Published: July 18th 2012July 18th 2012
Hoi An is a brilliant place, not because of its nightlife, not because it is quintessentially Vietnamese (it's architecture reminds me personally of 17th century Portugal) but because it is small, quaint and very much rooted in its past as well as having an eye on the future.
We're talking here about a town on 75,000 people not the 7 million or so in Saigon so as you can imagine it is easy to navigate and ensure you see all it has to offer. As a UNESCO world heritage site it is free to wander around but if you pay 90,000 dong (about 3 pounds at the minute) you get entry into any five of the tourist attractions you want to, therefore I would argue the touristy stuff can be dealt with inside of one day, the historic town is about six interlinked streets at best 1km long each. This in my opinion doesn't take away from the experience it adds to it, I say this because it gives you more time to get into the local culture, talk to local people and absorb what more and more everyday I am coming to believe is the reality of travel, environment.
Let's face it anyone will become temple tired or bored with religious sights and architecture, what I personally don't tire of is meeting people and sharing experience. There is a great deal to be said about meeting people of your own kind (be that country, religion, race etc) but I am getting to the point (in travel generally) where by I could feel that my body has travelled but my mind hasn't, this isn't meant to be some sort of pretentious philosophical viewpoint, its something that was planted in my mind whilst reading Vagabonding by Rolf Potts (a book I would recommend to anyone).
What I'm suggesting is that I will experience more from chatting and meeting people from within the culture than those I see or teach everyday within my own, this isn't necessarily easy because often the interactions I have with locals is in the form of buying and selling and therefore their own focus is on capital, that doesn't mean they won't converse just that sometimes they have better things to do, but what really swayed and in some respects shocked me was a conversation I had on Cua Dai beach, the lady in question
wanted to sell bracelets, cigarettes etc. but after me politely refusing her offer she sat next to me and asked me my name, where I was from, my job, reasons for travelling and was more than happy to answer my questions also about her family, her job etc. The reality is I had refused maybe a dozen other people and they had continued without conversation but this one woman took a chance, it didn't get her a sale but it made me wonder which is part of the reason for this element of this blog.
I mentioned Cua Dai beach, it's a beautiful paradise which stretches well past Danang to the North, white sands, opal sea and limestone karsts in the distance. Its a real haven, it was close enough to my hotel (Sunflower hotel, $15 per night including breakfast, very good pool and includes free shuttle to town) to hire a bike 25,000 dong for 24 hours and cycle down to, the ride is around 4km but its enjoyable and flat so its certainly not a push, it was 38 degrees however and that I could feel!
I think because I have been in a small town
and have spent a fair bit of time by myself in Hoi An it has allowed me the chance to take stock and consider where I am in my travels and perhaps more broadly, I'm in a great place in reality but going through a difficult time, that doesn't tarnish my experience whilst travelling neither does it mean I'm on the verge of going to a bad place. It means I am in reality and I'm mindful of that, I've lived large periods of time in my life in some sort of fantasy world, whether whilst at university or otherwise and this trip reminds me of my successes the ability to travel for an extended period of time isn't something everyone get's so I'm going to make the absolute most of it, whilst taking care to take it as it comes, just because I may want something doesn't mean it will come, and whilst wishing for that I'm missing all sorts of other opportunities, just ask An from the beach!
There are more photos below