Hoi An – For 9p beer, beaches and paddy fields…

So we’ve made it to Nha Trang, Vietnam after spending just under three days in Hoi An. Could have spent much longer there, it’s a great place and Hoi An old town has its own cool vibe – easy to wander round the ancient streets for days and nights on end.

We spent our first evening there in the heart of the old town, about 1 minute walk from where we were staying on Ha Bai Trung Street. We went to a restaurant/bar called Treats, who seem to have about three places all within 1 square mile. Seems to be a popular place with Westerners and caters for people wanting a taste of ‘home’ with burgers and pizzas as well as those wanting to sample local Vietnamese food. We opted for the Vietnamese food and had three tasty plates of noodles, rice and chicken spring rolls. It’s hard to get tired of rice and noodles in Vietnam as the flavours are just so damn good!

While we were there we decided to sample the local ‘snake wine’ – this is basically rice wine which has been fermented with venomous snakes & vodka (don’t worry, the venom is neutralised by the ethanol!). The jar it was in looked slightly scary but the drink itself was fine – quite strong and not particularly tasty, but didn’t do anything adverse to us in the end!

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The next morning we had to call a doctor for Rich who was having all sorts of problems hearing me or anybody else – turns out the “beautifully clear water” in Halong Bay wasn’t so beautifully clean and his ears had succumbed to those pesky bacteria who had decided to make them their new home. The doctor came to the hotel with a great big syringe and ear drops and sat Richard down in the bathroom, squirting water into his ears (and all over him) for about 10 minutes until his hearing was restored!

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After conveying our heartfelt gratetude to the Doc (and handing over $40) we went off to explore the rest of this great little town by foot. We drew ourselves a little ‘circuit’ on our map which would take us in a nice loop around the Old Heritage Town, taking in the sights and sounds which included the market, ‘oldest house’, river and Japanese Bridge.

Our first stop on our private sightseeing trail was the market – this is a relatively big market, right on the banks of the river, with most of it covered over by low-lying tarpaurline (to protect from the insane amount of rain Hoi An sees at this time of year!). I have to say it’s much better than any of the markets we’ve been to so far on our travels, there’s so much to do and it’s not just all there for the tourists! Of course you get the odd stall of cheap watches and sunglasses, but most of it is handicrafts, linens, clothing and a big fruit and veg section. And we loved the fact that you had to literally duck to walk through it!

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We walked round the back of some of the stalls to watch some of the local people working and cleaning their pots and pans by the river – it was a typical Vietnamese scene – one that we had seen in our heads before we even got here, so we just stood for a while and took it all in.

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The streets of the old town are chock full of cafés (including some yummy looking French patisseries), boutiques, shoe shops and art galleries. This place really is a shoppers paradise and you can pick up some really nice, stuff – the paintings in particular would look great in every living room and most are unique. I settled for buying a shoulder bag that the shop owner had made himself – really nice fabric and a snip at 40,000 Dong!

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The rain didn’t hinder our walking tour and we just played musical umbrellas everytime it lashed dow, stopped, and lashed down again! Apparentl’y this time last year, many of the streets and the shops that line them were under water – so we’ve actually been quite ‘fortunate’ that the rain has only been as bad as it has been!

We had lunch in another of Treats’ restaurants, which we didn’t even realise until we recognised the waiter from the night before – they call this branch ‘Same Same, but Different’, which is something that we’ve realised is a bit of a theme in Vietnam – everything is ‘same, same’!

During our walk on the riverside, we spotted a sign outside a bar (the Friendship Restaurant) which said ‘Fresh Beer, 3000 VD a glass’. Three thousand Dong! That’s 9p! Just 9 English pennies for fresh beer – that’s the cheapest we have encountered – ANYWHERE. We couldn’t pass that up and so went in for a taste, not really caring how nice it would taste but were pleased to discover that it was the nicest, coolest, creamiest beer we’d had in a long time – much nicer than any of the branded bottles. After we left to continue our exploration, we vowed that we’d go back there. And we did. Three times.

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We walked across to the other side of the river, by one of the many bridges that cross it – there are more cafés, shops and restaurants over there. From the other side we could look back at the Old Town and it was a lovely view, with the fishing boats parked infront of the ancient houses and funky cafes that nestled amongst them. While we were taking photos, we were acosted by too local women selling bananas, who were vying against eachother to be the subject of our photographs, so we told them to compromise and took a photo of both of them, together, instead!

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Also visible from the other side was the Japanese Bridge, the last ‘sight’ on our tour. The bridge was built in 1593 by the Japanese trading community so that they could link to the Chinese quarter on the other side of a stream. It was quite pretty, painted pink with carvings on the outer walls, but we didn’t feel the need to pay to cross it.

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Later that afternoon we rented a moped so that we could ride out to one of the two beaches that are within a stones throw of Hoi An town – Cua Dai. The bike cost $4 for 24 hours use – much cheaper than a taxi would have been to take us to the beach! The road out to Cua Dai was great – we rode past more streams and paddy fields where we could see local people working and fishing – more of that Vietnamese scene we were so looking forward to experiencing!

The weather was closing in on us again as we pulled up at the beach and it gave the whole seascape a fantastically dramatic look and feel. The warm wind was blowing all the palm trees about and the waves were getting pretty big. It reminded us a bit of a blustery Winter sea-side scene in England, except that back home it would have been bitterly cold too! We could see the rain coming in from some islands in the distance so jumped back on the bike to try and beat it back to town! The beach is well worth a visit and we could imagine how beautiful it would be to spend the day there when the sun is out!

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That night, we sampled the local Hoi An dish at a riverside restaurant – Cau Lao. This is a noodle dish with pork (plus crackling) and mint and is absolutely gorgeous! We’d love to know what they marinade the pork and toss the noodles in as it’s so tasty – Richard ordered two bowls of the stuff and could easily have ordered two more! We rounded off the evening with another glass of our new-found favourite Fresh Beer before heading back to the hotel to sleep.

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During our last day in Hoi An we decided to bike up to the other nearby beach – An Bang. Thankfully we didn’t wake up to sounds of rain and it was relatively bright and sunny. On the way we stopped at a Japanese Tomb, which is situated in the middle of rice fields. We took the moped as far as we could in the mud and then walked across the walkway to get a closer look. The Japanese man buried there was a trader who used to live in Hoi An when it was a commerical port. Legend has it that he fell in love with a local lady but was sent away from Vietnam when trading stopped. Years later he came back to find his love, but died in Hoi An. The tomb was pretty overgrown but it’s still worth a look – if only for the experience of walking through the heart of the rice fields.

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At An Bang beach we had a vegetarian lunch of noodles and spring rolls in a restaurant right on the edge of the sand. The waves here were perhaps even bigger than last night at Cua Dai but with the better weather we could stay there for longer.

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On the way back we took a detour from the main road through Tra Que – the ‘Vegetable Village’ (aka family allotments for the people who lived there!). We drove right through the fields and beside the stream (and more paddy fields) that the villagers presumably live off. The few locals that we passed along the way were very friendly and gave us both a ‘hello’ – except for someone’s pet dog who started barking and chased us down the street. He was no match for our little Yamaha though!

At one point we thought we’d gotten lost round the back streets so we stopped to have an ice cream and ‘regroup’ – it was easy enough to get back on track however as most of the streets all lead into eachother! Before we handed the bike back, we stopped off again for our 3000 VD beer – can’t let that opportunity pass us while we’re here!

Soon it was time to have some dinner and wait for the sleeper bus to take us to Nha Trang. This is another beach city so we’re hoping that the weather will lift, 12 hours down the road!

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