Hoi An – Vietnam

Somewhat traumatised by our last bus journey, we decided to cough up a little more cash and take a train to our next destination: Hoi An. Arriving at the train station in the morning we were asked what train we were getting and then ushered into a specific waiting room. With no English announcements we simply followed the crowd as everyone got up and moved through to the platform (I say platform, there were no raised areas, the tracks simply run along the floor where you stand). Typical of the etiquette in these parts, we were elbowed out of the way by numerous men, women and children as the train arrived and, grumbling away like the Brits we are, we struggled up the ladders once we’d regained our balance.

Although we were in AC class it was still pretty hot and sweaty but the train journey offered stunning views following the route of the Hai Van Pass across jungles and down to secluded beaches and the sea below. We arrived in Danang after 3 hours and naughtily shared a pepperoni pizza in Pizza Hut for lunch (so good). We then walked to a nearby public bus stop, waved at a bus as it approached and jumped aboard. The conductor pointed to the back seats so we wobbled along and plonked ourselves down. I was sat next to a fully open window and could’ve fallen out at any moment so Tom held on to me for the hour and a half journey to Hoi An which cost just £1.

Arriving in Hoi An we walked 15 mins to our hostel (tough in the heat) and were guided through a clothes shop (random) and up some stairs to a small ensuite room. It had no windows so was a little dingy and there was a trail of tiny ants across the walls, but hey ho! We wandered into central Hoi An and explored the beautiful lantern-lined streets with cute coffee shops, restaurants, souvenir shops and affordable tailors which it is famous for. The centre of Hoi An is barriered off as walking streets in the evening which is so lovely as you can enjoy the area without the incessant noise of mopeds and having to jump out of the way constantly. Making our way to the market, we had dinner at a small food stall where we tried a traditional fried Cao Lau – a regional Vietnamese dish only found in Hoi An made up of noodles, pork and greens.

We strolled down to the river and turned down offers of boat rides and paper lanterns, crossing the bridge to a small island with lots of bars and restaurants and more markets. Here we met up with the two couples we’d made friends with on our Halong Bay tour and several cocktails and beers later we were dancing in a bar at 2am. Deciding to call it a night after Tom dropped and broke his phone, we walked 20mins back to our hostel only to find the metal shutters were pulled closed across it. Starting to worry, Tom noticed they weren’t locked so we managed to pull them open and squeeze through the gap, trying not to wake the 4 women asleep on the floor of the shop front.

Waking with a stonking hangover and no water in our room, we dragged ourselves out to rehydrate and found a shop to fix Tom’s phone. £50 later and with a whole new screen, Tom was in a much better mood and we explored the markets of Hoi An, selling all manner of clothing, knock-off items, souvenirs etc. Hearing someone shouting my name, we turned to see a girl we’d met on our Sapa tour and had a little catch up, but with our hangovers now in full flow and me sweating profusely, we had to dip out and make our way back to our hostel to cool down and have a nap. Returning to the markets again in the evening, Tom bought a fake North Face puffa coat and, sick of wearing a sweaty rucksack all the time, I got a bum bag – the height of fashion.

The next day, feeling much more human, we hired bikes from our hostel and braved Vietnamese roads for the first time. A 20 minute cycle through rice fields and past water buffalo and we arrived at a stunning beach with white sand and crystal clear water. We got ourselves two sun loungers and went straight into the sea which was as warm as bath water and so still and calm – a slight contrast to that of Goa! Now quite cloudy, we chilled out and read our books for a while and then, feeling my skin was a little sensitive, I asked Tom if I was burnt and he said I looked a bit pink so I slapped on some factor 50 but it was too little too late unfortunately. We cycled back to town, grabbing lunch at the famous Banh Mi Phuong, and back at the hostel I got my first glance of my burn. Dear lord, it was HORRIFIC. I’m talking full body burn with crisp white bits. Taking a shower, it developed further and the pain started. With no time to dwell, I threw on a long sleeved top and trousers to cover it up and we went out in search of a tailor.

Made famous partially by Top Gear for being able to pick up a tailor made suit for next to nothing, Tom had decided he wanted to get some, so we went to a few tailors and got quotes. Prices ranged from around £60 – £150 and we ended up going with Kimmy’s which, though a little pricier, had the best customer service, lovely fabrics, and good quality stitching. They are also one of only three tailors in Hoi An to have their own on-site factory (as opposed to many of the others who have fancy stores but send the suits to the markets to be produced) so quality can be closely managed and adjustments can be made instantly.

Two hours later and Tom had chosen fabrics (albeit more expensive ones), linings and styles for two suits and an overcoat and I’d gone for a camel coat to replace my old one back home. We haggled quite hard on price and we’ve since found out that Kimmy’s don’t really tend to do this, but we managed to get £100 off bringing the overall price down to £375. We got measured up and agreed to pay 50% up front. All the while, my sunburn was developing further and the seamstresses were commenting on my red skin until, when Tom was paying, I started to pass out. Knowing the familiar feeling due to my anxiety and panic attacks I knew I needed to sit down before my vision completely went, so I found a seat, lowered my head down and necked a bottle of water. I thankfully managed to stop it in its tracks and when Tom signalled for us to leave he had no idea that I’d almost fainted. Normally this would’ve been enough to send me into a full blown panic attack but I just carried on as if nothing had happened – not something I would’ve been able to do previously. Sophie 1 – 0 Anxiety.

We had another Cao Lau for dinner at the food market and then made our way back to our hostel. By now my sunburn was so bad I could barely move and I was feverish and shivering. Tom helped me apply aloe vera but the areas on my back were so painful it made me cry. At least I managed to laugh about it a little when I sent photos to my friends and they were horrified by my whiter-than-white bikini marks. Going to bed was awful – I couldn’t wear pyjamas as they were scratchy against my skin and I could only lie on my left side as this was the only area that wasn’t practically purple with burn. Hence, very little sleep that night.

The next morning we decided to check out of our hostel as it wasn’t great and we walked 10mins further out of town to a guest house I’d found on Booking.com. With the burn in full rage mode there was no way I was able to carry my big rucksack so Tom gallantly carried both of them and I manged our two daysacks. Arriving at our new hotel 3 hours before check-in, we expected to just drop our bags off but they were super accommodating and showed us to a gorgeous garden view room straight away. The room was sooooo nice compared to our last one – massive comfy bed, huge windows, high ceilings, nice modern bathroom, a fridge and (it’s the little things that count) free toiletries.

Not wanting to waste the day, I sucked up the pain and near rigor mortis that had set in and we caught a public bus back to Danang to visit the Marble Mountains – a set of five marble and limestone hills each named after a natural element: water, wood, fire, metal and earth and topped with Buddhist temples and pagodas. Set within each mountain were huge caves with tunnel complexes leading deep into the hillside. The mountains are all surrounded by trees and the route between each one was beautiful with views out to sea. After a few hours of exploring we were both super sweaty and my burn was hurting so much that we decided to call it a day and head back.

After an uncomfortable bus ride back I showered, aloe vera’d and then it was time to head back to Kimmy’s for our first fitting. Crazy to think they are able to produce suits in less than 24 hours, we wondered what state of production they’d be in, but we were both able to try on fully made versions of our items. Not ideal with radiating skin and the Vietnamese heat, I tried on my winter coat and it was a little too tight to begin with which was slightly worrying, but my seamstress assured me they could take it out and, remarking on how red I was again, she marked up the coat with chalk. I made a few other changes such as making it shorter, reducing the size of the lapels, choosing buttons and selecting the position for my pockets and then I was glad to take it off. Tom was up next and he had a tiny, very entertaining seamstress who bossed him about and constantly called him James Bond. His suits were a bit too roomy so similarly they marked him up with chalk for his first round of adjustments.

Our second fitting took place the next morning and they’d made all the changes I’d requested the previous evening. Now fitting much better, I was unable to find fault with anything so signed mine off and they started to tidy up the final stitching there and then. Tom’s suits were also fitting much better though there were still some adjustments to be made, but by our final fitting that afternoon everything was sorted and we arranged to collect our items the following morning.

In the evening we had dinner at a small family-run restaurant and had our cheapest draft beer of our trip – 10p! We spent the rest of the evening planning our next few days travel, booking a sleeper train to the seaside town of Mui Ne and a 4 night stay at an upmarket resort on Phu Quoc island for my birthday.

When you’re travelling you’re meant to experience new things but, what I experienced that night wasn’t something I ever want to again. When trying to go to sleep I could feel tiny bites all over my back, making me flinch in pain. Convincing myself it was bed bugs I brushed my skin and checked the sheets with my torch – nothing there. The stabbing pains continued to got progressively worse, to the point that I couldn’t lie still and was on the verge of tears. I turned to Google for help and found several articles describing my exact symptoms. The prognosis – damaged nerve endings firing electrical impulses as they repair following bad sunburn. The remedy – a boiling hot shower as hot as you can handle. It was now 4am and I’d been writhing around so much Tom was awake and I just had to try the hot shower – not what you really want to do when your body is covered in painful burn. So, I braved the shower and let the water pour over my back as hot and as long as I could manage. It didn’t stop the shocks, but it settled them long enough for me to manage to go to sleep.

Back at Kimmy’s the next morning we collected our final items and arranged shipping back to the UK. Our tailoring and some other bits we’d bought in Hoi An came to just under £100 for air mail – pretty pricey but a better option than sea mail or carrying them with us for the next 4 months. Once sorted we went back to our hotel and borrowed the worlds worst bikes – Tom’s seat kept falling off and my chain slipped whenever I tried to go slightly uphill. We somehow managed to cycle for 2 hours and visited a large herb garden and ‘coconut island’, though there wasn’t much to see. We killed time playing pool in a bar near our hotel and then collected our things and caught a public bus to Danang where we’d pick up our 1am sleeper train to Mui Ne.

Travelling through a huge thunderstorm overhead, we arrived in Danang and again struggled to find somewhere to eat before setting up camp at the train station where we’d be waiting 5 hours for our train. I passed the time writing a blog post and called my parents for a catch up. After witnessing the horrors of the station toilets where you’re expected to remove your shoes before entering (not a frigging chance), our train arrived at around 2am and we made our way to our 6 berth cabin. There were already two guys in there – one sat at the small table on his laptop, and one watching the football on his phone with the volume on loud. Tom and I secured our big bags, climbed into our middle bunks, shoved our rucksacks under our pillow and, despite the noise, went straight to sleep.

Next stop… Mui Ne!

See ya later, Sophie x

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