Hoi An, Vietnam sits on the coast of the slender, central plains area, just south of the 17th parallel dividing historic South Vietnam from its northern neighbor. Along with Hue and Danang, both slightly to the north, Hoi An serves as a sleepy stopover for tourists enroute to Saigon from Hanoi, or vice versa. Most people go tot Hoi An to explore the small core of historical buildings, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999.
In the 13 years since the old city received its special designation, most of contemporary life has left the historic yellowish buildings with ying-yang tiled roofs. While the old, culturally important houses and temples remain functional and important to the town, the rest of the buildings no longer house Hoi Anians or the small businesses that they frequent. Instead, local entrepreneurs capitalized on the predicted tourism increase and opened shops, restaurants, and fancy hotels. While a lot of these shops were packed with your basic Southeast Asia tourist junk, some held some real gems. In the picture above, my friend David is bargaining for a piece of artwork to hang in his New York apartment.
Kiosks around the old town sell packs of tickets for around $5 that give visitors a handful of passes into some of the more well-preserved areas: homes that had been in families for seven generations, ancestor temples, community gathering spaces, etc. We spent an incredibly hot and sweaty day exploring a few of these, and all of my pictures were terrible. The best I can give you is this shot of an ornamental wall in the courtyard of a very old house. Many of the old buildings are largely windowless, with open air courtyards providing much of the light and circulation. This photo isn’t exceptional by any means, but it does convey the level of obscene brightness everywhere.
Hoi An has historically been considered a makers town, with shops selling custom shoes, suits, and anything else you might like made to order. Andy decided to buy a linen suit here. In this picture, his assistant (also a Susan) shows him some design details on a mannequin. Though he is not fully in love with the result, he did enjoy the process of fittings and choosing colors.
Though most parts of Hoi An did not feel like an authentic economy, given the old buildings full of offerings only for tourists. However, for the first time, I saw authentic floating vendors. While Bangkok is famous for its floating markets, these largely do not exist outside the realm of the tourist industry. In Hoi An? I saw a fruit stand vendor purchase her daily wares from a farmer who pulled up on a boat.
When it’s not scorching, Hoi An is sleepy. It’s a great place to find a coffee shop and sit around for a while. With the legit Vietnamese coffee taking quite some time to filter through the device and the packed grounds, it can try the patience of westerners wanting a quick fix of caffeine.
We spent 5 days in this small town. And honestly, that was probably a few too many. We packed in a lazy beach day, and motorcycle riding adventure. On two bikes we packed three people up and out of Hoi An to Monkey Island, 40 kilometers away. There, we were treated to stunning views of Danang.
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