As my bus traversed through the serpentine roads of Vietnam’s countryside, I realized we were driving up on an elevated path. Peeking out of my window, I noticed an adorable vista of spectacular ocean gleaming faintly under the afternoon sun, hidden behind clouds. The view played hide and seek with us as we went along the hilly road. The shores looked ravishing from this height as white edges of the turquoise waters created an incredulous necklace adorning the sandy shore. With the Sun sliding gradually towards the horizon, we approached the beautiful town of Hoi An. The ocean which we viewed from the elevated path, was now bordering our road.
Hoi An is a quaint little town in central Vietnam. Generally clubbed with the city of Da Nang, Hoi An will take you on a joy ride if you are a cultural enthusiast. The travelers come visit this cute town to experience the countryside flavor of Vietnam after spending some great time partying and frolicking in Hanoi or Ho Chin Minh (Saigon), the largest cities of Vietnam. The beach I saw in Hoi An while entering the city was not crowded. Very few folks wandered the sands. I guess that was because the slightly gray afternoon clouds had become darker and imposing now! There was a gaping contrast between the color of now turbulent ocean and the dominating clouds in the far horizon. Due to the probability of an impending shower, most locals might have decided to stay under the roof.
Hoi An was like a drop of rain in an otherwise hot afternoon for me. I had visited Hoi An after enjoying the Halong Bay cruise and spending some time in Hanoi, tasting delicious food. The Halong Bay Cruise had made me travel a considerable amount. Additionally, the activities, parties and alcohol during the cruise had taken a toll on me. If that was not enough, I had taken a 15-hour bus journey from Hanoi to Hoi An. I was only able to breathe in peace when I reached Hoi An and let the ocean breeze ruffle my hair.
I always make a point to try and include lesser visited destinations or attractions in my itinerary. Whenever you plan a trip, you are prepared to visit the most famous and well-known attractions. If you go to Paris, you would most certainly go to the Eiffel Tower. But, the true culture and vibe of any country are experienced by visiting the relatively lesser known destinations. It might be difficult for you to figure out the totally hidden spots while visiting a country for a short time. But, if you do a bit of extra research, you might just discover an amazing destination for yourself. In Vietnam, Hoi An was the comparatively offbeat destination for me.
After alighting the bus, I waved my co-passengers goodbye. As I was traveling solo, I always talked to as many people as possible. It’s true that when you travel solo, you are likely to be more sociable. I asked around for DK’s hostel. This hostel was a part of the Vietnam Backpackers hostels and after staying at their hostel in Hanoi, I was convinced to stay with them again. Now, their hostels are known for partying and people going crazy. So, if you are not up for spending time having fun and looking for soul searching or something (Like many do), I wouldn’t recommend their hostels.
Anyways, I got a bike taxi to take me to the hostel. Now, I am very cautious when hiring local transport as they try to scam the travelers. But, this bike taxi actually asked for a lesser price than what I imagined! In Hanoi, I could not have possibly hired local transport without negotiating. But in Hoi An, I decided not to negotiate as he already quoted a decent price. When he took me to the hostel, I realized that the distance was also substantial and the hostel was not just around the corner. Another charm of visiting small towns.
When I entered my hostel, the setup was impressive. Bean bags and colorful chairs adorned the hostel. The sky outside had shades of twilight painted upon and lads had already started chugging beers. I checked in my room, small but cozy. I introduced myself to my roommates, all British, and headed down to the bar to gulp a few beers. The atmosphere was electric and I met a lot of travelers with amazing stories in their kitties. The happy hours had everybody raving!
Soon, it was dinner time and I went to the riverside of Hoi An. Yes, this quaint town had a serene river flowing right through hit. The riverside sparkled with candles and night lanterns, conjuring up a marvelous spectacle. The setup looked magical and it had me swooning. I met another fellow traveler from Couchsurfing and we talked about our travel plans and much more. She was from Malaysia and also carried the dream of traveling the world like me!
The dinner was rather overpriced. Maybe because of the fact that it was right on the river and had tastefully done interiors. That one dinner by the riverside was certainly an expensive dinner! But a funny part happened later.
Now, at DK’s hostel, they have bicycles which they let the guests take for a free spin. When I went to meet that girl by the riverside, I took the cycle with me. She stayed right next to my hostel so, I offered to give her a ride back. But, God she turned out to be heavy and puffed and panted to reach her hostel! That made me realize either I need to get fitter!
The next morning came like a breeze of refreshing air! The clouds had now become even stronger as compared to the day before. I didn’t experience showers the previous day and was hopeful that today would also be a dry day. I wanted to cycle till the An Bang beach which was at a distance of 5 KMs from my hostel. My roommates were going to Marble mountains in the morning, but I decided against joining them. I rather preferred to laze around the hostel as I wanted some time to relax after the hustle of Hanoi and Halong Bay. I went to the hostel terrace and sat there, enjoying the adorable view of Hoi An town. The dark clouds looked imposing on the sleepy town.
After having a breakfast of fresh fruits and eggs, I lazed around the hostel and had some beers. The early afternoon prompted me to take a walk in the town lanes as the sun was still hidden behind the clouds. By late afternoon, the clouds had scattered and I felt that rain gods had again decided not to enact today. I took a bicycle and started cycling towards An Bang Beach, Hoi An.
As I was half way from Hoi An, a thunderous uproar made me look up the sky. The clouds had gathered again as if they wanted to surprise us! Before I fathom how did the clouds reappear in all their might, torrential rainfall started! It was both good and bad. Good, because the showers laid a blanket of mist on the far stretching countryside, creating a magical land and vista. Bad, because, I was drenched completely in a matter of seconds and anxiously started looking for shades in the countryside where no tree offered adequate share.
Instead of finding shade under thin trees in the heavy rain, I decided to cycle a little further and seek shelter in some cafe. I reached a small cafe by the roadside. Completely drenched, I entered the cafe. The owner was a very kind lady. She brought me a fresh towel and offered me coffee. She sat with me and made sure I was comfortable. Her English was not the very fluent but she had a smiling face all the time while conversing with me.
It is because of such hospitality that I like small towns than big cities. I can imagine entering a city cafe and being presented a menu by the waiter as if asking me to buy something or I cannot sit. I don’t wish to generalize here, but most of the cafes in a city don’t really entertain you if you don’t buy something. Or maybe it’s just my experience.
Finally, after a tiring journey, I reached An Bang beach. While cycling in rain, I had forgotten that I was drenched and had started to enjoy the lush green surroundings which created quite a contrast with the gray sky. When I reached the An Bang beach near Hoi An, I noticed there were no tourists there! It was so quiet and peaceful as if I had come to a secluded island.
There were coracles on the beach which fishermen might be using for their trips. A couple of empty shacks welcomed me with a smile. I placed myself comfortably on a beach side table and had a beer or two. The gray sky looked like a masterpiece of an artist who loves contrast. The palm trees swayed gently and with the refreshing breeze bouncing off my countenance, I felt relaxed and liberated. I took a peaceful walk as the rain lost its magnanimity and was now reduced to a pleasant drizzle. After spending some time in solitude, I started back for Hoi An.
The beautiful and secluded An Bang beach
Coracles laying on the beach
The beach and shades as seen from my shack
While the mighty creator painted the evening sky with twilight colors, I cycled back to Hoi An. The town looked busy due to evening peak hours. I took a detour and visited newer lanes of Hoi An, trying to explore as much as possible. Not because I had to, but I wanted to really see what this town was like. The next day, I left for the airport to catch a flight to Ho Chin Minh.
The next day, I left for the airport to catch a flight to Ho Chin Minh. I might not have bought any souvenirs from Hoi An town. But, I sure did collect a lot of memories to reminisce about!