THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF LIVING IN HOI AN
This year I’ve been living in Hoi An for 5 months. Last year, it was 4 months, the year before it was 3 and the year before that it was 2 weeks. Each time my boyfriend and I come back and we stay longer. And now? We don’t plan on leaving anytime soon!
But what draws us – and so many others – to Hoi An? There’re the obvious things, like the beach, the rice fields, the people, the food and of course the coffee (dear god, the coffee!)
Then there are the things that only become apparent once you stay a little longer. Things that make it feel like home, even though it’s a world apart from where you called ‘home’ before.
This post includes some of my favorite things about living in Hoi An … plus the things that are more challenging!
Hoi An High: It's a Land of Opportunity
This town needs a mini Statue of Liberty. Because it too, welcomes people from far-off lands – seeking a fresh start, a new beginning, a chance to make something of themselves. Whether they set up a café, a fashion label, an organic farm or an online business, Hoi An is a hotbed of entrepreneurs. People who’ve strayed from the ‘normal’ career path and followed their dreams instead. Which makes it a pretty inspirational place to be.
Plus, it’s ridiculously easy to make connections here. Go into Dingo Deli or Mia Coffee any morning of the week and you’ll probably find a graphic designer, an SEO expert, a photographer and a marketing/sales person at the tables around you. People whose skills you might need, and who might need what you’ve got, too!
For instance, I’m a freelance copywriter and recently launched a personal project: a website for people with alopecia (hair loss). Back in Ireland, I’d have a hard time publicizing it. In Hoi An, it’s so much easier. In a small town word gets around. And if you’re good at what you do, people will find out soon enough.
Similarly, if I want illustrations or videos made for Lady Alopecia. I don’t have to look far. In Hoi An, all it takes is a little confidence to let people know what you do and what you need.
Hoi An Low: Everyone’s a Hustler!
Sure, making contacts is easy. But that can come with an edge. Because sometimes people only seem interested in finding out what you do – then, if it doesn’t serve them, they move on.
Of course, there’s nothing hugely wrong with this. In fact, the honesty is refreshing. Just like everyone knows that expats pay more than locals (but less than tourists), it’s out in the open. We do, after all, live in a town of the most shrewd businesspeople around – like those teeny market ladies that can negotiate so fast and hard your head will spin … and could probably beat you in an arm-wrestle, too!
So, knowing that everyone is, to some extent, a hustler… it’s all part of the fun.
Hoi An High: Some Things Are Just So Easy
Whether you’re looking for a house, to extend your visa or sourcing glass bottles to make your own kombucha, Hoi An’s got you covered. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve had a problem with my bicycle only to look up and there’s a repair shop right beside me. Or when I’ve needed to send an important document home and hey presto! a printing place magically appears.
Back home, if I have a zip that needs fixing, or a broken bag strap, I put off getting it seen to for ages. It’s just too much hassle. Whereas in the Central Market, you can get pretty much anything done in under an hour. And they’ll probably be able to whip you up a dress while you’re waiting.
Oh, and if you can’t find what you’re looking for in the Central Market, the expats’ Facebook group is bound to have the answer. Again, it’s that ‘hustler’ thing. Whatever you need, everyone ‘knows a guy’ to help you out.
Hoi An Low: Other Things Are Way Too Hard!
On the flip side, some of the things that we take for granted from back home – simple things like posting a letter – can turn into an epic ordeal. I’ve spent a lot of time in that post office, filling in a million forms to send a single letter, only to be told it’ll take 3 weeks (or cost $40 to send express). Not exactly straightforward!
I’ve also struggled to find simple things like decent bike lights (without having to go to Da Nang). Or Blu Tack. Or swimming goggles. Although in fairness, I haven’t yet turned to the joys of Lazada!
And of course, I know I can’t expect everything to be as accessible as at home. Nor would I want them to be. Otherwise, where’s the adventure?! Still, once in a while I’d like to remove the ‘adventure’ from every single excursion.
Sometimes, when I’m too afraid to post what might be deemed as a ‘pointless question’ on the expats’ group, I just give up on whatever I was looking for. Or I go to Da Nang.
Hoi An High: You Can Find Your Community
Expats and travelers alike might feel like they don’t ‘fit in’ back home. The lives that their friends and families live aren’t for them. It’s hard to find people who share a similar outlook, a similar thirst for something different, a similar disinterest in living a structured life.
Which is one of the big draws of living in Hoi An. When I moved here this time, I established myself as a yoga and meditation teacher – which introduced me to a whole new community of wonderful people. Not one of them questioned my actions or asked ‘but what will you do for a living?’ Same goes when Andy and I tell people that we work online, that our “office” is whatever café calls us that day (Phin Coffee or Sound of Silence for me!) They get it. They understand.
I get a very different response when I try to tell my 9-to-5 friends back home what I do out here!
Another bonus: Hoi An is like a microcosm of the wider world. You can meet a range of very different people, do new things every night and never be bored. Where else could you practice Zumba with a Vietnamese girl, photography with a bearded Canadian man, enjoy reiki with a South African lady and join a Kirtan chanting session, with people from all over the world? All in a single day and within a cyclable distance of each other?
Hoi An’s got all these creative types in a compact space. So, it’s the perfect place for trying something new. It’s also a place where people are really open-minded, and open-hearted. So guaranteed, when you arrive, you’ll find a community with your name on it.
Hoi An Low: It’s Hard To Be Anonymous
Of course, the drawback of living in a small town, where everyone knows each other, is that you can’t really escape. This doesn’t happen to me often, as usually I love that feeling of community, of walking into a café and being able to chat to the few people I know there.
But there’ll be times when I’ve got a lot of work on. Or when I’m epically hungover and am stuffing my face with pastries. (Which is usually when one of my yoga friends will happen to pass by. Typical.) At times like these, I’d love to live in a bigger, more anonymous place – where you can go about your business without fear of being spotted.
There’s Plenty to Love About Life in Hoi An
But as with so many things, there’s often a downside. For instance, you can turn up to hospital and get a full medical check, with MRIs, CT scans and a range of other tests in one afternoon, for a fraction of the price at home. But you might wind up being diagnosed with a brain tumor that you don’t actually have (true story).
It’s also amazing to live somewhere where everyone’s in a good mood, pretty much all of the time. After all, we live in the sun, by the sea, in a place that people flock to for a holiday… and we get to experience it every day. Pretty lucky, right?!
Right. Which makes it hard to be in a bad mood here, or to be dealing with bad news. Trouble can come to paradise, and it’s a weird feeling when it does.
Still, I’ve found that in the 4 years since I first came to Hoi An, the highs always outweigh the lows. Sure, there’s traffic, and a lot of noise, and sometimes intolerable heat. But there’s also the sweetest people, the tastiest food, the views that take your breath away and the sense of electricity that hangs in the air. That this is a place where things can happen. Where you can be something.
It’s a pretty big high, and it’s why I’m still here!