After our night train to Da Nang, we took a taxi to Hoi An for three nights. The hotel we had booked turned out to be shut down (Thanks Hotels.com) but we quickly found another around the corner that was 10x better (beautiful rooms/pool and great staff, walking distance to everything).
The first thing we noticed were the tailors — they are EVERYWHERE peddling custom dresses/suits along with leather shoes, bags and jackets. (Vic and I both chose to treat ourselves to custom leather jackets, we'll be sure to share pictures of once we're back in England.)
Hoi An as a town is wonderfully walkable with loads of great restaurants that are all very affordable. There is also An Bang Beach just north of the town centre — either a 20 min. bike ride, $3 cab or 7 min motorbike (our fav choice). What Hoi An is most famous for however is its well-preserved Ancient Town that is loaded with shops, restaurants and at night, the night market where you can haggle with vendors, take boat rides or light lanterns to send down the river.
Our last night in Hoi An, we made sure to go before the night market started (as it gets a little bananas with tourists) and as we walked through the side streets were privileged to these beautiful moments of seeing locals get ready for the market; a mother running out of her house after her kids with her hair half undone; a family setting up their banana pancake stand; a couple putting out their laundry quick before work (we even participated by telling a dog off who decided to pop his leg over a woman's arrangement of silk scarves).
After our stroll we camped out with the tripod alongside the river and played with long exposure shots of the building street traffic and the lanterns being lit on the boats as the sun began to set.
Another night, we sat outside a restaurant after dinner, and tried to figure out who all the children running around the streets belong to as they ran in and out of different businesses with multiple mother and grandmother figures picking them up, feeding them or telling them off. Most of the shops in both Hoi An and Hanoi have seemed to be family run businesses - open 9 am to 9 pm - with different family members rotating in and out, often times juggling parenting or eating dinner whilst in the back of the shop. In Hanoi in particular, it is common during the dinner hour to see the entire family on the floor in the back of the shop eating dinner or watching TV.
One of my favourite sights, that I really want to capture but am afraid of offending, is when parents pick their kids up from school. About two dozen adults on motorbikes sit outside and when school is released, a flood of jabbering little heads pour into the street where they pile onto the back, front or lap of parents, sometimes four children to one bike. The parent then speeds off, each kid still jabbering and laughing, free at last.
Hoi An is where we first tried renting a motorbike and after a few failed attempts at starting it, haven't looked back! They are by far the best way to see an area. Over the course of three days we went by motorbike to the beach and to tour rice paddies (see water buffalo) and restaurants further outside the town centre. (We also learned the reason Asians put up what Westerners consider the "peace sign" is actually a hand signal for "hi".) The biggest advice I can give anyone renting a motorbike in Vietnam is to NEVER hesitate and NEVER, EVER go backward. Traffic is a steady stream of predictable bikes, motorbikes and cars - each very reliant that no one will stop completely, everyone is paying attention and everyone communicates via horn, blinker or hand signal.
Reflecting on the last 7+ days we’ve been in Vietnam, it’s obvious areas further north and outside the city suffer from extreme poverty. Living conditions are dismal with homes being built out of whatever is available — and while the interiors seem maintained significantly better than the outside, it is difficult to witness and realise the limited resources available to pull oneself out of such circumstances.
From our Googling, it seems Communism could be to blame as it seems to centralise most of the country's money around government and its contracts - OR the reality could just be that Vietnam is still a developing nation and there isn't enough money or industry to support developed countries' standard of housing, healthcare or access to clean water.
Regardless, the Vietnamese are smiling and gracious people and we have came across little that does not inspire or humble us with situations we could have just as easily been born into.