July 11, 2014

Hoi An, Hue, and Danang

Hoi An Riverside
Last year while we were in Sapa our tour operator suggested that we should visit Hoi An next. Hoi An Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has many well-preserved old buildings for us to appreciate the past. There are numerous activities for visitors to enjoy such as learning about the history and culture of the city, shopping, relaxing in cafes, cycling the countryside or to the beach, etc.

To get to Hoi An, we have to fly to Danang about half an hour away and Hue is about 3 hours to the north by bus. So we arranged for a package to include Hue as well. Hue was formerly an Imperial City where the Emperor resided. We could visit the Citadel, the Imperial Palace and the mausoleums. 

Day 1 - Saturday
We flew from Singapore to Ho Chi Minh City to catch a connecting flight  to Danang. When we landed at Danang our guide was there to meet the ten of us. He came with a bus that would be our transport for the next 5 days.

View from Hoi An Riverside Resort & Spa
We were immediately taken to a restaurant in Danang for dinner. After that it was a 3-hour journey to Hue. Since we would be travelling at night, we took the Hai Van Tunnel through the mountain. We would make the return journey via the scenic Hai Van Pass. As we were passing through the streets of Danang, we noticed many roadside stalls. Their customers sat on low plastic stools and while away the evening imbibing the local beverages.

By the time we arrived at Hue, it was late at night. So we quickly checked into the Hue Friendly Hotel and turned in for the night.

Day 2 - Sunday
After a quick breakfast, we checked out of the hotel, loaded our luggage on the bus and proceeded to walk to the Perfume River nearby. Here we boarded a boat (decorated with a dragon at the bow) that would take us to the Thien Mu Pagoda. We climbed the steps and walked through the compound. We saw the car used by the first monk to burn himself to protest against the Ngo Dinh Diem regime.

Hoi An Vegetable Garden
The bus then took us to the Citadel. We had to debus to walk across the moat to gain access to the Citadel. This is surrounded by a wall 2km by 2km long. Inside the Citadel is the Imperial City. We only walked a small section of the city with numerous palaces, pavilions, temples, gates, etc

After lunch we drove to the Khai Dinh Mausoleum about 10km from Hue. This place is not wheelchair-friendly as we have to climb numerous steps to reach the Khai Thanh Palace. It has many rooms that are completely covered with glass and porcelain designs.

We were supposed to visit another mausoleum but decided to skip it in order to begin earlier our journey to Danang and Hoi An. It turned out to be a good decision as we would arrive at our hotel rather late. The road wound through the Hai Van Pass giving us a spectacular view of the coastline bordering the South China Sea. We stopped at Lang Co for a short break. From this place we could see the oyster farms in the Vung An Cu Lake. Finally we drove into Danang. After a short stop, we proceeded on along the coast to Hoi An. On the way we saw a number of resorts in the early stages of development. Some appear to be halted.

Hai Van Pass
We stopped at the Tam River Restaurant for dinner before checking in to the Hoi An Riverside Resort & Spa nearby. This resort is situated beside a river in a farming area. From our rooms we could see the local farmers tending to their fields across the river.

Day 3 - Monday
The next morning at 8.30am five of us took possession of the bicycles and proceeded to follow our guide through the rice fields and village gardens just outside of Hoi An. At the end of our ride, we arrived at the Shuttle Bus Station in old Hoi An. This would be our meeting point, for hotels normally provide a free shuttle to this place and pick up their guests from here. Our wives had preceded us and were busy getting measured for their Vietnamese dresses.

Oyster Farms at Lang Co
When they were done with their orders, we all proceeded to explore the old town. Our guide showed us a few highlights such as the Japanese Bridge and a preserved house with all the old furniture and household items. On one wall were several lines marking the levels reached during floods in the past. The highest was nearly reaching the ceiling in September 2009.

At the river bank we boarded a boat that would take us along the river. We saw a local method of fishing by lowering and raising a huge net. At the end of the ride, we alighted at the Tien River Restaurant for lunch. It was free and easy after this. We walked along the whole stretch of the old town. The ladies decided to have high tea at the Cargo Cafe while we guys wandered around and settled for the special offer VND5,000 (S$0.30) microbrew. When the day’s quota ran out, we switched to Tiger at $1.50 a bottle!

Bridge leading to Hai Van Tunnel
For dinner we were taken back to the old town. After that we walked around the area again, but now the whole place was lighted up giving an entertaining view of the streets and riverside.  It was crowded with locals and tourists. We again looked for any special offer and settled on one in a side street. As we enjoyed our refreshment, we engaged in chatting and people watching.

Day 4 - Tuesday
After breakfast, we proceeded to My Son Hindu Temple Complex built by the Cham. We had to walk about 500m from the bus park. There were many groups of tourists spread out among the 70 temples. These temples were built between the 4th and 14th century AD. Many temples were heavily damaged by American bombing during the Vietnam war.

The Citadel at Hue
The bus then dropped us by the river bank for us to board a boat. We sat back and relaxed as we cruised along the river. We disembarked at Hoi An where we were the previous day. The bus had gone ahead after we boarded the boat and picked us up from here to take us for lunch.

After lunch we walked back to the shop Do Ri to continue with our shopping followed by happy hour refreshments. At the Do Ri, we bought backpacks, sling bags, windbreakers and shorts. We paid S$9 for a good quality Aircomfort backpack.

When I returned to my room after dinner I found the aircon malfunctioning. The technician got it fixed in an hour by swapping the pcb. The reception called to make sure we were satisfied. We were very impressed with the service and customer care at this resort. Buffet breakfast at our resort was satisfying as well.

If ever we want to go to a place to relax Hoi An would be the place. It is easy to get to. Just get a  flight to Danang and you are 30min by taxi to a Hoi An hotel. Lots to do here. 

Day 5 - Wednesday
We flew from Danang to Ho Chi Minh City in the morning and checked into the Sofitel. With our hotel loyalty card, we paid only about S$125 for a room. As our room was not ready we left our luggage and proceeded to the Ben Thanh market by taxi. Our destination was the nearby Thanh Binh Restaurant for lunch. They have a wide range of local food. After lunch we walked across the road to Ben Thanh market to do some shopping.

In the evening, we went to the newly opened Pullman Hotel for their buffet spread with free flow of wine at a cost of VND1,000,000 for 2 pax using our Accor Card. With our party of ten we had an enjoyable and boisterous evening.

Day 6 - Thursday
We returned to Ben Thanh for some last minute shopping. By now we were familiar with the layout in the market and quickly located the stalls we were interested in. Some of the stuff we bought included passion fruits (our checkin luggage allowed was 30kg per pax!), civet cat coffee, salt-roasted cashew nuts, tees, etc.

For lunch we went to Pho 2000 for their pho. Hunger satiated we returned to the hotel for our luggage and headed to the airport for our flight home to Singapore.