The final destination, but mutually agreed upon favorite part of the trip, was Hoi An! After another quick night in Hanoi in which we ran around the lake (and got tons of joy from seeing the older Vietnamese gentlemen working out and women jazzercising), ate donner kebabs from a street vendor and gobbled up more Cong Caphe deliciousness, we woke up early for a hour long taxi drive to the airport and flight down to Da Nang. Again the flight was super cheap through JetStar (although we did buy ahead of time, not sure what they would be on the spot) and pretty painless considering we did not pay for any of the thousand gimmicks (picking a seat, drink, going over 7 kilo bag, insurance, yada yada). We touched down to a downpour but a quick 30-45 min. drive to Hoi An. (We way overpaid on the taxi from the airport by booking with our hotel. Definitely recommend booking with a Vietnamese travel agent or local versus any of the nicer hotels.) We were pleasantly surprised when we once again got upgraded to a nicer room (perks of going during low season) at Hoi An Ancient House Village Resort and because of that we did not mind the rain one bit. I took my first bath in ages and we snuggled in for some reading and social media catch-up time.
After the down pour, I put on my handy dandy new “North Face” rain jacket, we hopped on the complimentary bikes from the hotel and we headed to Hoi An ancient town, also a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. This place is filled to the brim with charm and it was love at first bicycle. After forcing myself away from stopping and shopping at the zillions of cute shops (save up your dong/riel/baht for this place), we went through the main road down to the Japanese Bridge. We took one or two pics but quickly moved on due to the swarm of tourists that infiltrated it and made any chance of a unique photo zero to none. And low and behold, I got one of my favorite shots to date…. I’m a definite believer that the true riches from travel come from taking your chances on the path only the locals are on.
Since we were starting to get a little hangry, we decided to search out the recommended spot Nu. Our favorite mystery french man from the bus put it on “the list” and after asking a few locals we ended up finding it down a hidden magical alley. (Of course!)
The magnetic pull to the shops could not be resisted any longer after this. We biked and walked around and popped in a bunch of the many leather bag shops, art stores, shoe stores and of course the clothing stores. However, these aren’t ordinary “clothing stores.” Instead, they are tailoring shops which showcase a few samples and ideas for things you can get custom made specifically for you, all in a matter of hours. I grabbed up a 15$ rice paper art piece which I LOVE and we randomly stopped in Yaly, which was one of the nicer and fancier tailoring stores, on our way out. I was lured in by the nice work shirts and blazers (and of course the beautiful cocktail dresses which I did not need. Never hurts to look though right? ;)) they had on display. However, the more we looked around and started asking questions, we ended up talking to them about a custom made suit for Adam. They had us look through one of the hundreds of sample catalogs they had available and with that, we were sold. Adam picked his favorite suit type and we walked upstairs to check out the hundreds of fabric options. A little overwhelmed Adam decided to go with a similar theme from our wedding and chose a navy blue linen fabric and a grey-ish liner. They took him into the “measuring room” which was not a room at all but just an open area of the store. Our helpful tailor, Anita, took the usual measurements and also took some questionably useful measurements in the crotch region which gave Adam a smirk. Anita finished up and told us to come back tomorrow at 2pm for the fitting!
The next day the sun was OUT and we were happy as clams. We got a little workout in – ran to “The Field” (looked like a great spot for their yoga classes), said hi to water buffaloes grazing on the side of the road and chuckled with a sweet Vietnamese lady whom was riding her bike with us for a few seconds. We also took advantage of the small but adequate gym (they had kettle bells!) before we mozied over to the hotel breakfast. Now the lunch food at this spot was about 1/5 so we were pleasantly surprised with breakfast. There were so many choices and the view over the rice paddies was great! We hopped in the pool after breakfast to wash away our workouts and cool off. The infinity pool they have was GREAT! I wish I had grabbed a pic to share.
We knew we wanted to check out the beach that had been recommended so after a little bit of time at the pool, we rented a moto from Thanh Quan (Phone Number – 0905965963) and headed over to An Bang beach. Our french friend had been adamant that An Bang was worth the drive a little further north versus going to the first main beach. We were glad we did! This laid back beach vibe was exactly what we didn’t know we needed. We rented chairs for free as long as you ordered something from them which was a great excuse for a mason jar of pina colada on the beach. The water was not crystal clear waters but just cold enough to be refreshing and the waves and undertow were just strong enough to make playing in the waves in the South China Sea extra exhilarating.
For lunch, we stopped at the first place on the beach we found. We had been missing Cali fish so it was nice to order some fresh Mahi for lunch. After that, we begrudgingly made our way back into town for Adam’s first fitting. While Adam changed I got to see some other customer’s designs – ball gown dresses, cocktail dresses, cute summer two pieces. They can make ANYTHING! When Adam came out mind was blown….they had an entire suit done in 1 night almost perfectly fitted to him. The tailors were pros and with a little bit of “girl talk” they put some chalk on the spot that needed to be tweaked, asked us about the buttons we liked and told us to come back in 2 hours. With my creative juices flowing, we walked out and headed around town for a little more shopping. Adam got an awesome leather bag for work and I had some shoes made for me (literally took 1 hour!). Thinking more and more and with some convincing from Adam, around 6 pm, I decided that I could not leave this place without getting a blazer made for me. I was prepared for getting my hopes up considering it was so late already and we were leaving at 5 the next morning. I stopped in a randomly small shop and asked her if there was anyway she could design something for me that same night. She explained, “Yes, okay. I can do for you. I have many tailors who help me.” I picked a jacket and a blazer for under $100 and she told me to come back in 2 hours for a fitting. Feeling much more satisfied with my shopping trip, I met Adam for his second fitting. While we waited for the suit to arrive, we chatted with the local Vietnamese sales clerk whom had been helping us. She told us about her two kids, how much public school is there (it is not free like it is in the US) and her dreams for her son to go to university. While looking through pics, she invited us to her families home the next time we are there. Unlike in the US where I feel like we just kind of say this sometimes out of necessity, not with 100% authenticity, there is no doubt in my mind that she genuinely meant it and would open her doors for us, cook us dinner and host us. We have found this kind of welcoming invite all over Asia and we continue to be humbled and moved by it.
We left Hoi An the next morning refreshed and a lighter in our step (but not in our suitcase). We were pretty worried that we weren’t going to be able to get by this time without paying the overweight fee….However, with a few gypsy moves and just not being so obvious with my carry-on suitcase, we were in the clear. We headed back to Ho Chi Minh to spend the day with our favorite Hong Kong expat friends, Scot and Sarah. We headed to lunch and the market for some cashews and dried fruit. The dried papaya and kiwi are like candy! With some more time to spare we headed to a little bar spot for a drink…or two… If you are ever looking to have a good time at a bar with a group of friends in Saigon, definitely check out the Vespa So Far Bar (and if you’re bold enough sample some of their snake wine!)
Lessons Learned #15: Traveling with other people is complicated. There are more people to make decisions, more people to please, and different styles of travelling. However, there is nothing better than when you have friends that are the “right fit” to be your travelling partners (and you visit hochimin with them). Lesson Learned #16: Finding the right ticketing agent may help you avoid baggage fees. Some weigh your bags and some do not. And arriving LATE sometimes will help you avoid them weighing your carry on as they shuffle you quickly to the gate!
“I can speak to my soul only when the two of us are off exploring desserts, cities or mountains or roads.” -Paulo Coelho