Hoi An, so far the most impressive town in Vietnam. It reminds me of Belize—tropical, lush but not so built up that the surroundings are sterilized. The streets still have the feel of people living and working for all to see. They aren’t hidden away in a suburban part of town; they are front and center to connect and interrelate with.
Many people sleep in the small place where they work. #2 and I were sharing a story with the other #’s about the difference between “Mom and Pop” stores here in Vietnam (and in Lunang Prabang) and the corporate stores found in the United States.
In every city we’ve visited so far, many of the locals have created little (and I mean very little) store-front shops where they hustle each day to sell their goods. And then when their day is done, when the tourists bed down for the night so do these merchants—right there in a small spot of their shop--where if they’re lucky they have a separate area, other wise they sleep on a cot amongst their wares and goods.
Tourism is the driving economic factor in Hoi An but it was’t always that way. Starting in the 15th century, Hoi An was a major port for countries around the world, including the Chinese, Japanese, French, British and Americans. Then in the 19th century the Thu Bon river silted up and since it was easier to move the port north to Danang than dredge the river the international significance of Hoi An waned.
Tourism to the rescue. In the 1990’s tourists eventually discovered the secret of Hoi An’s old town Asian feel, tropical weather and beaches. Here’s an excerpt from a restaurant menu I looked at, “in 1992 we created the first restaurant for tourists. At the time there were no more than a handful of hotels and very few people from the west...” Since then the town has exploded in popularity. Hotels, restaurants, shops and people from all corners of the earth flock to this town. And growth, it’s everywhere—new hotels, new homes, new buildings.
#2 and I were bicycling past a huge open beach front lot filled with weeds and surrounded on ether side by old dilapidated brick buildings. I yelled out, “I don’t think you will remain this way for ever old vacant lot. In fact, I see a large hotel in your future.” It would be interesting to come back in ten years to see what this piece of land looks like.
Yes, Hoi An is a tourist zone but it doesn’t feel crowded. Yes, there are the ever present scooters equipped with horns but there are also sections of the town where motorized vehicles are not allowed. Very smart.
Oh, one more item to discuss before signing off—the food. If you ever see a Vietnamese restaurant where you live and they specialize in Hoi An style cooking, go there. The food in Hoi An is distinct and incredibly tasty. Imagine the best most flavorful Chinese or Thai dishes you’ve ever had; Hoi An dishes will surprise you with even more flavors. Their use of herbs to flavor the food is magical and mouth watering. Excuse me, I have to go; saliva is starting to pool up in my mouth. (That was for you Uncle Dave!)
On the road with the Falyn Family Five.