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Hoi An is, and forever will be, famous for two things: Very near to the site of the original landing of United States troops in the Vietnam War, and the charming little town where everyone gets all of their clothes tailored. You could meet people from Malaysia to Myanmar, and they’ll all tell you to get clothes tailored in Hoi An. Bucking the trend, I decided instead to venture out of town and explore some of the natural treasures of the area, and forewent the desire to splurge on perfectly fitting clothing. This has more to do with the fact that I don’t know when I will ever wear or a suit or tie, but for those who did choose to have outfits drawn up, I can appreciate the speed and skill with which the women in Hoi An were able to create exact replicas of everything from pants to overcoats. And all for a fraction of the cost of “back home”, wherever that may be. Very impressive indeed.
Aside from all of the tailoring, Hoi An has a quaint little Old Town section with narrow cobble streets and alluring markets set down by the calm waterway. There are no vehicles allowed in the Old Town, and it is a pedestrian only thoroughfare of strolling around perusing for handicrafts and cafes–a very mellow place to spend an afternoon. There are hotels and guesthouses located down by the Riverfront, but the prices run at least double to those set just a few blocks back, and in general, prices decrease exponentially for nearly everything the further you move from the river. My favorites for everything were Thien Hung hotel, Dream bar across the river, and Lame restaurant just next to the guesthouse, home of amazing food and $.20 draft beers–dangerously cheap.
While Hoi An town is a relaxing place to stroll and shop, there is more action out of town than down town. While there are beachfront areas in Hoi An proper, the majority of people head up to China Beach, which is a 15 minute ride heading north towards Danang. Most taxis will drop you off at Hoa’s Place, a run down guesthouse and cafe run by a wildly eccentric, profanity laced Vietnamese character by the name of Hoa. He knows the area better than anyone, and is a good for a laugh or three. You can also rent some surfboards here for the rare days when China Beach is kicking up monsoon swells as it has been famed to do, though on this day we were relegated to some hardcore ankle high bodysurfing. There are a couple of little restaurants on the beach, but I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone looking for anything other than simply quieting a rumbling stomach. A decent beach in all, but nothing to get overly-excited about, especially seeing as the tracts of land up and down the coast have obviously been gobbled up and are being prepped for mega-resort development. I am afraid the days of wandering a deserted China Beach may have come to a close.
What is far more interesting right next to to China Beach are the Marble Mountains. Exactly as they sound, these are five massive mounds of marble that spring from the endlessly flat plain. The entire shantytown that has gathered around the base of the mountains is comprised of merchants tending to shops that sell obscene amounts of marble statues in each and every sculpt and size. Everything from a three inch marble ashtray to a two-ton marble tiger can be found in these sculpture galleries that garner their material directly from the mountains behind them. It is a surreal scene to say the least. The views afforded from the top of the low mountains provide a panoramic view of the beach below and the surrounding towns up to Danang, and would be as fantastic a place as any to catch the sunrise after a long night of $.20 beers back in Hoi An.
While Hoi An offers adventures and relaxation aplenty for a couple of days, after a few days I imagine the novelty can wear off and leave the traveler wanting to hop on the next sleeper bus heading north or south. For those unfamiliar, Vietnam has what are known as “sleeper buses” where narrow beds actually replace traditional seats, and while you do get to sprawl out some, actual sleep is minimal on the bumpy roads, and beds were seemingly built for a midget no taller than 5 feet tall. A good idea taken 90% of the way if you ask me.