Cost Breakdown: 5 days, 5 nights in Hoi An/Da Nang(?)
One way train ticket HCMC to Da Nang – $38/person
Accommodation – $101.31 total
Transportation – $45 total (Ubers to, from, and around Hoi An/Da Nang)
Food/Drinks for 5 days – $70/person
Attractions/Activities – $19.50/person (Hoi An Bike Tour, Marble Mountain ticket, Massage)
Hoi An is known for being a romantic and relaxing getaway, but historically it’s a city of tailors. It’s still quite touristy, but I don’t necessarily find that to be a bad thing. A local told us that, not long ago, it was a very poor area, and only relatively recently has it become a popular stop for foreigners. This was definitely a much needed break for Will and I after being in crazy Ho Chi Minh City. Flights from HCMC into Da Nang, which is 30 minutes away from Hoi An, were about $70 per person. The train was half the price, so we decided to embrace adventure and give it a go.
Oh boy. Dat train ride doe.
First of all, the country of Vietnam may not look too big on the map, but it’s long. It’s an 18 hour train ride from HCMC to Da Nang, and that’s only going half way up Vietnam! A lot of people recommend taking the train not only because it’s cheaper, but it’s a pretty scenic route. The scenery was definitely beautiful during the daytime, and the sleeper car really wasn’t that bad…I mean, if you’re tired, anywhere will be comfortable, right? The soft sleeper, which is what we booked, has four beds. At some point about 2/3 of the way there, a polite couple from New Zealand took the top bunks. I was ecstatic about bunking with other English-speakers, and Will put up with it without any complaints.
If I’m being honest, I probably wouldn’t take a train so far again unless absolutely necessary. While some could handle it, the condition of the train’s bathroom was too much for me. It was just dirty and there was a river of mysterious liquid flowing along the perimeter. As I struggled to open the door around 3am, my foot took a plunge I’ll never forget. I’m getting older – too old for a ride this rough. Anyway, on to Hoi An.
Hoi An has two main parts tourists focus on – the beach and Ancient Town. Will and I aren’t really beach people, so we stuck with the latter. Ancient town is busy, but basically cute and quaint. It’s well-preserved, reflecting a little bit of Chinese, Japanese, and European architectural influence. The town is well-known for it’s lantern-strung alleyways and storefronts.
There are a few entrances to Ancient Town where you’ll find ticket booths requesting an entrance fee. They will claim you need to purchase a ticket to get into Ancient Town, sometimes aggressively. However, no one checks for tickets in the town unless you go into one of the ancient houses, temples, or museums. We were satisfied with admiring everything from the outside, so we decided not to purchase the entrance ticket. No one stopped us from walking right by the booth on any of the days. In retrospect, we’re not sure if we broke a rule or avoided a scam, but we spent money at lots of businesses so we feel fine about our contribution to the local economy.
We enjoyed much of our time in Hoi An relaxing at coffee and juice shops, doing work on our computers. Will and I strolled around Ancient town, and visited several restaurants we had researched. There is a wonderful variety of restaurants to choose from besides Vietnamese food: we enjoyed Mexican, Greek, and Indian food. We also went on a bicycle tour that brought us around the Hoi An countryside and to a less populated island, which we enjoyed quite a bit.
Our visit was just before the moon festival, so many kids in the neighborhood were practicing their dragon dances and drumming. They were usually quite entertaining and would enter into stores as they pleased, drumming and approaching locals and tourists alike with their dragon dances. You could tell shop keepers were annoyed when the dragon dancers interrupted sales transactions. But they never said anything because the tradition is supposed to bring good luck and fortune. It definitely added to the ambiance.
Hoi An is known for custom tailored clothing. Neither of us were interested at first, even though I had read about it on other forums and blogs. But a few days in we stepped into one of the shops to check out the jackets they had on display. It was all down-mannequin from there – we got totally sucked in.
They’re not kidding when they say cheap custom tailored clothes! One thing I hate about clothes shopping is I’m a size 8 at some stores, and size 14 at others. I can walk into one brand of store and be an S, M, or L, or go into another store and be NONE OF THEM. You can get custom-tailored rompers, dress shirts, fall or winter coats, trousers, and dresses in Hoi An – almost anything you can think of. They might cost the same as going to an H&M or Nordstrom Rack, depending on the fabric material, but the difference is, you know these clothes are going to fit your body exactly. It’s super worth it! It’s super fast – our garments took about 24 hours, and another day for adjustments. Look closely and be picky! They will make your clothes just right.
We ended up buying half a wardrobe. Will went a little more crazy than I did, and we probably won’t have to shop for the next few years (aka incentive not to gain or lose weight hehe). My favorite shop is Fashion 100. The shop owner, My, can be pushy at times, as all the other shop owners in the area are. But she was very light hearted and kind, and I felt like she listened and catered to our needs more than other shops we visited.
We went into Da Nang for our last day in the area to visit Marble Mountain, before heading off to Hanoi. Marble Mountain was a nice medium intensity hike, and I would definitely recommend it as a half-day trip if you’re visiting Central Vietnam. You can get partially up and down the mountain via elevator for a small fee. Da Nang itself seems like it’s developing rapidly, with many empty plots of land and some construction projects going on. I can’t wait to see how it will grow and what it will look like next time we visit!