Arrival in Hoi An was 8 am, and both Anne and me agreed that this trip from Na Thrang had been the worst bus travel so far. We were extremely tired, and getting off the bus it was tough to be attacked by the taxi and Tuktuk drivers, who aggressively demanded “Which hotel? which hotel?” We knew our intended place to stay was not far off, so we decided to walk – especially after they tried to charge 2 US dollar per person for a 1 km drive. We walked down the still deserted Tran Phu, main street of the Hoi An old town, and already had a good feeling about the place – it was tranquil, very relaxed, and pretty, with narrow, crooked small houses painted in many colours.

As we came up on the address of the hotel we wanted to stay at, we had a bad surprise – it was permanently closed, apparently for quite a while since the courtyard looked overgrown and like a construction site. And the description in our guidebook was so nice, we had so been looking forward to it. Being so tired we resolved for a plan B, the An Hoi Hotel on the other side of the river. Even during the short walk we already felt the heat of the day building up.

At the An  Hoi Hotel we got a room for 22 US dollar – quite expensive for low season, but we liked it, breakfast was included and the hotel had a pool where Anne could swim without being bothered by jellyfish. We were told the room would be ready in about 30 minutes, and we could have breakfast upstairs. Finally, a strong Vietnamese coffee, cold water and some good fruits with yogurt – that was just what we needed to feel human again after the bus ride. Around 10 am we were ready for a walk around town, which still seemed deserted – low season, and a very hot day. Hoi An old town is a UNESCO world heritage site, and it has some very old houses of Chinese merchants which have been used by the families for several generations. It is possible to visit the interior of these houses after buying a ticket, but since we would not spend so much time here we decided to save the money and just enjoy the beautiful exterior of the houses.

We first walked along the Nguyen Thai Hoc street and past many shops offering clothes for tailoring – another thing Hoi An is famous for, tailored clothes. Some of the designs looked really nice, and I probably would have liked to get a dress or a coat – but thinking of the 7 weeks ahead, I didn’t want to add too much weight and volume to my already way too tightly stuffed backpack. We walked over to the market on the riverside, bought some fruit and looked around – they had some very interesting fish and seafood stalls, and also many women offering manicure / pedicure or hair removal. As there were few tourists there we attracted a lot of attention from the vendors, more than we actually liked, so we left the market and walked back along the Bach Dang street. Since it was noon and we felt hungry for a small snack we stopped at the Blue Dragon restaurant, which offers some delicious local specialties of Hoi An like fried Wonton topped with fresh vegetables in a tangy spicy tomato sauce. A part f the revenue is donated to charity helping children, so eating there actually feels twice as good. Afterwards we walked back along Tran Phu street, past some of the houses of the old Chinese merchant families, decorated in rich splendor and detail. The whole of Hoi An old town is very quaint, in a touristy poshed up way, it looked a bit out of this world to me – too nice and too pretty.

Hoi An old town - Fried Wonton at the Blue Dragon

Since it had gotten really hot and we hadn’t slept well on the bus we walked back to our hotel to take a small nap and make use of the pool. When we arrived we were found out that electricity was out – not just in our hotel but apparently in all of Hoi An old town. Not a big problem, as our room was luckily cool even without air con, and the fan apparently worked powered by a generator. We had a good sleep, and feeling refreshed went out again around 3 pm. Electricity was still off, and we were a bit concerned when it would be back on, as we saw three problems. First: no electricity = no air condition or fans in all the shops and restaurants, which was really noticeable on this hot and humid day. Second, no electricity = no money from the ATM (really stupid since both Anne and me where short on Vietnamese Dong) and third no electricity = no colorful lanterns at night, for which the city was so famous and a sight we had been really looking forward to. So we could only hope that the problem would be solved quickly, before we ran out of cash or it turned dusk.

For an afternoon refreshment we walked over to the nice tea shop we had seen earlier on Tran Phu street. It is called Reaching Out, and we had noticed it earlier when walking past for its beautiful interiors. We got seated at an open window straight out on the street (a great place to watch people passing by) and quickly found out that the tea shop employed deaf and mute personnel. Integrated into the tea shop is also a fair trade crafts shop displaying the beautifully crafted products of disabled artists. Of course it is a positive feeling to support a good cause, but in this case it was double positive because we had an amazingly great tea experience here. Ordering was done with an order form, and communication with our very attentive and always smiling waitress was aided by small wooden blocks saying “Hot water please”, or “The bill”, or just plain “Thank you”. Anne had a delicious, mild Oolong tea, and I had a Vietnamese coffee. We also had small snacks with the tea – sesame cookies and coconut candy. Everything was so nice and delicate that we easily passed an hour enjoying our drinks and food and just talking. We also looked around the crafts items on display for sale, but unfortunately most were rather fragile and would probably not survive the journey in my backpack.

Hoi An old town - tea at Reaching Out

After tea the electricity issue was still unsolved, so we walked around a bit more, also outside Hoi An old town in the hopes of finding a working ATM (and upon leaving it, magically Hoi An turned into a normal Vietnamese city), and then decided to go cycling in order to catch a fresh breeze. We got a bike at our hotel, and just went along the river inland. We rode through some quiet neighborhoods and past fishermen tending their nets and boats, until it started to get dusky and we had to turn back because the bikes had no light. Upon driving up to our hotel we saw that finally electricity was back, just in time for dusk. We walked over the bridge into the old town, enjoying the view of the hundreds of Chinese lanterns lit on the bridge and the houses and trees. It is really a very beautiful sight. After finding an ATM that didn’t charge fees we wanted to have dinner, and decided to go to a place with a nice rooftop terrace. Anne and me ordered a menu of Hoi An specialties to share, as it included the fried Wonton which had tasted so good at lunch. Sitting out on the terrace, we quickly noticed that the place was mostly frequented by tourists, eating pizza and burgers – not a very good sign. Unfortunately it got confirmed when the food arrived – I hadn’t encountered bad cooking in Vietnam so far, but this place was below bottom line. The food was not spicy or tangy with interesting seasoning, it tasted almost of nothing. The vegetables were overcooked, soft and mushy. It was so bad that even being very hungry and not liking to throw away food, after trying each dish Anne and me couldn’t eat it. Such a disappointment, the only thing the place had going for it was the rooftop terrace. We felt so bad after this experience that we needed some good tasting food, and returned to the Blue Dragon to have some fried Wonton again. The girl who waited the tables recognized us and was happy to see us again. We explained that we really loved the great taste of her food, and she was even more happy. This really helped to cheer us up – it would not have felt good to end a nice day like that.

Next morning we had a very good experience with the attentive porter of the hotel. Breakfast started 7 am, and the pick up for the bus to Hue, our next stop, was supposed to be at 7:30 am – enough time to eat. Anne and me enjoyed the good breakfast with fresh fruit, omelette with tomatoes and Vietnamese coffee, and at 7:30 am went down to the lobby. There was a cab waiting for us to take us to the bus station, it was a quick ride. Our hotel porter had said pick up was free, so we were a bit surprised (and admittedly annoyed) when the driver asked us to pay. Luckily the woman at the bus office solved the problem by calling the hotel, and then paying the driver. Anne and me sat waiting for about another half hour til the bus arrived. After getting our backpacks in the trunk, Anne told me that she had seen the man who was our bus driver waiting at 7 am at our hotel lobby, waiting – so apparently our porter had told him we’d come by cab, and ordered a cab so we could have an undisturbed breakfast, and he didn’t even tell us about it. Both Anne and me were delighted by this kind of attentiveness – it is great service and  just feels good when you find out someone really cares for you to have a positive experience, and does so in a subtle way that’s not pushing in your face how he is being so nice. Feeling all the more happy for this positive experience, we happily got on the bus to Hue.