After the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh city I needed a break. Particularly to wind down after spending time in the Orphanage (coming in a later article).
I had been told that Hoi An was a particularly beautiful part of Vietnam to visit and that with my interest in photography I would doubly appreciate the ancient town. I tried to book my flights and accommodation online but it seems that the filters and censorship there were set on thwarting me. Not to be put off the idea I headed down to a small travel agent located a few meters from the hotel doorstep.
I booked my flight on Jetstar Asia Pacific and my accommodation, a smart well lit little hotel room with a balcony and air conditioning. My trip was all planned… or so it seemed.
There are no rules in Vietnam, not when it comes to lining up it would seem. I guess I will choose to put it down to cultural difference but here in Australia it would be seen as the height of rudeness. I arrived at the airport ready to check in for my flight and quietly stood waiting at the end of the rope in front of the check in counter. At first I noticed one person walk straight past me and walk straight up to join 3 others at the desk. Then another, then another, and then another. I quickly realised that these people were not together but were simply ignoring me and walking straight up to check in. Even while there was somebody already being looked after. What started as a couple of people turned in to a mob, all jostling and interrupting each other.
Boarding the plane was no different. The mob once again pushing and jostling for position. I am fairly confident that when I am standing at the gate with my boarding pass in hand that the plane is not going to leave without me. So I hung back and waited.
The plane itself was disgusting. The inside looked as though nobody had taken soapy water and a rag to it in months. Jetstar Asia Pacific certainly has a long way to go when it comes to the cleaning of their aircraft.
The flight itself was non eventful and pleasantly short.
I arrived in Hoi An and made my way to the hotel. As I was shown to my room I knew something was wrong straight away. Not only was my room in the basement but it had no window no balcony, no air conditioning and most surprisingly… no power. One of the things that you are told in just about every travel journal you read on Vietnam is to watch out for the scams.
I quickly went up to reception and advised them that there must have been a mistake and that the room I had been shown by the agent was not the room that had been booked. I asked if I could upgrade my room and was told that there was a room available for $25.00 USD a night. When I told them that I had already paid that rate for the inferior room and that I wanted to be moved to the better room for the same rate, the cost of the better room quickly went up to $30.00 USD apparently because of a special internet deal for the agent. The entire situation was a scam. In the end I gave in, it was after all only $5 bucks, a small price to pay for a room with electricity.
I was then told that I would have to leave my passport at the desk for some paperwork and that I would get it back later that afternoon. I am always wary about handing over my passport in another country and I was doubly wary after the room fiasco. I grudgingly handed it over and was told to come back in an hour too collect it. I went up to my room. Had a quiet nap and then showered and decided to take the free shuttle out to the town. On the way I stopped in to collect my passport and was again told sorry comeback later.
Throughout the trip I was stunned by the beauty and the sheer scale of Vietnam. HCMC is a city of over 3x the number of people in Melbourne. The Mekong Delta and the river itself are immense, the sheer scale of humanity and industry there is breathtaking. The sweeping rice paddies and plains are beautiful do drive through and to fly over. Hoi An I thought would be a pleasant change.
The black spot of the trip was the constant pestering by hawkers and sellers. I have experienced this kind of culture in Thailand but the Thai’s were polite and left you alone after a polite no thank you. The sellers and hawkers in Vietnam are quite simply far too persistant. Even after saying no several times they will still wave product in your face or try to drag you in to their store. They would not take no for an answer until you were visibly angry. It was impossible to have a meal outside without being solicited for sunglasses, maps, or other trinkets.
But enough of that… back to beautiful Hoi An.
After taking the shuttle in to the town I quickly realised that the locals had spotted me as “new money”. Everywhere I went I was approached with offers of free tailoring, easy rider bike rides, sunglasses, boat rides, fruit and coffee, bracelets, maps and all kinds of small items.
The township and the buildings there are beautiful. The French influence in the architecture is strong and the beautiful pastel tones of the buildings give the town a real feeling of east meets west. Many of the buildings have been preserved beautifully and the narrow streets make the whole place feel intimate. Most of the stores there now reflect the tourist trade, but that is to be expected.
After a few hours in the 35 degree heat I headed back to the hotel for a rest. I once again asked for my passport when I arrived and was told that I would have to come back at 7 o’clock. By this time I was feeling a bit paranoid about my passport. My instincts told me to get it back, so while the desk was unattended I opened the draw and took it.
The next day was a lot more fun. By the second day most of the sellers had learnt to ignore me and I was free to enjoy the walk and take pictures. I decided to take a walk along the river and jump on one of the many boats that cruise up and down the river. I was lucky enough to talk the boat owner to leaving with only me and I got to enjoy the trip by myself. Along the way we stopped off by a fishing boat and I was given a lesson on how to cast a fishing net. It reminded me how useless I would be on a desert island. hehe.
The ride was peaceful and a loverly break from the hustle and bustle of the down. The Beautiful yellow of the water met the Azure Sky and all was well in the world again. I topped the day off with a couple of bowls of Gau Lau by the river and refreshing Tiger beer for the total cost of $3.00 USD.
The town at night is simply beautiful and is adorned with paper lanterns. Tourists stroll the streets and music fills the atmosphere as locals entertain in the Village Square.
My time in Hoi An was an experience that I will not forget both for it’s trial and its beauty, I would love to go back with a friend and spend some more time really exploring the town and the nearby beaches.