We arrived in the middle of the night to Hoi An and after an hour of surviving Vietnam traffic (read: motorcyclists honking in an extremely indecorous but consistent manner weaving around our van like a shoal of fish around a whale) aspired no more than to a good night’s sleep. In the morning a walk around the charming town took us by surprise. The burnt orange buildings, a legacy from the French, the colourful Vietnamese lanterns (unlike their Chinese counterparts, they looked strangely modern in all their oblong glory) dangling from their many trees… Said trees later proved to be our saving grace as we discovered to our horror that in the sweltering 40 degrees heat under an unforgiving sun, none of the shops/restaurants/cafes provided (much-needed) air-conditioning. In fact, many of the proprietors fully donned in a bomber jacket over their long sleeve tops and jeans simply sat in their shops & only leapt to switch on their fans when tourists wandered in. Our days were broken up by hasty retreats to our resort-style hotel rooms to cool off before heading out to brave the heat again.
This was a town filled with tourists no doubt, and yet it can hardly be said to be touristy. Indeed shopkeepers are armed with key phrases – “this one cheap” – and prices are undoubtedly much higher than they were years ago. However it retains very much of its Vietnamese way of life and despite development, has yet to be fully modernised. Street corners often host make-shift kitchens which feed the dozens perched on tiny stools, slurping up pho (traditional beef noodles).
There’s not much to offer in way of the regular tourist attractions – museums and the like – but what Hoi An offers is a lifestyle. Evening saw many tourists zooming around on motorcycles a la Vietnamese, decked out in harem pants or breezy dresses (available to buy in every other shop). Along the small river, boats are parked, offering tourists a jaunt across the water or a meal if they so wished. I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that we feasted like kings every meal. One dinner saw us parked on a rooftop with a view over the river, all to ourselves and a meal for 4 came up to no more than 100,000 dong (3 pounds). Vietnamese food is delightfully delectable, chock full of every type of meat wrapped in rice paper to be dipped in some combination of chilli/garlic/vinegar/peanut kind of sauce, or noodles tossed with said sauce, laden with fresh vegetables and the tender-est meat (chicken/pork/beef, your pick). Drinks come in the form of fresh fruit juices or the strongest filter coffee you’ll ever have, liberally laced with condensed milk.
Despite the suffocating heat, I think Hoi An is a fairly underrated place. Juxtaposed next to Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, Hoi An displays what Vietnam has to offer without the hustle and bustle of the dusty cities.
by Nichola Koh