After the adventures of Sapa we returned on the night train back to Hanoi once again at around 4.30 the next morning. We then found suitable accommodation to sleep for the rest of the day and then it was back on another night train to take us down the coast to the sleepy retreat that is Hoi An, half way down the Vietnam coast. Trains in Vietnam are both easy to use, comfortable and a great relaxed way to take in the countryside. Hoi An is a quiet retreat, again another town steeped in French colonial past and looks like a perfect Veitnamese postcard town. Once we arrived in Da Nang (the closest train station to Hoi An) we had to jump on the bus to take us down to Hoi An. We decided to take the local bus so after a short taxi drive to the bus station, the taxi driver blocked the bus to allow us on and then we were on our way. As we passed the train station we realized the taxi driver had made a few buck on us and after a bumpy, noisy (due to the excessive use of the horn) and dusty 1 hour journey we arrived in Hoi An.
We were greeted in Hoi a by pale yellow houses draped in bougainvillea, less of the traffic madness of other big cities and women cycling around wearing long silk saris. The hustle and bustle was gone and we had arrived in peace and quiet and with a beach less than 20 mins cycle away. This was a place to relax and with Hoi An’s own unique culinary experience this was going to be the perfect tonic.
In 1999, the riverside town was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in an effort to preserve its core of historic architecture, a unique mix of Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, and European styles. The listing gave Hoi An the resources and impetus to better protect and maintain its wonderful architecture, and to market itself as a tourist destination and it worked as there are a lot of tourists there. Historians believe that Hoi An was founded more than 2,000 years ago as a primitive port for the Sa Huynh people, thanks to evidence from archaeological excavations which have also pointed towards early trade with the Han dynasty in China.
Through to the 15th century, the port was absorbed into the Kingdom of Champa and was known first as Lam Ap and later as Faifo. During this period, it developed into a prosperous trading port visited by trading fleets from as far afield as the Arabian peninsula. The town conceals a dozen or so engaging historical attractions, and the area offers beaches and ruins worth some day trips. Most importantly, those who linger in town will get to see the real life lurking behind Hoi An’s faded facade.And so this is how i spent my days in Hoi An, relaxing by the beach (Cua Dai) with hardly anyone on it, catching up on reading and the Internet and seeing the sights around town – Japanese bridge, the temples to name but a few.
We spent our time also trying some of the particularly famous local cuisine. One of which was Cao Lau – a tasty soup made with thick wheat noodles, meat and aromatic vegetables. The secret is the water used to make it, and authentic cao lau uses only water from a special well in the city. The noodles are topped with slices of crispy roast pork, dough fritters, and this being Vietnam, lots of fresh herbs and veggies. Another White rose – a type of shrimp dumpling made from translucent white dough bunched up to look like a rose. Wantan dumplings, essentially the same as the Chinese kind, served up in soup or deep-friedMost restaurants serve all these dishes and they are really good meals, especially the Cao Lau. The food is excellent in Hoi An and most of the restaurants facing the river are a really good bet, either that or try your luck down the market, however the hygiene standards are not that great down there but the food is good. Hoi is now almost as famous for its tailors as it is its food and the town itself is awash with shops that can turn around a suit within 24 hours. So after around 5 days in Hoi An it was time to push on further south with a quick stop off in Na Trang on the way and then onto Ho Chi Ming City or as it was formerly known – Saigon.