Friday, April 17, 2009

Hoi An, Town of a Thousand Poses

We arrived in Hoi An at 6 am Tuesday morning more tired than when we left Jungle Beach. The sleeper buses definitely were not made for westerners: all of the seats were set in a reclined position 10 degrees from horizontal and my feet were supposed to go underneath the seat in front of me, however my legs are longer than a vietnamese person's torso so I ended up with my knees in a very uncomfortable position for most of the night. At some point Annika moved to the floor in the aisle.
We checked in to our budget hotel, Hop Yen, and went back to sleep until lunch time. A restaurant along the brown river caught our eye and we stopped in for a bite. We explored the town all afternoon.

Hoi An is essentially a small town that had been occupied by the Chinese, Japanese, and French at different times, and absorbed some of each of those cultures. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage site some years back, which made it a tourist hot spot, but without the hurried development of other places, such as Nha Trang, because of the UNESCO requirements. All of the signs in the historic part of town are uniformly made of wood with yellow lettering and no new building is permitted, giving old Hoi An a very pleasant vibe. There is a river that flows through the center of the old town that is a very odd brown color, most likely from rain runoff from the rice paddies nearby. We posed for many a photograph...

Tourism has become the main industry in the city, so every other storefront is a restaurant or shop. It is also THE place to get clothes tailored in Vietnam. I have never seen so many tailors in one place before, not even in NYC. A 3 piece suit made of nice wool costs about 100 bucks, or only 40 for polyester. I got a winter jacket, 2 pairs of pants, and 1 shirt tailored for me for only 60 bucks. Not bad. The reason I did it now is because Emma and Mikaela are headed back to Ho Chi Minh after Jungle Beach so they can bring the clothes there for me to pick up at the end of my adventure. There also were a lot of shops where tradesmen were making their products out front for people to watch. 

Pic: A guy making lanterns in front of his shop

At night all of the lantern shops were lit up, they looked really cool.

Annika had been in Vietnam for nearly 9 months and not yet bought any presents, so much of Wednesday was spent shopping, which I didn't mind. The overcast weather wasn't very conducive for the beach anyway. We also walked through a food market. There was a very, very large variety of eggs.

For Lunch we had some fantastic "street meat". It was 5 marinated chicken skewers that were barbecued then stuffed into a baguette along with cucumbers, tomatoes, mint, basil, peanut sauce, and chili. Incredible. Some Australian guys saw me devouring my sandwich and came to have one too. They agreed that it was the best thing they had since being in Vietnam. SO GOOD.

Pic: Street meat lady. And yes, Vietnamese people really do wear the conical hat all the time. I would have guessed it was just a tourist thing too...

Note the stool I was sitting on... I felt very Vietnamese

Thursday we rented bicycles and rode the 5 kilometers to Cua Dai beach. It was still overcast, but the beach was really pleasant anyway. The ocean this far north is much cooler than at Jungle Beach, but the cooler temperature was a nice change- in Mui Ne and Phu Quoc entering the water was like getting into a lukewarm bathtub. When we got back we booked our buses for the following day. Annika is continuing up the coast to Hue, and I am going back down to Nha Trang to meet Emma and Mikaela and head back to Jungle Beach.

Pic: A perfect mango enjoyed on Cua Dai beach

Friday Annika did some last minute shopping in the morning, then we relaxed and read our books during the hot hours of the day. I finished the book I was reading, The Quiet American, which takes place in Saigon during the French war in the 50's and is about a British journalist who recounts the events leading up to an American diplomat getting killed (the murder happens in the first two pages, I didn't ruin it for you). It was really good, Greene is a great writer and I now understand why so many of his books have been made into movies- The Quiet American read like a script. I rushed to finish so I could give it to Annika next.

Annika left at 2, and I am now writing my blog entry to kill time until my bus leaves at 7. As opposed to in Ho Chi Minh where I posted almost every day, I am now only writing an entry when I leave a city. This allows me to A. enjoy my time, which is less structured than when I was volunteering, and B. to give a good overview and final opinion of each city instead of my day to day sentiments. 


  1. Quiet American, good movie featuring Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser. Also a phrase often used in the 1960s counterculture. But im sure you already knew that

  2. 5 marinated chicken skewers, that sounds super vegetarian. Welcome back to the dark side.

  3. Hahahahaha, veggie ism has been kicked to the side for sure...