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|Diane Aoki: Creating Sense of the World||
In our planning for our trip to Vietnam, Hoi An came up again and again, as one of the "favorite" places to travel to in Vietnam. We agreed this would be on the "definitely go" list. In the travel articles, there always seemed to be a qualifier, it's great, but touristy. Hello. We are tourists. But I get the point, when you go to a different country, you are supposed to want an "authentic" experience, i.e., not "touristy". I hope I can say this in the future, but in Hoi An, there is a blend of authentic encounters and an appreciation for us, the tourists. On the airplane, I had a conversation with a nice Vietnamese woman and she said even Vietnamese people like to travel to Hoi An.
The first thing that comes to mind when I remember Hoi An is how visually pleasant it is. From the mostly yellow old buildings, to the bougainvillea flowing from the second floor verandas in the daytime, to the bright, atmosphere-evoking lanterns in the nighttime. Hoi An is really a feast for the eyes. Our hotel, the Villa Orchid Garden Riverside, was flowing with blooming flowers of all kinds.
The next thing I was impressed with was the people. This could be largely because of our serendipitous luck that we booked a hotel that employed a woman whose best friend lives in Guam (where we are from). I don't know if this was why we had such exceptional service, but my feeling is that this is their approach - extremely hospitable. In Hoi An, we even had a cab driver call us back because he saw that one of us had left a LOT of cash on the seat of the taxi. In Hoi An, we connected with our friend's sister, who treated us to a famous Hoi An dish, com ga, chicken rice. She also made sure the cab driver didn't take us back to the hotel the long way. Of course, sellers approach you non-stop, asking you to buy something or another, but it never felt aggressive. Expect it, but take it good-naturedly. Be open to the fact that you just may like that dried coconut and ginger.
And then there's the food! We hunted for the banh mi lady made famous by Anthony Bourdain. We didn't find her in time (another reason to go back) but found one recommended by the locals, Banh Mi Queen. A typical banh mi in Hoi An is 20,000 dong (about $1). The pho is also good here, and I had it at the hotel, which was very good. One of my traveling companions had it at the restaurant Morning Glory, a higher-priced treat, and we all tasted it and agreed it was yummy. We all ordered something different and we left happy and bellies full. There was just not enough time to experience all the different recommended dishes and eateries.
Last, but not least, is the shopping. We didn't realize this would be THE place in Vietnam to shop, because we still were headed to Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). One thing that Hoi An is known for is tailoring and I really didn't think I was going to get a dress made, but I started seeing styles that I thought would be cute for dancing, and I was encouraged to check into it. Ended up getting 2 dresses custom-made for $45 (US). But I also bought ready-made blouses. They weren't cheap - maybe about Ross prices- but unique and stylish. Though we shopped in Hanoi and Saigon, in Hoi An, there seemed to be more of everything, and better prices. My advice - if you like it, buy it in Hoi An. If you wait til you get to another city, you may not find it, and if you do, it may be more expensive. This was our experience.
Let me just end by saying, there was even more to Hoi An than I mentioned here. But these are at the top of my mind right at this moment, as I write this.
I have traveled quite a bit, and am using this page to record some memories. Travel is a wonderful education, expanding your view of the world, of other cultures, of the beauty of diversity.