Hoi An, Vietnam – Saturday 26th to Thursday 31st August
Saturday and Sunday, sad to say, were a bit of a washout. Phil was still unable to eat much more than a sparrow; and with the rain pouring outside, our exploration of Vietnam was a little limited.
However, come the start of the working week the situation had improved. The storm system, which had had a devastating effect on much of South Asia, had broken; as had Phil’s sickness. The weather forecast remained grim for the week ahead, but we soon realised that forecasting in the rainy season is not quite the exact science we’ve come to expect in the UK.
Hannah enjoying the rain
We’re actually in Vietnam in the transition to the rainy season. This might sound terrible, but what we’ve found so far is that most of our days have still been hot and sunny in the mornings, with huge clouds building up in the afternoon. Sometimes this leads to a torrential downpour; sometimes to a tremendous lightening show; and sometimes to nothing at all.
This is good news, as hopefully it’s an indication of how things will continue into September and October. It also means there will be fewer tourists, as rainy season also happens to be the low season. Besides, who needs blistering hot sunshine all day every day?!
On Monday we decided to ride out to the My Son Sanctuary complex. My Son is a UNESCO protected World Heritage Site, and the most important ancient temple complex in Vietnam. Built through the reign of the Champa Kingdom, from the 4th to the 13th Centuries, the 71 structures still remain in various states of repair. Some were partly destroyed by American bombing during the Vietnam War; while some have been restored with remarkable authenticity.
Solitude at the My Son Sanctuary…
We’d managed to time our trip just right. As we walked from the entrance toward the ruins, we passed several coach loads of tourists on their way out!
My Son is often described as a less impressive, baby version of Angkor Wat, in Cambodia. To me this feels a little sad – the notion that something can only be impressive or notable if it’s overwhelming or awe inspiring. Thankfully, that’s not our view of the world.
…though we didn’t quite have the place to ourselves
The temple complex was amazing to see and be able to explore. Not least because it really felt as though it had been a living place; you really could get a sense of how busy and important it must have been. The various bomb craters around the site created a feeling of living history, too. Rather than being filled in, these have been left to mark part of the story of My Son. Papering over history does nothing for the future.
It was also incredibly hot! So after an hour or so of sweating it out in the jungle, we hopped on our scooters for the hour and a half ride back to Hoi An.
We watched twenty people ford this stream before we worked up the courage! (click to play/stop)
That night we treated ourselves to a proper meal out at Secret Garden, in Hoi an Ancient Town, before heading across the Thu Bon river to the strip of bars where we could enjoy a distant lightening storm lighting up the evening. We stopped in the notorious Tiger Tiger for a couple of drinks, and suddenly the power went out along the whole strip! Within five minutes, however, the enterprising owners had a generator out on the street and we became the only bar with lights and music. We had chosen well.
On Tuesday Phil finally got his beach holiday. After an amazing Auzzie breakfast at Dingo Deli, and with the sun fully out for the first time since we got there, we decided to settle in and spend the day at An Bang beach, just a few kilometres from Hoi An. The scooters were starting to really prove their worth!
Recovery breakfast at Dingo Deli
We needed to change our train tickets that afternoon, and thought we could combine visiting Da Nang train station and then riding on to ‘do’ the Hai Van Pass – a winding mountain pass which geographically separates North and South Vietnam. In typical fashion, by the time we made it out of the train station the sun was already setting, the clouds had descended over the pass, and we had to abandon the idea to a slightly scary ride back to Hoi An in the pitch black instead.
It was a stark reminder of how short twilight is in the tropics. Such a contrast to just a few months back in Finland where it stayed light all night long!
Not to be defeated, we steeled ourselves the next morning, and made the trip north again for a second attempt.
The Hai Van Pass became well known in the UK after an appearance on the Top Gear Vietnam Special, where Clarkson et al. rode scooters up the length of Vietnam.
The Hai Van Pass, Top Gear-Style
For us, however, it had a more personal history. Two years ago, Hannah had ascended and descended the pass in the black of night; her sister riding pillion, and their backpack between her legs. Oh, and the brakes didn’t really work on their scooter!
By day, it was beautiful. The road was quiet, the bikes new and fully working, and the views breathtaking. Neither of us adopted the ‘ride it like you stole it’ approach some tourists were taking; but it made for a lovely ride, nonetheless.
View from the Hai Van Pass, Phil fails at cool, and our trusty Da Nang Bikes
Stopping for lunch on the North side of the pass we discovered Phil’s beach perfection: miles of pristine, empty sand. Relegated to paddling only, not having togs and being thoroughly British, the water was so warm you could have bathed in it!
Phil finds his beach heaven, and goes for a paddle
Finally, after what suddenly felt like had been a very short week, it was our day of departure. Unfortunately, our train wasn’t due until 22:47 that night! We just about coped, filling our day with Banh Mi and the beach, before heading up to Da Nang to return our bikes. Did I mention Da Nang Bikes?
Now, this definitely isn’t a sponsored post, but the service we received from Dirk at Da Nang Bikes was really outstanding. Welcome drinks; new (and well looked after) scooters; the offer of full-auto, semi-auto, or manual bikes; and a proper contract with fair and totally transparent pricing (a rarity in Vietnam)! If you’re ever after a scooter in this part of the world we thoroughly recommend Dirk and his team.
A great burger from Burger Bros, a long wait at noisy Minsk Bar (both recommended to us by Dirk), and another wait at a café outside the train station later, it was time for our train to depart.
Probably the best burgers in Da Nang
Nha Trang, Vietnam – Friday 1st to Monday 4th September
We decided to visit Nha Trang at the last minute. Our £27.20 tickets were for Binh Thuan, much further south (we were going to see the dunes at Mui Ne), but Nha Trang promised more to do, and had come recommended, so we hopped off the train there instead.
Nha Trang was a total contrast from what we had seen so far in Vietnam. The beach was beautiful, but the town itself had the feel of a run down Mediterranean resort. Busy streets, techno-pumping bars, and roving holidaymakers – most of which were Russian. Indeed, it turns out Nha Trang is most popular with Russian and Chinese tourists.
We were staying at iHome, for £15.60 per night for an en suite double. Unfortunately, iHome was doing its ready best to be a ‘party hostel’, and there were extensive building works going on across the street.
After an afternoon at the beach we decided to try and join in, visiting the rooftop hostel bar, which offered free beer between six and seven pm. We claimed a beer each, and then left as quickly as we could. It was way too intense (and young) for us!
The relaxed vibe at The Rooftop Lounge
We ended the week with a much more sedate Banh Mi on the street for dinner; a couple of quiet drinks at the much calmer Rooftop Lounge at the Ha Van Hotel; and watching acoustic hard rock at Amigos Divers’ Bar. A fitting evening to match the variety we had seen in Vietnam over the past couple of weeks.
Next week we head to Ho Chi Minh, after a few more days in Nha Trang, just in time for Phil to catch a flight back to Europe for work – leaving Hannah to fend for her self for a fortnight in Ho Chi Minh!
Hannah and Phil x
Next Week… Nha Trang, Saigon, and the Mekong