Hoi An. Not at all like Hanoi.
If you were ever to try and imagine what an 18th century town, built in the heart of French Indochina would look like, you’d probably come up with a fair copy of how the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage protected seafront area of Hoi An looks now. Of course, fewer of the merchant’s houses would have been converted into designer shopping opportunities, there wouldn’t be any selfie-sticks, and it would be much less busy. But from an aesthetic point of view, you can’t knock Hoi An. It really is a Disney-perfect restoration, brought into the 21st century, with an unashamed goal of printing money. Not much goes on during the day, but as the sun sets, the Chinese lanterns are lit, and the place fills with the rich aromas of street food, the place really does develop an atmosphere more romantically magical than anywhere else in Vietnam.
Having got up in what felt like the middle of the night, we travelled down from the fantastic Phong Nha National Park on a very lovely air conditioned train, which was of course suitably late. I wish we were braver when it came to train travel around Asia. No train is anything less than an hour late arriving. If we trusted our instincts, we all could have had a lie in. Next time maybe…
The journey to Hoi An whisked us through some amazing countryside, starting with the mountains and karsts of the national park area, we travelled through farmland, right through the heart of countless towns and onto the coast. The train rocked and rolled its way through tunnels whilst clinging to impossibly steep cliffs with huge views across bays and beaches. Train travel really is the best way to see a country I reckon.
We had an epic five days with our friends, the McAnderson family, in Hoi An. We ate amazing Vietnamese food, drank Fresh Beer, watched a water puppet show and learned to fold napkins. We swam in the sea and built sandcastles, and some of us ate jellyfish. We floated down the river in a boat and made wishes. We wandered around the beautiful lantern-lit streets and haggled with old ladies. It was so epic that we extended our stay by two days and ditched plans for another sleeper train adventure back to Hanoi. The McAndersons bought a flight back up instead. Money well spent I reckon, as it meant that the six kids (well, two dads and four kids, but I think you know what I’m saying) got to spend an extra day on the beach. The two grownups had “me time” learning how to cook yummy Vietnamese food, whilst trying some Vietnamese “delicacies”. Having seen the photos of the “pig nose soup”, the “silkworm salad” and the “frog’s legs and snail noodles” I’m convinced that us six kids got the better deal. Yuk!
And finally, it was with a heavy heart that we waved the McAndersons away at the start of their thirty-six hour journey home to the UK. We’d had a brilliant time over the last couple of weeks, and seen such an amazing range of Vietnamese awesomeness. Hoi An was the perfect place to end the trip, and Vietnam as a whole had proven itself to be even more perfect than we could possibly have hoped any place could be. It was a joy to share in the discoveries with the McAndersons. Everyone should come to Vietnam at least once in their life, but stay away from Phong Nha – that’s ours!
Love Hoi An. Love Vietnam. Love the McAndersons.