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Kat & Andrew's Worldwide Adventures

Hue & Hoi An, Vietnam

VIETNAM | Tuesday, 22 October 2013 | Views [1745]

Our overnight train from Hanoi to Hue (pronounced Hway) ended up taking 13 hours. We had booked a hard sleeper (6 beds in a cabin) instead of a soft sleeper (4 beds) to keep costs down. (The bus would've been cheaper but reviews were not in its favour due to poor standard of vehicles and erratic driving.) We actually slept better than expected, despite having 4 vietnamese room mates and  not being able to sit up on our beds as we'd hit the roof. Basically 3 beds on top of each other in 2 rows are fitted into the same size cabin as those with the 2 rows of 2 beds! They only seem to change the sheets, not the duvets and pillowcases which is gross, but best not to think about!  

Hue is a laid back, yet still buzzing, town with a brown river snaking through it and plenty of history. It was the political capital from 1802 - 1945. Its main draw card is the grand Citadel with a 6 metre high, 2.5 km wall surrounding it. It would have been quite spectacular in its day (before the americans bombed it during the war) but it hasnt been maintained very well and is falling apart. Still, we enjoyed exporing within the walls and Imperial City, and lots of renovations seem to have started.

On our second day, the rain began. The town began taping up windows, putting sand bags on roof's and chaining up doors. A thyphoon was coming. We decided to still go out and make the most of the time we had so we rented a motorbike and explored various Pagoda's and a fantastic tomb. Khai Dinh Tomb featured an army of fantastic stone statues, colourful mosaics and painted ceilings. Very impressive. Despite getting saturated (even through to our underwear!), we still had fun. That night, the full brunt of the storm hit.

Our bus the following day was cancelled due to the roads being closed from damage caused during the Typhoon. Winds were still gusting powerfully and the rain was torrential. We spent the whole day inside except for venturing out for meals. For lunch there was no power so we ate by candle light. Determined locals were still out and about on their scooters wearing ponchos which couldnt hold up against the horizontal rain, and the tourists were wondering around looking lost. By dinner time, the rain was only drizzling and the wind had calmed. The town was buzzing again.

The bus to Hoi An took under 4 hours and was filled with foreigners. As we drove through Danang, we could see that they seemed to get the biggest hit from the storm. Hundreds of trees were ripped out of the concrete and lay across the streets. Cleaning crews were out in force, but the rest of the city seemed deserted. Hoi An also got hit hard and the river flooded up over the first 2 streets in the old town. It took a few days for everything to be cleaned up and the water to recede before the beauty and charm of this town began to sparkle again.

Hoi An's old town has rows of ancient terracota buildings with pretty shutters over the windows and colourful lanterns hanging everywhere. The river is full of little boats offering their services. Not only is the town a lovely sight, it is known for its abundance of tailors. There are over 200 to choose from which is rather overwhelming! Everyone is trying to sell you something and are very vocal about it - tailors, food, hotels, jewellery, boat rides, motorbikes, massage etc Many tailors and hotels have scouts roaming the streets trying to get customers.

Each Tailors shop differs in styles and prices slightly and its hard to know which one is going to offer better quality. Places like Yaly Couture, A Dong Silk and Thu Thuy are at the top of chain - they are more expensive but are very professional with a high standard. The staff wear uniforms, they require more than one fitting as they are perfectionist's and they dont barter on price. Other stores staff wear jeans and t-shirts and beg for your business. They can be quite aggressive. But thats not to say that they don't do a decent job. We shared our love around over 7 tailors and got some fantastic purchases. Mainly outfits for work, a few casual things, my bridesmaids dresses and a suit for Andrew for the wedding. We are very happy with everything and the standard has been fantastic. (The only thing I was a bit disappointed about was some leather high heels I got made.) Time will tell as to how long everything holds together.

It's hard picking styles from pictures in catalogues and magazines, not knowing what fabrics they are and if they'll even suit your body shape. I much prefer being able to try things on first. Most stores have examples on manniqans and samples that you can try on but it still can be difficult. I have definitely learnt a lot about fabrics too. Some things I chose are quite stiff which I don't like and that is because of the type of fabric that I chose. In hindsight, I should have done alot more research into what fabrics I actually like. I have discovered that I prefer stretchy fabrics (especially for suits, I like to be able to move!) and I am in love with cashmere! I even got into a bit of silk! Chiffon for dresses is lovely too.

For a standard suit you are looking at $65-100 US. Shirts $15-30. Dresses $25-35. Winter Jackets $35-60. Leather Jackets $150. Shoes $25-40. Some things you could prob get back home in a cheap chain store, but for the higher range fabrics such as silk, leather and cashmere, thats where you save your money here.

We spent 3 days browsing stores, getting measured, going back for various fittings, getting alterations - back and forth, back and forth between stores. It was exciting but exhausting!  Luckily everyone spoke decent english which helped the process. The weather has remained overcast but still hot and humid so we felt sticky during each fitting. We were planning on shipping everything to Australia but have read reviews of packages being tampered with, things being stolen, and whole packages not arriving all together. Its not even the loss of money which concerns me, but the fact that tailored clothing would be so hard to replace for the value we have spent. It would be devasatating to loose it all, so we looked into paying for excess luggage on our remaining flights. From what we've found online, it looks like it will actually be cheaper to take it with us. Safer too but very inconveniant. Now we have an extra bag to lug around.... But it'll be worth it!

On a free day we rented a motorbike and explored the area. We checked out the beach (still rather messy from the storm) and cruised the coastline known as China Beach to Danang. That beach is where the US Soldiers first arrived in Vietnam during the War. We stopped at Marble Mountain which we climbed up hundreds of steps to exlpore Pagodas, and various Buddha statues placed in large caves. There were many high view points that was worth the strenous climb - we had an impressive 360 degree view over the beach lined with resorts and the nearby city. We still had scatters of rain but for the first time in a week, the sun broke through and we ended up getting burnt!

A lady kindly offered free parking at her Marble Sculpture shop, but of course, noone does anything without wanting something in return. When we didnt want to buy anything she instantly changed from a smiling kind person to a petulant rude child storming off in a huff! There were many 'helpful' people roaming the Marble Mountains with their hands out for payment. I have to remind myself not to get annoyed - these people are just doing what they can to survive. It's just the way things are here. There were 2 men in suits though that just wanted a chat - they were fascinated with Andrew and asked him to pose in photos with them! So funny!

We rode around the city of Danang along the beach and over the many bridges stretching over the large river. I witnessed my first Asian traffic accidant between locals. A guy on a scooter hit a guy crossing the street. Luckily they both got up but were limping. The bike looked damaged too, but without a word, they both just got on with it and minutes later they had gone their seperate ways! The culture here deals with these things in a very differant way to the Western world! Back in Hoi An we explored other areas we hadn't seen yet and the connecting islands.

We had a favourite restaurant called Cafe 43 that we went back to at least once every day. The cost of food was reasonable and it tasted fantastic - and the beer is only 25 cents! Andrew did a cooking class with them to learn how to make our favourite dish - Chicken Curry and Spring Rolls. In Vietnam prices for meals range from $5-10 NZ per person and for a private air conditioned room with ensuite, around $14-22 NZ per night. The places we stayed at in both Hue (Amigo Hotel) and Hoi An (Phuoc An Hotel) were fantastic and great value for money. Phuoc An even had a small pool but unfortunately we didn't have the time (or the good weather) to enjoy it.  

We spent 5 nights in Hoi An and would've loved to have stayed more. It was a nice treat to stay in one place for so long, I've gotten quite settled! Now unfortunatly we have to endure our first overnight bus for this trip.


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