Hoi An must be one of the most beautiful places in all of Vietnam.
The old town with its Chinese inspired architecture remains largely intact despite decades of war. The town itself is close to one of the largest cities in Vietnam, Da Nang.
We caught a bus here from the ancient Imperial Capital of Hue, itself a great spot for a few days of discovery. Our bus passed through Da Nang with one brief passenger drop off. We will head back there this evening to board the SE7 train for Ho Chi Min City.
Hoi An's chief attractions include;
The beaches - just a short bicycle ride from the central area of Hoi An lie gorgeous stretches of sandy palm fringed beaches colloquially known as 'China Beach.'
Fishers brave the seas in what are little more than small round whicker tubs while tourists play in the breakers and the ever present eagle eyed walking shops try their best to make a sale. They sell everything from cold water to souvenirs and are very keen for everyone to at least have a look!!!
The Old Town - a small enclave of old shops, shop houses and temples that are now souvenir shops, galleries, leather goods shops, museums, shoe shops, restaurants, local produce shops, tailors and still more shops!!! Each shop proprietor 'invites' you into their shop.
There are a few variations on the standard 'Come in please,' including 'You come in my shop, you looking you buy something..,' 'Hello, where you from, buy from my shop..,' 'You buy from me...' It gets a might trying having to respond to each and every one of them as they do seem to be speaking directly to you.
The restaurant staff are the same, 'inviting' you to dine in their establishment and appearing quite non plussed at 9.30 in the morning that you might have already had breakfast and not yet be requiring lunch!!! 'Why not?' They ask incredulously when their kind offers are refused!!!
There are innumerable walking or scooter based shops- guys riding round on scooters or bikes with huge boards full of knock off designer sunglasses who stop and accost you as though you have a pre arrangement with them and they are merely fulfilling your desires, it's like, ' Here are your sunglasses, please make your choice and buy them now as I have many more appointments...' There are the fruit vendors, a basket full of fruit at each end of a shoulder pole. Or the less fortunate vendors whose shops are just off the main strip. They will ride up to you on their bikes and offer to sell you their clothes!!! Umm right, I think we will pass on that, oh, at your shop, I see, still passing on that one…
The barber shop - There is a tradition here that barber shops offer much more than mere hair cuts and shaves. They also clean your ears, a process I am glad to say I have survived unscathed! After your haircut and shave the barber dons a miners head lamp and sets to ones ears with a long razor blade, probes and tweezers finishing up with a small ball of cotton wool being rotated in your ear. The resultant waxy produce is proudly left on the back of your hand so you know it was well worth it…
The Riverside - There is a 1 or 2 kilometre section of riverside given over to the Tourist Boats that will take you out for an hour or a half hour cruise. There must be at least 50 of these boats with their accompanying staff all trying to win your custom.
There are many tour groups who are ferried from bus to boat or from bus to cyclo to boat, all very orderly and great business for the tour operators.
There is also a thriving fishing industry which is good to see.
On weekend evenings young girls try to sell floating lanterns that you float away on the river for good luck- again the supply side is very strong with knots of girls and an older relative/minder close by.
All in all Hoi An is a gorgeous spot to rest and recuperate before the onslaught of another huge Vietnamese city begins.