Mandy and Jon's Journey 2005 travel blog

Beneath these baskets is a bike if you believe.

A working boat yard we come across during one of our getting-lost...

A woman on a bike. Yep, a bike with a woman on...

The Japanese Covered Bridge which connects Hoi An to Tokyo.

Caught these carts red-handed taking an unauthorized break by the river bank.

A look from the river bank opposite to the Old Town.

Visited this woman during our river boat ride. She lives on this...

You wouldn't believe how lovely this woman was when she removed her...

We only let her paddle us for a bit, until we took...

Boys will be boys. These ones scared us into thinking we too...


These boys loved the camera.

Hoi An captivates like other towns we've had the pleasure to visit. It has that same welcoming hum that Antigua had in Guatemala and eases your anxiety like Granada will or a hot cup of tea. Perhaps these colonial towns owe their charm to the fact that they retained their architecture while less lucky cities were burned by fire, or bombed into oblivion. But I think it must be the architecture that makes them special. These cities are not necessarily cleaner than others, but they cradle their filth with much more prestige. What is crumbling does so with such grace that you overlook that the romantic city is a slow erosion of what the French built over a century ago. Despite the Vietnamese pride created by bringing colonialism to an end, they are not so silly as to ingore what nice taste the French possessed. And it is not only the French influence that creates the ambiance of Hoi An. Hoi An has been a trading center for Vietnam for centuries and Japanese and Chinese culture are evident throughout the Old Town. It is this fusion that makes Hoi An atypical and unusually alluring.

We have little desire in Hoi An than to soak in the city and experience her river, her market, her culinary specialties, and her people. There are a few tours out of town we are asked to join, but we decline. The Old Town of Hoi An is itself an UNESCO World Heritage Site and the pagodas, temples, Chinese houses, and the ornamental Japanese bridge all come together to create a truly remarkable urban neighborhood. We spend most of our time here simply wandering the streets declining invitations to "Buy something." These calls come from any proprietor, whether they're selling tailored suits or chewing gum. It is a remarkable sales strategy. They don't specify 'what' they want you to buy, or even 'why' you should by it - simply 'Buy something'. No, thank you - you say. 'Buy something' - they return.

On our second day in town we think to buy a pass which will allow us to visit any six of the Unesco buildings for a flat fee. The list contains about fifteen different Pagodas, temples, trading houses, traditional craft shops, and may include a folk music demonstration along the way. This sounds good and would allow us a chance to take an informal/formal walking tour in the Old Town. Our first stop is planned to be the Japanese Covered Bridge where can purchase said ticket and begin our tour. However, when we arrive no one is manning the ticket booth and we simply stroll through the bridge and decide as we go that we would prefer not to get this ticket anyway and simply do what we sometimes call 'getting-lost.' This is a simple enough activity and involves us walking aimlessly without a map in a town we've never been to before.

We stroll across the bridge which leads out of town and keep going. We walk past tourist shops as they dwindle in number, small restaurants that give way to food stalls, and craft stores as they become craft shops. As we move away from the town you see the real estate change and the number of people lessen. We see teenage boys carving elaborate wood pieces for furniture, woman weaving baskets, men with their feet up in the barber shop, an old man painting on his front streps, mechanics assembling and disassembling motorbikes, women sorting baskets of fruits, and everywhere a further detail of daily life in this Vietnamese suburb. We swing a left down a dirt road towards the river and see experience the peace of Vietnam that exists outside its bustling city centers. If you spent your time only in HCMC or downtown Na Trang you wold forever remember Vietnam as the most chaotic and ear-shattering place on Earth, but as soon as you wander away from the busy intersections and cramped storefronts you find a nation very much mellowed and a people as happy as you to share some peace and quiet. We come to a T in the road where it meets the river and see the kids fishing along the banks and large fish nets further out in the deep river. As we walk we come upon a large boat yard where a gang of men are building large fishing boats. It is amazing to see the process underway and they smile down at us as we watch them work. As we continue our walk we are brought back up the river road towards the East bank of Hoi An where we are offered a boat ride by a kind old woman. We, having no other plans, accept the ride and spend the next hour enjoying an unforgettable paddle as we examine the details of life that take place on the river's surface. We meet a friend of our captain (no coincidence I suppose) who tells us she is forced to live on her very small boat because the houses are just too expensive to live in. She shares the three foot by eight foot wooden vessel with her three year old daughter and four month old puppy. She was eager to sell us one of her bracelets, and was certainly desperate, but still she was not begging or guilting us into our purchase. She seemed unfortunate, but not unhappy and wished us good luck with our travels as we paddled away. Again, as we moved up river we saw the amazing details of river life. Men spinning nets on the banks, boys fishing, women washing, people painting boat hulls, and old men sleeping in the sun. On our return trip we were set upon by a giggly group of young teenage boys who were threatening to overturn us. In the end, we averted their attempts by gifting them our bottle of water and it was obvious by that point that they were only trying to have a good laugh and would never have thought of really spilling us.

The boat ride brought us back to a familiar part of town and we completed our day by enjoying fried fish in banana leaf, a local specialty, for dinner. Our time in Hoi An was marked by wandering aimlessly for two and a half days, but we can honestly say not a moment was wasted.

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