We went to Hoi An mainly because Top Gear went there and the lantern festival (aka. the Full Moon Festival) looked beautiful. We planned our whole trip around the lantern festival – which was difficult as it is arranged by the lunar calendar (the 14th day of the lunar calendar), and we couldn’t find an actual date on the internet. We did various calculations based on when the full moon was (as you do…!), and decided on a date to aim for. As it happened, we got the date wrong, but luckily as we were staying a few days, it fell within our stay. So when we arrived the town was decked out in lanterns, ready for lantern celebrations! I’m still confused about the lunar calendar, and frankly am thankful that someone invented clocks / time. It might have taken me years to learn to tell the time as a kid, struggling with a giant plastic clock, but I’m finally reaping the rewards! 😉
We found a restaurant overlooking the river and sat there, enjoying dinner and people-watching as day turned to dusk and the town lit up with lanterns. It would have been romantic, if it weren’t for the lizard on the ceiling above my head. I kept standing up and moving the table back or forward a few feet. The other diners probably thought I was a lunatic, but after what happened in Cairns I wasn’t taking any chances… if that lizard fell, he wasn’t going in my dinner / in my mouth etc.
Ladies ran stalls selling floating candles and snacks by the side of the path, and these were then placed in the river by locals in boats and tourists leaning down from the dock until they almost fell in. It was beautiful to watch the candles floating serenely along, accompanied by the water police, also floating along, enforcing the rule that everyone on a boat must wear a lifejacket.
(Sadly Top Gear have much better cameras than us, so sorry my photos in the dark are a bit rubbish!) There were also large animal-shaped illuminated lanterns on the river, and the whole atmosphere was beautiful. We wandered around looking at the markets and soaking in the atmosphere.
We took a bus from Danang, which was very late but did turn up eventually. Upon arrival, we were flooded with people offering various things – Do we need a taxi to town? Do we need a hotel? Do we want to be escorted to a tailors to have a suit made? Etc etc. It was difficult to deal with this. I just smiled and politely said “no thank you” to each question, as we already had a hotel booked, knew where it was, and wanted to walk to it, but they did not like our disinterest and told us we were rude. I did find the selling tactics a bit overbearing at times, but I guess they are just trying to make a living.
We took a “private car”, arranged by the hotel, from Hoi An to Danang airport – this was a real luxury and to this day is the only time I have been in a 4 x 4 Land-Rovery type vehicle – very posh! (340,000 Vietnamese Dong, ie about $16 USD). Due to the sheer luxury we arrived early at the airport and Vietnam Airlines redeemed themselves for their previous delay by being so lovely and letting us change to an earlier flight with basically no notice for no fee.
We flew to Hanoi and after 1 night’s stopover, headed to the airport once again to fly to Hong Kong. The taxi-ride was interesting as with a combination of running late and bad traffic, it was “touch and go” whether we’d make the flight. I was feeling very anxious about this… when the taxi driver made an unscheduled stop to pick up his Mother!! He got us to the airport on time, but only just…!
We checked in and even had time to spend the rest of our Vietnamese Dong. I bought some beautiful “Chance” hair mist by Chanel, which wasn’t cheap, but I thought if I change our money back to Pounds I’ll only lose money on the conversion, so sod it! I have never purchased Chanel before, but I thought that when I did, it would be an amazing experience. I assumed that a procession of ladies would fan me and offer me free drinks while preparing peeled grapes etc? In real life, it was a terrible retail experience – we started the transaction and then a Vietnamese lady pushed in front of me and the shop assistant started to serve her instead!! As we were pushed for time I was forced to stand up for myself and say “Excuse me, we were here first” etc. So we were served but both the shop assistant and the lady sulked about it and didn’t smile or appear polite at all. Not the heavenly Chanel-purchasing experience I had in mind!
We had an interesting take-off and all… the plane geared up to take off in the usual way, sped up, sped up more, and then abruptly aborted take-off. No explanation came over the tannoy. The air hostess sitting near us looked worried but didn’t say anything. And the plane looped back around to have another go. I hate flying at the best of times, so for the second take-off attempt I was gripping my seat with white knuckles, with tears in my eyes. Luckily it went fine second time around… And breathe!!
Overall, we loved Hoi An, and the lantern festival. Thanks Top Gear! – Watching all those re-runs on Dave were worth it after all… 😉
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