We arrived at Da Nang airport from Hanoi, a pretty dingy little airport that the American airforce used during the Vietnam War. It has a 60’s feel to it; there’s only one baggage carousel which is seriously antiquated. In fact the baggage entry through the flap into the carousel tend to jam and passengers have to DIY to move the baggage along.
The local government is building a new airport which looks like it’ll be completed in a few months, which is seriously about time. When we exit the arrival hall, there was no proper signage for taxi queues. We saw a cab dropping off passengers and rushed forward to grab it. My husband put the luggage into the trunk and we got into the cab. The taxi driver came in and spoke to us in Vietnames, then gestured at the meter and gestured us to get out of the taxi. We were wondering “What the hell?” We thought he changed his mind about taking us. Turned out it was because we had to exit the taxi, close the doors before he could reset the meter. Yeah, I know, pretty wierd.
The streets in Da Nang are rather wide and clean. There’re even plants on the road dividers like in Singapore. My husband thinks that the mayor of Da Nang probably wants to replicate Singapore. Unlike Hanoi, it looks like a city undergoing new developments, with many new buildings and even big sporting complexes. Near to the city center is restaurant row where there are these humongous and garish looking neo-colonial style restaurants. There are even couple restaurants like Queen Seafood Restaurant and King Seafood Restaurant. (Seriously? Any difference?) There’re fewer cars and motorbikes here compared to Hanoi. But like Hanoi, the drivers love to press their honks at the motor bikers to get out of the way, and traffic rules are basically par for the course. We also notice that like in Hanoi, houses here are also pretty narrow. When we were in Hanoi, my husband thought the local French colonial administrators got drunk and demarcated narrow housing sites. Perhaps they applied to the entire country as well.
Hoi An, a UNESCO world heritage site, is a seaside town which is 30 minutes from Da Nang. Along the way to Hoi An, there are a lot of beach front property developments (condos mostly) and a couple of big name golf courses like Norman Estates designed by Greg Norman. I hope this will not become a real estate bubble like what’s happening in US.
We stayed at The Nam Hai, 10 minutes from Hoi An town, and the resort is part of the GHM managed hotels (www.ghmhotels.com). We are fans of GHM and have stayed in their other resorts in Bali, Langkawi and Chiangmai. They are known for their beautiful designs, service, spa treatments and of course, the fabulous food. The Nam Hai resort is huge, sitting along 1 km of beach facing the South China sea. I like the cleanline architecture and design. The place is so big that the resort provides buggy for transportation onsite.
I particularly love our 1-bedroom villa, with the king sized bed in the middle, partitioned by curtains, and shower tub behind the bed, separate his and her wardrobe space, separate sinks. The bathroom has rain showerhead as well as adjustable showerhead which suit my husband and I fine, because he likes the rain shower while I prefer using the latter. There’s even an outdoor shower. The pictures you see in the website truly reflect how the interior of the villa looks like.
But my husband, ever the picky one, has some beef with the architecture and design, saying that the workmanship is not up to scratch and so not on par with the image of a GHM resort. He feels that the villa should not have a step near the bed, as some old foggy might trip and land badly when he/she has to go to the bathroom at night. Well, the hotel did consider that and had this motion-sensor light installed next to the step. But maybe when you are groggy with sleep, you might not realize it. Also I have to say he has a point when he questioned why the villa has to be narrow like the Vietnamese house when there is so much land around. I thought perhaps the hotel wants to retain the local architecture and design in their villas too.
Anyway the food quality didn’t get on a good start when we went for lunch at the Beach Restaurant. Apparently the Vietnamese chef was off that day but we didn’t think much of it. My husband ordered the beef pho and I had the chicken baguette. Our reaction was “Shit, is this the kinda hotel food we’re going to have for the rest of the stay??” My husband was starting to regret the accommodation choice and we were thinking we might have to look for alternative meal sources. The average quality is just uncalled for in a GHM hotel. But we couldn’t stay long to bitch about the food as we had to rush for a spa treatment in Hoi An town.
I had done some research in TripAdvisor before our trip for some recommended spas in Hoi An and one of them is Palmarosa Spa (www.palmarosaspa.com), which is ranked as one of the top 5 things to do in Hoi An. The website looks pretty good too with nice looking rooms and the rates are even nicer. 😉 Compared to the spa prices at Nam Hai, we can go to Palmarosa Spa everyday during our stay in Hoi An and the combined cost will still be cheaper than one treatment at The Nam Hai. However, I realized (despite having had similar experiences in Chiangmai and Bali), that there’s a reason why the GHM resort charges what they charged for spa treatments. Palmarosa doesn’t look as fancy as shown on the website. We were told to change into spa clothes before our treatment. Unlike many other spas, there was no disposable underwear. Never mind, instead we were given silk kimono and pants. But they are all of standard size and the pants are for elephants. Seriously when I put them on, they slip straight down. I had to hold on to my pants as I walked up to the second floor to the massage room, which doesn’t look like anything in the website either. Anyway the massage was alright, I also had a pedicure which I thought was better. The therapist is very gentle and careful when she did the pedicure. One thing about this place, they only accept cash. We didn’t have that much with us and had to go withdraw from a nearby ATM.
The spa treatments at The Nam Hai are fabulous but they also cost an arm and a leg. We paid for the serene ambience and well-trained therapists. I had an eye-treatment there, while my husband had a body massage and a free foot reflex thrown in. It’s truly a place for pampering.
Hoi An is a rather small town, with population of less than 122,000. There is a river that separates the town center from the residential area. Honestly it’s more like a muddy river as you can see from the picture below. I think the livelihood of the locals is mostly dependent on tourism. The town center is basically catered to tourists, with a lot of shops selling trinkets and clothes. The whole place can be explored on foot within a day. In fact there are quite a lot of tourists, particularly Caucasians, around.
When we were there, it was so freaking hot, felt like 35 or 36 deg. In fact it started to get hot from 10am onward. It’s not really advisable to walk around much in the day unless you wanna look like a dried prune by noon. So the locals tend to stay indoor in the day and taking afternoon nap is not uncommon. Even when they venture out, they (particularly the women) are cautious of the hot sun and will cover themselves with long sleeves and put on the traditional Vietnamese straw hat or carry an umbrella. They probably think some of the Caucasians are mad because they went cycling in the mid afternoon without a hat on. I think those guys are nuts too!! I didn’t have a hat with me, though I was a little tempted to get the straw hat. But I can’t wear that in Singapore though, imagine the stares I get!! So as per my usual practice, sunblock and umbrella. Anyway we left the town after lunch to return to the cool comfort of the aircon in our villa.
However night time is a different matter altogether. In fact it’s rather pleasant at night when the air is cool. The night we were there for dinner at Morning Glory (again, as we were there for lunch), there was some lantern display at the river. In fact many restaurants and some shops have lanterns hanging along the shop front ceiling. There are even lanterns hanging across street. These are beautiful traditional Vietnamese lanterns that are in various colors, white, green, purple, blue, red etc. I love them and wish I was able to get a couple of big ones to hang outside our front door. But my husband is not keen on that. You see, in Singapore the brothels hang red-colored lanterns outside on the front porch. I tried suggesting that we could get different colors for the lanterns but he said that might give the idea of a UN whorehouse. *Cue eye-rolling*
It’s interesting that there’re many shops selling clothes particularly winter jackets/coats in Hoi An, and it’s an irony since the weather is so freaking hot. There’re also a number of shops providing tailoring service. We went to this famous chain store in town, Yaly, as I wanted to make an Ao Yai. Well for US$55, maybe I can’t complain too much but let’s just say that I’ve only seen tourists there and not locals getting their clothes tailored.
After I’ve got the Ao Yai measured, my husband and I were looking for a store selling water. In front of this souvenir shop, we got a bottle and lo and behold, a friendly doggie appeared before us shaking her tail. Here’s me patting ‘Buddy’, our name for the doggie. We liked her so much that during breakfast the next day, I wrapped a couple of pieces of bacon for her. But when we returned to the souvenir store, thinking that she belonged to the owner, she was not in sight. I tried asking the store owner but her English language leaves much to be desired. She said something about corner and so we guessed she meant Buddy lives in the corner store. We walked down the street looking for Buddy but unfortunately she was nowhere to be found. 😦
Truth be told, we find Hoi Ann a little boring, a little too touristy, not a lot of charm unlike Hanoi, which is fascinating in its quirkiness. I’ll only return to Hoi Ann for the fabulous fine dining food at The Nam Hai. Personally I like the resort. It has an awesome gym with some state of the art exercise equipments and the place is hardly used. The resort also offers cultural programs like lantern making which we attended. I ended up making not just my lantern but also my husband’s because he’s just not cut out for handicrafts. He spent most of the time taking pictures instead. But the main reason I’ll return to Nam Hai is the fabulous food. More details will be available in another post on the food in Hoi Ann.