Lovely Hoi An

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It’s a nice change to have a travel companion. Sophie and I met in Nepal in 2009 when we did the Annapurna Base Camp trek. Since then, she has visited Sydney, and we have also spent time hiking in beautiful Tasmania where she lives. We travel well together. She’s easy-going, uncomplicated, always ready to compromise, and we also share many interests travel wise. We also travel on a similar budget. Even our fitness level is similar! It is not easy to find a compatible travel companion. It can be downright nightmarish.

To get to Hoi An, we flew to Danang from Saigon and then took the bus.

We were told to take the yellow bus that will stop just outside our hotel. Great, how convenient! We didn’t really know what to expect, but at $1 a ride ($3 for foreigners, or whatever they feel like charging that day), you can’t really expect too much.

The bus arrived. Two men got off, grabbed our luggage, and pushed us onto the bus rather roughly and really quickly, as if there was some sort of emergency. The bus was crowded, with foreigners, locals and baskets of vegetables, (luckily no live chickens!), bamboo etc. The driver bobbed to loud Vietnamese pop music and honked at other drivers every 30 or so seconds (the Vietnamese LOVE their horns). Luckily, the bus ride was only an hour long as we were standing. It certainly wasn’t a comfortable ride, but it was fun, quick, and hairy at times!

Hoi An is a delightful and quaint Unesco heritage town with lots of well-preserved historical buildings, tea houses, Chinese assembly halls, temples and more. The architecture is mostly a mix of Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese. It is also the first place in Vietnam to be exposed to Christianity. It is very pedestrian-friendly by Vietnamese standards and we thoroughly enjoyed the strolls along the river, and the lantern-lit streets.

There is a lot to do in Hoi An other than seeing the historical centre. Nearby there are beaches, ancient ruins, mountains. You can take a cooking course, ride a bicycle, go diving. One of the highlights for us was the motorcycle tour to My Son Ruins on cult Minsk motorbikes.

Motorbike tour

Both Sophie and I wanted to see the countryside and to get away from the city. More precisely, we wanted to do that on a motorbike. Hoi An Motorbike Adventures seems to get gold stars on every website and guidebook you read. After a cheap, but crap tour in Saigon, we swore to never go down that road again, so although the tour wasn’t cheap, we decided we would do it. After all, you do get what you pay for. As it turns out, it was brilliant.

Pete was our tour leader, accompanied by Yiu, my driver-cum-motorbike mechanic. Matt, who just moved here from Sydney, tagged along in training to be a guide. Pete is a Kiwi who moved here with his family from Queensland four years ago. His wife and he used to own and run an aquatic centre back in Oz. They were asked to come to Vietnam to help with a project training swimming teachers. Vietnam has one of the highest rate of death from drowning. According to Unicef, about 12,000 children die of drowning every year. So Pete and his wife came to Vietnam, and stayed.

It’s been something like 20 years since Sophie’s ridden a bike. Apparently, she used to get around on a dirt bike when she worked in a sheep station in Queensland! She was a little nervous initially, mainly about the traffic and the way people drive here, but after a short practice run and some tips from Pete, she was fine. I, on the other hand, just wanted to be a passenger. It was nice not to have to worry about the traffic, and just enjoy the view.

Pete knows the terrain well, and makes use of beautiful back roads and riverside tracks to get to My Son. It was a great way to see and absorb more of the landscape and local life. We passed through small villages, rice fields, schools. We stopped for Vietnamese coffee (still can’t get used to the condensed milk although I grew up on that stuff – weird). We had a local noodle dish Mi Quang for lunch which was delicious. We even had a flat tyre on an old US Airbase runway. The scenery is in part pretty and idyllic. The village kids are super friendly and high-fiving with them was a lot of fun. Most are curious while some are shy. Some would run out, say hello and then hide behind a tree.

Other than slightly sore bottoms, we had a fantastic day!