Day 60 | Leaving bustling Saigon for the ancient town of Hoi An

On our last morning in Saigon, we visited the War Remnants Museum, a museum primarily dedicated to the Vietnam War with some smaller exhibits related to the Indochina War with the French colonialists. Then it was time to say goodbye to this bustling city and travel to our second destination in Vietnam, the ancient town and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hoi An, located on the sea in Central Vietnam, which we started exploring in the late afternoon.

We woke up early enough to get to the War Remnants Museum when it opened, at 7:30 AM. We left the hotel around 7:15 AM and walked through the streets of Saigon. They were already super busy with motorbikes. So busy in fact that even the sidewalks were filled with them. We were left to walk on the grass next to the sidewalk.

We made it to the museum shortly after it opened as expected. Immediately we noticed all the tanks, helicopters, fighter jets and other war vehicles exposed outside of the museum building. Here I am posing next to a CH-47 Chinook helicopter. We had seen these in Vietnam War movies but seeing one in real life really makes you appreciate how massive it is!

Next to a Chinook helicopter at the War Remnants Museum

Next we have a flame tank (tank equipped with a flamethrower). Its turret can be moved at an angle of 360 degrees. Better not be in front of it when it’s about to blast fire at the enemy!

Flamethrower tank at the War Remnants Museum

We kept walking around all the vehicles. There was also an M.48 A3 tank – a massive tank weighting almost 50 tons -, a bulldozer as well as a few fighter jets. All were captured from or abandoned by the defeated US army. Next to the building’s entrance, we also saw unexploded ordnances or UXOs.

Unexploded ordnances

We went inside the three story building and methodically visited all the rooms, following the suggested itinerary starting with the top floor. One room presented the historical background of the Vietnam War, in an obviously North Vietnam biased manner. Another one showcased weapons used by the infantry of both sides during the war. Another featured dozens of pictures taken by all the reporters who died while covering it, some of whom were young women. Another yet displayed pictures of victims of Agent Orange, a very toxic chemical substance dropped by the US Air Force during the war. Some of the victims pictured there were infants and little kids born as late as 2008. Many photographs in that room were quite hard to look at. Finally, the first floor had excerpts and photographs from articles published by various international newspapers during the war. Left to right below are full page ads supporting the people of Vietnam against the United States aggression in a German, French, and Italian newspapers.

Anti Vietnam War international artwork

We left the main building to see the nearby mock American prison. It had a guillotine as well as very low horizontal cages commonly referred to as tiger cages. That’s where North Vietnamese prisoners of war were tortured.

Tiger cages for North Vietnamese prisoners

We finished walking through the mock prison and left the museum to have a very early lunch since we did not have anything for breakfast that day. We went to our favorite restaurant in town: My Banh Mi! Yes, after yesterday and the day before yesterday this was our third day in a row eating there. That’s how much we loved their sandwiches. Though it was not very far on the map, it still took us some time to navigate through the very busy streets still full of motorbikes. We passed by parking lots filled with hundreds of them.

Typical motorbike parking in Saigon

When we arrived at My Banh Mi, we were welcomed and greeted by the staff who recognized us. A third checkin on Swarm even earned me the Foursquare mayor title for the place! This time I convinced Mimi to go all-in and order not two but three delicious vegetarian Banh Mis for the two of us to share. I went nuts when they arrived on our table just a few minutes later.

Going crazy for My Banh Mi

This time the owner’s father wasn’t around to chat with us. We ate quickly so we would not be rushed to catch our VietJet Air flight to Da Nang.

We came back to our hotel to finish packing. As we were about to exit the room, I found my sunglasses I thought I had lost! They were simply underneath the handle bar of my rolling luggage! I suddenly remembered putting them there when we first checked in. That made me happy for the rest of the (sunny) day!

We checked out and asked the hotel to get us a cab to the airport. We are going to miss the Park Hyatt Saigon, definitely one of the best hotels of our trip to date.

The taxi ride to the airport was both cheaper and faster than anticipated. On our way, a friend of mine sent me an article saying VietJet Air flight attendants sometimes wear bikinis and perform a dance inside the cabin. We were intrigued to see if this would be the case on our flight! After all I did find a YouTube video proving that it happened at least once on a VietJet Air flight in front of incredulous passengers!

We arrived at the Saigon airport, checked in without problem and waited at the gate for a little while since we were in advance. We then boarded the plane and no, the flight attendants were not wearing bikinis however they wore cute hats and shorts that you would not normally expect. The flight too was quite short, just one hour. We both napped for most of it, though I also took a few short videos.

The take off from Saigon, of course.

Cotton candy clouds over Central Vietnam as we approached our destination. This was not the first time we flew over such perfect cartoon cotton candy clouds on a domestic flight.

And finally the landing in Da Nang International Airport.

The airport was small but very modern. We retrieved our luggage and met with the driver that was waiting to take us to our hotel in Hoi An, about an hour drive South.

Welcome sign at the Da Nang Airport

On the way, we saw the beautiful sand beaches of Da Nang. The area seemed very rich and reminded us of Nice in France or the small beach towns in Southern California. There were many luxurious villas right on the beach and some large resorts as well. We also saw tourists riding bicycles.

There was very little motorized traffic and the drive ended up taking us only 45 minutes. We got to our hotel, Hoi An NGO Homestay, a tiny guesthouse with only five rooms. We were welcomed by a nice lady from the family owning the guesthouse who offered us slices of watermelon. She also gave us a map of Hoi An’s old town and flyers of popular tours and tourist activities.

We went upstairs to drop our stuff and take our obligatory room discovery video. Our little room was very cute, with the tiniest balcony ever and a super strong A/C.

We then left for the old town, a quick five minutes walk away from our guesthouse. Hoi An’s old town was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, a prestigious title awarded to only about 1000 sites worldwide. Tourists need to purchase passes to enter the old town so we did and entered it using one of the main pedestrian bridges over the Thu Bon River.

Pedestrian bridge in Hoi An

Our passes were valid for two days and allowed us to enter up to five historic sites of the old town. We went to see a couple of them. First, we walked around the Cantonese Assembly Hall which had nice artwork with 3D effects.

Art in the Cantonese Assembly Hall

Then we visited one of Hoi An’s ancient houses which was also used as a bookstore in the past. The house still belongs to the same family that owned it over a century ago. It had a peaceful and very photogenic courtyard.

In the courtyard of one of Hoi An's oldest houses

After that, we stopped at Faifo Coffee, a three story local coffee shop. We enjoyed delicious cakes while sitting down on the rooftop to observe the old town from above. We were not the only ones. Next to us a Vietnamese couple was taking professional engagement pictures. It’s true that the view over the old town’s uniform roofs was very beautiful.

Roofs of old houses in Hoi An

We also saw many cyclos (cycle rickshaws), including a group with dozens of international tourists forming a super long line. It made a pretty cool video from up there, with the national flag floating in the wind.

After we left, we kept walking around the old town. Motorized vehicles are not allowed there, making it very easy and safe for pedestrians to explore. For us coming from Saigon with its streets filled with motorbikes, it was even more pleasant. The area was very photogenic and romantic, especially along the river. Most tourists around us were other couples (Vietnamese or foreign) with only few families or group of friends. We passed by many cute restaurants and shops catering to tourists.

A restaurant in Hoi An's old town

We also saw people selling fruits or flowers on the street. Most were women.

Street food vendors in Hoi An

The boats stationed on the river were colorful.

Boats on the Thu Bon River

Streets in the old town were decorated with paper lanterns. We walked along the river as the sun was slowly setting over the old town.

Back next to the bridge we used to enter the old town a few hours earlier, we took some more pictures of the river with the beautiful sky and lights reflecting in the water.

Sunset over Hoi An

We also stopped by the Japanese Covered Bridge, one of the most famous places to visit in the old town.

Japanese Covered Bridge's Pagoda

We took it to leave the old town and go to Minh Hien, a vegetarian restaurant that was highly recommended online. We chose it despite not being in the old town since the reviews were so overwhelmingly positive.

Minh Hien Vegetarian Restaurant

The place was packed with tourists, contrasting with most other restaurants outside of the old town proper that only had a few customers. We ordered a set menu that came with four different dishes including Cao Lau, a very localized specialty dish that was our favorite.

Set menus at Minh Hien Vegetarian Restaurant

Much like the food, the service there was excellent. After dinner, we walked back to our hotel via the old town. We took many more nighttime pictures and a few videos, in particular from the main bridge over the river which was still packed with people.

We took our time to get back to our guesthouse. Next to it, we passed by a soccer field with young men playing a soccer game. The air temperature was perfect at that time which is probably why they were playing at night.

We went to bed pretty tired as it was another long day of fun activities and travel.

2 thoughts on “Day 60 | Leaving bustling Saigon for the ancient town of Hoi An

  • May 5, 2016 at 12:20 pm
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    What a long day full of activities and landscape changes,beautiful city.
    Sorry for the lack of attendants dancing in bikinis in the cabin, but the best of all is that you find your glasses!!

    Reply
  • May 6, 2016 at 1:19 am
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    Hoi An’s ancient houses, courtyard reflect the old time, preserved pretty well. China used to have many similar houses, streets and courtyard 30 years ago, now almost none, due to the rapid development or ill-planning.

    Reply

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