Travels In Vietnam 2011: Hoi An

Our introduction to Hoi An was promising. After a truly horrific 12 hour trip aboard a ‘sleeper’ bus from Nha Tra (more on that next post), we arrived at 6am and were picked up courtesy of the hotel we had booked via email the previous day. They served us up a refreshing cinnamon tea with cake as a gesture of welcome. Nice. It was misty and mysterious outside, and cool.

We spoke briefly to an early-rising Aussie guest at our hotel, who described the town as ‘magical.’

Indeed, Hoi An knows how to turn on the charm, especially at night, when thousands of coloured Chinese lanterns transform the old town area and river. Kitschy, but enchanting nevertheless.

It’s less impressive by day, but still compellingly photogenic.

(note the bride’s footwear)

We hauled ourselves out of bed at 5.15am one morning to watch the fisherman delivering their night’s catch to the central market. We arrived too late – they were sitting around in their boats having a smoko by the time we got there.

We were still in time to experience the market at its busiest. There were few other tourists around. It was well worth the early start to sample this aspect of everyday Hoi An life. (One of the vendors didn’t agree, waving us away when we bent to inspect her intriguing produce; another objected when I raised my camera to take shots of the basket of live ducklings she was selling). Here are some pics that passed the censor!

Clearly, Hoi An’s old town section is impressive, but the rest is like any other Vietnamese town, and I was aware of a niggling sense of let-down. I was not as taken by the place as the guide books suggest most travellers are. I certainly did not share the rapture of folk posting on the travel forums we had checked out while planning our trip.

Take away the tourist dressings, such as the Chinese lanterns by night and the little touches like the attractive signage in flowing traditional font that graced many of the shops, and I wonder what would be left beneath the facade? Some nice old buildings, to be sure, and a picturesque river – but Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and I’m not sure I understand why. Perhaps it’s a simple case of unrealistically high expectations…

PS: In the interests of accuracy and balance, I should add that the two instances of hostility from vendors at the early morning market were the exception in Hoi An, not the rule. Our hotel staff were delightful, and we found other locals friendly. As is the case throughout Vietnam, though, it’s hard to assess how people are really disposed towards you, since most encounters are with shop assistants, street vendors and restaurant wait staff, and are therefore in a business context.

More posts in this series on Vietnam:
Travels in Vietnam 2011: Intro
Travels In Vietnam 2011: Saigon
Travels In Vietnam 2011: The Cu Chi Tunnels
Travels In Vietnam 2011: War Remnants Museum, Saigon
Travels In Vietnam 2011: Mekong Delta
Travels In Vietnam 2011: Dalat
Travels In Vietnam 2011: Nha Trang
Travels In Vietnam 2011: Sleeper Bus Nightmare!
Travels In Vietnam 2011: Hue
Travels In Vietnam 2011: Eating and Drinking!
Travels In Vietnam 2011: Hype vs Reality
Travels In Vietnam 2011: Reflections & Wrap-up

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