Hoi An has turned it’s historic old town into the quintessential tourist trap.
The old town is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is full of buildings from the 15th to 19th century. For 120,000 VND ($5.30 USD) you can visit five of the 22 sites. But what if I want to visit all 22? Blank stare.
Between the ancient buildings are tourist shops and restaurants. Every restaurant offers cooking lessons, the coffee shops are trendy, and shopping ranges from trinkets to art to leather goods.
One nice thing about the town is it’s vehicle free (during most daytime hours). No zipping scooters, no honking trucks. If you need transportation you can ride a bicycle or take a cyclo.
I can’t help but to look into all the shops. More than just the regular tourist junk, there are some unique t-shirts, paintings, wood carvings, and hand embroidery.
Hoi An is one of the few places I’ve seen people selling things by roaming the streets, and coming to your table in restaurants. They sell fruits, cards, and spinning or glowing toys. In the morning I bought roasted coconut chips, which had a nice caramel flavour. During dinner a 12 year old girl selling cards wanted to type on my computer. She’d type something (about buying her cards to help with school), and I’d correct her English. We went back and forth a few times. She was very smart. I told her I didn’t want to buy anything, but gave her about $1 anyway.
While browsing, a woman grabbed me to show me her shop. She’s a tailor and wanted me to buy some clothes. I told her I didn’t have time because I was leaving tomorrow, but she said it would be ready by the end of the day. After waffling, I decided to give it a try and ordered two dress shirts for $25 USD. They have catelogues of styles you can choose from, but I picked a standard dress shirt and one with a mandarin collar.
While I was agreeing to buy shirts, another person came to bring me to her shoe shop. She can make any shoes I want, also by the end of the day. Leather boots for $60. I’m not sure, but I wasn’t able to find black shoes (as per work’s dress code) at home that fit and am pretty sure I won’t have more luck here. I look at the shoes she’s made, and the ones she’s wearing (it has Clarks soles!) are similar to what I want. It looks like good quality, and she promised the leather will be soft. I order ballet flats with a slight heel. She charges me $45 USD.
While I’m agreeing to buy shoes, another woman comes to thread my eyebrows. Honestly it’s been five weeks and these eye-bushes need a weed wacker. I thought she wanted 60,000 VND ($2.50) but when it’s all done, she wanted $6. She really wanted to do my upper lip and legs, but I refused. How flattering.
While I’m getting groomed, another woman asks me to come to her souvenir shop. I apologize but I don’t need any souvenirs. We chat. All these ladies want to know where I’m from and what’s my name. Such a beautiful name!
Six hours later I return to pick up my goods. One shirt is missing cuff buttons, and they call someone over to quickly sew them on. The shirts are good, but not perfect. Later Google tells me not to expect perfection with a one day turnover (duh) and to have more than one fitting (duh). They are, however, the best shirts I have for work. Normally it’s impossible for me to buy button up shirts with an appropriate sleeve length. She tells me her sister made them.
The shoes are better than I expected. They fit perfectly and feel like slippers. The leather is much softer than the sample she showed me. I’m quite happy. She wants me to buy a second pair, she’ll have them ready in the morning. She tells me her brother made them. I decline.
As I’m leaving the market area I hear my name being called. It’s the woman from the souvenir shop. She brings me over to her booth. I apologize that I can’t buy anything and promise that I didn’t buy from anyone else either. She smiles and say it’s ok.
To my surprise my guest house provided breakfast – noodle soup with some pork and an egg, and a banana.
One of Hoi An’s specialties is called “White Roses”. They are pork and garlic dumplings with white-translucent rice wrappers. Very tasty.
Seafood and cripsy noodles. I was hoping for chow mein. It was same-same only different.
Hoi An has some beautiful beaches – white sand with barely a person around.
In one area there were signs everywhere saying “Free parking” and “This way to the beach”. Plenty of people tried to wave me down to their shop. When I snapped this picture there were just two other people on the shore. A local came to see if I wanted to eat at his restaurant, and he told me sitting on the lounge chairs was free.
Further down there were a few restaurants right on the beach, but parking was 100,000 VND ($4.50).