Saturday 2 September, fine, 34°
We woke up at just before 5am, both because the sun was up and also because the people on the 'top floor' of our cabin were getting up. The trolley came past with some breakfast options, we grabbed some boiled eggs for our breakfast, as we watched the scenery drift by. We were in an area of stunning Karst mountains and river plains, with the occasional town passing by, and most of them had a large 'christian' church in the centre. We were also passing by lots of small graveyards that seemed to be placed next to the railway line for some reason. These graves were very ornate and well looked after. Sometimes they were location in the middle of fields with crops all-around them.
The train stopped at Dong Hoi and then at Dong Ha and then we were on coastal plains with the occasional sand dune to be seen as we headed across to Hue. We stopped at Hue then headed out through the suburbs and back out across the sand. The train then climbed up to the most stunning piece of the trip, as we crawled around the rocky shore line just north of Danang, over bridges and through tunnels, with occasional glimpses down to the waves and some golden sandy beaches. We then descended down into Danang, which we could see from miles away with it's high-rise buildings, in stark contrast to the low rise towns we had been passing through all morning.
The timetable on the carriage wall said that we would be in Danang at 1pm, but we had been told 2:10pm would be our arrival time; so the car that we had booked to pick us up wouldn't be there for an hour.
We got off the train; there is a platform at Danang but for some reason we weren't at the platform so had climb down from the train to ground level. We hung out in the waiting room at the station until our car arrived, we had cheese rolls for lunch and used the free wifi. Man, they do good bread in Vietnam!
Our car arrived at 2:10pm and we headed south to Hoi An. Danang appears to be going through a massive building phase, with huge resorts being built south of the town along the beach front, and all the new roads etc that go with it. It will probably be a very different place in a few years time.
We arrived at our hotel ( Tea Garden Homestay ) at about 3pm and checked in, This would probably be the nicest hotel we have stayed at so far, with a pool and a well decorated ( huge ) room, and only NZ$46 per night. Of course a few things didn't work but we were used to that!
We went for a walk into the old town of Hoi An. This is billed as one of the best preserved towns in Vietnam and therefore is a major tourist attraction, and given that it was Vietnam National day it was very busy. We stopped for a coffee on the way ( mmm, coffee with condensed milk ) and then walked into the old town. We got accosted by a woman with a badge who kept saying 'ticket' to us. You need to buy a ticket for Hoi An, but my understanding from what I had read was that it was only needed to visit some of the restored buildings. But apparently that had changed and we needed to buy a ticket to enter Hoi An itself. After sorting out that confusion ( more by us asking her questions than her explaining things ) we bought 2 tickets ( D130,000 ea / $7 and wandered into town.
We immediately walked into a crowded street with beautiful old buildings all around. We walked around the streets, looking in some of the shops, Liz bought a top, and then we walked down to the river and across the river to the island of An Hoi ( yes, that is it's name ).
The old town of Hoi An is very pretty with lots of lanterns and brightly coloured buildings, but maybe I wasn't in the right frame of mind, it all felt a bit false. There weren't any 'locals' in the town except for shop / restaurant owners, there were no little restaurants for the locals with their plastic tables and chairs that you see everywhere in SE Asia, or the other signs you get used to in a real town. It felt like this was purely a tourist attraction and the real working town of Hoi An was somewhere else. It is also the first place that I have been worried about the potential for bag snatching with a few people wandering around who looked out of place.
We walked back through the crowd and back to our hotel ( which was only a 10 min walk from the old town ) at 4:45pm for a rest. Then back into town for sunset and a look around the old market. The town is even prettier at night with all the lanterns lit up and the buzz of the restaurants and bars. Liz bought a laquerware figurine at the night market on An Hoi, and then we walked along the river front and grabbed some dinner ( 2 Pho and 2 Bia, please. D150,000 / NZ$9 ) and then headed back to our hotel at 7:30pm.
We have a full day in Hoi An tomorrow so more time to explore.