Hoi An was an immediately agreeable place, I thought to myself as I munched on Eggs Benedict at a riverside cafe in Old Town. I’d been in town for less than an hour, and I already felt like I could stay for a while. I was also quite happy that I’d chosen a $12 room at the Hop Yen Hotel, rather than the $18 room with free breakfast that I almost too elsewhere. My Eggs Benedict at the Cargo was almost certainly superior to my would-be hotel breakfast, plus it only cost 99,000 dong, or 5 bucks. Win-win.
I forewent my usual motorbike, since Hoi An isn’t very big. Instead, I opted for a push bike, and I started by checking out the bookstore on the other side of the river. Randy’s Books was the first real bookstore I’d seen in awhile, rather than just the usual dudes on the street selling the same photocopies of Lonely Planet or Stieg Larsen. I snagged a secondhand copy of “Lonesome Dove.” I figure I should try reading something that isn’t the internet.
I rode my bike out to the beach, about four kilometers away from town. I have no story here. I’m just letting anybody who may be headed for Hoi An that it’s easy to get to the beach on a bicycle.
On my second full day in town, I spent the whole day in the old center. Several old houses, temples, assembly halls, and museums require a ticket to enter. The old system of tickets described in Lonely Planet sounded complicated. Fortunately, the new system is not. A pack of tickets costs 90,000 dong ($4.50) and provides entry into five attractions. Visitors can choose any five attractions they want to visit. There are 18 different spots that require tickets. Honestly, unless you were writing a dissertation on 19th century Chinese commerce in central Vietnam, there’s really no reason to buy more than one pack.
I basically followed Lonely Planet’s advice on which sights to visit with my tickets as I walked along their walking tour (which just follows every street in Old Town). I used my tickets for The Fujian Chinese Assembly Hall (awesome), the Museum of Trading Ceramics (meh, but the Vietnamese map of the world was cool), Quan Cong Temple (nice, but I easily could have gotten in for free, the ticket taker was in the back watching a soap opera, and only noticed me a minute before I left. Plus, the alter was covered by pane of glass and poorly lit, which made it impossible to take a decent picture of it), the Tran Family Chapel (interesting, but most of the space was dedicated to selling yin-yang coins), and the Tan Ky House (also nice, but like the Tran Chapel, the guided tour was 80% souvenir sales pitch).
After walking around in the blazing sun for several hours, I repaired to an overpriced riverfront cafe, where I spent more on a Mojito and a couple spring rolls than I did on a night’s lodging. Fortunately, I soon remembered that I’m white trash, so I headed to one of the places near my hotel that sell draft beer for 3,000 dong, which is about 14 cents. I have no idea why these supercheap draft beer joints aren’t more popular. If there are two things backpackers love, it’s cheap and beer. Yet, both times I visited them, they were pretty much empty. The beer is putrid swill of course, but come on, 7 for a buck!
I ended up having a pretty awesome Saturday night in Hoi An. After dinner on the river with a random Australian couple, I began walking toward Before and Now Bar, a place I’d visited the night before but really hadn’t cared for. A moto tout wanted to take me to his bar, the Sun something or other, so I agreed to check it out since it was close.
I sat down at the bar and ordered a drink, and this girl came up and sat down next to me. She was attractive and really flirty, but like beyond flirty. She told me that if I visited Ecuador, should could hook me up with some cool people there. She’d hit me up on Facebook. I’d been talking to her for 45 seconds at this point, and it was already assumed that I was heading to Ecuador and that I’d want to meet her friends and that I was going to be adding this girl on FB. And she was like – in my face. I thought she was going to start making out with me or something. Honestly, if she weren’t so obviously a backpacker chick, I would have assumed she was a pro. She left, and I took a look around the bar. Other than her, there were two wallflower Vietnamese girls and a bunch of Euro dudes. I slammed my drink and left.
As I was crossing the bridge on the walk toward Before and Now, another tout stopped me, this time a white dude. He was working for Aussie Aussie bar across the river. After that weird Sun whatever bar, I didn’t really want to follow any more touts to bars, but then again I really didn’t like Before and Now, so to Aussie Aussie I went.
This time, the tout was right. Aussie Aussie was pretty fun. Plus, I ran into a couple of the people that I hung out with in Nha Trang. This bar also had a shuttle bus to another bar, the Volcano Club, which was conveniently located across the street from my hotel. I headed there with my new friends and their new friends, and also met a couple of American dudes that were moving to Seoul soon. Anyway, I was out late, Jose Cuervo reared his ugly Sombrero, and I finished the night getting into to some extraordinarily important Facebook arguments at four in the morning. Good times, all in all.
I’m a little light on pics this time around. Hoi An, like Melaka or Luang Prabang, is a really beautiful town, but it’s hard to find good angles from which to photograph it.