Hoi An, Vietnam

...In all honesty, to get how amazing Hoi An is, you have to be there and experience it for yourself, preferably with friends you love (a significant other will do, too!) who are travelling with you not to be able to get their pictures taken in as many tourist destinations as possible, but who are there to just live for the moment and enjoy it; to spend time strolling leisurely, gelato in hand, admiring the tiny stores and the little trinkets of things that they sold, smiling at strangers from different parts of the world. I hate to sound like a sappy romantic, but what can I say, memories of Hoi An bring that out in me.

April 9-11, 2009

In travel, as in life, I’m not an obsessive-compulsive planner. I don’t need to get all the details of my trip down pat. I’m pretty specific when it comes to my goals, but as to how I would achieve them is a different story. As long as I’m comfortable and have peace of mind, I would be fine to let my fairly minimal plans move along a general direction into my goal – no further planning necessary. I believe that it’s when you allow a little freedom into your life that the best things happen - a Leeway For Providence, one may call it. And when indeed providence takes over is when something magical and amazing happens that can leave you no less than pleasantly surprised.

At the beginning of our trip, our nearly three-day stop at Hoi An, Vietnam was a hazy blip in our itinerary, penciled in because it was part of the open bus tour we availed of from Sinh Café that would take us from Ho Chi Minh City upward to Hanoi at a reasonable price. We had virtually no expectations of the place: assuming the worst and hoping for the best, whatever “best” might possibly be. Thankfully, the Leeway For Providence filled up quite nicely during our stay in Hoi An, which turned out to be a romantic old town that completely took us by surprise.

We left Ho Chi Minh less than 24 hours after we had arrived there from Phnom Penh. Our Vietnam Airlines flight took us to Da Nang airport, where somebody picked us up and drove us for about an hour to Hoi An. The drive to Hoi An was a strange one, as we passed mostly empty lots and an occasional row of small houses and establishments. Da Nang’s wide, well-paved roads that could rival decent enough freeways in other cities were virtually empty too - odd, considering Da Nang is supposedly the fourth largest city in Vietnam. A recurring sight while on the road at Da Nang also consisted of massive, half-dilapidated - or half-finished, depending on how you see it - structures and the billboards that announced them to the world, with promises of progress and wealth from a tourism industry that could’ve been – or that will be, I’m not quite sure . I honestly couldn’t quite tell if Da Nang’s ghost town of a beach community was already past its prime or just getting itself built from the ground up. It all depends on perspective I guess. In any case, the wide empty roads and a driver who did not seem to speak a word of English did not in the least bit help bring clarity to our next destination. It was all getting very strange indeed.

So imagine our surprise when we entered the arches into Hoi An and saw its many small buildings and houses, and its narrow streets that looked like they were old and steeped in history but still alive and actually thriving. After checking into our hotel, Than Binh III (which was also part of the Sinh Café package), we immediately began exploring its winding narrow streets.

Tiff had been in love with the 50’s-style bikes we had been seeing everywhere since we started our trip, and we all finally got the chance to try them out in Hoi An. It seemed a good idea to rent out the bikes to explore Hoi An – seemed, because as it turned out, it wasn’t a very good idea for me. I think I had the most trouble with the bikes – they were so freaking high (or I’m just really short) and I couldn’t figure out how to break and dismount without killing myself! It was all very dramatic and funny at the same time, and just part of the experience of Hoi An.

Siem Reap and its amazing temples made for a profound experience, and the grandness and history behind Angkor Wat and the other ancient structures we visited were overwhelming in their own amazing way. Hoi An, on the other hand, provided a different experience – the simple houses and narrow streets were not grand in anyway, but instead quaint and charming. Walking along them wasn’t an overwhelming experience, but a very relaxed one – our jaws didn’t drop at the stateliness and grandeur of the place, but the romantic simplicity of everything did make us smile.

In truth, there isn’t much to be said about Hoi An, apart from it being a charming ancient city by the river that’s been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with narrow streets lined with old French-inspired houses with oriental flair and tiny boutiques that sold all sorts of quirky things. But that is perhaps the beauty of the place – in all honesty, to get how amazing Hoi An is, you have to be there and experience it for yourself, preferably with friends you love (a significant other will do, too!) who are travelling with you not to be able to get their pictures taken in as many tourist destinations as possible, but who are there to just live for the moment and enjoy it; to spend time strolling leisurely, gelato in hand, admiring the tiny stores and the little trinkets of things that they sold, smiling at strangers from different parts of the world. I hate to sound like a sappy romantic, but what can I say, memories of Hoi An bring that out in me.

My best memory of Hoi An is probably sitting at one of the tables on a balcony overlooking the river in the late afternoon, the sky in that faded, light orange color that I adore so much, just talking to Jen and Tiff over coffee and some amazing dessert, thinking and talking about life – past, present, future, taking a few pictures here and there, and just…being. Being relaxed, being happy. Again, I hate to sound like a sap, but it’s so hard to not be happy in Hoi An. I don’t know if my pictures do justice to the place, but here’s to trying:

Tam Tam Cafe, where we had lunch. They had really good spring rolls!

My favorite picture from Hoi An!

Our second day in Hoi An was spent on a quick tour of the My Son relics, temples that apparently pre-dated those in Cambodia, but were bombed heavily by the Americans during the Vietnam war. Also included in the tour was a visit to an island whose residents made a living by making beautiful wooden carvings. It was a fairly enjoyable tour (with some amazingly funny moments owing to the fact that Filipina girls can easily be mistaken as Vietnamese) but to be honest, throughout the entire tour we couldn’t wait to go strolling along the narrow streets of Hoi An again, which is exactly what we did, up until the evening, when we had an amazing dinner at a great restaurant called Cargo Club, again on the balcony overlooking the river.

It takes a very secure man to carry around a pink purse!

Of course, as we are girls, there was a lot of shopping – and we bought all these random things! Jen got a beautiful jade ring from a gorgeous young Vietnamese lady and her expat husband. I bought a beautiful tapestry in anticipation of me moving into my new place within the year. Tiff bought what seemed like an entire winter wardrobe – and who could blame her? The clothes she bought were tailor-fit and cost so much less than the clothes she would’ve bought in Australia. We also bought Vietnamese paintings, tea sets, and custom-made footwear – sandals for Jen, fancy pumps for Tiff, and boots for me, in anticipation of my Hong Kong trip for later in the year (and because I’ve always fancied owning a nice pair of boots).

Our stay in Hoi An ended too soon, but we were on a tight schedule as we moved north to Hanoi and couldn’t make any extensions. If it was any consolation, our trip from Hoi An to our next destination, Hue, was on a sleeping bus that had beds instead of seats! So very Knight Bus in Harry Potter.

In saying goodbye to Hoi An, we were halfway through our Vietnam-Cambodia trip, and we were also set to explore our third stop in Vietnam, the city of Hue.


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Mr Whattaworld said...

Ah the middle part of Vietnam, I have been hearing a lot about this place and I will surely visit this one of these days...

Excellent photos, it captures the moment really!!

Daene | Filipina in Flip Flops said...

Black: thanks so much! I hope I get to visit Thailand soon! :)

Daene | Filipina in Flip Flops said...

Hi Marvin! Yes you should visit Hoi An, it's suuuper nice! A very lovely, relaxed place. :)

The Nomadic Pinoy said...

I had to take a second look at that man holding a pink purse. Appropriately captioned! I'm wondering though if it's his wife's?

Daene | Filipina in Flip Flops said...

@The Nomadic Pinoy: There weren't any women in their group, just an entire group of war veterans...but who knows? The wife could've gone to the loo or something and left the purse with him! Hehe. :)

I love your site, you've gone to so many places! I put you on my links page already :)

Pasyalera said...

Nice shots. Hope I can also get to see those places. :(

MJ Chan said...

Wow! I have been to Vietnam lately but only in Saigon... Wish I could go to Hoi An someday

Honey said...

Hi Daene! Get to see your blog thru your Twitter account. I'm a community member of TCP and I love these entries you have here. My friends and I are going to Vietnam next month and we're thinking to visit Cambodia too (by bus) The thing is since it's just a side trip, we will just visit Phnom Penh and won't able to drop by Siem Reap. You think it's worth it to visit Cambodia if we're just going to see PP. Or we should head to SR instead. We only have 3 days though. Any tips? =)

Thanks, Honey

Daene | Filipina in Flip Flops said...

Hi Honey! I'm glad you like the blog, thanks so much. :) Enjoy your Vietnam trip! While I did go to Phnom Penh on our trip last year, we were only there for a few days and didn't get to go to the Killing Fields or the other places that travelers usually visit when they're in PP. But I think PP is definitely worth visiting though - I actually regret not having been able to go around. Note that it took us nearly a day from Saigon to PP to Siem Reap by bus though, so if you have only three days, you might need to consider that. You can opt to fly to PP or Siem Reap from Saigon. :)

Now, between PP and Siem Reap, obviously I chose Siem Reap, but only because for a while now it's been a dream of mine to see Angkor Wat and the other temples in that area. It was my main goal when we went on our Vietnam-Cambodia trip last year. I know people really get emotional though visiting the Killing Fields and learning about Cambodia's violent past, and I really wish I had gone. I hope to go back next time, I hear it's quite life-changing. :)

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