We won't bore you with the gory details of the 22 hour bus ride to Hoi An except for a few notable bits...
We were both mildly physically assaulted by the bus workers while boarding and getting seated. Apparently we were supposed to take off our shoes, but we didn't get the memo and the dude smacked me on the ass twice, yelled at me in Vietnamese and then gestured at me and then his head as if to say: "you god damned idiot".
Gina faired no better with the lady who screamed at her, tried to forcefully squeeze past in the narrowest of space, slapped at her hands with the ticket stubs and otherwise poked and prodded at her. Gina finally yelled back; "Don't touch me!" It was quite a scene and one hell of an entrance for those already on the bus, I'm sure.
It's funny the things that are and are not considered acceptable here: on the one hand food is routinely prepared, served and eaten in appalling hygienic conditions yet, the idea of us unknowingly wearing our flip flops onto the bus was enough to set them into a physical rage. Hilarious.
We were on a sleeper bus, which we'd experienced a while back in Cambodia and is generally pretty awesome. Instead of two rows of two seats each seats there are 3 rows of bunk bed type spaces. You are sort of reclined with a cubbyhole to stick your legs in. If you are average Vietnamese or any other nationality and happen to be 5' 6" or shorter you can get pretty comfortable in your little cubbyhole. I didn't realize it at first, but all cubbyholes are not created equal and despite being among the tallest on the bus, I got the smallest, crapiest cubbyhole. It was shorter and less volumic then most and instead of the fabric lining on most cubbyhole footboxes, mine was lined with exposed, jagged metal with cut into my bare feet.
I rarely get motion sickness, but I managed to with several hours of being on the bus. I ran to the front and asked the driver to pull over as there was no bathroom on the bus. His partner in crime said no and unsympathetically gave me a few plastic bags and then sat and watched me puke my guts out. It was the same dude who had spanked me earlier; I think he was a masochist and enjoyed the show because literally, 2 minutes later we pulled into the bus stop where we were taking a 15 minute bathroom break. I probably could have made it if they'd have told me we were so close. Thanks guys.
After the lunch break, we started to lose some people who were stopping along the way and I switched cubbyholes as soon as an upgrade was available. My new cubbyhole was longer and roomier and even had soft fabric lining. I was in Heaven. I watched unsympathetically when a 6' 3" German dude got on the bus a few hours later and was pointed to my old cubbyhole. This travel thing is a cold game and thems the breaks, son.
G and I both took a mild sleep aid and actually clocked several hours of decent sleep on the overnight portion of the trip and arrived in decent shape all things considered. We thanked the travel Gods for their mercy as we arrived at our hotel bright and early the next morning. Aside from the first few hours in the hellish cubbyhole and me getting sick, it wasn't too bad of a trip at all.
Hoi An is a cute little town. It's on the banks of a river and the town didn't take too bad of a beating during the war so it has retained it's antique and quaint charm. It reminded us alot of Luang Prabang in Laos which is probably the "cutest" town in SE Asia. The thing is there isn't a whole lot to do aside from wandering the tiny streets and checking out the shops, the market and the bridges around the river. We'd done that in a few hours and so retreated to a Vietnamese coffee house to get caffeinated and to use their restroom. We were met by a very enthusiastic waitress who came and took our order then brought our coffee and sat down to chat us up while we drank them. As always the Vietnamese coffee was strong enough to cause instantaneous eye twitching and moderate heart palpitations while being sweet enough to rot your teeth and blind you momentarily. In short, its some good s***. The waitress' name was Xiu and she was really fun to chat with. She was all too happy to make recommendations for vegetarian restaurants, things to do around town, etc. and loved to ask questions about the US and our story. Eventually we finished our coffees and Xiu had to get back to work. We said goodbye and she made us promise to comeback the next morning.
By this point we could check into our room as it was getting on noon and so headed back to settle in and chill for a bit before taking on Hoi An by bicycle that afternoon. We tried to have lunch at Xiu's recommended vegetarian, but it was closed (still Tet!) so we ended up down the street at another vegetarian spot ("chay" in Vietnamese). It wasn't so much a "restaurant" as it was some lady's living room, but the food was good, cheap and more importantly completely "chay".
It's a small little town, as I've said so eventually we headed out of town on our bikes to see where the road led. We ended up in the next village and as we pulled in got stopped by a young lady on a bike who implored us to come to her house to meet her family. We were a little skeptical and tried to slink off when she started driving again, but she waited and insisted that we came, so we followed her a block or two further.
It turns out her family lives in and operates a little pottery studio where they make and sell all sorts of ceramic goods. They wanted to show Gina how to use the pottery wheel, which was unlike any I've seen as it was powered by another lady who kicked the thing around in circles. The craft lady helped Gina mold a little vase and then G signed it...they have a whole shelf of little things tourists have come, made and signed. On our way out we bought a couple of clay animal shaped whistles more as a thank you for the pottery lesson then cuz we were in the market for animal shaped clay whistles.
Back in town, we indulged ourselves in the other thing that Hoi An is known for: custom made clothing. We've got two weddings to attend in a 3 week period in late March/early April and if you've been looking at any of our photos you'd know we're not exactly sporting the freshest duds these days. So, we figured we'd go get measured up and have an outfit made up for the weddings. G designed a nice dress and I had a slick pair of pants and a fresh shirt made up. That evening we just got measured and picked patterns and fabrics and made an appointment for the final fitting the next day.
That night we tried to go to Xiu's other recommended restaurant for dinner, but it too was closed for Tet so we ended up at the neighbors house; again basically on their patio while they cooked for us in in their kitchen. The meal itself was unmemorable, except that on the table as we waited for food they had an awesome snack that we are huge fans of: roasted watermelon seeds. We didn't realize that you're supposed to crack and eat like a sunflower seed so just ate them whole that first night. We've gotten involved several times since and can now crunch like a pro. They're awesome.
The Reinings were set to arrive around noon and so we spent the morning doing standard traveling chores: jog, breakfast, drop off laundry, confirm bus tickets, coffee with Xiu, etc. before heading over to meet them at about 12:30. After saying hello to Becky, Jerrie and Bill and checking out their sweet pad we all took the walk into town and found a decent spot for lunch. A few of us ordered the local specialty Cao Lao which was great.
After lunch we started to do the walking tour outlined in Becky's Lonely Planet, but we kept getting distracted by the shops and so the afternoon became a nice, long, aimless wander through town...for my money, this is a much better way to see a town then any Lonely Planet tour. After a few hours G and I hightailed back to the tailor to get the final fit done and to see our creations in their glory. We were a little iffy going back in, but they turned out well, and there were only a few things for them to tweak. By the time we were done the Reining crew had caught up and Jerrie's eye had been caught by a real nice looking pea coat they had on display. Before we know it the sales lady was whipping the tape measure around, jotting down some measurements and Jerrie Reining was the proud owner of a custom coat of her very own (for pickup tomorrow of course)- black trim and highlights, for the record!!
Predictably the dinner spot we'd wanted to go to was...all together now..."closed for Tet", so we picked a bar to meet at and while Bill and Jerrie ran home to change the three of us were going to scout another dinner spot and then meet at the bar for a pre dinner drink. Well, we made it as far as the bar anyway...but as it'd been almost 3 whole weeks since they saw each other G and Becky had several hours of gossip to catch up on, and well, it was happy hour and the beer was cold so I was content; so...we never did make it out to find the other restaurant.
Bill and Jerrie met us and we did enjoy that pre dinner drink over a nice lively conversation. We figured there were plenty of restaurants open down by the river and so headed that way when we were ready.
We found a decent looking spot and it did end up being pretty good. Unfortunately, the most memorable thing about the dinner, however, came at Bill Reining's expense. He ordered a pizza off their "wood fired pizza" menu; an innocent enough request especially after 2 weeks in Asia. The man just needed something familiar in his stomach; I get that. I've been there. The thing is that he did it in spite of strong advice from Jerrie, his lovely wife of many decades, who had warned him against ordering a pizza in Vietnam...meaning he was destined to have it backfire in his face. The rest of us ordered set menus of local Vietnamese food and our food started to arrive right away. We were well into our main courses and the pizza still hadn't come. Poor Bill was hungry and watching everyone eat right in front of him wasn't helping matters. Finally, we asked about the pizza and were assured it was coming. Several more minutes went by and the 4 of us had finished up our entire meals and Bill still hadn't even gotten a whiff of his dinner. It was getting ridiculous so I went down to ask about it again. When I poked my my head into the kitchen I realized something was wrong. It looked like a home kitchen, not an industrial kitchen and there certainly was no wood fired oven to be found. When I asked about the pizza they assured me "2 minutes" and just then a man on a scooter pulled up. It was the pizza delivery boy! I went back upstairs and broke the news: the pizza was ready, indeed they'd been more literal then we'd realized earlier when they'd said it was "coming". Bill didn't care; he was famished by that point and that pizza didn't stand a chance; he made quick work of it.
In the morning we met again with the Reining crew and hit the streets of Hoi An. We picked up our finished clothes then headed to the coffee shop, but Xiu wasn't working and her colleagues b****ed the order just slightly although it still did the trick. We walked by the river for a bit and snapped a few group shots before we said our good byes and G and I rushed off to catch our bus north to Hue.
Great few days in the cute little town of Hou An and awesome to catch up with the Bull, Jerrie and Becky for about 24 hours. Thanks for hanging out!!