18. Christmas in Hoi An

22/12 – 28/12

After the day trip I finally arrived in Hoi An. I got a first little glimpse from the bus, and was dropped off my homestay, which was rather handy as I didn’t have to deal with actually finding it.

As I was staying over Christmas here I decided to find a nice place to stay. After checking several reviews I booked a single room at the NGO homestay. It was $20 per night, including breakfast. The single room was on the ground floor, and was lovely. It was clean, spacious with a double rather a small single bed, with seating arrangements in the corner. In addition it had a little balcony. Nhung, the owner, and her family (especially her niece who helped out every day) were just amazing, friendly, and couldn’t do enough to help their guests. They really looked after me.

When I arrived Nhung welcomed me with juice, and lots of information of what to do, where to go etc. She also recommended two tailors as I mentioned that I was interested getting a suit.

After getting a small rest and freshen up it was time to start exploring the town. The homestay was located in a quiet street, only a few minutes away from the bridge that leads into the Old Town. And you also passed the little night market selling tourist souvenirs, and there were some stalls selling colourful lampshades. These stalls were quite spectacular in the evening. You then get to the river, and can see the riverfront of the Old Town. With the colourful houses, the boats and the Japanese bridge on the other side, it looked absolute fantastic. However, one thing you instantly realise is how many tourists are in Hoi An – the street and square was rather busy, mainly with tourists.

I wasn’t really sure how it works with the tickets for the Old Town, so I stayed on the side of the river (being a typical German following the rules 😉 ), and decided to sit down to have a refreshing beer (fulfilling another German stereotype). I found a bar next to the bridge, serving beer for 8,000 Kip. Well, who could say no to that? After two beers I thought my hearing was going mad, as I seemed to hear that the people on the other table said that they are from Cologne. Well, after I asked it seems I heard correctly, I met two people from my hometown. The world is a really small place indeed. So staying only for a few beer turned out to be a longer evening as I was chatting to them and a few Australians. The only time it was considered to leave as the bar run out of the 8,000 Kip beer, but it seems they found another keg (well, they found it when another large group came in). It was actually a nice evening – especially as the Spanish guy Garikoitz I met in Hanoi walked pass. It was actually of that the plan to meet up in HCMC for New Years Eve was still one. Again, it was not the first time I saw people I met during my journey so far. It was a nice way to start my stay in Hoi An.

The following morning I got the first chance trying the breakfast at my homestay. You have a choice of several dishes, and I took the chance trying the local speciality Hoi An is famous for: Cao Lau. As it was not raining I decided to sit outside in the nice yard in front of the house, and really enjoyed the breakfast. And it became immediately my favourite dish for breakfast (and potentially for lunch and dinner). It is absolute fantastic. Add fresh coffee and fruits to it, and you got an amazing meal to start the day.

My belly filled I was ready to explore Hoi An. Following the same path as last night I got to the bridge and went to the ticket booth. For a while now tourists have to purchase a ticket to enter the Old Town – the ticket also includes entries to five attractions within the Old Town. Obviously some tourists are not happy about being charged, but personally I think it is ok to pay 120k Dong ($6) to visit a Unesco Heritage. While I understood that the tickets for the various attractions are valid for 48 hours, it was not clear if you can only enter the town during the two days. Well, this is not the case. You only have to pay once for the whole stay, and then you can enter the town as often as you want. Just have the ticket with you.

Having done the administrative work, I was finally able to cross the bridge and enter the Old Town. You soon realise why Hoi An is so popular with tourists. The Old Town is just stunning. You have old colonial buildings, most of them yellow, little streets, some wooden buildings that housed temples and the assembly halls for the various Chinese houses that were based here in Hoi An. You can find little cafes, restaurants, art shops (most of them selling similar looking paintings, and some galleries selling some unique paintings), souvenir shops, well, and lots of tailors (I read somewhere that there are over 600 tailors based in Hoi An). Walking in the Old Town is just great.
I did some fair walking that day, and visited a few of the attractions of the Old Town:

Japanese Covered Bridge: This is probably one of the most famous sights in Hoi An. Even seeing the bridge on so many pictures, it is nice to see it in real life – and it still looks great. I didn’t go into the rooms inside the bridge – but heard afterwards I should have. But even crossing the bridge looking at the wooden structure is very nice

I) Phung Hung House: This is a lovely wooden house next to the Japanese Covered bridge, over two floors. After entering you get a guide free of charge who shows you around, and tells some interesting stories about the family. Great house to visit.

II) Quan Thang House: Another nice example of Chinese family house. You can mainly see the first floor, and instead f getting your own guide you wait a few minutes until a little group is ready o shown around. The highlight is probably the Chinese letters written using birds for the lines. Watch out for the wall showing how high the water was standing inside the house during the floods.

III) Fujan Chinese Assembly Hall: This building has a park outside, and you have to walk a rather impressive looking gate to go inside. The inside of the halls looks very nice, and a highlight is the model of a junk inside the temple. Obviously the assembly hall is larger than the Chinese houses – so it is good to visit both.

IV) Chua Quan Cong: This is one of the various Chinese temples throughout the Old Town – again it is good to see the differences. The temple is quite small, but if you walk to the back you can get to Hoi An Museum of History and Art – definitely worth spending some time there as well – as it includes some nice insight about the history of Hoi An.

I managed to visit these four buildings, and exploring the streets of the Old Town. You can spend ages exploring all the streets and little alleys. One of the little maps is a definite help. A nice thing is that you won’t be hassled by motorbike drivers while walking around the Old Town (except some Easy Riders offering tours). But don’t expect to be suddenly all free from such offers. No no. Walk along the river and you suddenly get bombarded by offers of boat trips. Well – it would have been too good to be true
For lunch I went to the square next to the bridge to Ban Dao – you find some interesting street food there. I got a rather big plate with meat skewers, vegetables, rice noodles and rice papers – you then wrap up your own little rolls. It was absolute delicious, fun way to eat, and you could speak to some of the locals. This beats sitting in a restaurant by a long way (and it is only 10,000 Dong per skewer – rice paper etc all included).

In the late afternoon I then headed to one of the tailors. Well – you only realise how many tailor there are in Hoi An when you walk there – a lot (I read somewhere there are over 600 tailors in town). So choosing the right one is important, as you can find some very good, and some very bad. I got a recommendation from my homestay, and that one got very good review as well. As I wanted a nice suit, I preferred one of the very good ones. So I went to BeBe Tailor.
I have never been to a tailor for a suit, and it was quite an experience. You can choose everything. What cut, what material, what colour. Lots of choice. Well – if you do it do it properly. So in store they took my measurements for a suit, and some silk shirts. With all the choices to be made this takes around an hour. You should calculate with one or two more visits for the fitting. If you have not a lot of time – really think about it as you don’t want to rush it, but also don’t want to spend more time inside a tailor shop than actually exploring Hoi An. I had to visit the tailor a total for 4 times. I ordered one more shirt after my first fitting (as I was impressed with their work), so I had a bonus visit. Unfortunately there was still an issue on my last visit, but they delivered the suit and shirts to my homestay during my last night. Overall, I would recommend BeBe Tailor. Not the cheapest one, but the quality of the work was very good (I wear them at work quite often – very comfortable and you can see the quality when wearing it).

At night the Old Town became one colourful place. Along the river locals (and I mean a lot of locals) are trying to sell little candles in paper boats to let them float along the river. On the little square a singing Vietnamese version of Bingo was going on – a woman was singing Vietnamese songs while little cards were pulled out of a bag, and put on a wooden stick, which was walked around. Interesting to watch.
While walking along the river I also got a slight shock. I tried to walk along the river when suddenly the street I walked a few hours earlier was suddenly covered in water. Apparently flooding can happen very quickly here.


Dinner in one of the restaurants in the Old Town was not a big deal. While I enjoyed sitting on the balcony upstairs with a nice view, the scooters now allowed to drive through the Old Town were slightly killing off the nice atmosphere.
To finish off the evening I went to the Dive Bar. This bar is also the office for one of the dive schools, and run by a French guy. The atmosphere is actually very nice. Drinks are not as cheap as in other places, but a good place to meet some people – tourists, expats and some locals. It also has a few pool tables, and it fascinating to watch the locals playing pool. One advice – never play against them for money!!!!
I met a few nice people there, and I was told that there was live music on Christmas Eve the following night. So at least I found a place to spend Christmas Eve. Oh, and as usual I wasn’t the first person to leave the bar that night.

The next day was then Christmas Eve. So I decided not to do a lot, and after another great breakfast (this time trying Quang Noodles – nice, but not as nice as Cao Lau for me) I was able to use the computer at the homestay to finally transfer pictures from the memory cards to my USB sticks I was running out of memory. While doing the work I got to know my hosts a bit better, and Nhung then told me that she will cook a small dinner that evening. She usually cooks once a week for all guests, but it seems I was the only one getting a small Christmas dinner. It was a lovely gesture, and sums up how welcome I felt throughout my stay. Maybe they just wanted to look out for a poor solo traveller.
Oh, she also told me that she started to dry my shoes (yes, they were still wet from the DMZ trip besides being out to dry) – with a hairdryer!!!! She actually managed it by the following day.

It was them time to explore the Old Town a bit more. It was more like walking around a bit, taking a break for a coffee, walk a bit more, another break for lunch (this time in a small place on the waterfront), and so on. I also managed to use my final entrance ticket:

V) Museum of Folklore
: This is great museum covering the items used in that region for the last centuries. It is based in another beautiful wooden building, and I was able to spend quite some time there. Highly recommended.

As you might have guessed, I took another break. It was also time to start dressing accordingly for Christmas, so to the amused looks of locals and other tourists I was walking around with a nice red shining Santa Claus head. I actually had a second one for my hat. Sometimes it is good to be a tad silly…

Later that evening I got my dinner served at the homestay – a similar meal I had the day before for lunch: wrap your own roll with meat, rice noodles, rice paper and vegetables. it was a nice having dinner and to speak to the family

After the lovely food I had to rush a bit to get to the Catholic Cathedral to see the Christmas Eve service, and maybe see the end of the nativity play I was told about. When I saw the crowd outside the gate I thought I have missed the play, but it was still ongoing. It was just busy with people arriving leaving, with lots of families with their kids there, balloons everywhere. I somehow managed to get onto the square, and as I was taller than most locals (which was a big first for me…) I was able to enjoy the last part of the play. And what can I say – this was something completely different than what I am used to see in Germany.
They used the stairs towards the entrance to the cathedral as stage, and the children in their various roles were dancing to the Christmassy music. Everyone around me (including quite a few tourists) clearly enjoyed the performance. This kind of nativity play with the music felt more cheerful than the ones I know from back home, absolute perfect for celebrating this occasion.


After the great play (I regretted that I didn’t arrive on time) I got a bit confused where the actual service took place. I followed most others into the cathedral to get a seat, but then it became clear that the service took place outside. I think seeing the procession walking past the side of the church gave it away. I still got a nice place on the side, and immediately experienced the hospitality of the Vietnamese, as I was offered one of the plastic chairs from everyone around me, but I didn’t want to take someone else’s chair. In the end someone brought me one from inside the church. Some of them seemed to find it interesting to see a tourist attending a Vietnamese service, rather going to the English service the next morning.
It was actually a nice service (well, I didn’t understand anything of what was said, but knew approximately when each part of the usual service was). Obviously it started to rain during my first ever open- air Christmas Eve Service, but immediately most locals took their umbrella out, and few made sure that I was covered as well…

So far it was an interesting new experience for celebrating Christmas. After the service I headed back to the Dive Bar, as there was live music on offer. Two French guys were performing, and I must admit they were very good. In addition to the nice music there was a great atmosphere. I saw quite a few people from the day before, including expats and locals (who recognised me on the street the following days when they saw me – In hope it is a good thing). I was also once more reminded that Vietnam is not that big country. I was having a drink when a girl looked at me and said she knows me. I met her with a blank face as I didn’t recognise. Well, she clearly did, as she told everyone about my misshape at Halong Bay, when I decided to go swimming with my cloth on. Yep, she was one of the group who were already in the water that day… Maybe I should be flattered, but more likely people like telling embarrassing stories. But at least we all had a good laugh. Surprisingly, I was one of very last people leaving the bar around 3am. Why should I change a habit of a lifetime…?

 

Obviously I decided to stay in bed a bit longer, and after my now usual breakfast choice, I decided to walk off a slight hangover, but as soon it started to rain I did my second favourite activity – drinking my beloved ice coffee. After my next visit to the tailor I walked a bit along the market, and saw a little café across the river – the Blue Dragon

White roses – a nice little Hoi An snack

 

. Besides serving a great Hoi An speciality – White Rose (a big wonton with onions, meat and some other bits in top of it – great snack), they also support the Blue Dragon Children Foundation train. A nice little place for a break while watching people – a thing I never get tired of…


I also used the break to start thinking about the next part of my journey. Initially I wanted to head to Kon Tum in the central highlands after Christmas before going to HCMC for New Year’s eve. But I really enjoyed Hoi An so far, and still was considering visiting My Son. As happened in Luang Prabang I just decided to change my plan and stay longer in Hoi An, and visit the Central Highlands after the Mekong Delta, and dropped Cambodia from my list during this trip. It was a shame, but I was looking forward to have two more weeks in Vietnam than planned. I clearly enjoyed the country by now. It also meant I had time to book a place for a cooking class and a trip to My Son the following two days. Little did I know how much hassle the change of plans caused in a few days time.

For dinner I decided to have dinner in one of the nice restaurants. Most of them offered overpriced Christmas menu (from 600k to 1m Dong for three courses!!!!! – but people paid it to have Turkey for dinner). I went to Morning Glory restaurant which I was told is highly recommended. I had a lovely duck dish with mash potatoes and vegetables and an Asian style food. Besides the sauce it really reminded me of the food I usually have during Christmas at home. A nice touch for Christmas dinner. While dinner was still not cheap, it was tasty, and would recommend the restaurant.

As a Boxing Day special I booked a cooking class at the “My Grandma’s Home cooking school”. It is located on one of the little islands outside of Hoi An, a 40 minute boat ride. I didn’t book the market tour for a change, and met the only other person joining me for the class on the boat. The little journey was actually very nice, as you could see a bit of the rural life once again – like men fishing from their boats.


The class took place in the garden of a house in a small settlement. And as you can guess – it Is the home of Phong’s grandmother. It was a quiet and lovely surrounding, and the class was very relaxed. Name and our star appearing (the grandmother) showed us some of the old tools used in the past to prepare food – like a mortar style tool to create rice milk. We used the rice milk then to prepare our own rice noodle over an open fire. It was an interesting method – but obviously we were told how to do it back home (need to get the right equipment….).
We were then shown to prepare several dishes, like pork skewers, rice pancakes, papaya salad and fish claypot. Phong was very patient and showed us the various step, and judging from my own food – I didn’t do too bad. After lunch we just had a little bit time to walk a bit around, before heading back to the boat. We saw a few groups of tourists cycling along the islands, and I can just guess that it must be actually quite nice to do so, as the area was definitely beautiful. Overall, the half day class was great. Phong was a good teacher, I learned how to do some lovely Vietnamese dishes (I guess I will never learn how to make a Pho soup…but I learned that I really need one of the massive knives for cooking at home!!!), and the surrounding is lovely. The only nice thing to add would be to have the grandmother joining us for lunch to learn a bit more about the life there.

The rest of the day I spent again wandering around the Old Town (it really is enjoyable) – this time trying to see more of the little side alleys. Some of them getting very narrow, and then you suddenly arrive in a neighbourhood where you can see the local rice noodles lying outside the houses to dry. Just a few steps away from the busy tourist roads you can suddenly see rural life again. This is something I really love about Hoi An – and what makes exploring the town so exciting.


In the evening Nhung prepared dinner for all guests at the homestay. it is a nice way to meet some of the other guests – and obviously the food was very good again.
And to show even more hospitality, Nhung’s son drove me quickly to the tailor for hopefully the last fitting. Unfortunately still some amendments were required – but it would be ready the next day.

For my second last day I booked a trip to My Son with a tourist group. I read some interesting things about these Cham ruins. It was only $6, so I joined a tourist group.

After being picked up at 8:30 (just finishing my breakfast) the usual procedure started to collect everyone else around Hoi An before starting the approximate 1 hour bus journey to My Son. Shortly before the entrance we had the traditional stop at a touristy place to buy drinks, food or souvenirs, or you used the time wisely to visit the toilets. After another 10 minutes we were finally arrived at the car park, and were told to be back at the bus just before noon – so we had around just less than two hours there. The walk towards the ruins is quite pleasant, following a road uphill. Soon we arrived at the tourist shop, and a hall where locals provided some traditional dances (it starts at 10am and noon – so we missed the start of the first one, and had no time for the second). Our guide from the bus went with us straight to section F. This section is maybe the most preserved part of My Son. It covered several buildings were you can get a good impression what the area looked like. While the guide provided some explanation the light rain suddenly became a rain pour – as if someone has opened the plug from the sky. Even with a rain cover on it got pretty wet. After a while I thought it was more comfortable to escape the rain by entering one of the ruins to see the interior and the high ceilings there.
Besides, I realised soon why I don’t like big tourist groups – you were perched from one sight to the next one, hearing some interesting stories, but also looking around too long at one little statue. I like taking my time, but being with too many people in a small museum is not my thing. So instead I started to wander around, which got a bit more bearable when the rain got less, and enjoyed the view from the surroundings you can get from several areas. It must be great to see the red stones in sunlight, but the rain and mist gave the area a mystic look.  Checking some of the other ruins, it was already time to head back to the bus. Well – even with the light rain I could have walked around a bit longer – but I was already the second last to arrive at the bus (which is ok – one person was later so in fact no one was waiting for me…). So is a visit to My Son worth it. Yes, but try to get there in the afternoon when there are far less tourists – and when you can take your time wandering around this vast area.

For this trip I signed up to return to Hoi An by boat. So instead staying in the bus the whole time we were dropped off by the river, and entered a boat for the remaining part of the journey. It was actually very pleasant as I could once again see the rural life happening next to the river. Fishing boats, some farmers, little villages, and the view was actually very nice. Lunch was included, and it covered some rice with vegetables and eggs. Nothing special, but for the price I paid I really couldn’t expect anything more. In this trip a visit to one of the craft villages near Hoi An (actually on the opposite of the river) was included, and that was a great little side trip. The village is famous for its wood work, and seeing the locals producing furniture, statues or little toys was great. Obviously there are enough chances to purchase some souvenirs, but I was happy enough to just look around. But there were definitely some things I was tempted to buy. Spending 30m – 1 hour could be nice to wander around that village.

Around 2:30 we were back in Hoi An, and as my homestay was on my way, I quickly stopped to see if Nhung could check if there train tickets to HCMC for the following day were still available. Unfortunately the only seat left was on the soft seat section. Spending 19 hours on a seat, I really wasn’t sure. I asked her to wait so I could decide while walking back to town, where I wanted to have some more food (the lunch on the boat really was small) and pick up the suit.

I was told that according to an Eueopean chef that Hoi An is home of a place that serves the best Banh Mi (a baguette with meat, salad and sauce – a very popular dish in Vietnam, and something anyone visiting the country should try) was sold in Hoi An. I got the address and decided to check it out – but assumed it would be full of tourists. The shop is called Banh Mi Phuong on 2b Phan Chaqu Trinh. It is a little place, with a counter outside where the food was prepared, but also a seating area inside behind the counter. I could already see a quite large queue from a distance, but instead of just tourists, I saw mainly locals queuing – for me that is always a good sign. I really didn’t like the length of the queue, but as most people ordered a Banh Mi for take away, I decided to walk past the queue and just got a seat inside. And voila, I was served straight away, and got my Banh Mi straight away. That wasn’t queue jumping, right???? And well, the Banh Mi was great, probably the best I had so far. I guess it was the sauce. It is worth to queue and wait for this treat.

After lunch (ok – my second lunch…) I just walked through the town a bit more, exploring some more little alleys and passed a little shop called Life Start. The shop offers disabled people a job in their workshop to create toys and other items for tourists. It is a lovely little shop, and I met some of the workers producing some toys. I had a little chat there, and was a bit disappointed that I had no time to do one of the tours they offer in their workshop. I am sure it would have been interested. Instead I bought a toy for my god-son. This way I was able to support this great business model. A nice little touch is that every item sold has a little sign saying who worked on that toy. Most people go to the shop Reach Out in the middle of the Old Town, but it is also worthwhile to visit the Life Start Shop.

My last planned stop for the day was BeBe to pick up my suit. All little amendments were done, but I checked anyway. I was glad I did, as I found a mark on the white shirt, and a button was missing. You could see that they were embarrassed. They promised to send the items to my homestay the same night, and gave one shirt for free. In my view it was customer service – acknowledging the issue, rectifying it, and without asking offering a little discount. Some companies in Europe could have learned from them.

I headed back to the homestay to ask Nhung to get the train ticket for the soft seat – I would surely survive the trip. Well – she made a call and was told that NO tickets were left for the night trains the next day. Bugger. I had to consider some alternatives, and searched for flights, but really wasn’t happy to pay over 2,500,000 Dong for a flight. So instead I went back to town to check with some travel agencies. And here I learned to really compare them. I visited three places, and in some instances the train tickets were 30% more expansive than the price at the train station. I understand that the agencies need to earn money, but 30% sounded quite excessive. And well, they had no ticket for the next day anyway. So after visiting two agencies on Nguyen Thai Hoc I remembered a bigger agency near the Banh Mi place. I really had no big hope, and the girl I was talking to confirmed that no seat was available for tomorrow. For some reason I suddenly remembered that there is a train to HCMC leaving Danang around 1:30am, which actually means it left not tomorrow, but the day after tomorrow. Well – I was right (as usual….). They had one soft sleeper berth left for that train – though it was on the top (but I really didn’t care). And the price was only 950,000 Dong – even cheaper than tickets on the station. Apparently the company are bulk buying tickets and had one left. I was close to jump over the table to hug her – but I guessed it would have been inappropriate. I just had to return the next day to collect the ticket. It was a great service and I would highly recommend it for booking tickets.

Relieved that I got a way to get to HCMC (well –staying a day longer in Hoi An is not the worst thing, but was hoping to explore HCMC before New Year eve) it was then time for dinner, and I went to Treat Hoi An BBQ Garden restaurant, and got a nice seat outside in the courtyard, thankfully with rain cover as it was once again raining. It is a lovely restaurant with some great looking barbeque dishes (I could see the grill section from my seat), and the food was very good – the chicken perfectly grilled. Another nice place for a relaxing and a tasty dinner.

For my last night I decided to visit another bar for a few beers, and headed to a place called Q. It has a very nice interior, but I realised after sitting down at the bar that the prices are not the cheapest. Well – after sitting down I really didn’t want to get up again, and stayed anyway. It is clearly a tourist bar, and unlike the Dive bar I didn’t see any locals. But after a while I spotted an expats I met before sitting nearby with his Vietnamese wife, and it was good to have another catch up with them. I was also once again asked to come to her café before I leave. Well – I agreed to come over for a drink the following day.

It was a pleasant night, and when I returned to my homestay, I was welcomed by the sight of my suit and shirts in my room – and everything looked perfect. So I was I all set to leave the next day.

The next morning I enjoyed my last Cao Lau for breakfast – or so I thought. However, Nhung asked me when my train is and when I leave, and told me that she will cook dinner for me before I leave – my favourite dish in Hoi An: Cao Lau. It was just another great example how much she looked after me during the whole stay.

She also organised a seat in a shuttle to Danang train station – picking me up at 10pm for 200,000 Dong. This is actually the last shuttle bus for the day, so I had some time to kill time at the train station till the train departs at 01:30am.

With my bags packs (which I could leave behind while exploring Hoi An a bit further for the day, I had to do one more thing: getting a parcel ready to send some of the cloth I don’t require any longer. My bag was quite heavy already, adding the suit with it, it was far too much. But instead heading to the post office, the post office came to me at the homestay – including all required equipment. So I put all the warm cloth required for the north, some presents like the table cloth and even the lampshade I bought in Hoi An into the provided parcel, added a list of items which I bought in Vietnam (for the German custom – the allowanced for tax free items is a total of 22 Euro – so I included all receipts of it), and filled in the form. The price for the parcel was either 850,000 Dong for sea mail (duration 3 month) or 1,600,000 Dong for air mail (which only takes 3 weeks), As I was travelling for over 1 ½ month I choose the cheaper option. So after 30 minutes everything was sorted, and the post office person left with my parcel. Great service – as I didn’t had to bring all the items to the post (due to the customs form the parcel needs to be open until it is filled in). Oh, and the parcel arrived 3 month alter in Germany. And nothing was broken….

Bag packed, parcel sent, room empty, now I was ready to enjoy another half day in Hoi An. On my way picking up my train ticket I walked past another of the great little silk embroidery shops that you can find in Hoi An (in total I found three excellent shops: XQ Art, Sova and 41 Le Loi Street) and was able to see some more of these amazing art pieces. It can be quite difficult not to buy something there, as the details of the silk pictures are fantastic. So it is worthwhile to visit these shops, even if it is just to look around. You won’t find this in many other countries.

I then walked towards the Lantern Garden Café of my new expat friend. On their card it looked not too far from the Old Town, but the street that leads to one of the beaches is much longer. Add some rain to it and it is not a great walk – and no taxi in sight. After an eternity I finally made it, and had a nice afternoon drinking one or two coffees and having a chat there. While most places are more catered for tourist, this café is more for the locals, and I can imagine it is a nice setting when the sun is shining, and not raining.

For the return trip I was able to get a taxi, and walked for a last time a bit more around, really enjoying the atmosphere. I also took the chance to stop at the Reach Out cafe. Reach Out is like Life Start a company supporting disabled people, and they have a store in the Old Town selling souvenirs (recommend to visit it), But they also have a teahouse on Tran Phu. It is a lovely little café, and is served by deaf staff. So you have some items in front of you to indicate what you want to order etc. Again – it is maybe a little bit more expensive than other cafes, but it has style. Your tea is served not in a cup, but in a little pot, served with a biscuit. You can also order a selection of different teas or coffees (you then get three different types), and some lovely cakes. I would suggest having one visit there, even if it is only to support this great concept.

My last part of business was then buying a souvenir. I had a look at the various silk pictures, and visited quite a few galleries that you can find in Hoi An. Most of them offer the same kind of pictures. But I heard about an artist in Hoi An with his own little gallery who paints unique paintings. He was even mentioned in several articles throughout Asia and even in Germany. His name is Hoang Trong Tien, and the gallery is on 107 Tran Phu Str. His paintings are definitely different to the usual touristy bits, and especially two paintings really captured my attention. I think I spent nearly an hour or so during my second visit to decide which one to get. In the end I bought one of his smaller pieces, but till now I slightly regret that I didn’t bought the other one. I only met his wife, but she showed me all the various work, and explained some to me as well. If you are interested into art, visit his gallery. I doubt you will be disappointed.

I was fully aware that I had now a small backpack, my main bag, a camera bag, a suit and a little painting to carry around – but what can you do.

After a final stroll around the river front, enjoying the view, the smell and the rain I got to know so well it was time to say goodbye. I bought some food and drinks for the long train journey (kicked myself that I forgot to buy my Banh Mi from Banh Mi Phuong and instead went to a street vendor who tried unsuccessfully to overcharge me), and went back to the homestay. I was looking forward to my last Cao Lau, and as usual it was delicious. Before I knew, the shuttle bus arrived, and I had to say bye to the whole family of my homestay. They all welcomed me to their home, and made my visit here even more special. And my great time in this stunning town of Hoi An was over.

Overall I cannot say anything bad about Hoi An. It is a beautiful town, with lots to do. Even though it is full of tourists, you can still fully enjoy walking around. And missing this town while in central Vietnam would be a shame. Also – don’t rush through it. Take your time to enjoy the atmosphere, the great food, the colourful shops, and obviously, the beauty of the little streets. It is a fantastic place to visit

Accommodation: Ngo Homestay is awesome. Full Stop. I think it was the best place I stayed at (the homestay I had in Ninh Binh come close second). It is nicely located, away from the noise. The breakfast is delicious. But most important, the whole family (NMAE, her husband, her sons (if you met her older ones who lives away from Hoi An) and her niece who helps out a lot) will welcome you, and will ensure that you have a great stay. Oh, and the bedrooms are clean and comfortable. If you are there on a Friday evening – you can enjoy some home cooked food. Don’t miss it.

Recommendation: There is so much to recommend, and I mentioned a lot in the blog. Food wise, don’t only visit the restaurants. The food offered around the little square by the various stalls shouldn’t be missed. And try the Cao Lau – it is delicious. If you are interested in food – join one of the many cooking classes around. But check before signing up – some courses only include watching the chef how to prepare food – you will not do a lot yourself (which I find boring tbh). Check out some of the little side alleys. It is interesting to be in a touristy street and a minute later in a little residential area. It is a fun way to explore the town.

And I would highly recommend visiting the Reach Out and Life Start shops, as well as the Reach Out teahouse. These are two concepts that deserve every single support.

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