After two nights in Hue, we caught the morning train to Danang. It was three hours late, so it’s a good job that Hue has a bunch of cafés just outside the train station that will supply you with pho and nice coffee. A friendly man who seemed to work at the train station informed us of this, but he did seem very keen to point out which café we should wait at. We ended up chatting to some other travellers for a while, before heading off on the train. Danang is only 2 and a half hours away from Hue by train (and around £7, I think), although if you’re travelling light there’s a guy at a café near the Purple Forbidden City in Hue who will take you there on the back of his motorbike, stopping off at waterfalls along the way!
The train ride was very pretty, though.. plus we got to watch Kindergarten Cop with Vietnamese subtitles. The same man read out the lines of EVERY character in a deep monotone (yes, including all the kids).
We had no real desire to stay in Danang; our true destination, Hoi An, was not on the north-south train line. Instead, we had to get off at Danang and catch a public bus to Hoi An for 50, 000 dong (maybe £1.20), which I have now found out on Wikitravel is a scam and that you should only, in fact, pay 18,000. It’s up to you how much of a headache you want over a pound! To find this bus, you just exit the train station, fend off taxi drivers, walk forward one block then turn left. There’s a bus stop just outside a clothes shop there (as well as very cheap coffee in the café on the corner) and, eventually, a yellow public bus will come by (on the same side of the road as the café/clothes shop). This bus may or may not actually stop for you. In Thailand and Vietnam alike, I found that public buses kind of slow down and let people jump on or off, but with foreigners with massive backpacks they may make allowances. It’s 45 minutes or so to Hoi An, and the bus will drop you off at its bus station, which is only a 5 or 10 minute walk to the “centre” of Hoi An, or Trần Cao Vân, the road on which we stayed.
Trần Cao Vân is a very cool little road, full of bars, restaurants and hostels. It’s a small road that cars can’t fit down and the atmosphere there is quite nice, especially when compared to the amount of hassle you might get nearer the river from people trying to herd you into their restaurants or sell you candles to set floating on the river (the cries of “YOU BUY CANDLE!?” as we tried to have a peaceful stroll on the river haunt me to this day). I can’t find the name of the hotel we stayed at, but it’s just opposite Cafe 43 and has a small swimming pool on the ground floor. It was a nice little hotel which gave us two double beds again.
One of the most amazing things about the road that we stayed on was that several restaurants were selling draft beer (or “fresh” beer) for 3000 dong… which, if you don’t want to look up the exchange rate, currently comes in at 8p, or 14 cents (US)! These are for 300ml glasses of pretty nice beer. There are also some great restaurants along the road, including the wonderful Cafe 43. You’ll know it from the reviews and pictures of people under the glass of the tables – it’s full of glowing reviews. I followed a traveller’s advice and tried the squid stuffed with minced pork and spices… I recommend it for sure (as well as a bunch of other stuff on the menu)!
Walking towards the “main” part of Hoi An, you’ll start to be hassled a little, but it really isn’t that bad. A large part of the town is sectioned off so that traffic can’t come through, which is great, as being hit by a motorbike is usually a constant fear in these parts. You might have heard of the cheap tailors in Hoi An (the Top Gear guys had suits made here on their Vietnam special episode) and, following the stereotype, I decided to get a suit made. I was measured by a lovely lady at Thu Thuy, who then let me feel the fabrics and choose what I wanted. Looking through the available patterns, I told her that I just wanted a simple suit, so she sketched me something nice and simple. It was ready for me the next night – £90 for trousers, a jacket and a shirt, and she added a hidden popper by my chest to eliminate cheeky gaps between buttons (ladies with big busts, you know what I mean!).
I have later read rumours that the shop assistants pass the fabrics to people in a dingy back room who essentially work as slaves to make the suit on time, which is pretty depressing. The shop assistant herself told me that she made around £5 a day and never got a day off, too, and that she had never even been to Danang. I don’t know whether this was true, but I did leave her a tip and promised to plug her shop, so – Thu Thuy! It’s a great suit, although the white shirt ended up in the wash with a red top and is now pink… yep, that DOES happen to people!
The next day, we took a day trip to the My Son (pronounced Me-son) ruins for a mere $5 each. There are plenty of tour operators around Hoi An, and we just spoke to one across the road from our hotel. The price included transport to and from the ruins, a guided tour, a boat trip with lunch and a stop at a wood carving shop (e.g. the “please buy things so we get commission” section of the trip). If you tuned out the tour guide, it was a decent day, although the ruins were not as spectacular as pictures had led me to believe, and several parts are being “reconstructed”, which basically ruins the ancient appearance of the old temples. Lunch on the boat was fish, rice and vegetables (nothing special, but not bad!) and there were some pretty impressive wood carvings at the shop, so we bought some chopsticks and watched people chiselling elephants into tables for a while.
If you have some extra time to spend walking around Hoi An, the Sleepy Gecko Chillout Bar is worth a visit, if not just for the adorable puppy they had. The same little island, which is just south of the main “centre” of Hoi An, also had a bookshop with some English books. Check out the PUPPY! Ahem, sorry. Puppies turn me into a bit of a blithering idiot.
Anyway, the public buses back to Danang apparently stopped at 5pm, so we arranged a private ride from our hotel to Danang at 9pm. Our train to the next location was at 1am, so we knew we’d have some time to kill. The hotel charged us £10 or so for our ride and let us hang out by their pool and keep our bags there after checking out in the morning. The ride would have been OK had the driver not been insane (like most drivers around there!) and demanded a tip at the end.
If you have four hours to kill in Danang at night, I’m going to tell you right now what you can do, as we spent an hour wandering around trying to find a bar, much to the confusion of the locals who could not understand what we were looking for. I guess the “drinking” mime is not so universal. Basically, if you walk forward one block (with the train station behind you), turn left and keep walking until you reach the river. There’s a KFC along the way that closes at 11pm; this is where I was able to find Wi-Fi to research where the bars were. Keep going for 5-10 minutes after this. On the road along the river, in the light of the colourful bridges, there are three bars that stay open pretty late and serve food and drink. This was slightly ruined by my getting stuck in a toilet for 35 minutes. Note – if you think you’re stuck, check whether there’s a little “button” on the actual bolt itself that looks like a screw, and press it. That would have saved me a lot of door-pounding and shouting.
A bunch of taxis will also congregate outside these bars. As we were foreign and it was nearly 1am, they probably assumed that we were drunk and decided to take us down a windy, confusing route (remember I said the walk was a straight line). We argued with the driver on this as he was clearly trying to rack up some miles on the meter. If you don’t want to deal with that kind of crap, then just give yourself enough time to walk back to the station.