Our night bus from Dalat to Na Trang to Hoi An shakily sprinted through the mountains at over 100 miles per hour, making sketchy stops all through the night at nondescript buildings. Instead of loading our baggage below, they’d yanked it into the back row and slid Styrofoam boxes beneath the bus, assumedly filled with contrabands. Despite the rough state we were in upon arrival, Hoi An’s Salute Hotel gave us a very warm welcome at 5 AM. We used their marble-tiled hot shower and munched on a platter of watermelon. In the meantime, they upgraded us from a dorm to a suite- complete with a fireplace and two bathrooms!
This was drastically different from our Dalat accommodation. Dalat Family Hostel was akin to a fantastic summer sleep away camp, with no parents and no rules! We shared Dalat Family Hostel’s top level with 20 other backpackers, squeezed like sardines onto plastic floor mats. On the bright side, you make friends quickly when there’s not even a centimeter of space between mattresses. But after four sleepless nights, we’d entered the post-camp whiny children stage. Thus we were immensely appreciative of Salute Hotel’s attentive staff, private showers, nightstands, and all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. Nicole and I stayed at breakfast for two hours, getting really creative with plate stacking so that we could continue to fit more food on the table. You can take the girls out of America, but you can’t take the American out of the girls.
We rented bikes and pedaled to Hoi An beach, dotted with vendors and these hilarious trashcans that are disguised as aluminum dolphins/penguins. At the beach, they were definitely dolphins. But the same bins were placed in caves a week later, and I’ll be darned if they weren’t penguins! I approached a young vendor and drove a hard bargain for the coolest straw baseball hat in the world. I’ve been rocking it all day err day ever since, and I get hella compliments on my swagger. I have since shipped it to the U.S.A. so it can be preserved to pass down as an heirloom to my offspring.
Hoi An Beach boasted Californian waves with Floridian temperatures- absolute heaven. Nicole, Grace, and I bodysurfed and then trekked back to the beachside vendors, where we bartered a case of Larue Beer down to 300,000 Dong. We proudly carried the beer and bucket of ice above our heads back to the gang, and got to work digging a hole to keep the beer cool. We were entertained all day between the waves and our British friends Grace and Daniel, who’d tagged along after Dalat. My tummy started rumbling and a Vietnamese woman appeared out of thin air, wearing a conical hat and balancing two fruit baskets on a pole on her shoulder. This vendor, along with every vendor we’ve encountered in Vietnam, was clothed in jeans, a flannel buttoned up to the top button, a scarf, a beanie, and a conical hat. It really baffles me- I was in a bikini and managing to sweat a repulsive amount. I asked for a pineapple and this sweet woman spent 15 minutes perfectly removing its spines and slicing it into yummy spears.
Anthony Bourdain’s favorite foodie country is Vietnam, and his #1 bahn mi sandwich in the world is in Hoi An, at Tiem Bahn Mi Phuong. I scarfed down the #12- beef and egg- in under a minute. Nicole couldn’t get enough of the #8, which has every type of deli meat. Mr. Bourdain wasn’t kidding. While we were walking to Tiem Bahn Mi Phuong, a lady on a bike spotted our blonde ponytails and baseball caps and thought to herself, “Christmas came early.” We’re such an easy targets for salespeople, and this seamstress led us to a tailor center. In Hoi An, the thing to do is get clothes made. Ideally, you’ll come prepared with pictures of your dream suits or ball gowns, but in classic Annie and Silken fashion we’d forgotten to plan ahead. I was flustered and ended up ordering a custom-fitted black tee shirt. Silken wound up with a white dress Marilyn Monroe would wear to her Quincinera (if she was alive and Mexican, but you get the idea). Oh well, live and learn.
On our second day, we biked into Hoi An’s old town, an UNESCO world heritage site that’s an overload of oriental culture. Red lanterns, pagodas, cyclos, and dragon statues propagated the streets. We visited temples and teashops in old town, which used to be a bustling Southeastern trading post in the 16th and 17th centuries. Hoi An’s most recognizable landmark is a covered bridge, which was constructed by the Japanese in the 1590’s in order to link them with the Chinese community across the stream. It’s painted a gorgeous deep red color, and the metal roof has beautiful blue tiling detail.
Hoi An’s old town was remarkable during daylight hours, but marvelously magical come nightfall. Absolutely out of this world. I wish we’d spent a week in Hoi An. All the lanterns, dragon statues, street lamps, and oriental fish sculptures radiated light, which reflected in the river. The streets were buzzing with pedestrian traffic- both tourists and locals- and street vendors selling candles inside colored boxes. For a dollar, you’d light a candle and lower it into the river, setting a wish afloat. The colored candles floating in the river amplified the magical atmosphere. Canoes pushed through candles, carrying professional photographers snapping pictures of newlyweds with bouquets of flowers. I kept remarking, “This is seriously Epcot on crack!!” to Silken responding with preteen-level eye rolls.
Everyone should go to Hoi An. It rocks. If you're not convinced already, just look at this adorable woman. Silken and I waved to her from a bridge, ran to the other railing to keep waving, and the lady kept waving until she disappeared over the horizon. It's a magical place indeed.