Of course the roads are super bumpy and general discomfort creates an environment that not even two Diazapem can remedy. Did I mention that we hate overnight bus rides?
Hoi An, where the guest houses at?!
How many times have we insisted on never traveling on overnight buses? Ten, twenty, forty? How many times have we taken an overnight bus? Three. Three too many.
For some reason there is no day bus to Hoi An. Why? How is it that there is not one VIP company operating a bus that leaves in the morning? Begrudgingly we booked an overnight sleeper bus to Hoi An. That itself was difficult enough as multiple agencies told us that all of the bus companies were full. Well you learn pretty quick not to trust travel agencies in Southeast Asia. Their bus may be full but they will straight up lie to you in attempt to sell you a ticket on their next bus. If you look hard enough you will eventually find a fare.
When we boarded the bus we were not very thrilled to discover that we had been allocated the worst seats on board. These ‘sleepers’ are the bottom bunks, at the back of the bus, immediately above the engine. This dark void never feels the relief of air conditioning and one quickly makes friendly with the strangers next to you. Luckily for us they were a couple of hygienic British backpackers. Extremely unlucky for me, was that I happened to have the middle sleeper seat that was about a foot shorter than the other four in the row. I’ll take this opportunity to remind you that I am nearly 5’11”. The bus operators also overbooked the bus, allowing Vietnamese locals to sleep in the isles. This not only obstructed access to the washroom but one local sat immediately at the foot of the sleeper seat next to me so I couldn’t even tuck my feet out of the end of the bunk. FML. Of course the roads are super bumpy and general discomfort creates an environment that not even two Diazapem can remedy. Did I mention that we hate overnight bus rides?
For anyone traveling to this region of the world and doing so in a larger group, it may be wise to book tickets on the same bus but not as a group. I.e. get each traveler to pay separately and receive his own receipt. This way the operator will be less likely to lump you into the back row. However, this may not be a bad thing, should you be placed in the upper bunks and are comfortable snuggling up.
Anyway, I awoke to a rising sun which I was able to appreciate. This was promptly followed by an action I did not appreciate: the Vietnamese gentleman in the bunk immediately in front of me began to play some traditional music aloud from his Blackberry. It’s like, 6:00am…where is your bus etiquette? I sat up and put on my best WTF Face. This went on for about twenty minutes until I just had to interject. I hand signaled, pointing at his BB and then gesturing down. “Could you turn it down?” He turned it off completely. Me for the win. This was also the beginning of an enlightenment: the Vietnamese are collectively the loudest group of folks I’ve encountered.
We arrived early and jumped some motorbike taxis. Take us to the Old Quarter! We were dropped off at the driver’s friend’s hotel (which is expected at this point) but it was out of our price range. The drivers want to take us somewhere else. No thank you, we will search by foot. Typically this is the best option for us because we can then make accommodation decisions without the pressure of a tout operating on commission. In most cases it works out well, in this case it sucked. After an hour of walking around we had found just one other hotel. What kind of town has no hotels? Not one?! Hoi An. We stumbled upon some mid range hotels that weren’t really within the budget but coming off an overnight bus we took a room and resolved to move the next day.
Hoi An is a picturesque town that bleeds charm. A photographer’s dream. It’s a UNESCO protected jurisdiction which dictates the standards by which shopkeepers and restaurants must maintain their store frontage. Lanterns, a wide river and foodie culture all create a sleepy and romantic ambiance. Hoi An is also the best place in SEA to buy tailored garments. I can’t speak enough about Hoi An, it is simply a must-do!
After checking in we immediately made plans to head to Kimmy Tailors, knowing that any clothing we had made would require a couple fittings. We arrived at the infamous shop and were invited to sit, sip gratis water and peruse laptops loaded with PDF files of made-to-fit clothing. It’s such a dream! You can have anything made. I have fashion lust for Hoi An. You can bring in a picture of anything and they’ll make it. I finally settled on a strapless teal dress, navy blue wool coat, knock off Burberry jacket and black boyfriend blazer. Greg did well with a wool jacket, sport jacket and three dress shirts. We were measured and told to come back the next day for our first fitting. Adjustments were made the following day and final details were ironed out, and we retrieved our goods the same evening. I have to recognize Anna, she lent her advice and was extremely personable. Kimmy Tailors may be priced above competitors but with 300-500 tailors in the entire city, competition is fierce and you get what you pay for. They encourage you to come back for as many fittings as possible. Kimmy’s earns this blogger’s recommendation.
Let’s revisit the Vietnamese propensity to be LOUD. So naturally we were pretty eager to achieve a good sleep following the night bus. At exactly 7:44 the next morning I awoke to what sounded like hammering on concrete, immediately outside my room. NO, NO, NO, NO. Unacceptable! I opened my door and find that GTO had charged out into the hallway as well. “Come ON!” we exasperatedly exclaim. And the guy looks at us like oh-I-am-so-sorry-I-though-hammering-this-chisel-on-the-hotel-facade-wouldn’t-be-a-problem? I went back to bed, fuming. About an hour later Greg and I were laying in bed listening to two housekeepers sitting outside our room, chatting loudly and playing videos on You Tube. I can’t believe we are paying a premium to stay here! Unimpressed I got up and dressed. I thought I had heard something about free breakfast so I went downstairs and asked the receptionist whether or not it was included in our room rate. He asked me which room I was in and nodded in the affirmative. I made my way to the restaurant and filled out a breakfast coupon. Five minutes later I was eating a very basic baguette, small plate of scrambled eggs and coffee. Greg and GTO joined me and we immediately made plans to find a new guesthouse. G later went on a scouting mission and found a neighborhood of (elusive) guest houses not far from …Kimmy Tailors. Upon checkout the receptionist quoted us a figure. It included the room rate as posted on the wall, the cost of two bottles of water and a ‘service charge’ for breakfast and air conditioning? Seriously? He pointed to the room rates posted on the wall and then to some small print at the bottom. We flat out refused to pay for the water, citing the hammer incident and ants in the room, and then bickered over the $3.50 service charge. I pointed out how he blatantly lied to my face about breakfast. In the end we paid it and I told him that the small print charge was bad business (which was lost on him). Cue a scathing review on Trip Advisor. This whole incident really initiated our frustration with the Vietnamese tourism industry. This would only serve as the first of many deceptive practices we would encounter and it reflects poorly on the entire culture. I have certain feelings that I don’t want to carry with me. Traveling is supposed to provide me with an open mind and tolerance. But I really am unable to shift some of my perceptions after such experiences. This disappoints me.
Apart from a thriving garment industry, there are loads of dining options in Hoi An. We had good meals at restaurants along the river front and at Miss Ly Cafe. Anyone passing through Hoi An needs to sample the local deep fried wontons. Mine were stacked high with a mango type salsa, delicious!
From Hoi An we would head to Hanoi, by air.