and were cracking jokes right away. My driver, who said we can call him Sherlock had an obsession with fist bumping, and would fist bump other drivers on the road and tell them that I was his girlfriend before driving off and laughing his ass off. He was such a genuine and happy person, the kind of infectious positive attitude that charges you up for the perfect day.

Throughout the day we made a few stops. First, we went to what appeared to be the home of one of the drivers right next to a lake, where Sherlock showed us how much the rice fields have suffered from the rain and taught us about the fishing villages. People would live on their small boats in the past before they were allowed to own houses as well. Some people apparently still live in the boats as they are accustomed to that lifestyle. After taking a photo in a boat that belonged to God knows who, we were back on the road to the Elephant Falls. The Elephant Falls is a massive waterfall that has a big stone elephant smack dab in the middle of it. We stopped here for a quick swim, which offered some relief from the heat. 

We eventually got caught in some rain, while on the turns of the Hai Van pass, which is the norm around there. The Hue side of the mountain generally is rainy and foggy while the Hoi An side is sunny. The mountain is so high up that the clouds cannot pass to the Hoi An side, so the top of the mountain is constantly within the clouds. At the top of the mountain we couldn’t even see a few feet in front of us from the fog and moisture. We stopped for some more pictures at the most scenic parts of the pass, drove through De Nang, where we stopped to have lunch and arrived in Hoi An around 3:00 PM. It was the kind of day that words cannot do justice, so hopefully some of the pictures reflect the pure joy of the adventure.  

Hoi An stole my heart for six days with it’s picturesque beach, minimal motorbike traffic and distinct small town vibe. While there really isn’t much to do or see on the standard backpacker’s list of things to do, it felt like a mini vacation from all the traveling and people tend to spend more time there than they initially expected. Each morning we woke up we walked downstairs to breakfast where we were always greeted with a “so one more night?” from our friend in reception, which was of course answered with a sheepish grin that said it all.

We spent the first night in Hoi An at the DK backpacker’s hostel so that we could socialize with other people, take part in the bar crawl and simply have a good first night experience. As always tends to happen, we met a bunch of people out that we had met at previous places which made for an excellent night. The hostel was pretty pricey though, at 13 dollars a night, and when we realized that we weren’t planning on leaving anytime soon we moved to a homestay a little removed from the town and closer to the beach that came as a recommendation from two girls we met on the DMZ tour. The homestay was perfection with fluffy duvets and pillows, a TV that played American movies, righteous shower pressure powerful AC and free towels and bikes. At 24 dollars a night between Angela, Jess and myself, it was a true steal. They even made a proper cup of coffee with fresh milk that could bring a tear to your eye. No instant 3-in-1 coffee packets in sight. 

Our days were spent getting fitted for clothing, going to the beach and having excellent meals. Hoi An is known for their custom tailor shops, with over 420 of them in the town spitting out everything from low quality shorts to high-end power suits. For our fun clothing we went to Violet, a beautiful, friendly business owner who treated us so well the moment we stepped in her shop. Each time we went back for the next few days we would inevitably choose another item to buy, which would require us to come back yet again for the fitting. I had a pants jumpsuit made, a long sleeve romper and a backless romper, all tailored perfectly to my body in the fabrics of my choice. After some deliberation, I decided it wouldn’t be a true trip to Hoi An without getting professional clothing, even though I have no idea if I’ll ever need it again. We walked into the shop and were immediately ambushed by people handing us free water and iPads to look at pictures for inspiration. The woman ended up sketching me a blazer and pants, convinced me to get the best fabric they had, and next thing I know I was choosing colors for a dress as well. It all happened so fast that I almost feel like I blacked it out. After she swiftly took my measurements I was told to come back at the same time the following day for the first fitting. The fittings for the suit and dress, which took place over the next three days were highly stressful experiences. I was pulled at, pinned and stitched up, with Angela making sure that they were doing everything in their power to make it look perfect. The first time I put the suit on I nearly died of laughter and my vision of starring in the next Men in Black film looked pretty promising. We even played the song for the final fitting, which the tailors did not seem to find very amusing. However, when all was said and done, the clothing turned out to be impressive at the final reveal and now they’re currently somewhere in transit to New Jersey. 

After exerting ourselves at fittings, we would head over to An Bang beach for a few hours each day. The beach is absolutely stunning, with water that you can see straight through to your feet. The beach is lined with restaurants behind it that own lounge chairs on the beach and if you order food or a drink at any point during the day you can grab one of their chairs at no extra cost. With the perfect sunny weather we had it was not difficult to convince me to order a nice cold beer in exchange for a seat. Three of the nights that we spent in Hoi An we ate near the beach as well, once treating ourselves to a meal at one of the fancier beach view spots, where I got a coconut, pineapple and chili chicken dish accompamoed by some Bacardi and Cokes and twice at a small Mexican place. The Mexican place, owned and operated by a Western ex-pat served up the kind of grub you want at the end of a lazy beach day: burritos, fajitas, margaritas and tacos. 

Other days and nights we got our food fill in town, which included many green smoothies for me from a little jewelry shop that for some reason had actual healthy smoothies. I even got my hands on a cold pressed juice and salad from a cafe the day we left that I hoped would help my looming cold (it did not). One night we went to a restaurant called Streets that we had read about both online and in guide books. The restaurant sponsors disadvantaged or orphaned Vietnamese teens, putting them through an 18-month culinary and hospitality training program and employing them in the restaurant where they can practice their skills. It was a truly delicious meal that included white rose (a Hoi An specialty of dumplings filled with pork or shrimp topped with crispy onion or shallot), beef curry stew, a tuna steak in a clay pot, a noodle dish, and coconut ice cream parfait and bread pudding for dessert. We left the place very well fed and attended to and I am so glad we were able to support an awesome cause. 

Our last day in Hoi An we attempted to get some pictures taken and stocked up on snacks for our second overnight bus experience to Nha Trang, which actually proved far more calm than the first one. We were reluctant to leave such a perfect town, but all good stays must come to an end if you want to see it all. We certainly left Hoi An with satisfied smiles. 


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