Our first stop on the central coast was Da Nang. We flew in here and spent the night because it was a cheap central hub. However, what we didn’t realize was that we could have made it to Hoi An (another stop we hoped to make) in under an hour by taxi. But being unfamiliar with the area, we decided to take a sleeper bus to the town of Hue, 3 hours to the north, and start there. We had never taken this kind of bus before, it had reclining beds almost like lounge chairs, stacked two high in three rows across the bus. Each one with a little cubby for your legs. It was quite funny. But we made it there, and ended up staying at a place called Stay Hotel haha. We spent 3 or 4 nights in Hue and explored the old Imperial city by motorbike, which after the drive in we swore we wouldn’t do. These city streets were ten time crazier than Cat Ba, bikes flying in every direction with maybe 3 main traffic lights in the whole town. When we rented the bikes from the hotel we asked the owner for some advice about riding around in the city. He told us:
“Just look forward, don’t use your side view mirrors or worry about who is behind you. Also when making a left hand turn be sure to start on the far left of the road, and if you have to go against oncoming traffic for a few meters and then cross over that’s fine. Oh and don’t be afraid to use your horn!” …basically throwing us out into the wild haha.
So off we went, and by the end of the day I’d say we were pretty decent at ignoring almost every driving rule we ever learned back in the states. The scariest thing we came to were the chaotic roundabouts, in which we celebrated each time we made it through haha.
For some reason over the few days we were in Hue we became obsessed with this Indian food spot and went their multiple times. They had the best curry sauce and would give us fresh towels before our meal. (Something we had loved about our time in Phuket!) That night we ended up at a local bar called Brown Eyes. The place, much to our surprise, was filled with tons of 18 year old looking Vietnamese teens dancing like crazy. So naturally after a few Tiger beers we joined them, jumping up and down and starting conga lines to every throwback pop song you can imagine. And you better believe they knew every word too. The funniest thing though was that they seriously love the “Happy Birthday” song here. They have remixes to it and go nuts when to comes on. It’s so strange! When it came on people brought out what looked like sparklers and were waving them around. I looked over at Jess and asked “Who’s birthday do you think it is?” She responded, “Car I don’t think it’s anyone’s… They just get that excited when they hear this song” hahaha.
The next day, we got an earlier start, checking out the local Pagodas and heading up into the hills to this monastery the hotel owner recommended we check out. He said it was far enough off the beaten path that many tourists didn’t even know about it, and the only way to get there was by scooter. It was a really cool little mini off-roading adventure. (Which was good for me cause I had been wanting to get on a dirtbike but hadn’t found a company that could accommodate) So I settled for a little semi automatic which at least let me shift gears haha. Once we finally got through the back roads and up the hill, the monastery was amazing. It was quiet, secluded, and other than two other riders, there were only monks, puppies, and butterflies to accompany us. A nice little getaway from the crazy buzzing city. After, the monastery, we were on a high, feeling like explorers and not wanting to head back we kept exploring another side of town. We ended up coming across this street market where they were selling fresh produce, raw meat and fish. We were enjoying looking around and taking photos of the way they literally just sold the food right there from the ground from the dingy plastic containers. Some of the meat was already cut, and others they would kill literally right in front of you. Taken aback by the blunt way they would do this we got to thinking that as gross as it was to watch, that was ultimately the freshest way. Essentially that fish, or chicken, had just died, rather than at home where it may take a week before that chicken makes it to our stores. Just as we were contemplating this, we witnessed something that threw us off entirely that we really couldn’t seem to justify. We saw a lady with a tub of live frogs. Interested in the little guys we went for a closer look. She creepily smiled at us as she held up the frog squirming around and skinned it alive. I cringed and had to walk away. It was disgusting. I looked back and saw the girls still standing there frozen and not able to look away. I had the chills. That, I could not find reasoning behind. Needless to say we couldn’t get the image out of our heads and we had all just become vegetarians in my mind lol. To try and erase what we had just witnessed we kept riding for a bit longer till it was about dusk. Just as we were about to head back though, while riding on narrow road in a small town outside the city, I looked back after hearing a crash. Jess had slid her bike out from under her while making a right hand turn. Kayley jumped off to lift the bike up off her leg only to see the giant scrapes on her foot and knee. She had taken a decent amount of skin off the top of her foot and we weren’t sure if the white we saw was bone or not. Luckily, in that moment what appeared to be an entire village of people came out of their houses to see what had happened and helped Jess get all cleaned up. Naturally, to lighten the situation I reached in my bag and remembered I had a lollipop a had been saving and handed it to Jess to make her feel like she was at the doctors haha. The lady helping poured some type of alcohol on it to clean it and taped some gauze on there for her. It was better than nothing and would be good enough to cover it till we got her checked out by an actual doctor. So we helped Jess on the back of my bike and headed back into town. But Kayley, who had been riding on the back of mine, had never ridden one by herself more than just practicing up and down the street. But in order to get Jess’ bike back she had to ride it. No time like an emergency to learn right!? Haha but we took it slow and she ended up doing great! With the help of the hotel owner and a translator we got Jess checked out at the ER. Unfortunately all they did was give her this liquid to keep it from getting infected and told her to take some paracetamol, which is basically Advil. Unfortunately, neither of the remedies seemed to help the pain and Jess was pretty much in bed for the next couple days.
We had planned to rent two motorbikes the following day and ride down to Hoi An, but with the series of unfortunate events, and an unexpected torrential downpour of rain, we were forced to take the bus again. Such a bummer!
The 5 hour bus to Hoi An served as a time to sleep for most of us, but for some reason I was wide awake. During that drive I saw the strangest things, like a guy riding a motorbike while holding a table saw and giant metal rods. We drove through a run down shanty looking area appearing as if it was constantly under construction with giant tarps covering the holes and metal sheets thrown up to patch the walls. The houses being fixed had the sketchiest most frail looking wooden scaffolding on the outside with makeshift scooter ramps made of random pieces of wood haphazardly nailed together. This was the real countryside of Vietnam, the area that doesn’t get any help from tourists or the government… but more on that later…
We arrived in Hoi An to the sound of the guy riding around on his bike with loud speaker playing a recording on loop, apparently selling some type of baked pork bun. I felt like he was always following us. That sound will haunt me forever cause it was so annoying haha. That night we left Jess to recover in the room as we went for dinner and to check out
the night market. Hoi An was much different than Hue. Less people spoke English and the town was much smaller with a whole area where cars and motorbikes weren’t allowed, just for bicycles and pedestrians. Lanterns lit up the trees and alongside the river and along the bridge. Floating candles were everywhere and gave a dim light to the dark water where the old Vietnamese ladies were trying to get you to take an evening ride on the water in their tiny row boats. It felt like I was on the Pirates of Caribbean ride with the Blue Bayou restaurant along the water, like it was a movie set. So cool.
The next morning we had a walk about and got to see what this town was like in the day. We quickly realized this was the land of custom made: shoes, dresses, suits, jackets, you name it, they had a tailor or a cobbler there to make it for you. So, “When in Hoi An” we decided to get some things specially made for us. It was really fun sitting in there with the ladies, getting measured and showing them a photo online of what I wanted and then getting to customize it. I felt like a real designer seeing my product from start to finish. I chose to get a color blocked jacket made, Kayley a dress, and Erica some steezy shoes.
The next day, Jess realized how much pain she was in and started to worry about infection. She finally decided to bite the bullet and fly home a week early to get to a more sanitary place to heal and for some piece of mind. She was bummed to miss her last planned week, but we all knew it was the best thing for her.
Our last day in Hoi An we rented bicycles and rode through the rice fields out to the beach. This area was so cool how just ten minutes outside the city you could find a whole different environment. We really enjoyed our time here but I think Vietnam was slowly starting to wear on us as we realized we still had another whole week before Bali. It gets to be kind of exhausting after a while because as amazing as it is to see this beautiful country, you are never really relaxed. You’re always on your toes as you never know when a scooter is going to come jamming by or cutting you off, the long and frequent bus rides, and the language barrier guessing game. I remember one time at breakfast I asked the waitress for toast and she looked at me like she totally knew what I had said, but instead brought me ham haha. So I then asked for some ketchup, and she brought me a knife and fork… And well you know you win some you loose some haha. At this point it was just funny. Not wanting to take any more buses, we decided to take a flight down to Ho Chi Minh city a few days early and finish off the trip there, trying our luck in crazy Saigon.