The overnight bus we chose took 17 hours from Da Lat to Da Nang. We arrived early the following morning and again chose to walk towards the town centre, as the weather was mild and we had been cramped in the bus for long hours. Using the maps.me on my phone, we followed the logical route towards the beach. At one point we got a truck to take us part of the way, because there were about 7 km to our destination, and this time we had to find a hotel as well. Eventually we stopped for a coffee, and Tim went away to ask around for a room. It turns out hotels in Da Nang are very willing to negotiate at this time of the year, as not many people visit this coastal city when it is so cold. After a while, we got a 400 VDN room lowered to 200 VDN and were happy to settle.
We rested for a while and then set out to explore the town. There is a pretty river that divides the city, and the waterfront is covered with amazing sculptures. They have also made sure their bridges are stunning, the dragon one being the most impressive of them all. Da Nang is a busy place, but it is also charming and comes alive with colourful lights at night time. The first day, we spent hours walking around, finding little alleys, and getting a feel for the place.
The next morning we decided to start by visiting the local museum. They have a lot of sculptures from the Cham people, aborigines of this area. The style is quite unique and though it shares some similarities with the Angkor civilization, it is quite rare. Within the grounds there was also a silk workshop, where gorgeous ‘paintings’ were on display.
Onwards we went, to visit the beach. Giving the fact that it was winter and the day was quite grey, it was mostly empty. The landscape was still beautiful, and we spent a long time walking North. Eventually we started seeing these round bamboo woven baskets, and started wondering what they might actually be. Once the tide started coming in, the mystery was resolved: They were one person fishing vessels. The next while was spent watching the fisherman, who seemed to be unable to swim and therefore rather terrified of the surf, getting these ‘boats’ in the water and becoming smaller and smaller as they went further out to sea to bring the catch of the day.
Our legs got tired after so many hours of walking and we were still a long way from the hotel, so we decided to turn back and return. We chose a different path that took us through another part of town. Away from the hectic centre, the rhythm of life seemed to slow down and resembled a fishing village. Along the way we saw a lot of mandarin trees, as we would later find out, they are the Chinese version of a Xmas tree, used for the Lunar New Year. We also found a very strange fruit (picture below), citrusy looking and very odd indeed. We tried to buy it so we could try it, but the seller refused to give it to us. We felt a bit sad that we could not have it, but we took a picture so we could ask about it the next time we found a local that spoke English. A few days later, our lovely CS host in Hoi An explained these fruit are not for eating at all, but only for placing on Buddhist altars as offerings. We felt silly and glad we had not tried to put it in our mouths. The girls found it hilarious.
The following morning we set out to visit Hoi An, where we would do our first CS with locals. With plenty of time to spare, we took a local bus that dropped us off outside of town. From there we walked about 4km through rice fields and country side, and approached Hoi An old town from the North. We had a few hours to spare before meeting our host, so we chilled out and had a nap in front of a closed shop. When the time was right we made our way through old town and met Mee. From the first minute I loved her smile and the warmth with which she welcomed us to her house. It was great to hear about her and Thuy’s (her flatmate) plans to convert this house into a café and provided some ideas and comments. She had to leave us that night, so we went out to see how this town transformed once the sun went down and the lights came on. It resembled a fairy tale land, with its ancient buildings, lanterns, little boats and happy people wandering around. The centre is closed off to traffic, which enhances the old school atmosphere and allows you to leave all worries behind and enjoy yourself fully.
The next day we rented bicycles and decided to explore the surrounding area. We took a wrong turn that took us to a neighbouring island where we pedalled through tiny dirt roads and among rice fields, water buffalos and startled locals. It was a nice respite from the tourist rush that is Hoi An. Later on we continued to visit the water palm plantation, and admired this species that we had not seen before, used mainly for weaving, roofing and construction. The last stop was the beach, though it is mostly privatized and sections of it are closed off, so we did not love it. It was still a great way to spend the day and work up a sweat!
That night the girls took us to the local market to buy ingredients so we could make a tortilla de papas (Spanish Omelette) as our hosts had a big oven at our disposal. In return, they bought some local beers for us to try. We spent quite a few hours in their quaint little terrace, talking, laughing and eating. It was a magical night with great company.
The next day we had a bus to catch at midday, but we still used the morning to explore the town further. On the opposite side of the river we found some cool paper sculptures and other photogenic buildings and structures. Hoi An is definitely one of the most beautiful places I have had the honour of visiting, and being hosted by such awesome young women just made it perfect…