I’m currently sitting in a cafe in Hoi An having accidentally ordered a three course meal at 11am. It’s currently 12:16 and I’ve only made it through the first course: 3 spring rolls, 3 squid wontons, and a calamari salad. I have some fried fish in a banana leaf, steamed vegetables, and rice in front of me and a banana and chocolate pancake to my right. Thankfully, I brought my laptop so I can easily stay entertained in the 7 hours it will take me to eat all this food in this heat (it’s already a 108 heat index at noon).
I left Phong Nha on a bus that was supposed to get me to Hoi An in the afternoon. I had to wake up at 6:30am to shower, pack my bag and be downstairs on time and woke up feeling awful. I assumed it was due to drinking the night before and only getting a few hours of sleep, so I sucked it up and got on the bus. It was supposed to be about a 5-6 hour ride to Hoi An, and when the bus arrived I was happy to see that it was a sleeper bus. As the trip went on, though, I was feeling worse and worse and it didn’t help that this driver was the craziest I’ve had yet in Asia. Lots of swerving and hitting the breaks, honking, and every time the driver lit a cigarette the smell made me feel on the verge of throwing up. I slept for about half an hour, but tired as I was I couldn’t manage more than that. Knowing how nauseous my malaria medication makes me on a good day, I even decided to skip it for the day to avoid feeling even worse.
The bus came to a stop in Hue, about 2 hours north of Hoi An, and they told us we would be getting off the bus for 2 hours before a different one came to take us the rest of the way. Everyone groaned – we hadn’t been told about this beforehand – but I was probably the most upset of everyone. I was just hanging on as it was, the idea of having to sit around for 2 more hours and get on a different bus was just miserable. Having no choice, I went into the restaurant/bar they had dropped us at and decided to order a plain noodle soup in the hopes that putting something relatively bland in my stomach might make me feel better. After a few bites, my stomach of steel failed me (seriously, I never EVER get stomach bugs) and I had to run to the bathroom. After a few trips back and forth throwing up, I decided there was no way I would be able to make it on another bus ride, so I went to the hotel across the street and checked to see if they had any rooms available. They had nothing but 3 bed dorms, but I was so desperate to be sick in privacy and spend the rest of the day laying in a dark, cool room that I paid for all three beds in a room and skipped my bus to Hoi An.
I was sick off and on for the rest of the day – every time I drank water to try to stay hydrated, it would immediately make me sick all over again. I went to a store and bought some crackers and extra water so I wouldn’t need to go out again if I got any worse, and moved the three beds together to make myself one huge bed and stayed in for the rest of the day. Thankfully, I came prepared with every kind of over-the-counter remedy under the sun (as well as a course of broad spectrum antibiotics if it got to that point) after learning my lesson being sick for 4 days in Iceland with no medicine while every pharmacy was closed for a national holiday. I loaded up on NyQuil, Tums, and Paracetamol (Leo was nice enough to give me the leftovers he’d gotten from the hospital before we parted ways) and let my body rest.
The next morning I was feeling better, but still uneasy and exhausted, so I decided to stay one more night instead of pushing myself to get to Hoi An. I went to the front desk to book a bus to Hoi An for the following day and she gave me a better option – to go by van with a tour guide that would stop at some famous sites along the coast that I had originally planned to make a day trip out of Hoi An to see anyway – for only $4 more.
I woke up on the second morning feeling good as new and thankful I’d given my body the extra time to rest. My van picked me up at 8:00am and I had the sweetest guide named Cong. He was excited to share his culture and knowledge and was really fun to talk to. We first stopped at a famous bridge in a small village just outside Hue (I unfortunately can’t remember the name) that was built in 1776. I think Cong was actually from the village, which was very very small, because he told us about how it floods every year in the rainy season. They even have a cement structure with measurements on it up to 5 meters to measure how high the flood waters get each year. He told use that when he was younger, the floods would always be so high that people would have to leave their houses at night and sleep on the roof or in trees to stay dry and safe. He also said that during floods, different animals would seek shelter in the houses, including rats and big snakes. He learned the difference between safe snakes and deadly snakes at a young age and told us how they would have to kill the deadly ones every night before going to sleep but would let the safe ones stay in the house. Terrifying.
Our next stop was a beach on the coast that was just before the famous Hai Van Pass that would take us to the city of Da Nang on the other side. The beach was pretty, but not especially spectacular, so I wasn’t sure why we’d made a special stop for it until we started making our way up the pass and were able to look back at it from above and know we’d been standing there not long before. The views from the pass were unbelievable and I kept trying to take pictures from the van (unsuccessfully), but thankfully we stopped at the top to get some amazing views and take some pictures. The area we stopped was actually used as a US military bunker during the war – perfect because of its location overlooking
both Da Nang and the Hai Van Pass.
Once in Da Nang we stopped at the famous Marble Mountains. We had the option of paying to take the elevator to the top or take the stairs for free… I don’t know what got into me, but I chose the physical activity option (I guess I hadn’t hit my sweating quota yet that day) and was actually glad I did. It wasn’t too awful, and the top was somewhat disappointing, so the stairs were actually one of my favorite parts to see. I originally planned my trip with a few days in Da Nang, simply because I’d heard so much about the mountains, but I was pretty disappointed and glad I was just passing through and still got to see it. This was our last stop before arriving in Hoi An, and I thankfully got dropped off right at my hostel.
Hoi An is a cute little city. I’ve been dreading coming here because I’ve been keeping an eye on the weather and it’s by far the hottest place I’ve visited yet, but everyone I’ve met has told me I can’t miss it. It’s known for its “ancient city” and its custom tailoring. The streets are lined with tailors ready to make custom suits, dresses, shoes, bags – anything you want – that are high quality and very cheap. The city itself is also only about 4km from the ocean and hostels provide free bicycles for you to ride through the rice paddy fields to get there.
After checking in, I met my roommates (Morris, a guy from Scotland, and Katie, a girl from England) and took my laundry to be done right away so it would be ready by the time I planned to leave. I decided to walk around the shops a bit before I came back to shower. I walked around the ancient town, which was just as small and cute as everyone had told me, and admired all the handicrafts and clothing. I found a shop that did custom shoes and leather bags to see if I could find some shoes to replace the ones that were stolen in Chiang Mai – all I had currently were the cheap slip ons that had been through a lot of wear and tear on beaches, through rain, and on the jungle trek. There was a pair of high-top green suede “Nikes” (obviously not real since they’re tailor-made) that caught my eye. I asked the price and did my best to negotiate the price down. Here’s how that went:
Me: How much in dong?
Lady: ok, $42
Me: ….Can we do 700,000 dong? (I don’t really know the conversion, just that I don’t want to spend 1,000,000)
Lady: (laughs) 1,200,000 dong
Me: …. 1,000,000 dong?
Lady: 1,100,000 dong
Got back to the hostel and figured out the conversion… I SPENT $48! She said $42, I basically countered with $46 and she made me go higher! Always have been, always will be terrible at bartering.
Regardless, they’re cool and one of the next places I’m going is currently very rainy.
I walked around a bit more exploring the Old Town, but managed not to spend any more
money. I headed back to my hostel to read in the common area until 7pm, when the hostel was hosting a free spring roll making class (followed by a free spring roll dinner, of course). I sat with a group of Australian girls who told me they were celebrating one of the girl’s birthdays, and they invited me to go with them to the pub crawl the hostel was hosting after the dinner. They told me there was a “Mr. Bean Bar” that had pictures of Mr. Bean everywhere, so I wanted to at least see that bar and agreed to go. By the time the dinner was over, though, I could tell I wasn’t in the mood to go out. I let everyone leave ahead of me and planned to just sneak back to my room once everyone was gone.. But just as I was about to, one of the girls came out of the bathroom and asked, “Nina, you’re coming, right?!” …I said I was just grabbing something from my room and would be right there.
Part of the pub crawl was that we got free shots at every bar, so I got mine and one for the birthday girl and then sat down in a corner by myself, in front of a fan (haha). I talked to Morris and Katie, and an Australian guy from the hostel that was equal parts good looking and boring (he excels in each category). After he left, I started talking to two French guys from my hostel (I couldn’t tell what they were saying half the time, and their names were impossible to understand). One of them had scrapes all along one side of his body, and some bandages on his face – I assumed he’d been in a motorbike accident, which is pretty common in Vietnam since everyone thinks they know how to ride them (but don’t) and the locals drive like maniacs. I was right, and they told me the story about the accident – apparently they’d just hit some gravel and slid out.
I was comfortable riding scooters in Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos, but there is no way in hell I would ride anything in Vietnam, and I can’t understand why so many tourists choose to. A lot of people ride a motorbike for the first time in Vietnam, without any kind of protection aside from a helmet, not realizing how crazy the roads are here. Aside from that, even as someone who is comfortable on a bike, I would never try in this country because there’s a law that if a foreigner is in a collision with a local, the foreigner is required to pay for all medical and mechanical damages, even if the collision was the local’s fault. The police literally take your passport and hold it until you pay in full. No thanks.
Anyway, I stayed out long enough to see the Mr. Bean Bar and then walked back to the hostel with my new French friends. They would be splitting up after Hoi An, one going north and one going south. The one going south (I found out his name is Yoann when he added me on Facebook) had plans similar to mine, so we got each other’s contact information to meet up when we’re in the same city again.
And now I’m here, trying to summon the courage to finish this gigantic meal. Wish me luck.
UPDATE: I finished everything but the chocolate banana pancake. I just couldn’t do it.
After my meal, I explored a bit more before deciding to treat myself to a Terrific Lady Day (aka a spa day). I got an hour long facial and a pedicure for like… $10. I hate doing those types of things at home (and actually never do), but the price was right, and I needed a break from sweating and getting dirty. I don’t know if all facials are like the one I got, but it was a pretty terrifying experience.
I’d assumed a facial was just.. my face.. but when I got up to the room, the lady doing my facial told me to take off my shirt. I did, and laid down on the massage table. It wasn’t enough, and she made me take off my bra too (?!?!) and then gave me a towel to cover up with. After that, it was okay, lots of lotions and stuff on my face, but I kept catching myself tensing up and the lady asked me if I was ok at least 3 times haha. After she was done doing things to my face, she started smacking and knocking on my head and pushing my shoulders down really hard. Then she had me sit up and did some more knocking and smacking on my back. I’m assuming it was some sort of massage, but I would have been ok with just the facial haha.
After I left the spa, I walked around a part of the city I hadn’t been to yet to find something for dinner (enough time had passed since my absurdly huge meal). I found a kebab place and was SO excited I practically ran inside. Kebab was one of my favorite things when I was traveling around Europe, but it’s not something that’s common (or good) in the U.S., and I hadn’t seen it at all in Asia until now. I’ve had some amazing kebab in my life (in Dublin, I ate at the same place every. single. day, and even got one to go to take on my 6am flight the morning I left), but this kebab was life-changing. Honestly one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, and for only $2. Before I left, I asked the lady what time they opened the next morning because I fully intended to stop by and get another one before my bus at 11am.. My heart broke when she told me they’re closed on Tuesdays.