If you’ve read my post about the time I spent in Pai a couple weeks ago, you’ll know that I had a horrible stomach virus that lasted for five days. Well, it turned out to not be the only time I would get sick in Asia. I was healthy for about a week while I was in Hanoi, then I caught a bad cold on my last day of the Castaways Island tour in Halong Bay.
Having a cold is bad enough, but it gets worse. On the third day of my cold, I had a 16-hour overnight train ride from Hanoi to Da Nang (where I would then catch a bus to Hoi An). Shortly after the train started moving at 7:30PM, my right ear started aching. I didn’t manage to get any sleep on that train because I was tossing and turning in excruciating pain all night. When I got up in the morning, the pain had finally subsided but I could still feel that my ear wasn’t quite right. I touched it and felt some nasty earwax-like stuff packed in there. (I’ll spare you the photo of the disgusting dark brown wad that I pulled out.)
Luckily, my ear never hurt again the way it did that night on the train (and there was no more nasty discharge), but I felt some definite discomfort in both ears for several days afterwards. Oh, and I’m currently on Day 12 of my cold as I write this. Ugh.
Anyways. Wanna hear about Hoi An? It’s super picturesque — a world away from Hanoi. Walking through the streets is so much more pleasant here than in Vietnam’s capital. Many of the streets are overhung with colourful lanterns, and the sun actually shines here. My first day in Hoi An was the first time I saw the sun in Vietnam. It never once made an appearance in Hanoi or Halong Bay.
Another thing Hoi An has that Hanoi doesn’t have: a beach! Actually, it has two— Cua Dai and An Bang beaches — but they’re both on the same strip of sand that’s several kilometres long. If you’re on Cua Dai beach and you walk west, eventually you’ll be on An Bang beach. I can’t say which of the two is better; they both seemed equally nice to me.
Although Hoi An is attractive during the day, it truly shines after dark. The only light in the evening comes from the strings of lanterns hanging above the streets and the silk lanterns floating in the water. My phone takes terrible pictures in the dark, but I hope these will somewhat convey the magic of Hoi An at night.
Other than its beautiful lanterns, Hoi An’s biggest claim to fame is its proliferation of tailor shops. Pretty much everyone who visits Hoi An gets at least one item of clothing custom-made. There are literally hundreds of tailor shops in the city, all offering custom-made clothing for a fraction of the price that you would pay at home.
I decided to have a dress made. Before I left for my trip, I found a few pictures of dresses I liked so that I could show the tailors what I wanted. The hard part was choosing which tailor to go to. I had heard that Bebe is widely considered one of the best tailor shops in Hoi An, but also one of the most expensive. I decided to go and inquire how much it would be to have the dress I wanted made. I sat down with a consultant and showed her a couple pictures of the dress. She told me it would cost $100USD to have it made. No way am I paying that much for a simple sundress, custom-made or not, so I thanked her for her time and left.
After that I decided to just wander down the street and pick a tailor shop at random. I didn’t need something super high-quality; I just wanted a cool souvenir. I walked into a shop and showed the lady inside a picture of the dress I wanted. She told me it would cost $35USD. I asked if she could bring that down to $30 and she agreed. She then took my measurements and made a little sketch of what the dress would look like. I paid her a deposit of 500,000VND, then she wrote me a receipt and told me to come back in two days to try on the dress.
I didn’t have high hopes for how the dress would turn out. I knew the quality wasn’t going to be anywhere near the quality I would get at Bebe, and I had a feeling the dress was going to end up looking nothing like the picture.
When I went back to the shop two days later and tried on the dress, I wasn’t happy with it. I wanted to ask the tailor to make some adjustments to it, but I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was that I wanted changed. I left disappointed, but glad that I had only spent $30USD and not $100USD.
The next day, I decided to give the dress a second chance. After all, people often don’t like their new haircut the first time they see it, right? It usually takes a while to get used to. Sometimes it’s the same with clothes. So I tried on the dress at my hostel, and when I looked in the mirror I realized it’s actually not half-bad. I spent some time twirling around in it and checking it out from every angle, and I came to the conclusion that it’s actually pretty cute. Go figure.
Here I am in the dress:
Besides the lanterns, the beaches, and the tailor shops, there isn’t a whole lot to do in Hoi An, so I decided to take a day trip. I chose to visit the Marble Mountains, a group of five marble and limestone mountains located between Hoi An and Da Nang. Each of the mountains is named after an element (fire, water, wood, metal, and earth), with Water Mountain being the one with most of the attractions and the one everybody visits. I climbed the steps up the mountain and explored the beautiful pagodas and mystical caves dotted all around it. If you go, be sure not to miss Huyen Khong cave. It’s definitely the coolest cave on the mountain.
Pagodas and caves are nice and all, but the main reason I went to the Marble Mountains was for these views of Da Nang from the top of Water Mountain.
Getting to the Marble Mountains from Hoi An is super easy. Just walk to the bus station and take the yellow #1 bus heading towards Da Nang. The bus costs 30,000VND (at least that’s what they always charge me, but I think locals only pay 20,000) and the ride only takes about half an hour. From the bus stop, it’s only a few minutes’ walk to the main mountain.
To conclude, Hoi An is a very pretty town that definitely deserves at least a day’s exploration. To be honest, I feel like a week is too long to spend here though. I had trouble keeping myself occupied, but my hostel and train ticket were already booked so I had to stick it out. Don’t get me wrong, I like Hoi An a lot; it’s just that there’s not a ton to do there. By the end of the week, I was so ready to leave.
Next stop: the beach town of Nha Trang!