Hoi An, Vietnam - This Time Tomorrow - CycleBlaze

November 28, 2016

Hoi An, Vietnam

Sometimes we just have to be full-on tourists

Hoi An, Vietnam

November 27-29, 2016

Hoi An sits gracefully on either side of the slow moving Thu Bon River. Its centuries-old buildings are remarkably well preserved, so much so that the entire town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. There are more than 800 old buildings that are under UNESCO’s strict regulations which should preserve them far into the future. Hoi An is simply a gem for all of us to enjoy, a gem preserved more by accident than planning.

For more than 300 years Hoi An had quite an array of enticing goods to trade. From elephant tusks to fine silks to spices, traders from all over the world docked at Hoi An. The Chinese and Japanese traders blew in and then stayed an entire season building up stocks of goods in their warehouses while they waited for the winds to change and blow them back home. Hoi An traders and merchants became phenomenally rich.

The Japanese believed that the very heart of the dragon for all of Asia lay beneath the soil of Hoi An. But by the end of the 19th century the Thu Bon River silted up preventing large vessels from ever docking there again. Nearby Da Nang took over as the major southern Vietnamese port in the late 1800’s and Hoi An became literally a backwater. Development never occurred and the buildings stayed as they were. Hoi An also lucked out during the war since it was not considered a strategic spot by either side.

Japanese bridge in the 1920's
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400 year old Japanese bridge
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As we roamed the narrow (car-less and motor bike-less) streets we felt as though we were walking in a different century. What an incredibly delightful town! The river, near the top of the wide stone sidewalk/docks, winds along a street with many restaurants. Docked are many colorful boats, the owners of which ask if you want a tour of the watery area or to simply eat some specialty Hoi An foods on deck.

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Hoi An's old wharf area. The bollard stones are of granite and there must be a hundred of them spaced evenly.
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Inside the central market, also just a few feet from the river, we found enterprising women who have well lit glass cases filled with tasty looking foods. Tourists can sit on stools in front of the glass cases as the cook fries up what you have ordered. It’s a great place to try all the specific dishes Hoi An boasts as their own.

Hoi An specialities inside the central market.
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Tourists can enter many of the oldest and most beautiful houses and are given brief tours. We also attended a musical/dance performance as well as small museums in other buildings. I felt like a real tourist but there were so many tourists there that I hardly felt alone. Learning about Hoi An is one place a person pretty much has to become a full-on tourist.

Old houses galore
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Shrine inside one of the oldest houses.
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I was especially interested in the architecture of the buildings and I walked with eyes ogling upwards. The buildings had an interesting combination of Chinese/Japanese/Vietnamese styles and details. I must have been looking quite intently because an Australian man came out into the street and invited us to climb the stairs to the top of one of the tallest buildings; to the roof for a wonderful and unique view. He didn’t own the building but said a friend did. He also mentioned that he had cleaned and repainted the front part of the building for his friend and was required by UNESCO to use a broom-like thing rather than a paint brush. The paint was also old-style, thin as white-wash which he said was a real trick to get onto the wall with a bunch of twigs.

We really appreciated the man’s offer because from the roof we were able to see all the other tiled rooftops in town. It was a dazzling mosaic of tiles, a view we otherwise would never have been able to experience.

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We had a lovely time in lovely Hoi An, I must say. I had fun buying little treats on the street such as the hockey puck shaped sweet potato cakes (a little dry but great with coffee), mango cakes (soft dough-like things - no mango detected) and spur-of-the-moment nem lui (pork on sticks) roasted over charcoal and then rolled up in rice paper. And there was the cheapest draft beer yet @ 15 cents a mug!

Pork on skewers to make Nem Lui
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The hard part of Hoi An was not so much all the tourists (of which there were many) but the tourist crap that the residents of Hoi An want to try to sell to the tourists. There are tons and tons of this junk filling the insides of buildings and sometimes nearly covering entire facades. It’s hard for me to believe that UNESCO turns a blind eye to this because it really detracts from the overall experience. The huge number of tourists is hard enough to accept but trashy consumer goods everywhere a person looks is just wrong in such an historic site.

Pretty cool paper cut-out cards for a dollar.
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Also they had what they called “ethnic fabrics - hand woven” on display in their silk museum. There was not one item that was hand woven or even made in Vietnam. China has taken over the fake silk industry in S.E. Asia making textiles by machine. Most tourists don’t know the difference but this is one area where Andrea and I know something about. It’s so odd that UNESCO requires paint to be a certain type and applied with a certain bunch of twigs authentic to an era but then they let fake silk textiles made by machine in China be on display labeled as authentic handmade Vietnamese silk. This, and a whole lot of other things I’m not going to list, UNESCO, or the Vietnamese themselves, need to control better. It makes the experience inauthentic and more of a hodgepodge of consumer items emphasizing consumerism.

I was able to override any negative tourist experiences by walking around the entire town early in the morning. There were no tourists, not one, and the residents didn’t try to sell me anything or try to get me into a boat for a tour. What I got to see was the normal activity of the people who live there. It was such a relief to see the town as it was, without trying to squint and not see all the tourists and the tons of consumer goods. The central market was 100% Vietnamese native people doing their regular shopping. There always are ways around unpleasantries and by going out early I was able to really see the beauty of Hoi An.

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Chinese fishing net
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We probably didn’t stay long enough in Hoi An but it was beginning to rain which made walking the streets harder and not as pleasant. As much as I wanted to stay for weeks, we needed to get going to see more out-of-the-way places in Vietnam.

lovebruce

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