Hoi An (Vietnam), 31.07.2013
Highly recommended by the LP guide and a Unesco listed site, Hoi An seemed to be worth a visit to see an old Vietnamese town with few scooters and plenty of charm. It was just a 30 minutes drive in another snail speed cab from Da Nang, including the attempt of the driver to get me into a tour of a workshop selling stone statues. Driving out of Da Nang I had the chance to see something of this town on a beautiful bay. The hills opposite my hotel were still covered in clouds in the morning. In town there are many French colonial buildings in good shape, side by side with newly built high rises. Several huge new bridges span the Song Han river, one bigger then the next. As I drove through this town I wondered how the generations might get along with all the change, this place must have looked so completely different just a few decades ago.
On the outskirts of town, the beach promenade was enormous and lined with palms and decorative trees cut to cone shape. Big restaurants, hotel towers, bars lined up one after the other, some still being finished to build. A handful of small old houses towards the end stood as a reminder of how this place must have looked like in the past. Outside of town, the beach was in full development. Construction sites alternated with recently finished mega resorts, hotels, convention centers and gated residential communities. American hotel chains and investors seem to back the biggest chunk of this building bonanza, that also includes the Da Nang golf club, whose lawn was being cut to perfection by several Vietnamese workers with their traditional cone shaped hats.
Hoi An was a tourist-shop town of small, mostly yellow houses. At first I was a bit disappointed, since I didn’t come for shopping but for sightseeing. But then, sitting in a cafe, sipping iced Vietnamese coffee, and watching life go by around me, I realised that no traffic, no high rises or modern buildings were the real attraction. Although clearly targeting tourists and their spending, the yellow two story houses were beautiful, and renovation had been made tastefully in almost all of them, with a lot of dark wood and bamboo. In the entire town cheesy elevator music played on the streets through loudspeakers hanging from the street lights. All roads were lined with shops, bars and restaurants. Souvenirs and fashion were the dominant items on display, jackets, silk, leather, hats, t-shirts. The old part of town was very small, just 3 streets from the riverside. In 30 mins I toured it all. A long building housed a food market, where you could both eat and buy food and accessories. The entire town is one big commerce hub. Yet it felt really cosy walking through the streets.
After a couple of hours I ate some tasty fresh spring rolls with shrimps with a beer, before heading back to the taxi. Half an hour later and well on time I reached the Da Nang train station, and here the lovely part of the day came to an end. The place was crowded, hot and sticky. The train didn’t arrive on time, and before mine another train rolled into the station heading south to Saigon, with over an hour delay. There was quite some confusion between passengers heading north and those heading south. At some point also my train arrived, and it wa as filthy as yesterday’s one. The 2,5h ride to Hue lead through jungle covered mountains plunging into the sea, a beautiful landscape. Unfortunately I couldn’t see much, since the windows were dirty and my neighbour decided he wanted the curtains closed so he could sleep. Loud music blasted from a speaker behind me. I was really happy when we rolled into Hue station and I could get out of here.