Hoi An: The city of lanterns

If you’re a Top Gear fan I’m sure you’ll be aware of the Vietnam special they did a couple of years back. This hour-long programme pretty much sums up our trip and time spent in Hoi An. For those unaware, or like my Grandad can’t stand Clarkson, here’s how it went…

We left Hanoi late one evening on a sleeper train bound for Da Nang, the closest train station to Hoi An. We’d debated flying but decided that was far too boring, so instead book a four-berth sleeper cabin for the train.

After an amusing hours wait at the station, where I witnessed women’s urinals for the first time. Less like something you’d expect to see at Glastonbury and more like a gutter. A smelly smelly gutter. Thankfully I didn’t have to coopy down alongside the row of women. Thank God for western toilets!

We climbed aboard a train hoping it was ours; fingers crossed the guard actually paid attention when he passed a fleeting gaze over the ticket. No one told us which cabin was ours, so in true Robert Langdon style we deciphered the ticket for some sign of a seat number. We made a guess and made our way into a cabin. Welcome to lucky number seven!

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Feeling like we’d stepped onto the Hogworts Express, it wasn’t long until the food cart came rattling past. No chocolate frogs or Bertie Bots every flavour beans though. Just rice. Lots of rice.

Oh and coffee, which tasted remarkable despite the fact it came from an old water bottle.

We made it to Da Nang around lunchtime the next day; a whopping seventeen hours after our departure from Hanoi. An hours taxi ride later and we made it to the beautiful Hoi An.

Due to the fact that we’d heard so many good things about Hoi An, we were happy to spend a few extra days here whilst the guys had suits made.

Even though we’d had next to no sleep, after dumping the bags and jumping in the shower, it was time to hit the streets and find a tailor. Luckily the woman from our home stay suggested a couple of places, one of which the guys had already researched online.

You can’t walk five metres without being hounded for a suit, or in my case a dress, but we hot footed it to Bebe’s Tailors to get the initial designs and measurements before the day was out.

After explaining to the sales ladies that I really didn’t want a dress made and was just there to help with picking suits – one of the group is colourblind and wanted assurance that the materials he picked didn’t end up being pink!

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I sat there, wishing I was a man. Designing a suit is right up there on ‘Things I’d do if I was a man for a day’ and at only $200 for a three-piece suit who could say no?

Three hours later, the designs were finalised and the measurements taken. All ready for the first fitting, the next afternoon.

The next day we headed to Cua Dai beach; it’s less touristy than the popular An Bang beach but as we were walking and it was 5km closer it was a deal breaker.

Only twenty minutes after getting into the beach, I was left with the bags whilst the others cooled off in that sea. But I wasn’t alone long…

Five minutes later I was disturbed from my book by Luda, a Vietnamese women selling… well tat really. Being the pleasant person I am, I didn’t forcefully wave her away. I’d explained that I didn’t want to buy anything but she seemed happy enough to sit with me and caress my arm. It’s got to be the blonde hair, blue eyes business again. After ten minutes I’d learnt all about her family and been told ‘you very beautiful’ about a million times, with more caressing. Luda finally wandered off and I never did see her again. I hope someone bought some tat later that day.

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By day three of suit making it was fair to say Kate and I had had enough; we’d helped pick the material and seen the first fitting. Our jobs were done. So that day we traded the guys for bicycles.

Hoi An is surrounded by beautiful villages and coconut farms. Armed with a map and two very questionable bikes we headed out for the day.

As it was morning the roads were quiet and we enjoyed a few hours meandering through villages.

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Then rush hour came. There were bikes, scooters and cars everywhere! From the way people were cycling it was obvious they’d never been on a cycling proficiency course; stopping in the middle of the road, pulling Ito oncoming traffic and driving the wrong way down the road. Utter mayhem!

Our meant-to-be peaceful day out cycling turned into a stress-fuelled nightmare. In true form, the only way to get anywhere was to do it the way the locals do. But whilst checking for oncoming vehicles.

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Hoi An is famous for its lanterns. As soon as the sun disappears, the town becomes alight with hundreds of multicoloured silk lanterns. We spent our evenings wandering the streets, sampling local food and practicing or bartering skills at the night markets. I have to admit, I’m getting pretty good at it.

We’d heard that the best time to photograph the town was in the early hours of the morning when the crowds were safety tucked up in bed. So on our last morning, I headed to the center at 4:30am, camera in hand only to find… someone had turned the bloomin’ lights off.

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