Our overnight train dropped us off in Da Nang where we jumped on a local bus that took us to our next destination, Hoi An. Hoi An is a relatively small city and its allure lies in its quaint, traffic-free old quarter. The place is famous for its beautiful old buildings, regional cuisine and tailors. Consequently it’s overrun with tourists, both domestic and international. We spent three days here, learning a bit of history and soaking up the classical ambience.

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The best thing to do in Hoi An is just wander around the old quarter on foot or bicycle. Numerous historical and cultural sites are dotted about, and if you’re so inclined you can buy a pass that permits entry to five of them which we did on our second day. Countless cafes and restaurants overlook the photogenic canals and bridges, and market stalls fill the streets with tat and noise. But the town really came to life at night. We were fortunate enough to be visiting during the full moon, which meant a sort of mini-festival each evening, with live shows, games and lots and lots of lanterns.

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Hoi An’s streets by night
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The Japanese Covered Bridge, lit by night, with a newly married couple having photos

Coincidentally our friend from Ho Chi Minh City, Ben the hotel receptionist, had also decided to visit Hoi An at the same time as us so we got the opportunity to hang out with him and his friend Tao. Having a Vietnamese companion to explore with was awesome for us because we got taken to restaurants we would never have normally tried, learnt more about Vietnam from a local perspective, and also got to learn more about our friend! Ben also used the opportunity to practice his English and ask us strangely complicated questions, like what does “though” mean? and how to pronounce “elaborate” in different situations.

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Tao and Ben

With Ben, we took a look at the Japanese Covered Bridge, a supposed landmark of the city. A small buddhist shrine occupies an inside room and Ben showed us how to make a prayer which Jake performed. After that we visited the $$$. Next we checked out the Museum which – to Jake’s delight – contained many historical artifacts and art pieces from the region, including pots, agricultural equipment and rusty old bits of artillery. From there we went to see the $$$, which contained some incredible wooden carvings. Lastly, because Jake was absolutely adamant he wanted to see it, we went to see the $$$, which contained even more pots. Our cultural tour of Hoi An had been frankly a little unexciting, but on the upside, we did eat Vietnam’s best Banh Mi (a popular kind of sandwich) on the way.

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The highlight of Hoi An for us was the taking a boat ride on the canal at night with colourful paper lanterns floating around us. People light the lantern, make a wish and let it go on the water. So we tried the same from our boat. Unfortunately, my moment was kind of ruined when my lantern got stuck on the side of the boat and was immediately extinguished and sunk… which I guess means my wish probably won’t come true. Pretty tragic! The other three had better luck with their lanterns, but regardless of my fail it was a lovely moment.

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On the boat
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A second boat trip at night to launch our lanterns
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Jake participating in some traditional games as part of the festival. Here, he had to wear a mask that obscured his sight, and then walk forward and hit a clay pot. No idea what the prize was, because Jake didn’t win =P

As lovely as Hoi An is, it’s a bit of of a tourist trap, and it got tiresome constantly being harangued by people trying to sell you suits and other unnecessary items. And after strolling around the pedestrianised town several times, we were content to hideaway in our hotel. It was lovely to visit Hoi An, but we probably stayed a day too long. Time to move on to our next destination.

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