I’ve been in Da Nang for two days now since returning from Hoi An ~ to say it’s been unproductive would be an understatement.
Sadly, I didn’t love Hoi An as much as everyone else did so I ventured off back to Da Nang on a whim.
For the past few days, I’ve been trying to decide whether I like this city or not and I think I’ve concluded that I do. I certainly am enjoying it more than Hoi An because it has more authenticity in my opinion (despite Hoi An being heritage listed), even though I’m doing a whole bunch of nothing here.
For me, this sea-side town has all the elements without being overbearingly crowded or crazy ~ you have the beach, the city, endless resorts, restaurants, spas and bars and on the other side of the bridges you can explore the more local town where it’s filled with locals and mainly places catered to the locals (at a fraction of the cost).
But before I tell you about my uneventful time in Da Nang, I want to go back in time a little and tell you about the quaint city of Hoi An…
30 November 2018 – Hoi An ~ I should love you but I don’t
After successfully doing a visa-run and getting an extra month here, I was so excited to FINALLY visit Hoi An ~ it was highly recommended by all of the travelers I encountered and it looked so beautiful in the pictures ~ I felt drawn to the city and was dying to go. I was also so happy to leave Saigon because it got a bit much after three days.
As my luck would have it, there were no direct buses or night buses to Hoi An (it was my original plan to run straight to Hoi An after coming back from my visa run).
I either had to go to Da Nang or Nha Trang first and was advised not to go to Nha Trang because even though there are beautiful beaches there, it’s just filled with Russian tourists.
I didn’t really want to be surrounded by Russians so I decided to book a bus to Da Nang, stayed in Da Nang for one night and then book a bus the following day to Hoi An.
The bus to Da Nang took 16.5 hours and then another 45 minutes from Da Nang to Hoi An (I thought it would take 2 hours)
Once we were dropped off on one of the backstreets in Hoi An, I noticed that the streets were quiet with barely any traffic around and the sun was out.
The driver from the car came out and asked me where I was staying.
Me: “Tribee Cotu Hostel”
He pointed his finger behind me and told me to walk for 2 minutes in the direction he’s pointing.
I don’t think I’ve ever been dropped off so close to my accommodation before. This was a great start for me.
As soon I as I walked in, I was greeted by one of the staff which confirmed my room wasn’t ready. The girl was lovely, informative and friendly.
Receptionist: “You can leave your bag over there” (pointing in the corridor).
Me: “Sure, obviously I can’t check in yet.”
Receptionist: “Yeah your room isn’t ready yet”
I looked above her head and saw a big sign saying
“VOLUNTEER WANTED – Events/Bar Tender ~ free accommodation, breakfast, lunch and drinks. 2 week minimum”
I couldn’t help but ask about it because I was scoping a place for free accommodation for my last two weeks in Vietnam (I’m literally hanging out and waiting until I can fly to Spain), which led the receptionist to set up a meeting for me and the bar manager at 7pm that night. The main issue was that I could only do a maximum of 9 days instead of 14 so I had to discuss it with the bar manager to see if they’d make an exception for me.
Tribee Hostel had all the elements of a perfect hostel for me – comfy beds, it was relatively quiet, clean, had good customer service, excellent breakfast and lots of free events – including a parting gift…
After exploring the city, I also admit that Hoi An had all the elements of a beautiful city ~it’s got amazing preserved, heritage listed old buildings ~ there are lanterns everywhere, canals like Venice, lots of greenery, cheap food, a booming nightlife and it’s not overly crowded.
I definitely felt like it was a city I should love…but I just didn’t love this place as much as I expected to.
I guess what gives me the most satisfaction when going to a place is the level of authenticity I feel from the place, the happiness I can sense from the local people and…of course, the level of tourists.
So there I was ~ I’d checked into a nice hostel with all the right elements…but still didn’t fall in love with the place – because it didn’t feel enough like a home for me…and the price wasn’t the cheapest either, even though you get lots of little benefits like free water refills, breakfast and events (so it is value for money in that sense).
I kind of wanted to explore but barely had any motivation ~ I knew I had to meet with the manager at 7 so only ventured out as far as the food court to grab some lunch when I was hungry.
When 6.50pm came, I made my way to another one of Tribee’s hostels on the same street and met the bar manager. We sat for a minute, he explained the role briefly and said he’d make an exception for me even though I was staying for such a short time (woo go me. It was that easy!). It was basically a lot of drinking and convincing people to bar hop and spend money at the Tribee’s venues because the bar where the party started closed early. We were expected to work 6 days per week.
Once I got an idea of the strong amount of drinking and partying involved, I started questioning whether I’d made the right decision.
We exchanged contact details and he said I’d start on Saturday (in 2 days) and that he’d meet with me before my shift to explain the role in further details on the day.
Since I was already there and there was free rum and coke being offered, I decided to take advantage and join a couple who was playing Jenga ~ we also started talking to a Dutch guy who ended up joining us too and the night turned into a big night of drinking (surprise surprise).
After the bar closed and everyone migrated, I met one of the current workers and started asking him questions.
Me: “Tell me everything about the job”
Guy: “It’s basically a lot of drinking and partying ~ you serve people drinks and then herd them to the next place. You stay in the staff room together with the other bartenders, you get free accommodation, breakfast and they pay you about 1 million (dong) at the end of it for your lunch. But it can get very noisy ~ people bring home people all the time so make sure you have ear plugs and valium.”
I was already doubting if I should go ahead with the job and his comments made me even more doubtful. I had this uncomfortable feeling about doing the job and wasn’t sure if it would suit me but I already had agreed to do it…
I drank a little bit more with everyone but started feeling tired and wasn’t in the mood to “party” anymore so I retired.
The bartender looked at me with disappointment when I said goodbye
Bartender: “If you’re going to work here then it’s a pretty weak effort if you’re leaving now.”
Admittedly the night was still young, but I just wasn’t feeling the vibe and the crowd ~ it was just a bunch of young travelers who wanted to get as f*cked up as possible and hook up with each other. I made up some excuse.
Me: “I’m tired and want to save myself for when I work because I know there will be a lot of drinking and not much sleep.”
He nodded and said goodbye.
I stayed up for a little bit longer, spoke to a couple of other lovely travelers and bought some Banh My (stuffed Vietnamese baguette) to eat before going to bed.
I was going to stay another night at the same hostel out of convenience even though I wasn’t enjoying the vibe too much but then I was respectfully declined a room because the place was fully booked.
So there I had it – that morning, while I was having breakfast after waking up at a reasonable hour (around 8AM), I was faced with the task of finding a new place (breakfast was amazing by the way).
A traveler I spoke to just before going to bed planted the seed of staying in a homestay the night before…so then I started looking at homestays and toying with the idea of booking a private room, especially if I was going to be working at the hostel in a party environment – I was expecting a lot of drinking, staying up late and noise in the room I will be staying in (I didn’t expect to get much sleep over the next 8 days).
I found one which was highly rated, looked very luxurious and booked it. I mean it was approximately AUD $15 for a room which is expensive by Vietnamese standards but for a private room it’s pretty good value.
I finished my breakfast and slowly made my way there by foot (I didn’t want to pay for a Grab).
After walking for about 20-30 minutes, I eventually got to the homestay ~ the room was absolutely AMAZING but unlike what was said in the reviews – the service was so weird ~ it took over an hour to get my lunch and it was really hard to find someone to attend to me when I needed something and they barely had anything on their menu (I don’t mean to bad mouth a place but this place really did it for me even though I’ve stayed in some questionable places through my travels).
Luckily there was a lovely Dutch couple staying there and sitting outside. I decided to join them, they gave me lots of fruit and we chat for hours (before and after I ventured into the city on the bike the Homestay let us use for free).
After dinner, I found the owner sitting there talking with the Dutch couple via Google Translate. He eventually started talking about the war and told us that he experienced the Vietnam war when he was a boy and saw bombs fly over his head when he was 10. He was on the floor and screaming when it happened.
My heart sunk and the mood darkened.
Myself and the Dutch couple felt so much sorrow mixed with guilt. It really put things into perspective of just how lucky we were to grow up and live in a country which hasn’t been subjected to such atrocities.
I then said my good nights and went to sleep.
After I woke up and checked out, I decided to go on the hunt for a healthy breakfast (because it was available in Hoi An ~ you could literally get everything a Melbourne cafe would at the cafe I went to). I knew I was about to start work on this day (and I was starting to get anxious about working there) but I messaged the bar manager to confirm my shift nonetheless.
Pretty much a few minutes after I messaged him, I bumped into the him at the cafe.
Mr Manager: “Can you start tonight?”
Me: “Yeah sure!”
Someone was with him and he didn’t look very excited ~ it made me feel just as excited as his tone (not).
He barely responded and walked off to find a seat ~ I wasn’t sure if it was because he was hungover or he just wasn’t really interested in me working there but it sure wasn’t motivating me.
I finished my meal and coffee and ventured back to Tribee Cotu Hostel and Tribee Kinh Hostel to chill out for a bit while I waited to go into my new room ~ when I arrived and told the staff I was starting work and wanted to “check in” to the room, they didn’t seem to have any idea that I was coming and told me to wait at the cafe/bar while they confirmed with the bar manager.
After a while, I finally received a response from the Bar Manager ~ “can you stay for longer? Because my manager met someone last night and he can stay for three months. My boss really likes him so I’m in a bit of a predicament here.”
I thought about his response long and hard ~ changing my flight was going to be difficult and I wasn’t overly convinced I wanted to do the job or stay in Hoi An so I took the manager’s response as a sign for me to leave.
Me: “I can’t change my flight just give the job to the other person”
Bar Manager: “Sorry”
Me: “Don’t feel bad, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay in Hoi An anyway” ~ and that was that.
As soon as I made the decision to leave, I went to organise a bus. At first, I asked the Tribee Cotu staff to book me a ticket but they asked me to pay 110k Dong (AUD $6.46)…which led me to tell them to cancel the booking.
I ventured around the city asking every single hotel and tour company for prices ~ everyone was asking for about the same price so but I didn’t want to pay that amount knowing I got the bus ride from Da Nang to Hoi An for 50k (AUD $2.93) but eventually, a local told me about catching the local bus for 25k (AUD $1.46). My eyes lit up ~ she gave me the directions on Maps and I walked there to confirm the price with the staff at the bus station.
I won’t go into too much further detail about the bus journey from Hoi An to Da Nang because it’s not very exciting but I ended up paying 30k (AUD $1.76)
Day 1 in Da Nang
After checking into my hostel, I had dinner and walked back to Rom Casa (a hostel I previously stayed at when I first arrived to Da Nang) because it was the only decent familiar place which was relatively close.
I decided to walk along the coast line to check out the beach and I think I was a little shocked at how many resorts I saw. There were palm trees, the ocean and lots of neon lights. If I didn’t know I was in Vietnam, I could have been mistaken that I was in L.A. (even though I’ve never been there before – that’s what I’d picture it to look like).
The air was misty from the sea and the cars driving past gave an almost otherworldly glow to the pathway. I felt like I was on another planet with aliens in the distance.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t many things of interest along the walk… But after walking for about 30 minutes, I finally made it to my destination. (it felt longer than 30 minutes to me at the time)
There were a few people sitting around but the place was quiet. I decided to join a guy at the bar.
Me: “can I join you?”
American guy: “sure”
We sat and started to talk. He was from L.A. He also wasn’t staying at the hostel. In fact, he was on a business trip and staying in a resort but picked the hostel to drink in because he also found it to be the most lively venue around the area. We shared stories with the bar manager while slowly drinking our beers.
And then the live music started (yay – I can’t remember the last time I heard live music apart from Karaoke in Vietnam)
Somehow the conversation got very deep… very quickly. We talked about life, work, travel, family, friends, overthinking and so much more.
I intended to only have one drink but somehow I ended up having three drinks (so much for my detox). I guess it was good company.
We shifted bars once and I was implicitly invited to go to the resort and use all the facilities. If I didn’t feel horrible I would have but by the time midnight hit, I was beyond exhaustion and knew I needed sleep so I went back ‘home’.
Waking up after 5 hours of sleep, I feel like a zombie. I have no emotions except for frustration and laziness.
All I remember from yesterday was having absolutely 0 motivation to do anything. While I was having breakfast I met a Chinese-Canadian guy and we started talking… He’d been traveling for about three months through Asia.
We somehow got onto the topic of riding around and going to the beach together. He had pre planned to visit all these sites. I just planned to go to the beach but I built up the motivation to go site seeing with him (sort of).
We got our stuff ready and left. The lovely hostel lent me a helmet. The weather was fantastic!
After so many days of rain it was so lovely to feel the sun again.
After riding around for about an hour I started feeling really exhausted from my lack of sleep.
I couldn’t help but to succumb to my desire to lay on the beach and do nothing. We found an area where a fishing village was but you couldn’t swim there and there were no people, but there were many boats so we started to make our way back to the hostel and he dropped me back to a beach within walking distance to the hostel.
You still couldn’t swim but could definitely lie down on the beach, so that’s what I ended up doing.
I walked down for a bit, with a burning desire to have some fruit but everyone wanted to charge me a fortune. One lady wanted 100k (AUD $5.84) for a whole pineapple.
I had no beach towel ~ only my scarf and my mini microfibre towel so I used my skirt to lie on.
After lying in the sun for 2 hours I was ready to leave. I started making my way back to the hostel but ventured to the markets first to fulfill my desire for fruit.
The markets were closing but some vendors still had some things out. I knew they wouldn’t deny my money. I found a pineapple, woke up the lady to ask her how much.
I handed her the money, refused a plastic bag and made my way back.
It was only a 5-10 minute walk from the markets.
Once I made it back, I asked the staff to help me or show me how to cut my pineapple. They ended up doing it all for me, plating it with seasoning on the side.
I ate most of it but my tongue starting burning so I stopped and made my way to bed after having a shower of course (sadly it was lukewarm and a very low pressure shower).
What was supposed to be a nap ended up being a big Netflix binge session and when I tried to nap I just couldn’t 😦
I gave up on the idea and ended up going out for early dinner. The Canadian guy joined me. We ate Bun Cha Ca – a local dish for 25k (AUD $1.45). It was bliss!
After we finished, he wanted dessert so we stopped by at a cafe with desserts. I ordered a yoghurt to be healthy but ended up with a milk like drink with condensed milk. I couldn’t sip anymore than 5 sips before my stomach started feeling weird.
The place was packed with locals – they were watching a football match where Vietnam was playing against Philippines. Vietnam was winning and the atmosphere was pumping. Until recently, I didn’t realise the Vietnamese were so patriotic but it’s so nice to see when you’re caught in it. All the customers were locked onto the TVs and cheered fiercely every time Vietnam was close to getting a goal. They were already 2-1. Of course I was going to root for Vietnam as well…and they won!
I thought it would be like Saigon where the streets are roaring and flags are being driven around everywhere, but as soon as the game was over, everyone left the cafe… How anti-climatic.
We also left, drove around for a bit and got back to the hostel. I couldn’t help but watch one more episode of some Mexican drug series.
Those two days might have been my most unproductive and uninteresting two days on my travels but when you’re traveling, sometimes you just need to have days where you do nothing and focus on rest and recuperation.
Needless to say, I ended up having a good sleep that night and finally felt like a normal human being again when I woke up…