Featured image by Olivia Brady
It is no more than 15 minutes after we stepped off of the sleeper bus and onto the heated pavement in Hội An, and we are being expertly guided into a tailor shop called ‘Lucky’, by an eccentric and giggly Vietnamese woman who keeps slapping our bums and hugging us. The shop is a fortress made of thousands of different fabrics, each wall a rainbow of colour; it is a little overwhelming but we describe and order our clothes, pay the deposits and hope for the best. We return to the shop the following morning, a little apprehensive, to try on our new clothes and they are precisely as we pictured when we ordered them. Very impressive. We walk away extremely satisfied customers, with ever so slightly lighter purses but you can’t really come to Hội An and not get anything tailor made can you? Or at least that is our excuse for the slight splurge.
Later we get on a cycling tour that takes us around the countryside at sunset, and stops halfway at a bizarre cafe on the river in which everyone is lounging around dozing on hammocks, but EDM music is blasting on full volume from large speakers dotted around the shop. This turns out to be another one of those tours that is described to us as “easy” or “little”, however when you are cycling around, up and down bridges, in 37 degree heat and 91% humidity, on a bike with no gears, these are not the first two words that spring to mind it has to be said. Still, it was fun all the same and afterwards (once we had stopped sweating) we ventured out to find some well deserved local food for dinner – Cau Lao is a new personal favourite and is a speciality in Hội An, it is made with yellow rice noodles and comes in a sort of broth with vegetables and meat or tofu and it is quite simply delicious.
Hội An’s ancient town is irresistible; with all of its twinkling lights and lanterns surrounding the canal, with its bustling little market dotted amongst the old wooden Chinese shophouses, and with the beach a stones throw away; I am completely in love with this place (also there are far less mosquitos here which quite certainly helps). And of course, whilst wandering back over the ornate bridge we cannot resist buying a little lantern from an unimaginably small, elderly Vietnamese woman with the most gentle eyes and a sunshine smile. We watch our lantern float down the river, bobbing it’s way between all of the old boats, the reflection of its candle mingling with those of many others as they drift away from us, leaving a flickering watercolour painting on the surface of the water behind them.
The next morning we hire a moped to channel our inner-Jeremy Clarksons and drive the famous Hải Vân Pass (Liv driving and me on the back of course, being key navigator, a very important job). In Vietnamese the road is called Đèo Hải Vân, which translates into “ocean cloud pass” and refers to the eery mists that rise up from the surface of the sea and hover around the mountains. The winding mountain road meanders its way for 21km between Huế and Đà Nẵng and is a popular challenge for backpackers travelling along this route who don’t fancy a bus. If you don’t want to drive it yourself, you can also hire an easy rider to take you and your bags, but from what I have heard this is not exactly the cheapest. Definitely worth doing in some way though. The views are absolutely spectacular and there is just something about driving along a mountain pass overlooking the coast. Later we meet up with a group of people we met in Phong Nha and end up in Hội An’s version of TigerTiger (NB: it is just as woeful as the one in London, but also a hilarious night).
Image by Olivia Brady
The following morning we laze around feeling sorry for ourselves and then drag our bodies from our beds to the beach, it’s a hard life. The idyllic beach is all white sand, blue skies and clear (other than the occasional jellyfish) sea, rhythmically splashing in and out on the shore. After a successfully lazy day, we stop on the way home for some mouth-watering food that has been cooked in a clay pot – I have absolutely no idea why, but the clay pot definitely makes it more delicious. We wander back through the atmospheric ancient town and spend the rest of the evening with some friends from home; swapping stories from our travels so far and watching an acoustic band at the appropriately named ‘Hangover Bar’ on the beach front. Such a perfect evening, and it reminds me that I am approaching the 1 month mark; these past 4 weeks have absolutely flown by, but equally it feels as though I’ve been away from my life in England for ages. Weird. But it has been a fantastic month that’s for sure.
We wake up somewhat subdued that this our final day in Hội An, we really have loved it here and can completely understand why some people end up stopping here for much longer than they originally intended. Still, better to be sad to be leaving somewhere than counting down the seconds until you can escape. We hop back on our trusty moped and work our way through the emerald countryside, over wooden bridges and down increasingly spindly sandy lanes, towards an old fishing village. Fishermen and women bob along in coconut boats, their punts splashing into the sparkling water as they make their way along streams carved between swaying coconut palms. There is something compulsively captivating about this and we sit and watch them for a while from the shady riverbank, before making our way back to the beach.
We have to practically drag ourselves away from the beach, and away from the lovely Hoi An, and prepare (both mentally and physically) to board an 18 hour sleeper bus. Yep that’s right, eighteen hours. And here I find myself on one of the top bunks in the middle row, with aisles on either side but no seat belt to keep my clumsy self strapped on. It’s okay though because if I do take a tumble, my fall will be broken by one of the many local Vietnamese passengers who have been given cushions to sit on in the aisle. Now that’s what I call an economical use of space.