Drifter and I left the eyesore elevator and buzzed on our unmighty steeds along the coastal road to Hoi An. It has been 3 years since I last visited and was curious to see the changes that may or may not have happened. Hoi An is known for the quality and quick service at low prices for many different textiles. Custom made suits, dresses, and even shoes became sought out items to those visiting Vietnam. Against the river was the old town that was filled with nice old houses and small family run shops that sold items of silk and handicrafts. Against the river is quite a large market area where most of the locals buy their daily groceries and life items. A small bridge near the market allows access to an island in the river where there was a hotel and a few bars, one being my favorite “The Sleepy Gecko” run by Steve and his wife.
The approach to the small town was as in the past, and it seemed that not
much had changed until we entered the town itself. We were no where near to the main town area when here and there were tailoring and clothing shops where a person would think gets very few tourists. The drive was a cold and miserable one, so it was off to our first choice of hotels. To our surprise, it was totally booked. Whaa?? It is slow season, cold, and miserable. I was a bit surprised, but no problem…… we moved on to our second choice over very bad town roads. No doubt the condition of the roads was due to the very harsh rainy season we experienced in 2010 and Hoi An is regularly battered by bad weather. We checked into the Sunflower hotel, an older building that had also suffered water damage that had not yet been repaired, however, the staff were very nice, and the breakfast good.
After checking in, it was off the Sleepy Gecko to fill up on anti-freeze. It was a bit early still, so I left Drifter to get acquainted with some very nice young women while I cruised around town to get a general feel. I was quite taken by surprise that the main road to the beach was in such disrepair considering how many tourists spent their dollars along this route, and felt quite sorry for the older tourists that I was passing seeing them bump through holes and try to avoid the mud. Thankfully the road improves somewhat on the 5 km ride to the beach. There have been a number of resorts built since I was here last and I was a bit surprised by the number of silk and clothing shops that looked exactly the same as the shops coming into town. Then the road ended……. Where is the beach? In front of me was a section of beach perhaps 30 meters in length before a large drive in Kiosk set up by a resort across the road broke it in two.
There were about 30 more meters on the other side, and from that point on…….. Resorts!! The beach area was small enough as it was before, but now is seems there is to be nothing left. The contents of a single city hotel will fill what is left of the beach to capacity…. Oh well, so be it. Hoi An was never really a beach destination anyway. I drove south along the no longer Oceanside road passing resort after resort. From time to time one of them would spit out a van filled with people to take them to old town. It seemed a little inconvenient to me to be quite a distance away from the place you want to visit with no easy transport. Anyway…. IT was back to the Sleepy Gecko for me. On my drive back, I was suddenly surrounded by six young men on motorcycles that tried to force me to pull over in a construction zone with few people about. I few choice vulgarities in Vietnamese seemed to change their plans, but the event concern me a bit. I have never felt my security in question in Vietnam until this event. I returned to the Sleepy Gecko and spent a plesant evening chatting withDrifter, Steve and the three nice ladies that work for him.
After breakfast Drifter and I headed for the market to have a look around. Drifter was in the mood for a good bowl of Pho, and we found it. We were surprised by a Vietnamese person sitting at another table that did not speak a word of Vietnamese. He was from America and was visiting as a tourist….. aaaa right!! I guess I should have not been too surprised. A whole generation has passed since people relocated elsewhere. Hmmmm, I am getting sidetracked. We cruised the market for a while and were inundated by sales people that were much more aggressive than in the past. I was taken again by surprise. This was not the case a few years ago. I had the feel of walking through the Ben Thanh Market of Saigon except not only were there more tourists than I would have thought, but also hawkers following a person around trying to nag a person into buying. I recognized some of the accents to be northern which indicates to me that many of the walks about sales people are here from Hanoi to make seasonal dollars. We decided to make a quick exit into the old town for a quieter scene and to look at the historic and cultural sights which we were familiar with but have not visited in a long time. As soon as we left the market and walked down on of the old town streets we were swallowed by crowds of tourists. We strode from place to place getting more and more sad….. nay,
disappointed…. and then angry! There seemed to be nothing historic or cultural about it anymore (unless retail sales are involved). All of the streets are lined with shops selling the same wares offering the same services. The historic homes and buildings are now all shops, many that sell goods from China and India. You have to look pretty hard to find anything cultural about the place now. Sure the Japanese bridge is still there as are the silk factory and other places. I actually felt like I was in the retail gift store area of Disneyland. (Shudder) I had the answers I was looking for and Drifter was quite disturbed (as was I) at what we were experiencing. We now had a new mission. Get out of town as fast as we could. To us, there is nothing about this place that is Vietnam. We did not even bother truing to find a restaurant for lunch before leaving as we did not want to take the chance ant getting even angrier with how pricey things are comparative to the rest of the country. Our last memory of Hoi an as we fled northward was of a service station attendant trying to charge us 20 times the going rate to fill a low tire. Drifter and I finally felt like we were back in Vietnam as we cruised along to marching tunes, news according to Ho, and perhaps a bit of Madam Butterfly blaring through loudspeakers lining the road back to Danang.
Sadly, after 14 years of enjoying a visit to Hoi An, this may be my last. Hoi An used to be about finding a great deal on a suit while visiting the charming historic city. Now Tailors, clones of tailors, and cones of clones will be happy to make you clothing at a price….double the cost of other cities. The quaintness is gone replaced by commercialism. I feel sorry for those that go there expecting to experience the culture of Vietnam. You will not find it.
Please be aware that this is only my opinion. As a friend rightly put it. “ I live here therefore it may be distasteful to me, but remember……. We are tourists and that is what we may want” or something to that affect. She is correct. Who am I to say what people enjoy in Vietnam? I only blog and give advise…. The choice is yours. Whatever the case, If you travel to Hoi An, I hope you enjoy your stay as I wish you to enjoy other areas. I truley think this is a wonderful place to visit.
Sorry for the long post. I did not think breaking it in two like I often do was a good idea. Perhaps Drifter will comment on things I missed both in Danang and Hoi An.