Hoi An is one of the most beautiful cities we’ve been to so far. No wonder, it is a UNESCO World Heritage city. The old town is very small, quaint, with beautiful old houses and buildings up along the river front. Also, in the old town most of the day it’s restricted to pedestrians and bicycles only. Outside those hours, it’s open to motor scooters, no cars ever. As such, we decided to rent 2 bikes both days we were there; Tia and Tai on the back of my bike and Kim on the back of mommys bike. The kids loved that; they didn’t have to bike themselves and they didn’t have to walk. 🙂
The bus trip from Saigon to Hoi An was long, very long. Our original plan was to take a train, however the prices for sleeper trains in Vietnam are 3 to 4 times higher then other SE Asian countries we’ve been to. That was going to put quite a dent in our travel budget. What we found instead was Vietnam has an open bus ticket system for several different routes around the country. You buy one ticket good for a month and can get off at any of the stops on that route, then go back to the bus office to reserve a seat to get back on the bus the next day. And the price was great! So we decided to take the Saigon — Mui Ne — Nha Trang — Hoi An — Hue — Ha Noi route electing to stop in Hoi An then Ha Noi on the way up, then pick a different route that stops at Dalat on the way back.
Now a few words about the sleeper buses in Vietnam. The first bus we were on was from Saigon to Nha Trang with a brief stop in Mui Ne. It took a little getting used to sitting on a reclining chair for several hours during the day, but all in all it was fine. There was even free Wi-Fi and a toilet on the bus. The schedule called for a 2 hour stop in Nha Trang so we could catch a nice dinner before re boarding to Hoi An. This did not work out that way…. AT ALL. We were late to Nha Trang. AND we come to find out the next pickup stop is not where we were dropped off, we had to walk about 20 minutes to the next stop, and we only had 15 minutes. We arrived and showed the guy our ticket and the expression on his face scared me. He made a call and said the bus would come back around to pick us up. Then he asked what hotel we were staying at in Nha Trang (ack!!!!). Just a lack of translation it turns out. Now the next bus, which was an overnight bus, was packed like sardines!!! Not only were all the seats filled, but all the luggage was in the back of the bus to make room for packages and bikes to go in the undercarriage AND more people were sleeping in the two isles as well as more boxes!! I quickly grabbed the kids and climbed over the boxes to the toilets ‘cause I knew we wouldn’t be able to make it after everyone got on the bus.
All in all, it took us about 24 hours to reach Hoi An the next morning. We were able to walk to our hotel, checked in, rented the bikes, and headed to the old town. It was beautiful. So much so, we decided to stay a second night (our original plan was one night only). Also ‘cause we were in no hurry to get back on a sleeper bus. 🙂
Walking and biking around Hoi An and just gazing is great. But if you want to actually see the inside of any of the world heritage buildings, you need to buy tickets for $5. That gives you a packet of 5 tickets and you can decide what you want to see with each ticket. And you don’t have to use them all in the same day. We decided on a mix of old Assembly Halls / temples, and old houses in which the 6th or 8th generation family still live there. Many of these were amazingly beautiful! The only down side was at the houses, they tried very hard to sell you stuff rather than actually show you around and talk about the house. We would try to skip those sales pitches and go back to look around the house as much as possible.
Our second day we decided to take a bike ride out to the beach. Tuyet had found a pamphlet with a map in it that had suggested bike routes. The route we chose led us through a nice residential area, out into rice paddies, by a pagoda, then back onto the main road to the beach. 4km later, we were sitting on the beach. Kim, Tia, and I went swimming for a bit to cool off and collect shells. It was great.
After lunch, we biked back to our hotel for a quick shower and rest, then headed back to the old town to use our last world heritage ticket and have dinner right next to the river. After dinner, we ended up taking a 15 minute slow boat ride along the river watching all the paper lanterns floating down the river that many people buy to put in the river for good luck
Hoi An is definitely a city I would go back to, and I highly recommend anyone going to Vietnam to try and make it up there for at least a couple of days.
Now it’s off to Ha Noi; back on a sleeper bus. 🙂