Hoi An, Vietnam

Well bloody hell, somewhere nice, and somewhere hot! We actually arrived in Danang after about 4 hours, and about 40 minutes from Hoi An. We had originally planned to stay one night here, but on arriving decided it looked a bit commercial and business like, so immediately tried to sort out transport to Hoi An. We got the local bus having haggled the price down to 30,000 VND from 50,000 VND – the local rate is 10,000 VND. We were embarrassed to see that the locals on this packed bus were actually being instructed to get out of their seats to make way for these westerners that were paying 1st class prices. I kid you not, when an old man with only 1 arm was dragged out of his seat to make way for me. I protested that I was happy standing and allowing this old man a seat, also advising I had already spent 5 hours on my backside getting here – but the conductor was having none of it. In the confusion, I took my seat thinking the old man was actually about to get off as he headed nearer to the door, but cringed with embarrassment when seeing him trying not to fall over and clinging to a rail for dear life with the remaining stump of his missing arm. My resistance was futile. Stacey spotted this too, and we both looked at each other knowingly, but could only shrug and accept what was happening. We were basically bullied into this situation.

Arriving in Hoi An, we immediately liked the place.

Small cobbled streets, lined with quaint little buildings, bars, restaurants and souvenir shops etc. the place covered with ambient lighting and in a beautiful riverside setting with a canal and a Japanese bridge. It was extremely touristy, but this was actually welcome. We needed a break from rural Vietnam, with food that was recognisable, sunshine by day and cosy surroundings at night. We were only wandering around for about 20 minutes when we bumped into Neil and Caroline – who were not supposed to be here – we were being stalked!!! Oh what a party that turned out to be, it is really great when you meet people and seem to all get on so well. It is not good for the liver, but at 4000 VND for a draft beer ie.15 pence a beer, it is more than alright for the wallet. We always seem to sniff out the best deals, and Caroline and Neil had also made us aware of a local dish called Coa Loa served on the riverfront – a sort of doughy noodles, served in a tasty beef stock with a large handful of fresh fragrant herbage.

The cost of the meal is 15,000 VND, or about 50 pence. We also found one or two great places for breakfast or brunch which we had branded “Old Faithful #1” and “Old Faithful #2”. We spent a good few days here, enjoying the vibe, the sunshine, the good food and the cheap beer.

But of course, this is Vietnam, and no day would be complete without some sort of hassle or confrontation with the locals. It started the following morning, when we were advised our room was reserved for that day and we would have to vacate the premises. What was really happening, was that their had been an influx of visitors, and the Vietnamese Hoteliers were reneging on any deals, and were ready to take full advantage of the economic fundamentals of supply and demand. Prices were going up. We got ready and come down stairs to pay our bill. When we were then advised of the rate, we were slightly confused. It seemed to be higher than originally quoted, until we discovered that the conversion rate being applied from US Dollars to VND was 22,000 to the $. The rate is actually 20,860, with most hotels rounding up and charging 21,000. These greedy bastards were looking for an additional premium of an additional 5%. So, we were being chucked out the hotel after negotiating and agreeing a rate in good faith, and now the intention was to screw us over totally. This actually happened again at the new hotel we organised, you get fed up arguing, debating, discussing etc. They know every scam and twist going, and it is just the Vietscam way.

We awoke the following morning to a major commotion in the reception area, every single backpacker was up and watching events unfold. A Spanish guy was going completely nuts at the staff, as he had $100 stolen from his room. The staff said it was probably the cleaners that had taken the money and there was nothing they could do, then insisting he should settle his bill or they would not return his passport. Oh dear, all hell broke loose and I was sure this Spaniard was going to kill somebody. He absolutely lost it, but you could sense that everyone was really on his side, even though we all knew that this could never be resolved. He kept demanding his passport, until through shear frustration, he jumped the counter and helped himself to it. I really felt like jumping up and punching the air. Of course, the hotel did not have our passports as they were with the embassy for an extension. This hotel tried to charge $35 for that privilege, but we had managed to get this done elsewhere for $25. We decided there and then this was bad karma, and decided to move on. While trying to pay our bill, they insisted on a 22,000 VND exchange rate, but we were ready for this, and paid them in dollars just as they had quoted. They were quite annoyed by this, and this made me feel quite good.

We booked a daytrip to My Son – an ancient place with various temples and pagoda’s constructed in the jungle.

The trip started off by bus, but we would be served lunch on a boat as we sailed down the Thu Bon River.

We stopped off at a little village, seeing lot’s of local craft shops, and in particular, a woodturning and carving workshop.

It was a good day out, and we hooked up with Neil and Caroline a couple of days later once they had returned from their organised trip with the “The EazyRiders”. These are a bunch of local blokes who will take you out on motorbikes on a guided tour. Caroline and Neil had been taken to Hue for the day and had stayed overnight. This was the next city on our route, but both had advised that the place was freezing and raining, and although a lovely place – it was completely miserable weather wise. We looked after their bagback’s while they were gone for a couple of days. On their return, they had bought 6 little Buddha’s, one for each member of our gang. It was such a nice thought, and we plan to reunite the 6 Buddha’s in Laos in a couple of weeks or so. We had one last night together in party mode, and then we were off to Hue by train.

Michelle organised the tickets via our hotel, the staff seemed to be lovely and very helpful. Michelle awoke me from a drunken slumber to advise the 4 hour train journey to Hue was $8 each. This seemed amazingly high, considering the average wage out here is $100/month. Anyways, we relented, and allowed the hotel to book the train tickets for us. On leaving, we said our goodbyes to our friends, and hugged all the hotel staff thanking them for looking after us. After a 10 minute walk, half way to the station, Michelle looked a bit sheepish and had something to tell us. The tickets for the train have the fare price printed on them, and the nice hotel staff had considerately stapled our tickets together using a small piece of paper to discretely cover the ticket price. Michelle had spotted this on separating the tickets, and discovered that the $8 ticket had actually cost less than $3’s. We had been shafted by the lovely sweet receptionist for over $5 a head. Like I say, you need a sense of humour in Vietnam, but I won’t be in a hurry to come back here. It is seriously one of the most scamming countries in Asia, and I was really becoming down about the whole place. Things can only get better in Vietscam, wouldn’t you think?

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