It was time to travel south after having spent a week in the dramatic and colder north. Time to go and chase the sun, hopefully. From Hanoi it was only a three hour bus ride to Ninh Binh and as with most buses you get a pick up at your hostel and if you’re lucky a drop off at your destination location. I was told that Ninh Binh was like Ha Long Bay but without the water. I got the good advice to stay in the nearby Tam Coc village.
The Ninh Binh area is full of limestone outcrops, green rice paddies and there is a river running through several grottoes. When you go up to one of the viewpoints you can get scenic views of the area and Ninh Binh town. I stayed at the Tam Coc river view homestay where I received a warm welcome. I could join the family lunch right after arrival and that was some of the best Vietnamese so far. A homestay is comparable to an Airbnb where you stay with the family in their home. Often there is a dorm just as in a hostel but in this case it only had four beds. In the garden they had these lovely cottages for private rooms. The garden was filled with fruit and vegetables and the whole gave a very serene environment which I enjoyed a lot.
I have really used the one night here to recharge, spending some time to read and relax. But I also rented a bike and saw a bit of the surroundings and views. Together with Emma, from France, I did the river tour where I was truly amazed with the skill of the people on the boat. Because they all paddle with their feet instead of their hands.
The second night we left by night bus for Hué. This sleeper bus had three rows and two aisles which I appreciated a lot after my last experience. The space is minimal and I’m not able to lie comfortably but I manage to get some sleep. Of course we arrive a few hours too early at 7:30 AM. My next hostel was supposed to be great, the reviews of the beds were the sole reason for booking it and I had bragged about it to at least three persons. Would have been perfect after the nightbus if I had only just booked it for the correct date and not for yesterday. So I had to switch to the hostel Emma booked and that is actually were I met Kirstine with whom I’m still traveling while writing this.
The best part of Hué is the old town where the imperial enclosure is found in a citadel within a citadel where the residence and palaces of the emperor were. In the history the capital has been moved to Hué in an attempt to bring north and south more together but this has not endured long because of French rulers. The city has also severely been bombed during the war which has damaged and destroyed parts of the citadel.
The main reason for me to travel to Hué is that it is the perfect location to depart from to Hoi An. En-route to Hoi An you will travel the Hai Van Pass which is a mountainous stretch of highway with ocean views and hairpin turns. I believe this has been featured in a Top Gear episode and has since become more popular. This makes things easier as we could just drop our backpack at the scooter rental place. They bring your luggage to Hoi An and you can take your time and drive the 130 km route yourself as well. As luck with the weather isn’t always on my side the day was rainy and at the viewpoint misty. So now I have to come back. Luckily there were still nice views and other places as the elephant springs, Da Nang and Marble mountains that we could visit.
Hoi An is very well known for all its tailor shops. For me it is kind of like living in a clothing walhalla and I might only have realised the range of opportunities after leaving the place. So once more, when I come back I’ll have a game plan. But why is it so wonderful? Well you can have anything you dream of tailor made. And it is not only clothing, it is shoes and bags as well. Prices depend on the shop, the fabric chosen and difficulty of the making but in any case it is much cheaper then buying it in the Netherlands. And it is tailor made. For me the perfect opportunity to buy a dress for the wedding of Tom and Jaytu I’ll be attending in the Philippines. Furthermore some work clothes, dresses and one pair of shoes (my feet are far from standard size and I must say tailor made shoes are the perfect solution). I just wish I had realised sooner that it would have been handy to have some ideas of clothing you want as you’re the one to decide on the clothes and colours and fabrics. If you wonder how I’m carrying it, well I don’t. I sent it to my mom to take care of until I get home.
In between the clothing shops and fitting sessions I explore the beautiful old town of Hoi An. The city is extremely picturesque with small streets, colourful houses, lanterns, coffee places and a lot of shops. 800 of the old houses are UNESCO protected. When the sun goes down the lights are turned on and it might even be more beautiful. Thousands of lanterns give the city color and light and the streets are packed with people.
I have tried some local dishes as cau lau and white roses, also the bahn mi (baguette with stuff and sauce) at a local but famous place where I had to hold the owner’s five months old baby while she made the sandwich for me. The market is perfect to find some lunch or dinner and it can be as cheap as 20.000 Dong (€ 0,83) for a dish.
And I did two trips, one was with local students on a bike tour and the other with Kirstine to My Son, another UNESCO world heritage site. For the bike tour we went by ferry to An Hoi (another island) where we met people performing local trades like carpenters making boats, sleeping mat makers and rice noodle makers. My Son was by scooter, here are Cham ruins over a thousand years old. I read that just 20 out of at least 68 structures have survived the bombing by Americans. The site is marked by large bomb craters. And some of the structures only have a few brick walls left. The surroundings are beautiful and the scooter trip is a good way to escape the small city of Hoi An. The day was just a chain of unlucky events (Murphy’s law in action maybe) where we first run out of petrol, get rain, a flat tire, Go Pro empty, Kirstine’s phone broken, severe heavy rain, other phone empty within an hour and a bus that shows up much earlier than expected or promised and we just make it in time because we arrived half an hour early but it felt rushed.
As much as I liked Hoi An, four days seemed long enough because of the busy streets and still I did not find the sun. I’m ready for the next stop. Another night bus journey to cover to the central highlands. But more on that part the next blog!