So Continuing our adventures from my previous post ‘The Holiday’ Hanoi – Ha Long Bay, me and my Auntie after spending one night back in Hanoi set off to catch our plane down to the South of Vietnam into Da Nang.
From Da Nang we had a transfer waiting to take us 30 minutes into Hoi An which I wasn’t to know was going to be somewhere I was going to completely and unexpectedly fall in love with!
Unfortunately the weather was not on our side which its always a shame to land in a new destination and all you can see is rain and grey skies out your window, but we made ourselves a promise… not to let the weather dim our spirits or stop us exploring! We arrived to our hotel ‘Boutique Resort’ around mid-day, it was a lovely hotel with gorgeous gardens including dozens of towering palm trees, a spacious pool, spa, gym and even its own tailor shop inside the lobby. The rooms where comfortable and each had its own balcony and the bathrooms where spacious. The only thing I found a shame was the gardens lead down onto the beach with deck chairs and umbrellas which is lovely except the beach was covered in litter! It seemed their might have been local fisherman using this stretch of the beach and plastic, fishing wire, nets and old boats lay broken and scattered across the sand, interrupting the fact that I’m sure this hotel on the beach would have looked beautiful from a seaside view. We decided for our first day to head into the Hoi An’s centre to see the markets and local cuisines, We had an a free shuttle bus service that ran nearly every hour from the hotel into the city – Handy!
We arrived to the centre during the evening with time to get some dinner and have a quick glance at the town before heading back for an early night in preparation for the following day. On the first night we ate a small restaurant called ‘Pineapple’ we ordered pizza as there was a stone baked oven and also fresh home made deserts which the lemon tart and chocolate mouse couldn’t go a miss after we had set our eyes on them! The food was really great and I enjoyed the atmosphere of the place in general. I quickly noticed the amount of lights and lanterns all different colours that were strung all over this City, at night it really was a stunning factor setting a very authentic vibe to the location, this made excited for what we might get to see or do over the next upcoming days.
On day 2 we set the alarms and made it up in time to grab some breakfast at the hotel before setting back off into the centre of town, this time to see it properly and knowing all the shops would be open for a ‘browse’. Hoi An is famously known for its leather retail and tailor shops where you can buy products already made and on sale or even look through their catalogues and choose something a bit more personal to yourself which you can then have tailored and made to fit you, whether it be clothes, shoes or a bag! People fly to Hoi An from all over Vietnam seeking this unique service and for genuine leather you can barter for the best price too! The smell of leather ferments the streets along with smell from fresh street food or the local restaurants. The thing that I noticed and appreciated about Hoi An was that though this is a popular tourist destination, the area is a lot less populated than the big cities such as, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh or even Da Nang and being known for its surrounding countryside and waters the air was fresh and clear even on a wet day allowing us to really embrace the colours that merged through out this whole City, automatically making you fell happy, there was not a single part of this day where I didn’t wear my ‘International Smile’.
We were so fortunate to have visited at this time of year as we were able to be a part of the Lunar New Year celebrations and with that Hoi An was hosting its annual Light Festival – Shades of ‘Hoi An’. To enter The centre at this time of year you had to pay for a ticket, a small fee of VND 120.000 equivalent to around £4.30 and as long as you kept your ticket on you it lasted until the 5th February (the last day of the light festival) I’d imagine the ticket was a contribution to help cover the expenses of this huge event. It soon became apparent as to why the city had hundreds and thousands of lanterns and light decorations all over the place however I believe the city remains its joyful, colourful self even through out the rest of the year and this is why tourists become so fascinated by the place, even the Vietnamese people recognise this city as one of the most beautiful in their country.
So after getting our ticket we spent the whole day walking through the many streets, each offering a variety of handmade jewellery shops, tailors, coffee shops/cafes, restaurants, markets, street food, unique souvenirs/gifts, antiques, materials, art galleries, lantern making, pottery and flower stools, the list could go on… Famous in the city is their Japanese bridge which architecture is very traditional and realistic. It crosses over a part of the river which trails through and around the city with many long boats dotted about and harboured into the river bank either allowing people to come aboard to tour or maybe sit for a meal. The boats are painted in lots of different colours (like everything else – not a dull patch in the whole city) and every single boat will have a pair of eyes painted on each side of the nose of the boat, this is useful for the men who like to drink their rice wine late at night and then try to drive their boats home, it reminds them which side of the boat is the front and where to be heading though legend has it that these eyes are good luck and will watch for evil spirits living amongst the waters. Most Vietnamese people can not swim this is because they believe the sea holds bad spirits so over generations swimming is something that has not be passed down as a life skill to their children.
After some retail therapy and a long beautiful day full of good feelings and sore cheeks bones from a constant smile we had some dinner and headed back to get some rest ready for our following day which again was going to be an adventure!
After browsing the internet, trip advisor and the hotel tour books we decided on a few places we wanted to visit whilst we were here, however we didn’t want to pay the price of the tours to be lead around in a group all day and structured to times. I managed to barter us a good price for a rental motor scooter from a place next door to our hotel, we had the bike for 3 days and planned to make good use of it!
We woke to find the rain had returned and quite harshly with continuous downpours but that wasn’t going to steal one of our days from us, Instead we kitted up with our raincoats and besides the rain it was surprisingly warm still. We set off on the bike with a plan to get lost and find places that maybe not every tourist would get too by just seeing where we ended up and not planning to follow a route too much. We had driven for about 20 minutes before we ended up driving through some smaller suburbs of peoples homes, the places were small and characteristic with a friendly neighbourhood, karaoke was blasting from peoples homes and again the colours that spread through these small alleys made it far from dull. After driving for a majority of the day, taking in our surrounding with dry spells on and off giving us the occasional break from the rain, we were starting to get our bearings, understanding where the roads linked up and it was making sense in my head. I have lived in Hanoi for 3 months now and still use google maps for any new location as it is just so vast with so many streets and half the time the roads are so busy it makes it hard to recognise your surroundings when your mostly concentrating on what’s going on with in the traffic.
We eventually noticed a sign for a coconut village which we set off looking for, we ended up in another small village where a lady on a scooter asked me if we were looking for the coconut village, she offered to lead us there. We were taken along a riverside where lots of little circular bamboo boats were all scattered. We paid a local to take us in his boat through the bamboo shots that created this maze piercing through the water and stood high. We weren’t too sure if we were being taken to see the coconut village but this had occurred and was interesting to see! The local gentleman stopped close to the leaves and stacking cutting some down and putting them in his boat, then with a small pocket knife he began to weave and make something with these leaves, like origami. First he had made me a ring, then a hat which made me look like The Statue Of Liberty and finally some glasses before making the same for my Auntie! it was like Bamboo fancy dress and we laughed at ourselves alongside the gentleman who found this all very entertaining. On the way back we came across a whole group of tourists spread between 5 boats who had all been made the same accessories from their boat guides too, we all burst out laughing when we had spotted the other boats looking as ridiculous as we were!
By the time we headed back into the centre it was already dark and we were soaked through from the rain but we headed back to Hoi An’s City centre as we wanted to see all the lights at night. We came across a small friendly spa on the way and decided a spa would be perfect on a rainy day so I had my first ever hot stone massage – Heaven! From the spa we parked the bike near to where the festival was taking place in the town and we crossed the river to where the Japanese bridge was, there was a huge projector, projecting a scene across the wall next to the bridge that read ‘The show will start again in 5 minutes’ So we waited and when the show began every one went silent! a surround sound system started to tell a story from ancient Vietnamese history, sharing culture and traditions through out this 12 minute long show, the story was followed with images and animations projected onto this building and lights reflected over the bridge and across the water, the sky had laser lights beaming like flashes above your head and it was truly an amazing show! This alone was a reason I would recommend to visit at this time of year, the crowd was in awe and I was fascinated by the way this had all come together.
At this point even after a grey, rainy day I was completely falling in love with this City and realising that beauty could lie in the smallest details.
Another early rise and thank fully the rain had cleared and the sun was appearing! We set off on the scooter again an hour and 40 minutes away to the Ancient Heritage grounds of ‘My Son’ located in Quang Nam province, 69km southwest of Da Nang. Out in the countryside its location was like taking a deep breath of fresh air!
My Son is a cluster of abandoned and partially ruined Hindu Temples which are dedicated to the worship of the god Shiva. After collecting your tickets and browsing the museum your can hop aboard a gold buggy which will drive you 5 minutes around the mountain and to the entrance of My Son. From here you take roughly a 10 minute walk along a path through the woodlands before approaching the temples. The temples are in a valley roughly 2 kilometres wide that is surrounded by two mountain ranges so as you can imagine the landscape and certain view points were really beautiful. We took many pictures, and discovered each ruin as we went along, the sun had decided to appear fully now and it was soon becoming very hot! After a couple of hours here we decided to head back to the bike and set off in look for something else in the area that we could do during the afternoon.
I searched for waterfalls in google and was shown a place called ‘Ngam Doi’ on the driving mode on google maps it aid it was going to take us 4 hours to get there – No way! however I out the walking route in and it only said an hour and a half… now what could we come across on foot that I couldn’t do on a motorbike?! So we set off again. The first obstacle we encountered was a small muddy and very bumpy path that led down to a river with a bridge that was in the process of being built and currently out of use fro any traffic, we wondered how we were going to cross. As we drove further along the path we noticed many bikes passing us from the other direction and realised there was a small wooden motored ferry boat that was allowing bikes to drive up on to it and line up on the deck whilst he ferried them across this giant river! We giggled most of the way and this was certainly the first time id ever been sitting on a motorbike, on a boat! I drove onto and off of the boat by a wobbly wooden platform they had made to lay across the boat and river bank – what an adventure this was becoming.
So we continued in search of this waterfall which we weren’t even sure of being any good! for all we new the images on the internet could have made it look a lot better and more impressive than it really was… But we carried on in high hopes. After about 20 more minutes driving we were brought to a entrance of a cemetery, the biggest cemetery I have ever seen in my life!! Honestly this place spread for miles and miles over hilltop, blurring into the distance with these huge stones and burials. We were lead through the cemetery for a majority of the journey, we were taken deep into the centre of it all following these tiny broken brick laid paths or mud paths that had become sinking gloop in all the rain and I was only just able to get the bike through whilst skidding around and even having to put my foot down through the mud to keep us upright at one point, I would be lying if I said at this point we were having fun. It began to dusk and we were still being directed around this what was now becoming, a very eerie place! After about 45 minutes spent in the cemetery with day light disappearing on us, one soggy foot and aching arms trying to keep the bike balanced in all the muddy slush, we had finally made it out of the millions of graves and were heading back to a main road… it was a relief. For a moment we questioned whether to carry on or turn back home as we knew at this point it was going to take us a good couple of hours to arrive back at the hotel and we had a low tank of petrol, but we had come this far so what was the point of turning back now… I didn’t mind driving in the dark so we decided with 20 minutes left on the journey and an hour left of daylight to keep going towards the waterfall desperately hoping for something to make the journey worth while!
20 minutes up a mountain side which thank god we found a petrol station on, we finally arrived at ‘Ngam Doi’!! We drove into the grounds and paid for a ticket, we parked the bikes and walked through the paths and boulders where I could hear water crashing through rocks – it was hopeful! As the opening appeared and we were stood right between the valley this tremendous waterfall came crashing and rolling through the two mountains with huge boulders appearing between the waters, completely smooth and easy to climb across, suddenly the whole journey had become worth while and I was so glad we persevered with getting to this place. Down the side of the water fall were different huts where you could make your way down to different view points and see the water fall gradually as you made your way down, there was also small wooden bridges that had been made to cross the waterfall so you could stand above it, though it had no sides and was very sketchy, one slip and that would be it! It was getting dark and I didn’t want to leave the place was just magical. We spent about an hour there before the daylight had disappeared and we had to start the journey home. We drove back for 2 hours and got some dinner before arriving back to the hotel, though with the amount of bugs I must have eaten driving the motorbike I was surprised to still have a an appetite! We slept well that night and it was a good thing as we needed our energy for another fun filled day ahead!
On the internet I had seen a place called Ba Na hill resort mentioned a few times, it really grabbed my attention as it had the longest running cable car in the world taking us to the highest mountain top in Da Nang. The weather was now really nice and the sun was out! It was our last day having the motorbike so we decided to set off an hour away to this resort not knowing how much it was going to offer us… The drive was really pleasant with long stretch open roads and lots of mountain scenery as we went. We arrived at this huge attraction around late morning, we parked the bike and brought our tickets. There was options to buy a cable car ticket or extra’s such as a wax work museum, funicular and the amusement park, we weren’t too sure were all of these were located or how as we were climbing up this huge mountain via cable car… but we were about to find out.
The first cable car was around 20 minutes long and we even crossed over a waterfall on the way up! The first stop transferred us onto the funicular which is a cable railway that resembles a tram like vehicle inclined on the side of a cliff making its way up and down a steep slope. We arrived at the gardens where the architecture and view points were incredible! it was a place of meditation and peace. We explored the gardens and water features taking in the panorama views all around us, we could see the whole of Hoi An and Da Nang beneath us! We visited the absolutely enormous Pagoda of the Buddha statue which could be seen for miles! We had spotted it from the bottom when nothing else could be seen and standing at the foot of it seemed slightly surreal though the whole time I was wondering how they even got something so impulsive up here!
Carrying on up another cable car which lasted around 10 minutes we were brought to the wax work museum full of celebrity replicates and the amusement park. Now I understood what this was all about, this was like Ba Na’s very own Disney world at the top of this monstrous mountain, it was like nothing I could have ever imagined! there was roller coasters, hotels, pools, spas, even a Christian church and a huge temple ground where you could walk even higher to the highest point of the mountain amongst Buddhist temples to embrace to ‘on top of the world’ views. Again Pagodas and buildings stood even higher and this place had truly taken my breath away! besides still figuring out how it was even possible they had built this magical land way up in the sky. It was easy to spend the whole day here and even when it was time for us to leave there was still so much we could have discovered! There was picture points, vintage cars, quaint ornaments scene setting displays in every corner you looked – I was amazed! We headed down the mountain on the worlds famous cable car, the longest and highest non – stop cable car that had set the world record and on the way we crossed over the waterfall with an even better view than before!
This day was so much more than we would have ever guessed! It is somewhere I would recommend to anyone seeking a fun filled day out with amusement, adventure, culture and peace amongst the meditation grounds. We were back by dark and able to grab some dinner before heading back to the hotel.
For the final day of the holiday we had decided to book a bicycle tour of Hoi An’s countryside allowing us to explore local villages with people inviting us into their homes to see years of traditions. It was the cheapest tour to do in Hoi An and became one of our most enjoyable days with excellent tour guides who spoke great English and went into great depth about their home City. Many people had also left reviews saying this was the most enjoyable experience during their holidays and again I would recommend doing one of these tours to anyone! Though we had found many places that tourists would not have found through sticking to tours this was one where we would not have known about these places without doing the tour.
We met at 7:30 am at a booking office in the centre alongside the other people in our group. We were all given a bike and bottle of water, we were setting off for the day and expected to be back around 5pm after covering 14.5 miles. The journey started with a 30 minute boat journey away from the City and into more remote surroundings, we unloaded the bikes from the boat and set off. The journey consisted of a few shorts boat rides to cross small rivers, cycling through beautiful flourished countryside, rice paddies, local villages and even crossing the impressive hand made bamboo bridges. We visited locals homes where they showed us how they continued Vietnamese traditions such as making rice paper and noodles, rice wine, hand weaved colourful straw rungs, mother of pearl hand crafted pictures and ornaments imbedded into wood and how they made the bamboo boats – we even got a go at getting into them on the river and was shown how to row by one of the local ladies who spoke little to no English however made us all laugh with her cheeky sense of humour and expressions the whole time! The locals explained to us how these traditions were slowly fading away to nothing as people were working all hours of the day to keep traditions alive but then had to sell their products onto sales men who owned a market stall and could sell the products for double the price. It was a vicious circle as the crafts man/woman would not have the money to pay for a market stall and for this this reason had to sell on the products for very little profit. Children of the generation do not wish to work in these small villages continuing tradition anymore as it leads to a life of poverty and this in why education is so important here. Children flea to the cities in hope of finding themselves a good job and hoping for a better way of life.
The day was filled with not only beautiful scenery and picturesque moments but also taught us so much about the culture and way of life, the trip was both enjoyable and educational and I thoroughly enjoyed the day! The cycling was at a good pace and well adjusted for most people to enjoy and keep up. We had a lovely homemade lunch included at one of the locals homes where we could sit outside, eat and rest in-between and the tour guides were fantastic making the day so much fun!
We were back in time to head back into town for one last meal in my favourite City in the world so far… before the flight back to Hanoi the following day. We even had an evening dip in the hotels pool which was slightly brisk but a nice ending to a great day!
Hoi An was a magical place with so much joy and character. I can honestly say this is my favourite place I have travelled to YET and a city that reaches out beyond your expectations! This holiday was full of Adventure, Discovery and Exploring.
I could not put enough pictures into this post if I tried, so for more photos please check out my Instagram page @internationalsmile_17
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