Day 13: Hoi An, Vietnam. Saturday, October 26th, 2019. Old Town Hoi An ⛩, Golden Bridge 🖐
We were supposed to reach Da Nang by 5:40am, but the train was running late and we arrived at 7:30am. The Vietnamese opera music sounded at 6am, but the music was often interrupted by announcements and the screeching halt of the train coming to its next stop.
We arrive in Da Nang and hop a bus to Hoi An. Its raining outside so we all scramble to make new plans for the day based on the current wet weather.
The Hoi An I see from the bus is BRIGHT, full of green trees and multicolored lanterns strung between streets and alleys. The multiple electrical wires arent so hideou behind the bold pink, purple, and orange balls of color.
We all “ooh” and “ahh” about the lantern but Sochea tells us to wait until we see them at night.
The bus drops us off at a random clearing and we walk down a foot path to Paradise hostel. The hostel is spacious compared to our last accommodation. There is a large pool, patio area, and even a restaurant. We drop our bags to be stored until our rooms are ready and head into Old Town, Hoi An.
Hoi An Town is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century. Its buildings and its street plan reflect the influences, both indigenous and foreign, that have combined to produce this unique heritage site. Hoi An is knows for its tailoring where you can get a custom made dress or suit in less then 24 hours. On the 14th day of each lunar month, the town trades its electric lights for traditional colored lanterns. The town is a common stop for backpackers and tourist. The streets are clean and lined with cafes, breweries, clothing boutiques, leather goods shops, and souviner shops.
We pay an entry fee to visit Old Town that is apparently used for maintenance and for the guides. Ours pops out of nowhere topped with a straw hat. She takes us to the Bread Box, a breakfast shop, for a traditional Bahm Mi, a sandwich with shredded pork, beef and chicken and vegetables. I go for the vegetarian version, because I am vegetarian now, on my second day. It comes with an egg, carrot, cucumber, cilantro, and greens. I add hot sauce and its delicious, way better then the photo below gives it credit for. I save half for later, trying to make the meal stretch as long as possible. The cappuccino is delicious as usual and I love how it comes with a cute little cookie I can have for desert.
I had my phone charging at a vacant table, but it was removed by a group of tourists who wanted to sit there, and placed on the floor to did a silent death.
The tour guide leads us around and teaches us all about the town. I can’t hear her though I am also not intently listening. The town is absolutely beautiful.
The Hoi An river runs right through it, which is why it made such an amazing trading port.
She recommended a specific tailor that was knows around town for being the best. A few of the girls got blazers and dresses, and a few of the guys got custom suits and shirts.
The tailors would take measurements in the AM and create the garment during the day when the customer was sightseeing. The person would come back for a fitting before dinner and then the garment would be complete the following morning. I helped my little American brother Kenny choose a suit to wear to his new job as a mechanical engineer that starts at the beginning of 2020. His first job out of college deserves a nice new suit. I asked the lady to measure his crotch again so I could get a picture and she happily obliged.
They gave us bottles of water and were so incredible gracious for our business. Not mine, I didnt get anything, which I already slightly regret. 🤷🏻♀️
A handful of us want to go to the Golden Bridge, which is an hour and a half away. The others want to stick around town and shop or visit one of the local temples.
The van picks us up and we drive to the Golden Bridge. The van driver swerves and beeps aggressively, even when there aren’t other drivers in his vacinity. We looked up a photo of the bridge online. Its two big hands holding a bridge made of gold. We know we have to take a cable car there, but thats pretty much the extent of what we know going into this adventure.
We arrive at Bana Hills and it looks for like Disney Land then a place to see a cool bridge. We learn that the Bana Hills was built just five years prior and was far from complete. At the bottom of the mountain there are souviner shops, ice cream stands, and Vietnamese desert carts. Everything is super elaborate, artificial and over the top touristy. The cable car line moved quick because there can be up to ten people per far. The ride is about 40 minutes. We see great views of Da Nang and Hoi An and our ears pop multiple times. We can see waterfalls below, and at first get really excited, but take a closer look and notice the rocks are too perfectly placed and colored to be naturally made.
We see the Golden Bridge, but it sits on one small peak to the left, whilst the other peaks are crowded with castles, some with pointed towers, others with turrets. There’s a giant statue of a man holding a stein. What exactly have we got ourselves into? What exactly is at the top of this mountain? I think of the show Westworld and wonder if all the people up top will actually be robots. Either that, or there are dinosaurs living in the castles. I hope you
We jump off the cable car and into another dimension, one that blends every sort of theme park imaginable and then that theme park was puked on by Halloween.
There are selfie sticks jetting out everywhere and if you aren’t careful you could get poked in the eye. There are vampires on stilts posing with tourist holding dagger to their throats. There are giant fake pumpkins carved into emoji’s for people to pose next too. There are colorful fairies and women dressed all in gold frozen for minutes and then changing positions robotically. There are kids running and smiling and I can visualize happy childhood memories being form at that very moment.
Somehow, I am put in charge and lead the group over to the right to loop around (to figure out what the hell is going on) and end where we think the Golden Bridge may be. Maybe there are other cool things here worth seeing?
There are carnival games, a two person roller coaster, and an all Peter Pan ballet. We find the experience to be hysterical. Signage is poor and get lost trying to find the one thing we came for, and could actually see from half way up the mountain.
We have to take another cable car to the Golden Bridge and sit with two guys who snot rocket out the window.
The area surrounding the bridge, and the bridge itself is so densely covered in tourists, be can barely enter let alone take photos. We devise a plan, as if we are blocking traffic for a car to back up, and create a clearing so that we can switch off taking photos in front of the giant fake stone hand.
We exit the Golden Bridge area and decide to head out. The place is so crowded and its a total free for all. We are all starting to get a touch hangry. Then it starts to downpour!
Because half of the cable cars are open and don’t have windows, they become virtually useless in the rain. With half of the cars out of the picture, the line to the bottom of the mountain grows and grows. At the time, we didnt think we were going to make it, but I can assure you, we all made it down to the bottom of the mountain safely. Food options were ice cream, Vietnamese deserts that involved beans, Vietnamese doughnuts, and a hot dog on a stick. There is also a Starbucks. I get a coffee and a Vietnamese doughnut. Its not super sweet and there some sort of bean filling inside that’s not as gross as it sounds.
Our van dude is late and why was I put in charge again? Being an older sister is hard. Just as I was texting with Sochea to notify him, the dude pulled up, 30 minutes late, shiny buddha on the windshield. He straddled the center lane nearly the whole way. He’s speed up behind cars driving the speed limit, flashed his lights, and hock his horn, and for a second, it felt like I was back on the good ol’ Garden State Parkway. Seemed only fitting that he was also texting and driving.
The shower after the cold soggy van ride was the most glorious thing. I didnt even mind the fact that it was a hose with a shower head and not a proper shower fixed to the wall.
Sochea is right. Hoi An at night is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
Its Johnny from Londons birthday today, so we all go out for dinner. Some members of the group get three alcoholic drinks at once, and I try not to judge. I ask what each one is and look it up in the menu. I bartended for years, so am still really interested in alcoholic concoctions, I just am no longer interested in drinking them. They ask me if I want to try the drinks. When I say no, they seem a little confused, perhaps because of my interest and inquisition, but it’s not a big deal. I have come to realize and love how little people actually care about what I do or do not do.
I get an eggplant mushroom clay pot that comes with rice. When I first see it, I think, how lame, but the flavor is brilliant. My home boy Ali shares some of his TOFU with me and my hunger is satisfied.
The group has a WhatsApp chat that we use to share photos and stay connected about meeting spots and what not. Ali’s name pops up as something random, so I ask him about what his full name is, praying to god it is ALADDIN. He pulls out his Finish Passport card and shows me. His name is not Aladdin. I try to pronounce it three times and butcher it, of course. I notice there’s a date in 1999 and I ask if that is the issue date of his ID. He says no, it’s his birthday. I choke a little on my own spit at the realization that my homeboy Ali is 20 years old! I told him that he was three years old when I graduated high school. Ali and I have a strictly platonic friendship, yet I felt somehow like I was robbing the cradle even talking to him. He’s the youngest one in the group, yet on the mature side of the spectrum. I call him, Prince Ali fabulous He, ALI ABABWA! Strong as ten regular men, definitely!!
The servers surprise Johnny with a cake and we sing happy birthday. He shares his cake and its fluffy and amazing.
The group goes out for drinks at a sports bar to continue the birthday celebration, but I head back to the hostel to get rest.
Imagine being 20 again. Imagine going back knowing all that I know now.