For most people, Hoi An is probably their favorite place in Vietnam, and the nearby Da Nang is just another big city. For us, we found Hoi An to be extremely touristy and overly prescribed, and Da Nang to be a fun, down to earth city and a nice place to hang out during Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. Tet is the most important holiday in Vietnam and being there as a foreigner is probably comparable to being a foreigner in the US during Thanksgiving: the cities become ghost towns while everyone is at home celebrating with their family.
We can see why many people love Hoi An: the Ancient City is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site where many of the buildings date back to around the 15th - 19th centuries. The entire area is beautifully preserved and wandering around can take you back in time. We walked around the area for a half day before we felt we had had enough. We simply found it too touristy; the entire area, shops, vendors, and historical attractions are there just for tourists. You even need to buy tickets to enter any of the old buildings. Lucky for us, our hostel had some tickets leftover from another guest so we were able to visit a few places for free.
With Tet just around the corner, our host family treated us and the rest of the guests to a traditional lunch. We are not really sure what most of the food was, but it was all pretty good - including the fruit that looks like eyeballs!
One thing Hoi An is known for is custom tailored clothing. Even the Vietnamese will travel from far away to stay in Hoi An for a few days to have clothes made. We had planned on ordering a dress or two for Laura, but when we found out the ordeal we would have had to go through to find a good tailor, pick out the right fabrics, and nail down every last detail, we figured it was not worth our time. Instead, we settled for something we had been craving for a while: a Juicy Lucy from Circle Cafe. The Minnesotan owner makes one of the best burgers we have had all trip with real crispy bacon and cheddar oozing out onto your fries. Asia doesn’t really do cheese or bacon, so this was an awesome taste of home.
After Hoi An, we headed about 30 minutes north to visit the much larger city of Da Nang. Since everywhere was shutting down for Tet, we figured a large city would have a better chance of things being open. One day we scootered to the top of Monkey Mountain for a good view of the city just before a rainstorm, then visited the tallest Buddha statue in Vietnam, the Lady Buddha. Another day we scootered to the Marble Mountains and hiked around the cluster of five limestone hills with numerous caves and several Buddhist and Hindu grottos, offering great views of the city.