While big cities contain a lot of excitement and entertainment, I have always preferred the quieter places. Perhaps due to my upbringing in a sleepy valley of about 7,000 hippies I tend to have more fun and feel less stressed putzing around a small town than braving the crowded streets of urban metropolises. It was therefore totally unsurprising that Hoi An was so appealing to me, both as a tourist and just a regular person passing through. Let me clarify: there was enough to do and see to keep me entertained as a tourist, but also a piece of me kept saying “I could totally live here.”
We arrived later than we thought, thanks to the ever lovely delays of Jetstar, so all we had time for our first night was dinner. It was close to 9:30 by the time we dropped our stuff off in the hostel so we were the last customers to leave the restaurant we ended up at. In keeping with the theme of my months in South East Asia, we had Indian food. And it was sooo good. The restaurant was called Ganesh, for any of you thinking about stopping by Hoi An. Eat there. So delicious.
The next day we planned very thoroughly, because at that time we thought it would be our only full day in Hoi An (this ended up being untrue, but we weren’t aware of that yet). First we did what a lot of tourists come to Hoi An for: order custom made clothing at one of the tailors in town. I got a suit (pants and a blazer) and a blazer-like wool coat perfect for California winters. It all ended up great, I can’t wait to wear it all once I get home but it is way too hot here to even try it on again. We went back and forth from the tailor a lot for fittings, but thankfully it was right near our hostel so it wasn’t a hassle. I paid about $140 for all of my clothing, which isn’t the cheapest anyone has ever gotten clothes made in Hoi An but certainly wasn’t a rip off, especially given that a nice, not-custom blazer in the US can cost that much on its own. I definitely recommend getting clothes custom made if you ever have the opportunity.
Aside from the clothing, most of what we did was eat and shop and walk around. Hoi An is located right on a river and very close to the ocean. The streets are small and no building is over two stories tall. The majority of restaurants had small patio seating with vines hanging halfway down in front of the entrance, making every meal feel like it was taking place inside a jungle bungalow. There were bikes and motorbikes all over, much like the cities, but it wasn’t nearly as intimidating. Cute shops lined the streets and there were antique-y looking motor boats offering rides down the muddy river (we ended up going on one, more on that later).
On our first day we had the free hostel breakfast and set out for a long day of sight seeing. There are old heritage sites sprinkled around the town so instead of buying entrance to each one, you buy a ticket for 5 or 10 sites and then go to whichever ones tickle your fancy. We bought the ticket for 5 but we only went in 3; either way, still interesting and worth the money. One was an old Chinese meeting hall and two were old houses. We also visited the Japanese dragon bridge, a covered crossing of the river.
After a full day of exploring and eating we decided leaving the next day was too soon, so rather than spend the next afternoon/evening on a long train ride to Hanoi as planned we decided to fly, giving ourselves an extra day and morning to take in the town.
The next day we decided to take a boat tour, so we picked a random destination — the pottery village — and hopped onto a medium sized wooden motor boat with a roof, tiny unsecured benches for seats, chipping paint, and one tiny white lantern buffeted about in the wind. We were the only three people on a boat the could have seated twenty. The driver (driver? captain? man who owned the boat?) was nice but didn’t speak any English. We were hoping for a small town filled with pottery shops and places to watch artisans work; what we got was a skewed version of our imaginings. Yes, we did get the throw clay (my first time!) which was cool, although we didn’t get to keep our pots. We had to buy our entrance to the island because as an artisan village they rely on the government to subsidize them as well as ticket sales.
From the first tiny pottery store we were walked between ramshackle houses to another tiny pottery store, where we received our “free gift” (with the purchase of our ticket), an unglazed clay whistle in the shape of our zodiac animal, and an awkward few minutes while we didn’t buy anything. After that we were walked to another tiny pottery store where again we awkwardly stood around trying to not show interest in the wares so they wouldn’t get excited and try to sell to us. There are a couple of salient details: 1) Most of this pottery was clearly not made on the island by these people because the exact same pieces were sold in stores all over Hoi An, 2) we had paid for entrance to the village and for the ride over so we didn’t feel obligated to buy anything, but 3) these people clearly need the money.
I felt duped for paying to be taken to an island and made to feel guilty for not spending my tourist dollars, but in a country where I was constantly barraged by vendors trying to take advantage of my foreignness my instinct was to never show an interest in anything unless I was fairly certain I wanted to buy it. If salespeople got especially pushy and rude I would just leave, so being trapped on an island with people trying to sell to me was stressful. I almost caved when an old toothless hunchbacked white haired woman literally begged me to buy two tiny shitty terra cotta chickens for $1, but my instinct to run took over and I said a firm no while walking out the door. I’m still not sure what I should have done…
This was the only weird part of our time in Hoi An, and the boat ride was still pretty fun. The whole trip took about an hour and a half, leaving us time to explore the central market and a few more stores.
I would describe some of the food I ate (morning glory with garlic, pork sandwich, beef noodle soup, claypot curry chicken, fresh clams and more morning glory with garlic, a huge amount of ice cream, cheesecake) but it would only cause jealousy, so I’ll just let you imagine.
On our last day we were supposed to leave at 1pm for the airport but our flight was delayed (yay Jetstar! again!) so we went to the beach for a few hours to kill time. We had already packed our swimsuits and checked out of our hostel, so we went in our clothes and didn’t go in the water. Still, one of the best beaches I’ve ever been to. Great sand, super warm water, fresh donut stands, and palm trees. We lounged in lawn chairs and wrote postcards under umbrellas.
As you may have noticed, this post was really picture heavy. I found that I couldn’t fully describe Hoi An without a lot of visuals. There were so many varied aspects of the town and no particular events to report beyond what I’ve mentioned. Here’s another bunch of photos, random leftovers that didn’t go with any certain description. Take a look if you’re still curious!