After three long months of staying put mostly in Thanh Hoa (oh yes, three months in one place is a loooong time in the mind of any traveler.), February finally saw me setting off with my two English lads Ant and Joe towards central Vietnam. Hoi An and Da Nang were waiting for us to spend a few free days of Tet Holiday in a perfect combination of adventuring and partying.
Tet Holiday is also known as Vietnamese New Year, the most important event in this culture. It means “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day” and represents a celebration of spring’s arrival, based on the Chinese calendar. The date usually falls sometime during January or February, and this year it was celebrated on 8th of February.
On our last day of work, we filled our bellies with a tasty Ant-made meal and some English tea with milk, served in classy plastic cups. We picked up our crammed dusty backpacks, and caught a late night sleeping bus from Thanh Hoa to Da Nang. The bus was an hour and a half late to start with, typical Vietnamese style. When it finally arrived, we settled happily into our sleeping seats, magically fell fast asleep, and woke up feeling broken some 15 hours later at a bus stop in Da Nang.
A short taxi ride later, we settled in our lovely cheap room in Hoi An’s Sunflower Hotel filled with backpackers from different corners of the world. The atmosphere immediately felt like our true home and we soon started buzzing and chatting with fellow travelers over beers and card games. If you still haven’t you absolutely MUST start playing the Shithead card game, it’s the best fun with beers and conversation!
I warmly recommend the Sunflower Hotel to anyone traveling through Hoi An. Although it is called a hotel, it has a proper hostel vibe. The prices are very reasonable, the place is clean, and the staff very nice and helpful. They have a lovely backyard with a swimming pool and bar space, lots of big tables to eat, drink, or just chill. The atmosphere is friendly and fun, which makes it very easy to make friends with other backpackers. The hotel is an ideal place for a warm-up before going out at night.
My lads and I blended in very quickly with the rest of the jolly crowd. We stayed there from Saturday till Wednesday, combining culture and sightseeing with food, beer, card games, and long nights out.
What to See
Hoi An is such an adorable place with its lovely architecture, located on the coast of the South China Sea. It is recognized as World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The Old Town is a very well preserved trading port dating back a few centuries. Some of the buildings are open to visitors and require an Old Town ticket for admission. These tickets allow you to visit different attractions, such as ancient houses, museums, assembly halls, and a traditional music show at the Handicraft Workshop. The costs go towards preservation funding.
As we stayed there during Tet, I was informed that the tickets, unfortunately, could not be purchased at this time of the year. Nevertheless, just walking around the Old Town and the nearby areas was a unique experience. The city was decorated with thousands of colorful shiny lanterns, leaving a romantic impression similar to that of Italy’s Venice.
One of the famous landmarks of the town is the Japanese Covered Bridge, constructed at the end of 16th century. It is the only known covered bridge with a Buddhist temple attached to it. Access to the bridge is free, but a visit to the small temple requires a ticket.
Wandering around the town, I found a traditional street market filled with Vietnamese people selling fruits and vegetables to foreign tourists in owe of this place.
Countless small shops scattered around the streets were selling pretty summer dresses, jewelry, souvenirs, and many other things. The prices are more than accessible, but you must not forget to bargain for the best price possible!
Where to Go Out
During the few days we spent in Hoi An, we went to several different bars open at night, filled mostly with foreigners. The most famous one is the Why Not bar, with a cool atmosphere, walls filled with countless signatures of travelers, and inevitable lanterns hanging from the ceiling.
They have an incredible offer there – for 200.000 Dong (less than 10$) you can drink as much of spirits as you can. As you can imagine, a few people would share this ridiculous amount of money and then split the drinks. Works for everyone!
Although we mostly ate at our hotel, we did dine out with our small group of newly made friends on the New Year’s Eve. We ate at the restaurant Phu Thien, where we tasted, among other things, the traditional appetizer called “White Rose” – a type of shrimp dumpling, made of translucent white dough and shaped to resemble a rose.
We spent the rest of the night admiring the lanterns and lights of the Old Town at night. All the bars were packed and prices of drinks higher than usual, so we enjoyed the streets packed with both locals and foreigners waiting for the midnight fireworks.
When the fireworks finally started, everyone stopped and stared in awe. I remember sitting on the pavement staring right up at the skies on fire, sipping on my beer and sharing a cigarette. It seemed like the fireworks would never end. It was an absolutely unforgettable night.
Even though the night was long and the hangover strong in the morning, we went out the following day as well. It was a special day for me because I met up with Molly, an American girl I met last year while volunteering at Finca Natura in Spain. What a wonderful thing it is to reconnect with another woman of wanderlust! Molly has been traveling around Southeast Asia for the last couple of months, and she’s currently is discovering India. She is on an awesome and unique quest of collecting handmade goods from around the globe. Check out the treasures she’s collected so far, or follow her adventures on her second Instagram account.
I sat with my old and new friends eating, drinking, and talking for hours on end in Moe’s Tavern, where we were treated like top priority guests, while reggae music played in the background. The owner, called Chicken Leg, treated us with a free shisha, several shots, and a menu with special 2-for-1 prices. I highly recommend this bar for its atmosphere and friendly staff.
All Good Things Come to an End
Our few days in this paradise came to an end on Wednesday, just as the sun finally decided to show its face. We played one last game of Shithead with our Sunflower friends while taking in the first warm rays of sunshine after months of gloomy, cloudy winter weather in Thanh Hoa. We were smart enough (sarcasm alert) to underestimate the sun and not wear any sunscreen, so we all ended up sunburnt within an hour. Red and shiny, covered with coconut oil, we picked up our bags and hopped into a taxi that was going to take us back to Da Nang, to the second part of our Tet adventure.
Moral of the story – yes, you DO need sunscreen in Vietnam, even in spring! Either that, or better cover up!