Land of Lanterns: Hoi An & Da Nang – 12/10/2019 to 16/10/2019

I woke up at seven in the morning and saw Liam sitting up in the sleeper seat across the aisle “I think we’re here” he said. We actually slept semi decently on our first night bus in Vietnam. Plus it got to where we were going three hours earlier than anticipated, total bonus! A quick walk and we made it to our hotel. We were too early for check in but the amazingly kind receptionist showed us a nearby street where we had an amazing street food breakfast in a families drive way. Curried noodle soup, and a over easy egg with pork strips and meatballs served on a cow shaped skillet with herbs and baguettes to complete the meal. Simple and sublime!

We managed to eat the egg with chopsticks as well, we’re becoming total pros!

Once our room was ready we took some time to relax and shower after a long nights transit before heading back out. It didn’t take long being out in the heat of the day to miss the few days of lovely cool mountain weather we had in Da Lat! To beat the heat we spent the afternoon eating one of the most delicious Banh Mi’s we’ve had. Next door there was brightly coloured cafe where we spent a few hours sipping on egg coffee and mango smoothies while we read Harry Potter.

Mango smoothie, incredibly refreshing in the heat 

It was about an hour before sunset when we finally made it to the iconic ancient village in Hoi An. An incredibly well preserved area where hundreds of tourists wander the small lanes to buy tailored clothes, admire the lanterns and take all the Instagram photos their hearts desire. Fair play to them because almost every part of the ancient village is picturesque.

Almost walked past this! There are so many beautiful things to see

After a few super cheap bia Hoi’s (beer that was brewed that day) we headed out with awesome Dutch travel friends Lars and Franciena for a market dinner. We took our place in a row of stalls dishing up small array of fresh local food and took Lars and Franciena up on their recommendation as they’d eaten here the day before. A hot bowl of noodles, pork, shrimp and curried chicken with a healthy drizzle of chili. So good. We walked off some of our meal along the river. Every full moon the shops along the river shut off their lights at night and everything is lit solely by the lanterns. A crowded yet beautiful thing to see in a city that is well known for the beauty of their lanterns!

Hoi An at night

When researching what to do in the city I came across a blog that highly rated Hoi An Free Tours, an organisation ran by university students to show tourists a more realistic picture of what the life of a Hoi An local looks like. The tour is all done on bikes so we rented two from where we are staying for 30,000 dong each. This sounds so expensive but it’s only a pound! For the whole day! After navigating to the meeting spot we met our two rockstar guides and the three other people on the tour and together we set off for our first stop.

Our group for the day

A fun bike ride down to the river and we all loaded our bikes onto a small wooden commuter boat that would take us across the water to the village we’d spend the morning getting to know. We took our bikes off the boat and rode less than a minute to the edge of the river. Here we were able to see local men building boats similar to the one we just took. Our guides taught us how the boats are made, and the traditional style they are painted in.

In the late stages of building a small traditional Vietnamese boat

We rode our bikes through the quiet streets of the village, taking in the view of the fields and people going about their lives. Eventually we stopped at a house off the side of the road. In one part of the house a group of small children were having an English lesson, waving and saying hello. In the other side of the house were two women bent over and weaving traditional sleeping mats made of hand dyed straw. It was a mesmerising process to see unfold, as many handiworks are! Liam and I tried our hand at weaving the mat (with great assistance) and when we finished our small contribution were even more impressed with the quick skill these women have.

Trying our best to pick up some mat weaving techniques

After a nice tea and rice cakes we said goodbye and went to the biggest temple in the village. Here we learned that temples in Vietnam are held by big families and are used as a place to worship and pray to ancestors. There are many symbols and traditions surrounding the temple culture that we were able to learn about thanks to our awesome local guides!

Such a quiet place for contemplation 

At our last stop we pulled into another house and walked to the back yard. The family who lives here makes and prepares rice noodles, a staple in Vietnamese food. Our guides and the family were kind enough to walk us through the whole process. Once the liquid batter is prepared it’s then poured onto a cloth covered stovetop heated by burning rice husks (so no part of the plant is wasted). The thin crepe like round is heated through it is then cooled and cut into noodles. The family even let us try our hand at making them, which was such a fun opportunity. This organisation put together such a fun and intimate tour, you can tell that its been thought out in a way that maximises a positive cultural exchange. It was definitely the most memorable part of our trip to Hoi An and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone visiting! We were sad when we were finally sailing back to Hoi An, some 4 hours later.

This was a really fun part of the tour

Another bowl of delicious market noodles with our Dutch friends followed by a dense but delightful brownie cheesecake and we said goodbye to the ancient town of Hoi An. A city that I personally think has earned its place as a must see during anyone’s 30 day visa trip to Vietnam!

So vibrant

We left Hoi An for Da Nang, to see Ba Na hills. A theme park known for the Golden Bridge, built in 2018 this has already become one of the most famous bridges in the world. A golden walkway held by giant hands coming out of the hills. Ba Na hills is also home to the worlds longest cable car. Amazing. Or it would be, weather permitting. We only managed to check into our hotel and head to My Khe Beach and it’s world class strip of pristine sand before the heavens opened. And once it started, it didn’t really stop. Reluctantly we decided to cancel our visit to Ba Na Hills as visibility was 0. Sightseeing with no sights is a redundant exercise!

I feel you blue penguin, I wish it it would stop raining too!

We were afforded one quick break from the rain in Da Nang. So although we didn’t get to see the Golden Bridge, we did see the Dragon Bridge; the coolest one in the city. Things don’t always go as planned when travelling and I’m so lucky to have a partner who is always willing to make the most of any unexpected changes. We’ve been lucky to travel this long in off season and only get monsooned out of our plans once, in all honesty! And if we ever come back to Vietnam, we will give Ba Na Hills another go. But only in the dry season of course!

I’ve been Emily Colorado and you can check me out on Instagram

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On holidays and weekends the dragon head breathes out fire, must be quite a sight!