Hoi An is a gorgeous little town, maybe not as exciting as some, but definitely very pretty.
I’ve seen photos of the town during Chinese New Year/Tet, which is very impressive, but getting through Vietnam on public transport is an absolute nightmare at this time of year. Unless you’re on a pre-planned tour it’s very risky to try traveling at this time, you’ll be crammed into buses, and lucky to get a bed for the night.
You don’t need to visit during Tet though, the town is still very pretty and a wonderful place to chill out for a couple of days. It’s most famous for its’ tailors, even the Top Gear guys dropped in to get a specially made suit while here. It’s a nice experience, and usually the hostels will have a book of recommended places to try. You can get pretty much anything made for you, out of any material you like, and if you’re not flying straight home then you can get it all sent back for you.If you’re looking for something really nice, it won’t be cheap: A lot cheaper than Europe, but still a couple hundred dollars. However I recommend getting something really nice made up, then just for fun a couple silly costumes or jackets made up as well on the side. It all depends on where you go, their reputation and the material. It would be easy to spend days searching and trying places, but pick one and stick with it.
Other than that and the pretty streets Hoi An isn’t crazy with loads to do, with one major exception – The Hi Van Pass. Made famous first by the Easy Rider motorbike tours and then by Top Gear there’s a lot of different ways to experience this epic mountain road. We choose a one-way bike hire that included transfer of our gear to a hostel in Hue. It gave us the freedom to hit the places we fancied, and cost less than the tours.
So after an early morning suit fitting Nico and I jumped onto a ‘ped again and headed the wrong way in search of the My Son ruins, a historical Vietnamese city, made up of a variety of ruins, rebuilt structures and recreations it’s a fascinating chance to see some of the ancient history of the culture in this country. The next stop was the Marble Mountains, where if you’re willing to take the stairs you can climb up the steep cliffs that pop right out of the flat plains around.There are three in total, with the main one crawling with statue shops and trinket sellers around the base. The further up and into the temple and pagoda complex you climb, the quieter it becomes, and offers better and better views. The mountains are only a short distance from the sea, so it’s possible to see the huge sweeping curve of the bay and far over the flats up to the mountain range through which the Hi Van Pass road runs.
Back down to ground level we continue our route along the coast towards the mountains, stopping out on a peninsula that features another huge Buddha statue that looks back over the bay we’d just driven up. Then into the town of Da Nang, where we looked for some lunch. Along one of the streets we burst a tire so had to find a shop to fix that. A lucky find on a back road killed two birds with one stone, bike shop and lunch next door, and we were very happy with price as well.Instead of the usual tourist rip-off prices these guys charged the same as they would a local, happy with a few snaps with us instead. It’s meeting these people that reminds you that the locals are not all greedy cheats, but incredibly friendly and happy to help. As a thank you we dug out some odd coins from other countries that they seemed to love. Getting going again we headed north around the next bay to start of the pass.
Thankfully we had a more powerful bike than the TG boys, so getting up was no trouble even with two of us on board. As we climbed we stopped at several locations to get pics of the epic views which really must be seen to be appreciated. At the top there is a little bus stop with shops and supplies and a couple Vietnam war remnants, gun turrets and bunkers mark the border between North and South. An odd thing happened as we looked down the other side, the weather switches completely. On the Southern side there wasn’t a cloud in sight, on the Northern the fog was so thick you couldn’t see more than 200 meters. It made for a rather strange and unimpressive ride back down.
Then we hit the road, the main road that runs through the mountains rather than over them. It’s a busy motorway and it’s absolutely horrible to drive along on a moped. I imagine it’s not much better in a car really, the trucks that are steaming along at full speed have no problem with pushing you off the road if they want to overtake. We saw two accidents that had happened along that stretch, neither were small, and that didn’t make us feel any better. It’s definitely doable, but I don’t recommend it to anyone, even experienced bike riders, it’s just so dangerous, especially when you’re wearing half a helmet and a hoody as protection. It’s also a long drive, and when we finally arrived in Hue, I was very relieved to get off and say goodbye to that bike.