Have you followed this whole journey from the beginning? Follow this link to find all the episodes of our Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City – Vietnam Cycle Tour.
Day 46 to 49– January 15th to 18th: Da Nang to Hoi An: 25kms
There was no urgency today as it was only a short ride from Da Nang to Hoi An. I took it easy as I made my way straight down the coast road. The traffic was light and posed no problems for me. It was a nice change from the highway.
At the intersection for the Hoi An turnoff, I turned toward the coast and into An Bang Beach. Having plenty of time today, I figured I’d take a look as we had a friend, Britt, who lived there. The town itself isn’t very big, so I just stopped at the beach, which looked nice, then headed back to the Black Fin Cafe for a mixed fruit drink. The whole place was pretty dead as Covid had emptied it of foreigners. As I sat there in the cafe, the sun came out, immediately giving the whole place a tropical, Thai backpacker resort feel. Oh, what a difference it can make!
It was a nice, sunny 5 km ride across empty rice paddies and into Hoi An to finish for the day. It was much busier over here, but not when I got to the famous Old Town where the tourists normally hang out. The Lantana Boutique Hotel is on the river on the edge of the Old Town, just a five-minute walk away. I rode over a bridge adorned with hanging lanterns and found Sharyn out the front waiting for me. Once again, the manager, Linh, wanted me to keep the bike in front of the hotel in plain sight of the road. Once again, I had to insist it remained inside somewhere out of sight. There was a bit of an arm wrestle, but I finally got my way, and we put it in the rear of the dining room behind reception. After all, we were the only guests by the look of it, and you’d think he’d let me park a truck in the dining room if it meant some business for a change!
The Lantana is a boutique hotel, and our room was really nice. It had a balcony with chairs overlooking the river and the Old Town. Sharyn had chosen well. As nice as it was, we didn’t hang around, heading straight into the Old Town to see what had changed in the last 23 years.
About the only real change (barring the lack of foreign tourists) was the plethora of small boats covered with a framework of colorful, spinning pinwheels, the ones you’d see in sideshow alley. Each one had a lady in them wanting to know if we wanted to go for a ride. To be honest, it’s not really our thing, but the locals love it. I’d hate to see Hoi An turn into another tacky tourist trap, though, but everyone wants a cut of the action, no matter how they get it, it seems.
We called into the White Marble Wine Bar for lunch as we saw them cooking a small bbq out the front; it smelled amazing. This open-sided house looks nothing like a wine bar but has a certain rustic, local charm synonymous with the neighborhood. I’m happy to say the food tasted as good as it smelled. The lady in the kitchen spoke English, and we had a good chat. She told us that 80% of the businesses in Hoi An had closed since Covid. The town operates almost exclusively on foreign tourists, of which there were scant few. It wasn’t hard to feel sorry for her, but I guess people are hurting all over the world right now. Covid is affecting everybody in some way or another. It has certainly impacted our plans this year.
After a brief rest back at the hotel, we headed into the Old Town once more as the sun disappeared. All along the waterside shone colorful lanterns, their dancing reflections adding to the vibrancy of the scene. The famous Japanese Bridge was the perfect place to take a picture, especially as no tourists were crawling all over it.
We did one more circuit of the Old Town, snapping colorful doorways and porticos, then we headed back to the Old Town Taproom, where we met Hieu behind the bar. He was full of useful information about the town and the local craft beer scene. We even knew a few of the same people. Being the only customers felt weird, but Hieu joined us for a while as we talked IPAs.
The next day we hoped to take the bikes out for a bit of sightseeing. Sharyn borrowed one of the hotel’s bikes and tried out her healing arm. Unfortunately, the minute she tried to turn it around, she immediately jumped off, catching me by surprise. I thought her arm had been coming along quite well, but it obviously wasn’t good enough yet to get back on a bike. We agreed to give it another go in Nha Trang, where she might be able to continue the trip on her own bike. We’d have to wait and see. I could see she was disappointed, but she’s nothing if not a realist. Silently I was happy, though. I thought it was way too early to get back on the bike and risk damaging her arm even further.
So Sharyn worked on her computer for the day while I headed out around town. I wandered around one side of the river and then the next, taking in the Old Town and the local market, which was really crowded. Then I headed back out to An Bang to the beach and lunch at the Blackfin Cafe again. I had promised Binh from The Cham in Hue that I’d check out Seven Bridges Brewery’s new Bia Oi lager and report back. It was a lower alcohol, cheaper alternative aimed at the local market, and he was curious as to whether to include it on his beer menu. So, I called into the recently opened Seven Bridges Taproom and tried the new Bia Oi. Personally, it’s not my cup of tea being an IPA man, but I guess it would hit some kind of spot on a really hot day, especially if you’d worked up a thirst. Here in Vietnam, I think it will be well received.
Back in Hoi An, I picked up Sharyn, put the bike back in the rear of the dining room, and headed back to the Old Town Taproom for a couple of beers.
The next day we visited Madame Khanh’s for lunch. She’s the Banh Mi queen of Hoi An, appointed to the prestigious position by none other than the venerable Anthony Bourdain. Having extensive experience with banh mi’s myself, I found Madame Khanh’s offering pretty good and worthy of praise. Whether it’s the best one I’ve ever had would be hard to say, but if you’re ever in town and feeling like a banh mi, you won’t go wrong paying her a visit.
Our American friend, Britt, was staying in Hoi An/An Bang. We’ve kept in contact via Facebook and had arranged to meet up this evening at her homestay here on the outskirts of Hoi An. As Sharyn was busy working, I took a Grab bike out to her place, a good 20-minute ride away. It was great to catch up after about four years. There I met her friends Nicko and Thomas as well as a couple of the family who owned the homestay, Xuan and Hoai. Not wanting to show up empty-handed, I got Britt to take me up to the local store and bought about ten beers. I figured I’d only have a couple, and she could keep the rest. As soon as we sat down on their verandah, out came the food, and lots of it. Nicko didn’t turn up empty-handed, either. He presented Britt with a hand-made bong which was immediately put to good use. Not only that, but he also had some homemade wine to share and presented me with some smoked beef that he had prepared at home. He certainly has embraced the self-sufficient lifestyle of the locals up here!
After a couple of hours, I said my goodbyes, and Britt organized a taxi for me to go back to the Old Town Taproom, where Sharyn was waiting for me.
On our last day in Hoi An, we got the receptionist, My Ly, to ring around for accommodation for us for tomorrow night. Many of the Nha Nghi’s are still not taking foreigners in, still of the belief that we’re spreading Covid. It’s very frustrating for us as there’s been no foreign tourism in Vietnam for well over a year now, so no possibility of catching it from us. The only outbreaks for the last six months have been from illegals entering the country from China or Cambodia, but people are genuinely scared of strangers still, and we’d have to call ahead to guarantee a bed for the night. My Ly managed to get us a room in the Muong Thanh Hotel in Tam Ky. A fifty-kilometer ride away.
After an afternoon of catching up on the diary and route planning, we walked on down to the Shamrock for a couple of beers. We sat out the front at a table on the footpath and watched the river light up as it went dark. Soon after we sat down, a Philippino duo entertained us with some really good cover songs. We’ve seen a number of Philippino bands, and they’ve all been exceptionally good. It seems they’ve all been blessed with the voices of angels!
We finished our beers and got our dinner from the street stalls down the road. They cook all kinds of yummy foods on small BBQs behind their stalls. We chose some skewers with pork and vegetables on them; they were pretty tasty. Being our last night, we headed back over to the Old Town Taproom, where Hieu presented us with some free beers from the Lac Brewing Company down in Saigon. I played a couple of games of Eight Ball with him and his mates as we enjoyed the beers. Having to ride tomorrow, we ordered a few beers to take back to the room with us, said our goodbyes, and headed back.
We have really enjoyed our time here in Hoi An, but I can’t help feeling sorry for all the people affected by the sudden lack of tourists. Everyone was so happy to see us, and that made us feel a bit special, but there was a gloomy atmosphere enveloping the town that couldn’t be ignored. We’ve been spoilt, having the place to ourselves, but in the end, we know that only the return of the masses of tourists that we try so hard to avoid will raise the spirits of the place.
Read on for the next episode as we head further south: Highway Hazards 101.