Not to be confused with Hanoi, Hoi An is about three hours south of Hue by bus. (No amount of reminding could get Natalia to remember that Hanoi was not on our itinerary. If you ask her right now, I bet she’ll tell you that Hanoi was great.) This time, we were on the nice new tourist bus instead of the lechero, although a few unlucky passengers had to sit on plastic stools in the aisle. Hope they at least got a discount on their tickets.
Hoi An is a picturesque town full of restaurants, tailor shops, and markets. I nicknamed it Disneyland Vietnam, because the whole city feels like one giant theme park. It’s a tourist trap, to be sure. That’s not to say I didn’t like it.
However, we did have more than one unsavory experience in Hoi An. Our first hotel on the other side of the river was a disaster. The room reeked of smoke. It was obvious that the hotel reuses soap and shampoo from previous guests. There was a dirty towel stuffed in the fridge. Natalia’s bed had no top sheet on it. While we were taking a nap, two guys from the staff tried to open the door to our room without knocking. When Natalia asked for her bed to be made, they just pointed to a crumpled blanket in the closet. At that point, we decided to check out and find another hotel. During a heated confrontation with the staff, they refused to give us back our passports. Eventually, they relinquished them in exchange for half the cancellation fee.
As we were leaving, they told us it would be impossible to find another hotel room because it was the Full Moon celebration that night. I booked a homestay with a family in the center of town within minutes. Our new room at Nha Lan was small, but the family was so nice that we didn’t care. The mother cooks for her guests in her home kitchen. She made us delicious Cao Lau for breakfast, a Hoi An noodle specialty.
In the light of the full moon, we each bought a paper lantern to make a wish. Floating candles illuminated the river. When we planned our itinerary, we had no idea it would be the Full Moon celebration that night. There were hoards of tourists, but it was a fun (if claustrophobic) event.
More mishaps ensued the following day. We had booked a boat trip to nearby Cham Island. I had made sure to inform the tour company of our change of hotels the night before. Of course, even despite our repeated calls in the morning, we were never picked up. When we finally got the agent on the phone, she told us it was too late, that we needed to pay for a taxi and go to the boat launch on our own. No way, Jose. Natalia wasted no time in marching to the agent’s office, and got her to pay for our taxi. Apparently, this kind of stuff happens all the time in Hoi An. While we were waiting to board the boat, we commiserated with a woman from Spain named Isabel, who had a similar thing happen to her.
The tour was disorganized and disappointing. The island was not a particularly interesting place. During the snorkeling portion of the trip, there was not much to see in the murky sea, and both Isabel and Natalia got stung by jellyfish. Being a midwestern girl, I knew close to nothing about the ocean, let alone jellyfish. So Natalia shouted, “Rachel, swim!” and we hurried back to the boat, with me screaming all the way. One by one, each person in the group (mostly Vietnamese tourists from Da Nang) pulled themselves out of the water, rubbing their skin where they too had been stung. This whole time, the tour guides were watching what was happening but said nothing about the jellyfish to the people still in the water.
Next, we went to the beach, which was full of trash. We even asked if we could return early on a different boat. (The answer was no.) Our boat finally arrived to take us back to the mainland, and we got in line to climb aboard. When it was our turn, people tried to cut in front of us (see standing in line procedures from previous post). After all we’d been through, that was not going to happen. Natalia yelled, “No!” and blocked them with her arm while Isabel and I got on. We had to laugh.
But meeting Isabel made it all worth it. I told her I would pay $25 just for that. She also introduced us to a friend from her hostel, Frederico from Italy, who is just as awesome.
Despite some of our negative experiences, I’d still recommend spending a couple of days in Hoi An. If nothing else, we met great people and became a little more savvy in our business dealings. I’d go back just for the Cao Lau and the cà phê sữa đá, Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk. Yum!