Ciarán & Elaine's Travelog

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hoi An, Vietnam

Twelve hours and one overnight bus later we arrived in Hoi An town. We were pretty tired from not getting too much sleep on the bus journey so we just checked straight in to the hotel that the Canadians had recommended to us - Thanh Xuan (Long Life Hotel). It was great to get into such a nice hotel. It had a swimming pool, nice garden and breakfast and internet access was included. We had a lovely room with big bathroom, minibar, cable TV, aircon and a view out over the hotel garden and surrounding countryside and and the bed had small flower petals sprinkled all over it - now thats what I expect for EUR13 per night!!

After a couple hours sleep, we headed out to do the thing that most tourists go to Hoi An for - get some clothes tailor made! Everything we own is out of shape and practically falling apart at the seams so it's definitely time for something new! We went to a tailors just around the corner from our hotel and were immediately surrounded by several women sizing us up and pointing out different style and materials to us. After much mayhem and discussion we made our decisions but no matter how many items we chose they kept on saying 'buy two, buy 3, buy 5'!!

I had originally just wanted to get 1 or 2 shirts made but I somehow managed to leave the tailors with 4 shirts, 2 trousers and a thick winter jacket measured up for me! All for the princely sum of EUR100 - guess I'm a sucker for a bargain...

There is a lot to do around Hoi An including day trips to the Mai Ly massacre site, trips to My Son (an Angkor Wat style ruin) but we loved the town itself so much that we stayed there every day except for one day to go to the beach.

The beach is about 5km outside the town and we rented bikes and cycled out there for an afternoon. It's by far the nicest beach we've been to in Vietnam with golden sand, clear water and no pollution at all. The weren't that many tourists at the beach and the number of street/beach sellers nearly outnumbered them. They were all selling mangos, pineapples, drinks and nuts.

Vietnamese people (in fact nearly everyone we've met in S.E. Asia) are constantly trying to cover up from the sun as they regard whiter skin far more beautiful than darker, tanned skin. The steet sellers on the beach were no exception. Even though the temperature was well above 30°C all of them were wearing at least 3 long sleeve tops, long trousers, thick gloves, conical hats and bandanas or surgical masks on their faces. We don't know how they don't melt in the heat but they're all fascinated with Elaine's skin, teling her 'me no lucky, you so lucky, white, white want pineapple, mango, banana? Me no lucky today....'. Quite funny for me considering Elaine thinks she has a tan.

We bought a pineapple from one named 'Lulu Number One' for about 15,000 dong (about 75 cents) and literally 3 minutes later she charged the people sitting next to us 30,000 dong, telling us to be quiet as she took the money and did a legger! Its a different price for everyone over here!

Hoi An itself is a Unesco World Heritage site and really is a beautiful old town with pagodas side by side with old french colonial shuttered buildings. The tiny winding cobbled streets were filled with art galleries, restaurants, colourful lantern shops and literally hundreds of tailors - practically every 2nd shop is a tailor! We spent hours wandering along the streets, looking at the food markets and fish markets at the riverside and just generally soaking up the atmosphere of the town.

On the river we saw several families of boat people. These people don't own any land or house and actually live in these tiny little boats with woven bamboo roofs. They just live off what they can get from the water and even cook in their narrow little homes. We saw them bailing water out from the bottom of the boat - a daily chore for them, just like sweeping the floor for other people!

As we were crossing a bridge to look at some of these people an old lady came up to Elaine and grabbed her arm, examining it intently, looking at her freckles and turning it over to see how white it was on the underside. After that she just let her arm go and walked off without saying a word looking suspiciously back at her! We've gotten used to people staring at us like we're a freak show all throughout S.E. Asia but that was quite a strange experience...

After several trips back to the tailors for fittings and alterations we picked up our clothes and it was hugs and kisses all round from the girls there - such nice people and a great bargain too!

Next stop - Hanoi but only after a long bus journey - 18 hours in all. When we were leaving the hotel it was hugs and kisses all round from the reception staff there too and they gave us both presents of wooden bracelets and stood at the door, waving us off as the bus left. It's been by far the nicest place we've stayed in Vietnam and the people working there are unbelievably nice and helpful, so hopefully we'll get back there someday...


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