The Great Vietnam Trip: Hoi An Ancient Town

Chao (“Hello” in Vietnamese), everyone!

First of all, I CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF VIETNAM!

I think Vietnam is a place I won’t mind going back again and again.

Last August, Cat and I paid our first visit to Vietnam, having traveled around the Ho Chi Minh City (formerly called Saigon). You can read my blog posts about the trip below:

This time, we decided to cover the rest of Vietnam by covering the middle and northern parts. So how did we go about it?

Since last year, we had been planning on travelling for a longer period since our prior vacations often were too short.

Cat is in the broadcasting industry and a freelance assistant director, so all she has are the much-envied, flexible working hours, which also means she can travel whenever she feels like. I, on the other hand, have to work from 9 to 5, for 5 and a half days per week.

As such we had decided 10 days would be the most ideal duration for both her and I. Anything longer that that would be to my disadvantage.

We started our trip from Da Nang, which I read was a little too commercial and kept, em, brainwashing Cat to skip it. But then again, I knew 10 days in Vietnam was actually very short and wanted to focus on fewer important spots. We would go all the way north and our last stop would be Sa Pa/Hanoi.

After arriving at the Da Nang International Airport, we booked a cab to drive us to Hoi An – a serene, beautiful UNESCO-endorsed heritage city you may want to spend the rest of your life life post-retirement!

Apparently there is a public bus going from the Da Nang International Airport to Hoi An (I read journey is about 2 hours because it keeps stopping along the way), but when we asked around upon arriving at the airport, they said there was only cab service. This was CONTRARY to what we read online.

Later we found out that we were supposed to walk for maybe 10 minutes out of the airport to find public buses.

DENG.

The lowest fare you could bargain for cab service from the airport to Hoi An is 300,000 VND (RM48). However from Hoi An to the airport, they normally charge only 250,000 (VND). The two places are about 35 minutes apart.

After checking into a guesthouse (it was kinda difficult to get a decent one as it was already 5 in the evening and the sky had started to turn dark), we took a slow walk to the old town just to be greeted by this:

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IT WAS SO OMG BREATHTAKING!

For some weird reason I got lots of orbs while taking the next picture, which translated into a very special “effect”:

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And they say you get orbs if a place is “dirty” or has spirits. But the orbs are making the picture look so cool I can’t even relate them to whatever spirits or other nonsensical myths they came with lah!

After a short while we started to get hungry and began looking for a nice place to eat. This is with the Catlady at a food stall within the vicinity of the Hoi An old town:

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She looked super chio, probably because she was traveling with the right person hahah!

Shops in the Hoi An old town were so beautifully decorated with lanterns and you get a similar vibe across every major shop.

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Saw this super cute kiddo selling floating lanterns by the riverside:

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Cat and I bought one each, not from him, but from an old lady for 5,000 VND (RM0.80) and released it in the river that separates the old town into two areas.

During “happy hours”, which in the locals’ definition was probably later into the night, some sold it for only 2,000 VND.

One bad thing about travelling with AirAsia from KL to Da Nang is that it only has 1 flight available daily, and the flight time isn’t something most of us would anticipate: freaking 1.25pm.

THAT, was before our flight got cancelled (had a horrible experience with this incident) and changed to 2.15pm. THEN, it was followed by a delay.

AA, YOU VERY ANNOYING LEH WHEN IT COMES TO THIS!

So we arrived in Da Nang at 5-something and by 6pm it had started getting dark because of the different time zone. The rest of the day after our arrival definitely wasn’t enough for us because by 9pm or so, the old town had gone dead – everyone seemed to sleep really early there.

We had booked, on the night before, a trip to the My Son Sanctuary the very next morning at 8am. I remember waking up several times on the first night to check on the time.

I know I know! I did make use of the alarm clock on my phone but didn’t really trust myself with the setting of time due to the time difference between Vietnam and Malaysia (Vietnam is 1 hour behind).

Also, what was disturbing my otherwise good sleep was that by as early as about 5.15am, the sky had started turning bright and this, again, got me wondering if I had gotten the time wrong.

We managed to have breakfast before the bus arrived to fetch us from the hotel.

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(Please ignore the word on my shirt. The shirt was given to me and although I didn’t and still don’t like the word choice, I didn’t want to waste it.)

Both Cat and I LOVE street food. This is mainly because 1) it is usually cheaper compared to restaurant; and 2) we wanted to eat what the locals eat.

Bánh Mì (bread) is a common staple for the Vietnamese (and also Cambodians) who usually take it as their breakfast:

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You can opt to eat the egg dish and bread separately or you can kiap the egg and ham and some onion slices in the French bread before eating. Of course, different stalls would serve different ingredients.

Personally, when it comes to food I prefer Saigon’s better. Not that food in Center and Northern Vietnam isn’t nice – it still is, but doesn’t satisfy my tastebuds that much.

However when it comes to Bánh Mì, the best I have ever tried was ones I ate in Cambodia. As I’m typing this my stomach is going like grok grok grrook. Le sigh…

On the way to the My Son Sanctuary:

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Bus was full of tourists but I didn’t notice anyone Asian except for us and Hansen Chen –  a Taiwanese expatriate now working in Saigon. I kept bugging Hansen to recommend me a job for me in Saigon. He had to be thinking that I was siao.

By judging the volume of western tourists, Cat and I were actually wondering whether most Asians/Malaysians actually prefer visiting “commercial” or developed places with shopping opportunities like Bangkok and Hong Kong.

In most tours that we followed, we just rarely bumped into Asians or fellow Malaysians.

At My Son:

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Before reaching, our tour guide had told us that the My Son Sanctuary is older than Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, so naturally I had very high expectation of this heritage site.

However I arrived at My Son (translated as “beautiful mountains”) just to be disappointed by how small and destroyed the site was.

Well, I blamed it on the Americans, who decided to drop bombs on it during the Vietnam War. WHY THEY SO BOSU CHOR AND GO DROP BOMBS EVERYWHERE THEY GO AH?

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Similar to what happened in Angkor Wat, many heads had been stolen off the statues in My Son – the act of which was allegedly done by the French. A French explorer was first to discover this forgotten kingdom.

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Pathetic or not?

I would say the My Son Sanctuary is still an amazing site worth seeing, but it won’t be a place you would want to visit for a second time. If you have visited Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, maybe you would agree that the latter is definitely more phenomenal.

Love this photo with Cat:

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The amazing thing about travelling with the Catlady is that she genuinely appreciates arts and cultures, so it doesn’t take us much effort and time to relate to what we’re trying to express. I don’t think I can stand someone who is indifferent to things around him or her.

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Took a boat ride back to the Hoi An old town on the Thu Bon river. We didn’t enjoy it and wished we had opted to go back by bus.

We had vegetarian lunch on the boat and I remember Cat whining about it many, many times!

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Meal portion was pathetically small but the kind tour guide asked if we wanted more rice and vege, so many of us, including myself, requested for a top-up.

In the end, I saw him eating just a plate of rice with nothing else because there was nothing left for him.

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I was immediately seized by a sense of guilt, which translated into me giving him more tips at the end of the tour.

This was taken on top of the boat, which the tour guide claimed looked like Titanic (I guess only in the dream?):

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We were DRAINED after coming back from My Son and having been exposed to the direct sunlight for hours. We had lunch with Hansen, after which we checked into another guesthouse (we normally wouldn’t do multiple nights in the same guesthouse unless the service was great).

As we would be taking off early next morning by bus to Hue and had not seen the beautiful old town in its full glory during daytime, we rented a bicycle each (for only 20,000 VND or RM3.20) and cycled around the UNESCO heritage site for hours.

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That had to be one of the most memorable experiences ever.

The next morning at 7.45am, we took a sleeper bus to Hue. The bus passed by Danang and then headed northward.

We took the upper berth, which gave us a better view of the scenery outside. Apparently the berths are designed for the locals with generally smaller body sizes, so I didn’t rest much throughout the journey because I didn’t have enough leg room. -_-

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I pity the mat sallehs! I mean how are they going to sleep properly lah?

Before ending this post, I want to detail the major things we spent on during our 2 days/2nights stay in Hoi An.

  • Da Nang International Airport to Hoi An by cab: 300,000 VND (RM48)
  • Trip to My Son (going by bus and back by boat): RM80,000 VND (RM12.80)
  • Entrance ticket to My Son: 100,000 VND (RM16)
  • Guesthouse for 2 pax: 210,000 VND/nite (RM33.60)
  • Sleeper bus from Hoi An to Hue: 240 VND (RM38.40) – 7.45am/3.30pm

Next entry on attractions in Hue coming soon. We spent too much money there!

Update: The Great Vietnam Trip: Where (Not) to Visit in Hue