6 things to do in Hoi An, Vietnam – A cultural gem tucked away in paradise

After spending the best week of my life exploring Son Doong (The World’s Largest Cave) I ventured southward towards Hoi An, Vietnam.  It began with a Boomerang Bus trip to Hue City where I spent one night before jumping on a motorbike for a day of cruising which delivered me to Hoi An.  I heard wonderful things about Hoi An before arriving and couldn’t wait to find out for myself.  Friends from home told me it was a must see hidden gem.  Friends in Korea informed me it was a tailoring capital of the world and new buddies in Vietnam told me I could be there in time for the full moon lantern festival!

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The motorbike ride was an exhilarating experience that I highly recommend to any backpackers in Vietnam.  From Hue to Hoi An or vice versa you can cheaply rent a motor bike with a group of backpackers and deliver it to the next hostel.  For a few extra bucks they’ll ship your bags on the bus with less adventurous travelers.  The trip south from Hue takes you over the Hai Van pass commanding a stunning view of the ocean with northern Vietnam above and Danang City to the south. (Danang City houses the closest airport to Hoi An & is only a $10 cab ride away).

Once you arrive in Hoi An you’ll be sure to enjoy a relaxing stay whether for few days or a weeks.  I thought I’d only be there a few days and stayed all week!  So, what is there to do in Hoi An?

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Falling in love with Yoga – Thailand

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Acroyoga, Bird Pose – Ao Nang Beach, Krabi, Thailand

Thailand is an epicenter for yoga.  Especially Acroyoga.  Technically its acrobatic-yoga but as a former gamer I like to think of acroyoga as multiplayer yoga.  Acro is where you get a couple people together for one pose.  You need a minimum of 1 base and 1 flyer (and should have a spotter or two).  I’ll confess I didn’t learn yoga in Thailand but after practicing it on the glistening beaches in Krabi, fawning over weekly acroyoga sessions on Lanta and finding out they do daily acroyoga in Chang Mai I realize that I will not only revisit Thailand but also go to as many acroyoga sessions as possible!

Ronda and I went to our first acroyoga class about a week before leaving for Thailand.  We watched a beginner video and practiced in my apartment before gaining greater understanding & developing much needed technique for beginner poses at Acro Seoul’s meetup.  Acroyoga can be done by anyone but it certainly has a degree of strength needed.  Core strength is crucial for all parties and the base needs strong legs too.

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Tripod Headstand – Ao Nang Beach, Krabi, Thailand

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Acroyoga Bow - Krabi, Thailand

Acroyoga, Bow Pose – Unknown Beach, Krabi, Thailand

Partners need to trust each other.  Before going into any pose make sure to test the weight.  Ronda and I learned this both through Yogajournal’s AcroYoga 101 video and our acroyoga class.  After a few failed attempts at home we got the technique for these basic poses down in the class and were excited to bring that to the beach!

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Acroyoga, Bird Pose – Ao Nang Beach, Krabi, Thailand

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Acroyoga, Bow Pose – Tup Islet, Krabi, Thailand

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Acroyoga, Camel Pose – Ao Nang Beach, Krabi, Thailand

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Acroyoga, Super Yogi Pose – Ao Nang Beach, Krabi, Thailand

 

Don’t let these photos fool you though.  We were comfortable because the sand is soft.  Learning acroyoga is synonymous with falling.  Its great to have that luxury in a padded gym but the most important part of learning acroyoga is to have a spotter!

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Acroyoga, Whale Pose – Tup Islet, Krabi, Thailand

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Acroyoga, Transitioning Whale to Camel Pose – Tup Islet, Krabi, Thailand

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Acroyoga, Camel Pose – Tup Islet, Krabi, Thailand

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Acroyoga, Bow Pose – Tup Islet, Krabi, Thailand

Its an amazing feeling when the base and spotter are in tune but it takes time.  Don’t rush into acro.  Be enthusiastic but always remember to take things slowly.  Any quick movements throw off the balance and can send both parties tumbling!

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Acroyoga, Transitioning Whale to Camel Pose – Ao Nang Beach, Krabi, Thailand

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Acroyoga, Bird Pose – Railey Beach, Krabi, Thailand

 

 

 

Castaway on an island in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam – Day 2

Waking up on Castaway’s boat in Ha Long Bay and walking to the sundeck for a relaxing morning would have been fantastic.  It was cloudy and we had to transfer to a smaller boat soon after breakfast and hustled across the side to the other vessel.  A few hours on these choppy seas caused the worst hangovers to grow exponentially worse.  Luckily that wasn’t me.

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I jumped up and down enjoying the sway of the ocean while dancing to a fellow traveler’s tunes.  Some of my companions huddled inside fearing each swell while the bravest of us enjoyed the salty spray aboard the bow.  Green islands skirted along either side towering over of us when suddenly someone spotted a massive jellyfish off of starboard._DSC9518 _DSC9525 _DSC9531 _DSC9547

Lighthouses and tour boats grew scarcer the further away from the mainland we sailed.  Unfortunately the trail of littler seemed to intensify as each luxury liner was replaced with smaller local fishing & market boats.  Around the next bend we began spotting small floating houses and villages; their nets already hauled in from a morning catch.  It was suddenly clear that no one wanted to haul the trash that these natives generated and we all felt a twinge of guilt for bringing even more garbage to the seas.  At least everything we brought would stay aboard and get shipped back to shore.

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Slowly the waves died down and a happy calm swam across the ship.  Our vessel turned and glided between the green monsters which now protected us from each treacherous wave.  As the waters calmed we began to see more floating houses and islands with tropical beaches.  Most of these lush paradises were devoid of all signs of humanity.  Simply a beautiful beach protected by an overgrown jungle filled mountain.

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Before we knew it our boat slowed and turned towards one such beach.  Castaway Island was clearly inhabited, albiet there were a few shanties, a solitary bar and 2 docks roped off in the waters.  We landed, had a beer and found out that electricity would only be on for a few hours in the evening.  Rock climbing began after lunch as did tubing and some other festivities.

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After eating I tried my luck at rock climbing debuting the cliffs for our trip.  Without too much struggle I reached the peak of the “easy” climb.  It was by no means easy but certainly a ton of fun.  I took my free beer for making it up and waited while plotting my ascent of the “hard” path to secure 2 more cold ones.

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My 1st belayer's awesome tatoo!

My 1st belayer’s awesome tatoo!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile tubing began with a hilarious group of Brits who affectionately referred to me as “dirty Mike” and themselves as “& tha boys.”  Conner an unusually short gentleman was hilariously tossed great distances from the tube; a fate I later found out that it was inevitable as I too flew into the tropical waters.  (no one went nearly as far as Conner in this dwarf tossing experiment)

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After getting a good laugh I took a chance on the tough climb.  Harnessing up, my belayer (who was an expert climber) gave me some last bits of advice.

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“Keep breathing.  Follow the crack on the right.  At one point you’ll need to brace your back legs and use a technique called ‘stemming’.”

Alright, I thought to myself.  I got this!

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Castaway on an island in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam – Day 1

Ha Long Bay is a New World Wonders and should be a stop for anyone visiting Vietnam.  After polling other travelers and hostel staff I decided to go with a 3D2N excursion called Castaways; it was slightly more expensive than the other options but I already knew a handful of the people signed up and it turned out to be a great choice!

As the bus from our hostel in Hanoi got closer to the coast we began seeing the iconic mountains scattered among the land.  Perhaps they too were at one point surrounded by water but now formed the basis for a beautiful port.  We boarded a small boat to transfer to Mama’s party cruise ship.  From the outside it certainly looks like the Chinese Junk Boat that it is but the cabins and interior were great.  We had a sun deck to hang out on as we passed the remarkable green islands filling the bay on this cloudy day.

Ha Long Bay - Castaway

Ha Long Bay – Castaway

The further we got into the bay the fewer ships we sailed past while the scenery continued to amaze us all.  Each tall pillar formed thousands of years ago in a Vietnamese tale of dragons giving way to the name Halong which translates to “descending dragon.”  The myth states that the Jade Emperor sent the Mother Dragon and the sons to help defend Vietnam from invaders.

Ha Long Bay - Castaway

Ha Long Bay – Castaway

Ha Long Bay - Castaway

Ha Long Bay – Castaway

The dragons breathed divine fire and cast divine emeralds onto the onslaught defeating the invaders and creating an impenetrable wall.  Over the years this wall of emeralds turned into thousands of small islands that we now passed between.  Another interesting anecdote is that Vietnamese believe themselves to be descended from dragons through legends like this.

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Ha Long Bay – Castaway

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Ha Long Bay – Castaway

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Ha Long Bay – Castaway

Mama dropped anchor and we were all instructed to head to the back of the boat and grab a kayak.  Our tour included a few hours of paddling in and out of these secluded tropical wonderlands.  Along the way we could spot fish and the occasional jellyfish, although not as large as the ones we spotted from Mama’s boat it was enough of a deterrent to keep me from jumping in right away. Continue reading

But what if you have to poop?

I told my (4th grade Korean ESL) students about Son Doong and how I’ll be spending a week in the world’s largest cave.

Upon seeing my bag and hiking boots I got a few “are you going to Everest?” remarks. But, here are my favorite reactions to seeing national geographic pictures: 

“Don’t die!”

“Can you bring me a cave pearl?”

“I think I went there last year”

“Are there toilets?”

And my all-time favorite…

“But teacher, what if you have to poop?”