We fell in love with Hoi An.
We’d heard it was beautiful but all the lanterns, the narrow streets and old buildings, the bridges over the river, the music playing through the streets.. it was all too much!
It is very touristy but for me that didn’t detract from the town. The shops and restaurants were tasteful and they had adopted an aesthetic that fitted in perfectly. During the week the streets weren’t particularly busy in the day and seemed to liven up around the river in the evening, giving the town a bit more of a buzz.
After more than one meal of plain rice noodles and soy sauce, I was more than happy to see tourist restaurants and their vegetarian offerings. We stumbled across a Greek restaurant so good that we went twice and tracked down the tastiest vegetarian Vietnamese food I’ve had yet. And I lost track of how many ice creams we had!
You need to purchase a ticket to enter the Old Town. This is enforced sporadically yet aggressively which can lead to a confusing situation where you are happily walking around and turn back to retrace the steps to your guesthouse, only to be greeted by an angry steward demanding to see a ticket.
The ticket allows you to visit five of the historic sites in the town. These include old houses, assembly halls, museums and the Japanese bridge. We visited two of the houses,two of the assembly halls and the bridge. They were attractive and interesting but there wasn’t much information about them and half a day is really more than enough if you only want to see five (I wouldn’t bother with any more).
For me, the real attraction of Hoi An was just wandering the streets and picking up snacks; sitting with a coffee whilst watching people cycle by; browsing the markets and shops; enjoying a drink by the river and watching the sunset from a little wooden boat. The ice cream was pretty great too!
The Golden Loop
We prised ourselves away from the delights of Hoi An to drive The Golden Loop. This route takes in the Hai Van Pass (made famous by the Top Gear Vietnam Special) before heading West into the mountains close to the Laos border and then back to Hoi An via the Ho Chi Minh Road for more ice-cream and hummus!
On day one we drove along the Hai Van Pass and on to Hue. There was a bit of mist out to sea but the skies were blue and we had great views from the pass. We spent the afternoon relaxing on a long empty beach and swimming in the warm water before racing a storm into Hue. We wandered Hue as the sun went down, and made a brief visit to the market though it was closing up. Hue seemed like a very nice town and I regret not having time to explore it.
Day two and we were heading out to the country. We made our way West towards Laos, and then joined the Ho Chi Minh Road heading south. Buildings disappeared and the road twisted and turned through the hills. Pausing to take in the view, we were wowed by a thick green carpet rising to the tips of hills and falling back into valleys. With our engines off, the chorus of the jungle was undisturbed. After 100km with barely a hut in sight we reached Prao, a small village where we took shelter from a brewing storm and stayed the night.
In the morning we grabbed a banh mi from the village bakery and ate them with coffees in what seemed to be the local mens club, where a man insisted on putting extremely loud Europop on his T.V.(presumably for our benefit). The drive down from the mountains was as attractive as the previous day but once we left the hills both the scenery and the road worsened and we were eager to get back to the comforts of Hoi An.