What is it that makes Hoi An so special? What is it that makes tourists turn expats and expats turn residents? Is it the oh-so-picturesque Old Town? The blunt market vendors? The food? And what is that special vibe everybody talks about?
On our first visit to Hoi An in early December, entering the town on a key artery that leads through the rice paddies, Hai Ba Trung, we were in awe of the astonishing beauty around us. Rice fields dotted with Vietnamese hats from the farmers at work; lush greenery; cows and, of course, we thought we were the only people who had discovered an old Vietnamese guy posing on his buffalo.
The Westerners paddling along the roadside in uniform banana and pineapple printed shirts, however, made us suspicious of what was to come. What we saw was an insanely beautiful town, every corner picture perfect, every market scene full of life, every wrinkled face filled with the potential to make it as a picture onto the living room wall back home.
But over it all hung this foggy curtain, obscuring the real character of the town. The feeling that you can’t see properly. It was the stream of tourists that was so irritating, inundating the town like one of the floods from rainy season that locals here know so well.
People from all over the world posing underneath colourful lanterns taking selfies, blocking the roads and creating eyesores for each other’s holiday pictures.
Shocked we returned to Da Nang, happy to be living in a place that was still authentic and buzzing in Vietnamese style. And while there are also tourists in Da Nang, it rambles and spreads while ancient Hoi An remains as condensed as it was 500 years ago.
A few weeks later we had a 2-hour stopover in Hoi An returning North from Ho Chi Minh. At 6am the city was still half-asleep. The Old Town seemed to be under a spell – streets empty, birds singing and roosters making the sound they do.
We sat on a street corner and had some sticky rice, soaking up this magical moment, sugar and coconut on our tongues. Locals on their way to work smiled at us, vendors were friendly, laughing at our dumbstruck faces admiring the solemn Old Town with big open eyes.
That’s when it happened. We were able to see beneath the curtain and truly feel Hoi An. While that seems like a big statement for a second-time visitor, we could sense that there is more to this town and to the people than our first experience revealed.
Three weeks later we moved to Hoi An and we are here still, working with Hoi An Now.
And we’re cycling through the countryside, sitting in one of the many coffee places, taking the scooter for a ride through the villages, and waiting for the sun to finally come out to kick off beach season.
There are still so many places around Hoi An and away from the coast still to see and happily, Spring is almost upon us which will make the trips even more worthwhile.
And the tourists? Well, while they are here, the town seems to have absorbed them somehow and they just blend in with the general picture. It’s as if we now see right through them
We can also now see through our first impressions and why so many foreigners visit and stay – just like we have.