Monday, January 24, 2011

Hoi An

We took the early morning bus from Nha Trang and arrived in Hoi An in the evening. I say we arrived there but really nothing is as easy as just arriving somewhere in Vietnam. We were dropped off the bus on the side of a road and we had to take a taxi the remaining 10km. There was a guide who was very willing to take us for $3 but we found a taxi that would do it for half the price. We found a hotel room, which is not easy during the Christmas/New Year peak season and went out to explore the city. Hoi An is an old town with a lot of old French architecture and because of an agreement between U.S.A and Vietnam it did not get bombed. Now it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So the town has a lot of character the unfortunate part is all the old buildings have been turned into either: a tailor, a souvenir shop or a restaurant. But the main street turns into a walking street in the evening and it has a great atmosphere. If you want to have any clothes made, Hoi An is the place to do it. Because we knew we are just starting our trip we couldn’t take advantage of the deals there but maybe before we return we’ll stop in again. You can even buy custom shoes! This is a shopaholics dream. The next day we found a cheaper hotel room at a hostel which had free Wi-Fi. The only downfall was that Vietnam had blocked Facebook (oh no!) so we couldn’t post photos or keep friends and family updated of our whereabouts. But we were still able to Skype. We spent the day exploring the city and had dinner at a restaurant by our hotel. I can’t remember what the restaurant was called but it had the friendliest girls working there of any restaurant we had been to anywhere. The staff was amazing and the food was good as well, and the best part was that it was inexpensive. This was our new favourite spot. We would end up eating there every day, sometimes 2 or 3 times a day. The next day we rented a scooter and went to Danang. There were some Marble Mountains we wanted to explore. The mountains were what the name suggests, made out of marble. All around the bottom of the mountains there are vendors selling products made out of marble. However don’t be fooled, none of the marble used to make these products actually comes from these mountains. It all comes from China. These mountains are purely a tourist attraction. While climbing the steps we quickly realized there was a small Vietnamese man following us. I was suspicious right away, but he didn’t say anything and neither did we. As we stopped to rest he passed us but just a few steps ahead he was resting as well and smiling a big smile at us. I was a little annoyed because I really don’t like it when people try to scam us. As I anticipated, as soon as we reached to the top he started pointing things out to us, such as; he would point at the Buddha statue and say “Buddha”, then he would point at the cave and say “cave”. As you can tell his knowledge was astounding and I knew it would lead to nothing but trouble at the end so I wanted to nib it in the bud right away. We just pretended we didn’t hear him and would walk in a different direction from where he was pointing. At first he kept following us around but then he got the point. We continued walking around exploring, and then we came across a cave where you had to climb up through an opening and it led you to the top of the mountain. Once we arrived at the top the view was beautiful. On one side there was the ocean and on the other some more mountains with the city of Danang around them. There were other people at the top as well and they had guides following them around. Some of the guides were women and some of them were only girls. We heard them demanding payment from the people they had “guided”. One of the ladies had the audacity to say she didn’t get enough and that her “customer” had to pay her more. Her poor customer obliged after some grumbling. I felt sorry for the customers but I wouldn’t have paid. I won’t pay for unsolicited tour guides. After that we went back down, explored a little more and then got back on our scooter. We continued along the coast and were driving along a peninsula with some beautiful views. It wasn’t very cold but on the scooter it was quite chilly and it was overcast. Then as if out of nowhere the sun peeked between the clouds and illuminated a patch of water which immediately turned from a deep dark blue to a beautiful turquoise. It was beautiful and it felt like a beautiful spring day. But then the sun disappeared and it was cloudy and cool again. We headed back to town. That night we just hung around town and had dinner at our favourite restaurant.

The following day was New Year’s Eve. We had bought tickets at a bar called “Before and Now”, I know, it’s very deep. The tickets were for a buffet dinner which was being held outdoors on the river followed by live music and a dj. We arrived at the location about a half hour after the suggested time. Before we arrived we chatted with family on skype to wish them a Happy New Year, although they wouldn’t be celebrating for another 12 hours. When we arrived the place looked empty. There were some people but for the size of the location they just weren’t filling the space. And the buffet wasn’t open yet. So we sat around, encouraged by all the staff to purchase drinks, because they were not included in the ticket price. Once we saw the prices we knew why we were so strongly encouraged. The prices were 5x what we would have normally paid. Andrew purchased a beer and I was sipping on my Jagger & coke which I received for free on entry. Apparently Jaggermeister was sponsoring this event. We had to sit and wait for the events to officially to begin. Nothing starts in Asia without an official opening. The organizers of the event had to get up and thank all the sponsors for their support, including the Mayor of the city. Then the Mayor stood up and made a long speech in Vietnamese. You would have thought we were at the Olympics. And then out of nowhere he yelled something very loudly and a translator came on and said “I now declare the buffet open”! So we were finally ready to eat. The 40 people or so who had been waiting to eat were relieved. We went to grab some food, which was actually pretty good. We had Pho, shrimps, beef & chicken skewers, spring rolls, pastas, and other good food. During dinner the local artists were performing on the stage. By local I mean traditional dance and music. It was going to be a long night and it was only 8:30pm. We were talking about if we should start drinking now or if we should wait closer to midnight. At these prices we would blow our budget in an hour. We decided to leave the “party”, go to a local bar, drink for less and then come back right before midnight. And that’s exactly what we did.

We went to a bar a few blocks off, and bought a couple of whiskey & cokes and received 2 vodka & redbull drinks for free. We knew we had come to the right place. The place wasn’t busy but had a few people in there. We started talking with them and they were from all over the world. Some from Australia, some from USA, and others from various places in Europe. The alcohol started pouring and there was no DJ but just a computer and you could put on any song you wanted, so we started racking our brains. We You Tube-d a whole bunch of different songs, the alcohol was flowing and pretty soon we were all drunk and dancing. We had the best time! All of a sudden the time was 11:45pm so we got all our new friends and invited them to our “party”. But we don’t have tickets they said. Andrew told them not to worry, he would get them in. Sure enough, as we were walking through the gate, our new friends were stopped and asked for tickets. Andrew just said “Yeah Yeah Yeah”, pushed our friends in and that was it. We were all in. By this point the party was in full swing so we joined everyone on the stage. At 2 minutes to midnight Andrew was convinced it was midnight, gave me my new year’s kiss and went to get another drink. At midnight I was standing by myself counting down. He came back stumbling and we just continued to dance. By 2am it was time to go back. Andrew could hardly walk and he kept telling me he loves me. Yup, he’s the “I love you” drunk. The next day my dad called and woke us up at 10:30am and Andrew asked me what we did the night before. He obviously didn’t remember anything. I gave him a summary of the night but we didn’t have time to sit and reminisce. We had a bus to catch at 1pm which was taking us to the capital, Hanoi.

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