Hoi An, VietNam

Easily my favorite place in my favorite country, outside from the USA.

I never want to leave!

I was meant to stay here for just 2 days, 4 days later and I still didn’t want to leave. I am forcing myself to get back to my itinerary plans. Looking back I could’ve squeezed another 2 days for sure. It’s hard to explain why I liked Hoi An so much. I didn’t do anything extraordinary. It was just the feeling- it just made me happy. I stayed in a great hotel called War & Peace, I found it on AirBnB and it was the same price as a bunk at a Hostel except I had a king bed, private bathroom and balcony to myself. This hotel was a bit out of town and therefore offered free bikes. I also had free breakfast every morning. I think the distance helped me enjoy the town more- it gave me a more authentic and less touristy vibe.

Getting to Hoi An, VietNam

A picture of one half the sleeper train- one bunk, 2 of the 4 total beds

The rest of day 34 to 35: May 16th
This day was spent getting to Hoi An. I took the sleeper train, 1st class. I arrived to an empty cabin and settled in. Then I had the impossible task of finding a plastic spoon for my peanut butter. I got one at the last minute. When I came back to my room 2 guys were standing by the doorway. They are staying in the room, too. Alas, a girl with them would also join. The room was now full.
They’re all from Spain. I forget the one guys name I talked to the most. He was the only one of them fluent in English and he slept on the bottom bunk across from my bunk. He was very sweet and always tried to include me in what was going on. They all left around 05:00 to an island somewhere between HCMC and Da Nang. I was a little upset I couldn’t say goodbye and wish them the best for their travels, I’m super happy to have gotten the sleep though. I’ve booked the same 1st class sleeper trains for the next two legs of my trip.

Taking the local bus from Da Nang to Hoi An

a picture from inside the bus- seatbacks with multiple heads facing away from the camera.

After departing from the train I walked about 10 minutes to a public bus stop to catch a cheap bus to Hoi An. This would cost less than $2 USD for an hour ride. While waiting, a travelling couple came up to me asking questions- I was able to help them. Being that I had just arrived, it surprised me that I could help other travellers.
It’s hard to tell when you’re developing a skill while you’re living it.
Anyway, I then had a long grueling walk to the hotel in the direct heat of the sun. I was sweating so badly and was walking through construction sites and alleys with fighting roosters. At this point if you told me this would turn out to be the place I fell in love with- I’d think you were insane. As I was cursing to myself about my stubborness (not using a Grab), I heard a small “hello”. I looked all around and then I saw him.
There was a young boy, shy, in the corner of a window with a huge smile on his face. I smiled and waved. It reminded me that this walk would be worth the experience- the authentic experience I sought out.
I made it to my hotel right in time and was upgraded to the nicest room. I settled in for a long while: showered, took a nap, etc. Then I had to find food- being outside the main city made this difficult but I managed to find a vegetarian place. I had something light here and went back to the hotel. I was exhausted.

Authentic Fish Market, Hoi An

A beautiful, older vietnamese woman cleans her plastic bins-  she uses these bins to clean and squeeze squids ink

Day 36: May 17th;
The next day I woke up super early. I was up before sunrise and riding a bike in the opposite direction of the city. I spoke with the host of my hotel the night before, telling her I wanted to find fishermen. She showed me a nice route on the rivers edge and said it would be an easy bike ride and I might find them there. I had this idea after finding many online photography tours. However the tours offered online would usually take a boat out to find them and were out of my price point. I figured I should try my own attempt, if nothing else I would find a beautiful sunrise.

I ended up riding quite far until I found a local fish market. It was great. I was the only non-local there. I think this bothered some and made others happy. I just tried to stay out of the way and capture the scene. The sunrise didn’t turn out the best, but the market was excellent. This one lady in particular stole the show- I practically did an entire photoshoot of her. She had the warmest energy, she was full of light- smiling and playing with the squids as she squeezed out the ink. She would keep putting the squids up by my camera and laughed. We couldn’t communicate with words, only with smiles and laughter yet it was all we needed, it was wonderful.

A fishing boat leaves after dropping off fish and other sea creatures to the market

Beaches in Hoi An, VietNam

After the market, I rode all the way to the shore in the opposite direction. I didn’t know there was a beach in Hoi An. In fact, there are two- another fact from my host. I figured I’d ride to the beach and see if it was what I wanted. This would help me decide if I’d stay in Hoi An longer or still leave the next day for Da Nang and the beaches there- afterall, that’s why I made this stop on my way to Hanoi. I wanted to have a beach stop between two major cities. I rode my bike through rice fields and saw cows and water buffalo, I crossed 2 bridges- 1 had beautiful views, and finally I arrived.
I hadn’t worn a bathing suit but I was dying to get in. I just went to about my knees. The water was cool and refreshing. I negotiated with the parking attendant for my bike and ended up being ripped off (I learned in hindsight) but regardless secured a spot for the entire day. I made it back to the hotel in time for a hearty breakfast.
Southern VietNam was settled by the French, it widely influences the foods. Each morning I got my own personal baguette- delicious. Then I’d select between a variety of morning food. This time I had scrambled eggs. I also had watermelon to accompany each breakfast. After breakfast I decided to change and go back to the beach.
It gets too hot in the afternoon, there’s hardly anything else to do. It was only 10:00; I had slathered myself in sunscreen and rode the grueling distance again. When I arrived I set up my towel on the sand. The beach was lined with chairs as far as I could see. While they weren’t too expensive I still chose to opt out; I wanted to be in the water. After awhile a little puppy ran to me. I’d learn her name was Luna, she was adorable. I went in the water a few more times but couldn’t find my sunscreen so I wanted to leave. I could feel the intensity of the sun and I didn’t want to burn.

basket boats lining the beach shoreline.

Ancient Town- Hoi An, Vietnam

I had been recommended 2 places in Hoi An for Bahn Mi. This is the city where the Banh Mi thrives. I ended up going to the place all the Vietnamese people recommended- duh! In the end I went there 3 times- Banh Mi Phuong. My first time there I sat down in the back alone. A girl heard me order my food and was excited by my accent. Another American! We ended up chatting a bit. Her name is Natalie and we would hang out every day before I left. I felt gross and wanted to go shower and change. I had plans to also go to a tailor, another thing Hoi An is known for. We decided to meet up later.

an old Brother sewing machine.

My tailor situation was a bit tedious. I didn’t really know where to start. I went in wanting a fun jumper and a structured blazer. Then I wanted everything. I ended up with a jumper and a blazer. The jumper is more formal then I’d planned, but I chose and designed it, just like the blazer. Natalie ended up walking over as I was being measured. She had just finished dinner.

Natalie is in the left side of the frame, behind her is the river- pink lanterns float in the center.
Natalie

This was my first time in Old Town, other than riding through, earlier. The only thing I knew, and the reason I came to Hoi An, was the lanterns. Natalie showed me a few little streets as she bartered for some clothes. We went to the night market, too. Most importantly, we looked at all the lanterns. It was magical! We took some pictures and wandered some more before agreeing to a beach day the following day.

celebrating Buddha’s Birthday

Day 37: May 18th;
The next morning I slept in. I’d have a late breakfast: baguette with fried eggs and watermelon. Then I had to run to the tailor for my first try on. At this point, I thought it was my final day in Hoi An. I was astonished how quickly they made these two custom pieces. I tried them on and was asked to come back at 15:00. So I told Natalie I wouldn’t make it to the beach and we decided we could meet up for dinner or coffee, instead. When I remembered it was Buddha’s birthday- I let her in on the secret, she was excited- we would be celebrating!

As I waited for the little tweaks to be made on my clothes I continued to shop. In desperate need of new sandals – I ended up getting custom leather ones made, in a different shop. At this point I was pretty much 80/20 staying. I wandered down to the town before Natalie. I was sitting by the rivers edge indecisive on what to shoot; the sunset or the full moon. They were both gorgeous. Then I met Tim.

A night picture of Tim, his face lit up by the paper lanterns. He is on the right of the frame and colorful lanterns fill the left side.
Tim

Tim also shoots with the Sony a6300. In fact, in the long run he was able to fix a focusing issue I’ve had for more than 6 months. He ended up leaving right before I met up with Natalie, and then coming back right after Natalie called it a night. My camera battery was about dead so he brought an extra with him, we took more lantern photos.
It’s always good to have another person who enjoys photography as much as you- and a bonus when they’re better. He was better. He said he learned mostly on YouTube. I’d hang out with him the next two days, too. It’s also a benefit when your friend speaks both your language and the local language- he’s a Vietnamese Australian.
Essentially I walked around old quarter all night with my two Hoi An friends, separately. This night was a lantern festival in honor of the full moon. So, while there are always lanterns, this weekend they shut off all the street lights. The only lights are the lanterns- they are all over: hanging across the streets, in shop windows and floating in the river. Because of buddhas birthdays there was also a parade that night. At the end of the night I decided for sure, I’d be going to the beach the next day. Based on the forecast on my phone, it would be my hottest day I’ve had in awhile. Considering how hot it already feels, it was a no brainer.

A typical day in Hoi An

A sweet lady sells bracelets she made on the beach.

Day 38: May 19th;
The next morning I took my time getting ready. I had to fold laundry, repack, and change rooms. I let my tailor know I’d be later than our agreed upon pick-up time and made sure it didn’t interfere with her own plans. It all worked out perfectly. I forgot I’d broken my sunglasses the day before. They kind of just cracked, from the heat I suppose. That made my motorbike ride a little unpleasant- the bicycles had been taken from another guest.
I originally thought I’d have a couple hours go get my tailored pieces, shop around for sunglasses, go back to my hotel, and then beach. Natalie was already there, though and she had plans to leave that afternoon and I didn’t want to miss her. I got really lucky and ended up with some ‘Chanel’ glasses- go figure! There were people selling accessories on the beach. I bartered them to 100,000 dong which is about $4 USD. Of course they’re not real Chanel, just like my Gucci bag. Somehow I am conveniently ending up looking like a brand girl. It’s quite humorous. Especially since they’re fakes.
I made it to the beach and we spent about two hours together. We had two chairs under the umbrella. Natalie is quite dark, she laid on her towel in the sand. She says she loves the feeling of the sun baking her. I stayed in the shade; I don’t like to feel that sort of heat- it’s like I feel the damage it is creating. I assume this is highly related to a presentation I did in Uni. I researched all about sun damage, cancer, and overall affect the sun has on skin in the long run- then I persuaded people to protect themselves in a 10-minute presentation. Her and I did go in the water for quite a bit as well but the currents became dangerously strong so we got out. The sand was scorching hot, even from the shoreline to the chair- I had to run.

Up close picture of brightly colored handmade bracelets- string and beaded.

After the beach I did make a stop to the tailor to get my things. I went back to my hotel room to shower and change into something dry. I’d had plans to go wandering for pictures with Tim. I told him to meet me at a lunch spot I’d found the day before. They have a balcony that overhangs the street and can capture a bird’s eye of people walking and riding bikes. I sat here and ate. He joined me and had a beer. Then off we went for photos. He mentioned wanting a Banh Mi. I of course showed him THE STOP. He said it really was the best and later admitted to going back again.

Me fanning myself in the nights heat- Lanterns surround me
Me looking at lanterns hanging over the street- I am in focus, colorful lanterns dot the sky behind me out of focus.

We kind of spent too much time inside eating and lost the daylight. Therefore, we did more night photography and I finally used my prime lens. We decided to call the night early and would ride bikes to the rice fields for sunrise the following day.
Originally, I wanted to go to the water coconut jungle and take a ride in a basket boat down the river. I felt more prepared if he joined because he spoke vietnamese fluently. He agreed, he really wanted to come, instead we skipped that because I think he was a bit unsettled when I told him the plan.
There isn’t an exact location on a map- there’s just a few blogs all mentioning the same place and a direction in which to go to find it. Then how you just have to ask the locals for a ride in a boat… etc. If he wasn’t going, it would be too difficult for me to bring in to fruition. Obviously travelers have done this without translaters but I think I only built the courage after meeting him- so when he said no, it ended that idea.

Photographing Hoi An

Day 39: May 20th;
We met up at the iconic yellow walls at 04:40 and headed east for sunrise. Then after sunrise we stopped for coffee and that’s when he said he wanted to just do the yellow walls instead, and part ways. He had a few other things to get done and we would both be making our way to Da Nang. So for our last day photographing Hoi An we rode bicycles east to find a sunrise view and arrived back to town before the stores opened to shoot those yellow wall Hoi An is known for. I went back to my hotel where I’d scheduled a taxi to pick me up around 13:30.

1 more Banh Mi; Banh Mi Phuong

Although, I’d have plenty of time between getting back and having breakfast before my departure it all of a sudden was time to leave, it snuck up on me! I hurriedly called a motorbike to get my last Banh Mi to-go. The grab motorbike quickly arrived and I’d have just the right amount of time. About 5 buildings down the motorbike tire popped. He hit a nail. Then there was quite a confusion about how I’d get there. Was he calling me a Grab or calling Grab to report this incident on the ride? I waited so long freaking out that I wouldn’t get my Banh Mi and would have to run back to the hotel. I did get to Banh Mi Phuong. I sat down quickly and knew exactly what I wanted- they had it in my hands in no time. I felt so lucky to have somehow came during prime lunchtime yet have no crowd to fight.
Insider tip: don’t stand in line outside, grab a seat at one of the many tables, you can either stay and eat or order it to-go. Either way this is much quicker than waiting in line for to-go.

A to-go Banh Mi sitting on the menu bider, opened on top of the tables inside Banh Mi Phuong

Then I was waiting again- for a Grab motorbike back. It seemed like he took forever, because I was in a rush. I jumped on the back and we were off. We almost got hit 3 times! I’m not kidding.. perhaps this Banh Mi wasn’t meant to be, but it sure tasted like it was. I quickly gathered all my things and the cab driver was ready to go.

2 women walk away from me holding large, heavy baskets of fruit on a pole resting over their shoulders.

Next stop: Da Nang. 

Kaitlin

A traveler who has allowed the World to show her that extreme posing beliefs are necessary to find the sweet spot that is revolutionary. Because life is too complex; it’s a balance of black and white; we need to blend the two so we can live in the grey space of an Open Mind. Currently finding a balance in exploring the World and being sustainable everyday.

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