We left Saigon behind in the morning. Rather than taking the overnight train to Danang as we initially planned we took the one hour flight which is slightly more expensive but saves you the stressful and exhausting overnight journey on an uncomfortable train. We were also a bit concerned about our luggage whilst asleep as we had read a few horror stories online. I suppose if you’re one of those hardcore backpackers that really want to immerse themselves in the culture then go ahead and take the train. It just wasn’t for us. With only 2.5 weeks in Vietnam the journey is simply too time-consuming.
We arrived in Danang on time and our driver was already waiting for us as promised. We booked the Orchid Garden homestay via Trivago for our two nights in Hoi An. The place looked lovely online and received good reviews throughout. As a result we had high expectations which were actually exceeded!
Orchid Garden Homestay is on the main road into Hoi An about 2.5km away from the old town centre. Once you enter through the main gate you’re welcomed by the lovely staff and given a refreshing passion fruit and orange juice. Freshly pressed, of course. The rooms and bungalows are all set back from the street in a lovely and extremely well maintained garden. Our room had direct access to the good sized and clean pool which is a big plus if you just want to go for a quick swim in the morning. The room itself was massive. The super king size bed only took up about a third of the room. Everything was clean and the furniture in good condition. As far as I know there are big fridge/freezers in all rooms which is extremely handy if like us you want to chill in the pool with a few cold beers. “Supermarkets” for stock replenishment can be found within a minute’s walk from the homestay on Cua Dai.
After a quick change of clothes we took two of the free of charge bikes and made our way into the old town centre for a wander around and some lunch. Hoi An is a delightful little town but very tourist oriented. It’s estimated that there are more than 300 tailors in the city which are extremely popular with tourists who want to have a few garments custom made. There are also loads of different souvenir shops some of which support local charities and provide training snd employment for disabled people who would otherwise struggle to earn an income (check out Reaching Out for some handmade unique gifts to take home). These shops have fixed prices and are a wee bit more expensive than the markets but you feel like you’re getting something a bit more special.
Opposite Reaching Out is Morning Glory which is featured as a top choice restaurant in the Lonely Planet. They also do cooking classes but we only came here for a late lunch. The restaurant itself looks great and is a bit upmarket. There’s an open plan kitchen inside the restaurant. So if you decide to sit inside just have a look over the chef’s shoulder. You might learn a thing or two and can save the money for the cooking class. Staff is very polite and friendly, the menu is comprised of Vietnamese dishes from different regions across the country. I ordered the restaurant’s signature dish; deep fried shrimp mousse served with rice paper, rice noodles, some veg and a sweet chilli sauce as a starter. You get enough for four rolls which you roll up yourself. Absolutely delicious! For mains we both ordered the Hoi Anese Cao Lau – a doughy rice noodle dish served with pork slices, vegegetables, croutons and a rice paper crisp. You mix all of it together picking up all the flavours from the broth that sits at the bottom of the bowl. Cao Lau is served in most restaurants in Hoi An but we’ve heard that quality varies greatly.
In the evening we went for a stroll around the night market which is across the river. It’s a smallish market that sells the usual souvenir bits as well as some really pretty lanterns but we didn’t really find anything of interest to take home. Along the road from the night market we found a small kiosk/drinking place exactly at the water’s edge. It’s an excellent place for watching the paper lanterns that are famous for Hoi An floating down the river. You can buy a lantern for a dollar (unless you haggle) and set it on its journey down the river. Apparently it brings good luck.
On our way back to the bikes we stopped for BOGOF cocktails on Nguyen Phuc Chu. We really wish we hadn’t bothered. Mine was absolutely rank and by far the worst cocktail I have ever had. Couldn’t even finish it. The music played is extremely loud and mainstream. Having a conversation is just impossible. Staff are unfriendly and just out to get your money. The place is really busy at night and seems to be popular with backpackers who try to socialise here. When we wanted to pay it turned out that the BOGOF offer only applies to the same cocktails which isn’t mentioned anywhere on the menu let alone by the guy who lures you into the bar. This is the first and so far only place where we didn’t leave a tip. I can’t remember the name of the place but will add it to this post later on as I am sure people have complained about it before on TA so it should be easily found on there.
To finish the day off we decided to try and find a nice bar away from the main streets and found a small Vietnamese/Italian place that serves fresh beer for 5, 000 dong. I also had my first Banh Mi – another local delicacy. It’s a Vietnamese baguette filled with pork, slaw, mayonnaise, salad, cucumber and chillies.
We cycled back to the homestay at midnight and must have been the only people on the road by that time. Everything was dead quiet which was actually really enjoyable for a change. With clear roads the trip back only took about five minutes and turned into a bit of a race which I lost.
The gates to the homestay were already closed and locked when we arrived. However, they have a guard on duty every night who opened the gate for us, parked the bikes and wished us a good night which we were definitely in need of after a long hot day.