Travel Journal

Vietnam Part 2, Hoi An, 4/12-4/15

(Sunday 1 May 2011) by Joanne Chang
Our first night in Hoi An feels like Dreamland. Bright, colorful lanterns in different shapes and sizes hanging everywhere, lighting up the town. It's a festival of lights! With big lit-up dragon and fish sculptures popping out of the river, the streets and bridges filled with people bicycling and meandering about. George says it feels like Burning Man. And we feel like celebrities, everyone calling to us on the streets, asking us to come inside and look at their wares.
The streets are lined with tailor shops (there must be a hundred in this little town!) ready to fit you with custom-made clothing within 24 hours, and every 10 feet someone wants to rent you a motorbike or bicycle to zip around. With its winding streets and narrow alleys, Japanese covered bridge, twinkling riverside restaurants and floating bamboo coffee-shop, it's hard not to like Hoi An. Even if the same-same everywhere and sharp focus around getting your tourist dollars diminishes its authenticity, it's still a lovely place to chill for a few days -- while you get your clothes made :)

It's a tiny town. Within a few minutes walking we discover that we've left Hoi An for An Hoi, which looks exactly like Hoi An on the other side of the river (aptly named!) but not on any of the maps. We stay and have our first Bia Hoi in An Hoi, then walk back to Hoi An for dinner at the Blue Dragon, which becomes our local haunt. We choose it because the owners run a children's charity and orphanage, but keep going back for wrap-and-rolls (make-your-own rice paper roll filled with shrimp/pork/beef), clay pots, and banana-coconut-rum shakes.
Oh, and Cao Lau, which is a Hoi An speciality of chewy rice noodles with pork and crispy wontons that taste cinnamon-y, in a little broth. Yummmmm!

We rent bikes every day and are stoked to find a lovely beach just 4 km away, so we get our beach vacation in without having stopped further down the coast. Awesome! We buy chopsticks from an adorable lady hawker on the beach who also tries to sell us little keychains of vietnamese girls in hats -- "same-same!" she jokes, and points to herself. We decline, but afterwards George wishes he'd gotten them, he could've taken her home in his pocket! In the evening they lay out straw mats so you can sit on the beach and have dinner we never make it back for that but it sounded nice. Instead we peek into artist galleries near the Japanese bridge, chill in roadside hammocks, eat at Mrs. Hay's food stand in An Hoi and watch her family cut out paper boxes for floating candles to sell to tourists. We also go to the market which I love, it's authentically lively and local with heaps of fresh veggies and spices, and things that locals need like socks. George buys me lilies, sweet boy, and we try something green and gelatinous from a little old lady ("eat it so you won't die") with a lump of palm sugar on top.

On our last day in Hoi An we make another trip to the beach, pick up George's jacket from the tailor, have amazing coffee at the locals' stomping ground for 30 cents and catch a flight to Hanoi. It's been awesome but I'm ready to leave. Hoi An is unfortunately too tiny for the amount of tourist activity being squeezed into its veins, and despite its charms it's a rather loud, horn-happy place. I suspect it's time to put An Hoi on the map!


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