Contiki Big Indochina Adventure: Days 20 & 21 – Hoi An, Vietnam
We arrived into the Hoi An airport at around 8:00 AM and were at our hotel by 9:15 AM. The streets in Hoi An are so narrow that we needed to switch from our medium sized coach bus to a minivan to get to our hotel.
Once we arrived at our hotel, we had breakfast overlooking a beautiful panorama of the mountains surrounding Hoi An. We then checked into our rooms and grabbed our laundry because most of us were running low on clean clothes. We walked down the block for a few minutes to drop our laundry off at a store that also does bike rentals. Contiki arranged for a bike tour of the Hoi An Ancient Town, but the town is so small that the same sites are within walking distance.
While everyone biked, my Tour Manager and I walked over a bridge through the local market of Hoi An. The town was a trading post between the East and the West a few centuries ago, so the town itself felt very diverse. The combination of colors of the facades of buildings and the market made me feel like I was in Florence!
After about a 15 minute walk, we arrived at the Japanese covered bridge. It is a remnant from when Hoi An was a trading post and was built in the 1700’s. It is the only covered bridge with a Buddhist temple attached to its side in the world.
We then visited the Old House of Tan Ky, which is an Chinese style house that was built 200 years ago and has been preserved for generations. Hoi An has been a victim of numerous floods over the years, but the house and all of its contents have survived. It is two floors, so if a bad flood is coming the owners of the house use a pulley to lift everything to the second floor. They have a priceless cup that belonged to Confucius with a hole in it where if you fill it up to 80% with water, it will not drain. Once you fill it more than 80%, the whole cup will drain out. It is supposed to mean that we shouldn’t get too greedy.
Our final stop was a custom tailor, Yaly’s, which is the nicest custom shop I’ve ever been to. There are 3 locations in Hoi An and Yaly’s employs over 300 tailors and seamstresses. There are other custom shops in town, but Contiki takes us there because it is not a sweatshop and the employees are paid decent wages. Upon walking in, we were immediately immersed in an environment filled with a variety of fabrics and samples. We each were paired up with a salesperson and went wild – some more wild than others. I was paired up with Bella and we got going. I knew I wanted at least two three piece suits, some work shirts, some casual shirts, a pair of khakis, a pair of jeans and work shoes. The suits were between $200 and $300, shirts between $30 and $45 for Egyptian Cotton, and other pants were between $40 and $60. After picking out a few fabrics, I had my measurements and picture taken and was told to come back the following day.
Then, a few of us went to get lunch at a restaurant that specializes in street food. I had crispy pancakes and spring rolls with a glass of wine. The food was, as always, delicious.
After lunch, the group went back to the hotel and I went to search for a new GoPro. I figured I’ll buy one when I return to the States, so it made sense to buy it here so I can get some footage of the final part of my trip. Our local guide called a camera store and told them I was coming, so I was able to get about a $100 discount which brought the cost in line with what I would have paid in America! I bought the new GoPro, too, so it is fully waterproof without a casing, takes 4K video and has other cool features. On my way to the camera store, I did learn that Google Maps is not as reliable as it is back home. Google Maps took me about 15 minutes past the store and I finally pulled out the actual address and realized that I walked past it.
As I was walking alone, I also noticed just how much the Vietnamese use the horns on their motorbikes and cars. There are sidewalks all over, but they’re normally blocked with parked motor bikes and street food vendors so everyone has to walk in the street more than on a sidewalk. Given this, they blast their horns to let you and everyone else know that they are there. I’d say, on average, they use their horns at least 3 times a minute when they’re in a congested area. It’s a bit ridiculous, but I understand why they do it.
Afterward, I met up with some of my friends for a massage near our hotel. We paid $8 for a back and shoulder massage that lasted over an hour. It was so relaxing that I may get one more before heading home. We then went back to our hotel for about an hour and met up with our group for dinner. We dined at Green Chili Bar and Restaurant which is owned by a Vietnamese chef that trained in Italy, Nando, and his American business partner. The food was delicious – I shared a plate of beef nachos, ordered crispy wontons, gnocchi and a Snickers tart for dessert.
We then headed to a bar called Dive Bar, but it was not a dive bar. It had three separate areas – a pool table with bar seating around it, a Japanese style area where everyone sits on an elevated floor and an outdoor area. We ordered a few drinks and played cards for a few hours before the bar closed down at midnight due to a local curfew. On our way back to the hotel, we were really able to appreciate the sheer beauty of the city. The Old Town is lit up by lanterns at night – it truly was an out of this world experience.
The following morning, I headed to My Son Temple with a few people that did not do the temples in Angkor Wat. The rest of my group from the original tour decided to sleep in. The Temple was about an hour away from Hoi An and was not anywhere as impressive as Angkor Wat, but I’m happy I did it. It is a cluster of Hindu temples that was built by the kings of the Champa Empire between 300 AD and 1300 AD to worship Shiva. The temples were heavily damaged during the Vietnam War, but parts of them were still in tact or have been restored. We saw a few instances of Sandskrit which was very cool because I’ve only read about the language in textbooks.
We arrived back in Hoi An at about 1:00 PM and met the rest of the group at a Bahn Mi restaurant made famous by Anthony Bourdain a few years ago when he visited the city and said the Bahn Mi was “a symphony of a sandwich”. We couldn’t decide what to get, so I split a chicken Bahn Mi and a BBQ pork Bahn Mi with someone on my tour. The sandwich was amazing and was less than $1.
After lunch, I went back to Yaly’s for my first fitting. As expected, adjustments needed to be made to everything, but it still all fit me better than anything I’ve bought off the rack. I tried on one of every type of things that I bought except the suits where I tried them all on. I couldn’t even try the shoes on because they were so small due to my orthotics, so I was told to come back in an hour for my second fitting. I wound up just staying and watching the rest of my group try on their clothes. My second fitting was much better and everything fit like a glove. I even decided to buy a third three piece suit and a few more shirts. After about another hour of trying things on, I was finally done. I decided to have everything shipped home because it was 20 kilos of clothes and I would have had to buy a giant suitcase to fit it all and lug it around for the next week.
After our fitting, we headed to a cooking class where we learned to make fresh spring rolls, chicken skewers & papaya salad. Even my food tasted good and I can’t even cook!
We were all exhausted after the class, so most of us hit the sack! Hoi An was a beautiful city that I cannot wait to visit again