6th - 11th April: Hoi An & Huế

Accommodation
Hoi An: Hoi An Garden Villas  -  £27 per night, double room
Huế: Than Thien Friendly Hotel  -  £13 per night, double room

Staying in Haiphong served its purpose as the short trip to the small local airport meant a far more relaxing commute to Da Nang, from where it would be a 45 minute taxi ride to Hoi An which I’d pre-arranged through the hotel. It was interesting on approaching the airport for landing to see the amount of resort hotels under construction on the beautiful 30km stretch of beach which serves the two resorts. A closer look en-route along the coast road reveals a huge amount of foreign investment into the area with two championship golf courses and a huge casino already built, there’s barely a space being left unfilled.

I was soon checking into the delightful Hoi An Garden Villas, which was every bit as nice as the reviews had suggested. I have to admit a chuckle as I entered my poolside room as it was much bigger than the entire apartment in Hong Kong had been, complete with a 9’ wide bed! With map in basket, I was soon astride one of the free bikes provided ready to explore, problem was the map was illegible and I reckon I actually did 6km before I managed to find the Old Town which, I’m assured, was only 1km away! Initially I went completely the wrong way but was put straight by the very helpful Aussie owner of the Dingo Deli, which was to become my regular stop for a decent coffee & cake. Never mind, it was a beautiful day and I was enjoying poodling about on the bike, especially as it meant the beer at the end of it would’ve been well deserved.

As with the hotel, when I finally found the Old Town it didn’t disappoint. Narrow streets lined with quaint bars, restaurants, tailors, leather goods and shoe shops, this is now THE place in Asia to get any clothes or shoes made cheaply, unfortunately my already bulging case meant I couldn’t take advantage of it! I quickly got the pre-requisite tourist snaps of the Japanese & ornamental bridge, that would be it culturally as, for me, the ambiance of the town itself was the attraction. I was to get an unexpected insight into local life on a visit to the beach as an unguarded moment resulted in my talking to hawker My Soong. Usually any approach was given short shrift but she cannily managed to engage my attention while hiding her wares, something I was to appreciate as her story was both compelling and informative. Because of having to leave school at 11 years old to support her family she’d had very little formal education, in spite of this she articulated well in English. Now 31 her only ambition was that her two children would go to university in the hope it would at least give them the chance of a better life. She explained that she got to keep 30% of sales so the £10 I eventually spent would give her £3, which is more than her husband earnt per day as a security guard. Chances are that I was being spun a yarn but she was to come back an hour later beaming to tell me she’d had another sale and I’d been her ‘Lucky Buddha’, played or not that smile was real!

Over my three days there I’d meander around town enjoying the great food, a few cocktails and more than a few beers. Amusingly I was propositioned by one of the pancake sellers, “you singoo, me singoo to, you nee goo wi may you happy”, an invitation I graciously declined with a smile. Cycling home in the dark at the end of each night without lights wasn’t one of my brighter decisions but, thankfully, I came through unscathed. Of particular note were the delicious meals I had a The Cargo Club and Tam Tam Café, I was also drawn to The Dive Bar by some good music and it turned out to be a great bar to finish off each night with a Jamesons or two.

My decision to visit Huế proved to be a mistake on every front. I’d originally planned to take a train as it's reputedly the most attractive rail journey in the country but, by doing so, I would’ve missed the views afforded by going over the Hai Van Pass so I opted to pay $70 for a taxi. What I was unaware of was the 40km per hour speed limit which would be meticulously observed, understandable given the zeal with which the police chase bribes when broken. What resulted was a painfully uninspiring five hour crawl to cover 140km, made worse by my young driver having the charisma of an amoeba! While the stop-off at Marble Mountain was slightly interesting, the Hai Van Pass was totally underwhelming.

While an extra night in Hoi An would’ve definitely been the better choice, I didn’t actually have a bad time in Huế. I happened upon a pretty decent bar while trying to get away from the incessant horns and, as usual, was soon chatting with fellow travellers, from which I was to learn that 'Agent Orange' wasn't, as I'd obliviously thought, some nasty little commie but a chemical weapon developed by the Americans to destroy all vegetation the Viet Cong might be able to hide in. I'm sure a good few Aussies might be surprised to learn that it was also manufactured in Australia. The effects are still being felt as many disfigured & severely handicapped children were subsequently born as a result. The main attraction in Huế is The Citadel which, unfortunately, I found it pretty uninteresting, this may have been down to my mood though. Thankfully it was only for one night, the hotel & staff  at Than Thien Friendly Hotel were good and, like Haiphong, the local airport was nearby for an easy commute.