Days 4-5 in Vietnam (Hoi An)

After a yummy (and free) breakfast at our hostel in Hanoi, we packed up our belongings and took a taxi to the airport. I wish we could have seen more of Hanoi. And actually I could say that about all of the places we saw in Vietnam. Our speed-trip gave us a great taste, but I find myself wanting more.

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We flew from Hanoi to Da Nang, which is on the central coast of the country, and a 30-minute taxi ride from a river and the beach. We arrived without having a clue about where to stay, but because we arrived in the morning, we weren’t worried. Worst case scenario: we’d just be wandering around by foot for hours until we found a place to crash. A few things that struck us as we drove to Hoi An, which is famous for its beaches and tailors, was that Vietnam roads are much more paved, smooth, and landscaped than Thai roads. Also, driving is much more orderly than in Bangkok. It’s insane because the amount of drivers, but they seem to be more organized than in Thailand. There are round-a-bouts that I would be afraid to attempt, but the drivers in Vietnam use them generally safely and efficiently.

We told our driver to head to the beach. When we arrived we found resorts that were above our price range (we never paid more than $10/night each for any place in Vietnam). I tapped an elderly backpacker on the shoulder outside a restaurant and asked him where he was staying. He turned out to be German and extremely leathery-tanned, and also very knowledgeable about Hoi An. He advised us to head toward the river where accommodations were cheaper than by the beach. So we flagged down our same taxi driver, and he drove us about 4 km west to the river and after stopping and asking a couple more hotels, we finally found an inexpensive and nice looking place called Green Fields. Only 210,000 dong per night (no problem because we were dong millionaires), three free cocktails during their happy hour, and nice, clean rooms.

After dropping off our stuff, we went for a walk around our new neighborhood. It was quiet! They honked a little less than in Hanoi (which actually isn’t saying much; still lots of honking), the streets were a little more clear (not as many people, vendors, etc.), and the place had a definite beach vibe going on. We got a recommendation from our concierge for a good tailor, and three out of five of us got something made. It just took over night for them to produce two winter coats and a dress. A pretty sweet souvenir.

Before the sun set, I realized that I should go for a run, maybe down to the beach! I didn’t make it to the beach, but the run was such a blast. I rank it up there with my run alongside my sister, Aly, in Shin-Urayasu, Japan. It was entertaining, friendly, and exhilarating. Let’s see…I saw:

– a mattress on a motorbike (full size, strapped to the back)

– two roosters

– three little girls playing a game that involved chucking a giant badminton shuttlecock at each other’s shins (I played too…not sure  if I fully understood the objective, but oh well!)

– welding sans shoes or visor (I’m used to seeing this, but not six inches from my running feet)

– the same German backpacker, who was delighted to know that we had found a good cheap place to stay

– rice paddies with people picking the rice in their quintessential Vietnamese sun hats

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– gorgeous, slender, tall white birds in the rice paddies

– restaurants, one of which I picked out for our dinner that night (amazing, delicious, beautiful, on the river, with such nice people)

– as in Hanoi, people bringing trees to their homes on the backs of their motorbikes (I learned later that this is analogous to us bringing home Christmas trees; theirs are for Tet, the lunar new year, which is Feb. 10 this year. What a great time to be in Vietnam!)

– a little boy squirting cars and passersby with a little orange water pistol

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After my run, I showered up and joined the girls for our three free cocktails. I originally declined the cocktails because I assumed they’d be rum and coke or something watered down and disappointing. Well, I was wrong. I tried my friend’s and then had to get my own. It was essentially a banana-pineapple smoothie with a healthy dose of Vietnamese rum. So tasty, and surprisingly strong. I could only handle one. We played a fun game with a English guy named James. The game involved charades and cracked us up. We then left for a walk to the restaurant I’d discovered on my run. We had a great dinner and a great time together. I had veggies and this fantastic braised eggplant. Yum.

The next day was our beach day, one of my favorite days of the trip. I started it out alone because I’m the only early-riser among us. I ran again and was greeted by lots of people, including rice farmers and coffee drinkers. I showered and then enjoyed a quiet breakfast of eggs, coffee (of course), and fresh juice.

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When the girls woke up, I had more coffee with them, and then we headed to the beach. It was a fabulous day full of sunshine, perfect temperatures (probably 82 at the highest), cool ocean water, body-surfing, and socializing with people from all over the world.

That night we had a very quick dinner and then headed to the airport. We truly loved Hoi An. I could easily spend much longer than two quick days there. Maybe Sean will want to see it sometime…

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