Hoi An

Of all the places we visited in Vietnam, it’s probably safe to say Hoi An was my favorite. Remember when I said that Luang Prabang was surprisingly my favorite part of our last SE Asia trip? Well in the same way, Hoi An is the city that wasn’t as famous as Hanoi or Saigon and that I knew the least about (like Luang Prabang), yet its small village, relaxing atmosphere made it the best part of the trip.

Where To Stay

La Residencia
35 Đào Duy Từ, Cẩm Phô
Tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam

I really liked this hotel. The location is perfect because it’s right outside of Old Town on the west side, so it’s closest to all the street food and the Night Market. The room we had was large and comfortable enough for three people, had a balcony, and the hotel provides a really good breakfast buffet. The employees were also very friendly and helpful and the price, unsurprisingly, was great ($53/night). It’s a bit of a walk to get into town, but it’s not overly exerting. And it’s much quieter at night because it’s not in the center of everything.

What To Do

The best way to take in Hoi An is to just walk around and get lost with all the other backpackers. Hoi An isn’t as remote as Luang Prabang, which makes it a bit more manageable in terms of getting around (there are no rickety old bridges that you have to cross over and over again to get into town). But it’s also not as touristy as Siem Reap, so it’s not overwhelmingly in your face like that city.

In order to see most of the historical sights within Old Town like the Japanese Covered Bridge and the Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation you need to buy a 120 dong ticket. You’re forced to purchase one at ticket booths on the outskirts of Old Town. Do not lose the ticket because they will check to see if you have one every time you walk in and out of Old Town.

Hoi An’s architecture was able to survive a lot of the 20th century wars, so strolling through town is like walking through a time capsule. In the evening, the Night Market bustles with pedestrians under the hundreds of colorful lanterns and, like the market in Luang Prabang, is filled with vendors where you can get souvenirs.

Get suited up.  They may as well call Hoi An “Tailor Town” because there are dozens of tailoring shops that line the streets of this small town. Some are obviously better than others, but in general I think you’ll find a deal on clothes no matter where you go. My buddy and I ultimately ended up getting suits made at Kimmy Tailor (which is a top rated store in both Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor). For $420 I bought 2 tailored suits and a tie. The process took three trips over the course of our stay there, but they can do it in fewer if you’re pressed for time (they just won’t be able to make small adjustments).

As of this writing, the suits have held together well and are still top notch. A competing store that we considered, Bebe Tailor, offered 2 suits for $385, and while that price is lower, Kimmy’s employees seemed a bit more on top of their work and the material was a little bit better. But if you’re a woman, Bebe does offer far more women’s options (my sister ended up getting a tailored suit from Bebe for $150).

Eat all the cheap food.  Specifically, eat Cao Lau. This is a dish you’re only going to find in Hoi An, and it was probably one of my favorite meals of the trip. The noodle dish is the perfect mix of pasta-y, salty, veggie, meaty, crunchy deliciousness with just the right amount of broth–all for $1. Also, go to Banh Mi Phuong and get a banh mi sandwich. Look for the place with a picture of Anthony Bourdain proudly displayed. Order the #9 (Pork, Ham, and Pate) for one of the best sandwiches you’ll get for 75 cents. If you go at lunch, expect a line.

Take a ride in a Basket Boat. In all honesty, we kind of ran into this activity by accident on our hike out of Hoi An to find Pho Dua Coconut City. On our way, we saw the Le Ha Basket Boat outfit and decided on a whim to give a go. For 100K dong, you can paddle your way through the coconut fields in a bamboo fishing basket. It makes for a fun, really unique experience. Our guide also provided us with Asian conical hats which made for some pretty ridiculously hilarious pictures. Note: I couldn’t find a website for the company; it was a pretty local outfit. At the end, our boat guide actually guided us back to her own house along the river where we disembarked.

Light a candle and put the lantern into the Thu Bồn River. Hoi An is the most tranquil at night, and the hundreds of candles floating down the river are a huge part of giving it that serene evening atmosphere. There are several meanings behind the floating candles, but I think it’s best to take the beauty of the tradition and interpret it however you’d like that’s personal to you.

Take a Jeep tour.  More to come in the next post.

Sydney – Part 1

You may or may not be aware, but Australia is in the middle of its summer around December, so when we arrive the country is in its nice and warm climate.  However, the same months that it’s in summer also happens to be the same months as its rainy season.  Sadly, during our time in Sydney it rained quite a bit.  This did not dampen the time there however; we just ended up spending a little less time at the beach.

Luckily Sydney offers plenty to do other than the beach (which we did visit at one point as you’ll read about later on), but the first day was spent getting our bearings and recovering from the jet lag a bit.  Before I get into our zombie day of walking around, I just wanted to point out one thing about the Sydney airport.  If you’re flying into the international terminal and want to get to the domestic terminal, you have to take a shuttle bus that costs $5.50.  We weren’t alone in our flabbergast as most of the other travelers commented with astonishment and a fair amount of cursing for the fee just to go from one terminal to another (and if you’re thinking about walking, it’s not possible).  So just a heads up.

So back to the summary.  We ended up wandering around to get a lay of the land.  My initial reaction to Sydney was this – it’s very similar to southern California.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re looking for something exotic when you’re traveling, don’t expect to get it from Sydney.  Like most metropolitan cities, Sydney has commercial buildings, shops, restaurants, museums, busy city streets, and some parks.  The best way I can put it is it felt a lot like San Diego.

Our hotel was located in a very good spot (see details below), and gave us easy walking access to most of the parts of Sydney that you’d want to see in a few days.  We also took the Sydney ferry from Circular Quay (pronounced “key” apparently) to Darling Harbor for only $6 — which, considering you pay $5 for a big bottle of water and $5.50 to go from a terminal to a terminal at the airport, is a pretty good deal.  The ferry ride offers stops along different points on the harbor and provides fantastic photo opportunities of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.  Other ferries take you to places such as Manly Beach and other spots near the city.

Like I said, our first day was just random wandering so I’ll just give you details of where we ate and where we stayed, and get into the more specific sights later on.  It’s a miracle I’m even able to read my notes that I wrote on that day with my jet lag — they look like they were written by a gorilla on a trampoline.

Where we stayed

Travelodge Hotel Sydney
27 Wentworth Ave
Sydney New South Wales 2010
Australia

Not a bad place to stay, it was clean and relatively new.  It’s got a good location right near Hyde Park, close enough to all the sights, but not right on top of them so it’s nice and quiet at night.  One not so good thing (and this applies to pretty much all the hotels in Australia I think) — no free wifi; it costs $10 a day.  You do get 15 minutes free in the lobby every 24 hours though…

Where we ate

Din Tai Fung
Multiple Locations

Before we left for Sydney, we heard from lots of people that there is a really good Asian cuisine scene.  So, naturally for our first meal we wanted to try out some Asian food and we looked to our Lonely Planet guide for a lead.  It pointed us to Din Tai Fung, which they said was a great, affordable place for good dumplings that locals love.  Now in general, Lonely Planet usually suggests local places, backpackers venues, things of that nature when they give a one “$” rating.  So when we showed up at an outdoor mall housing Din Tai Fung, we were pretty surprised at how “chainy” it felt.  It wasn’t until later in the trip when I had wifi access that I was able to discover that, well, it was in fact a chain.  Regardless, the food there wasn’t bad, just not great.  The best offerings that they had were the soup dumplings, so I would stick to those, but even those weren’t the best I had ever eaten (that’s reserved for a few places in New York City’s chinatown).  They did have a quote from Anthony Bourdain up that said, “I’d travel halfway around the world for Din Tai Fung’s soup dumplings.”  Personally Anthony, I wouldn’t.

Macchiato
338 Pitt St.
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

Here’s a place I’ll say to just do take out.  Don’t go there for table service.  The service there was horribly slow.  Yes, the waiter was friendly, but the service was so slow that whatever kindness the waiter had was kinda nulled out.  Yes, it was Christmas Eve, but the place wasn’t that busy (no busier than any typical weekend night), so I can’t really give that as an excuse either.  Our food, which was just a pizza, took an hour and a half to get to our table.  They had lost our order so had to put it back in once we reminded them, but to add insult to injury, the people who sat next to us, who showed up far after we were seated, still got their pizzas before us.   So why do I say just do take out?  Because the pizza I had once we did get it and ate at the hotel (we had them box it to go and to give a tiny bit of credit they gave us a 20% discount for the wait) was really, really good.  I had the Shanghai Pizza which consisted of roast duck, mushroom, snow peas, cashews, plumb sauce, and mozzarella.  It was delicious — I really can’t find anything bad to say about it.

So as you can see, there wasn’t a whole lot from Day 1, but Day 2 was much more productive.  And that’s coming up.

I have several friends who had visited or lived in Australia who provided advice on where to go, and what to do.  My one friend, Beth, who lived in Australia for a year, had her own experiences which she emailed to all her friends and gave me permission to add to my blog posts.  You can never have too many opinions when it comes to travel, and like I’ve said many times, this blog is meant to be as much for you as it is for me.  So at the end of my Australia posts, I’ll be adding Beth’s tidbits in “Australia from Beth”.

“Australia from Beth”

http://surfcamp.com.au/ (creatively named Surf Camp Australia). I did the five day “Ultimate Experience”. I would absolutely recommend it! I stayed at Wake Up hostel in Sydney and the bus for surf camps leaves straight from the hostel. The camp itself is situated in a trailer park oddly enough, but it has it’s own vibe with cabins of I believe 8-10 people and a separate bathroom block with showers/toilets. The common area is all outside; basically just rows of picnic tables and a TV that is constantly streaming cool surf videos. This is where the groups meet to talk/learn about surfing, eat, socialize, etc. It’s a very bare bones place, but you don’t need much because you’re spending most of the time at the beach or eating/drinking/playing games in the common area. Curfew is a strict 10pm because the camp is in a residential area, but everyone leaves to drink at the beach beyond that time. On a clear night you will see more stars than you can in the wilderness in Wyoming, they are absolutely stunning. I made a lot of friends here that I still keep in touch with (I was the only American strangely enough out of close to 100 people).  $100 and everything is included (food, lodging, beach, etc.)

Note: Unfortunately, it was cloudy our first day.  Better pics and weather for the next galleries.

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