Hoi An (not to be confused with Hanoi) is commonly billed as the “Venice” of Vietnam; it used to be a major port and has a unique historic charm that has all but vanished from some of Vietnam’s larger cities. Hoi An’s Old Town is also a Unesco World Heritage Site — besides traditional Vietnamese architecture, there are quite a few Chinese temples and tea houses as well as Japanese pagodas, merchant houses, and bridges.
Jeff and I kicked off our three-ish days in Hoi An by enjoying a little tour on the Thu Bon river, courtesy of an adorable old lady and her ancient wooden boat. We noted that there seems to be a LOT of new construction happening along the river; Hoi An’s popularity among tourists is clearly growing at a rapid pace. We later learned that as recently as 15 years ago, many Hoi An locals lived on boats similar to those pictured below. Imagine a family of eight (!) cooking, eating, and sleeping on little more than a large rowboat!
One of Hoi An’s major draws is its many custom tailoring shops. Not only can the tailors sew virtually any garment you can imagine, they can do it (quite literally) overnight. Over the course of our short stay in Hoi An, I “designed” and was fitted for two custom silk dresses. Jeff went all-out and had two suits, six dress shirts, and two pairs of shoes made. The quality of the clothing is excellent, and as you may imagine, substantially less expensive than one would pay for off-the-rack items in the U.S. There are a million shops to choose from, but we used Bebe Tailors and were very pleased with our experience.
Over the course of 4+ months, Jeff and I have managed to travel with one carry-on suitcase and one backpack each. After our custom clothing shopping spree in Hoi An, however, we’ve got a fifth bag in tow…at least until we return to the States for my brother’s wedding in July!
Because we’ve mostly been staying in hotels, we haven’t really prepared any of our own meals in the last couple of weeks. While I normally relish an opportunity to cook — especially on this trip — dining out in Vietnam is typically both delicious and inexpensive. We rarely spend more than $10-15 on a meal for two, including drinks. We’ve been trying new dishes, too…some better than others. For example, “chicken floss” is basically dry, shredded jerky-like chicken; it looks (and tastes) like cat food. Gross!!!
On our final day in Hoi An, Jeff and I signed up for a bike tour of Cam Kim Island, located just across the Thu Bon river. Not to be confused with Cham Island, a popular beach/snorkeling destination near Hoi An, Cam Kim Island is home to about 3,000 families, many of whom work as craftsmen and/or artisans.
Over the course of a six-hour cycling tour, we: learned how Vietnamese wooden boats were made; watched an artisan create intricate pearl inlay designs on wood; took a ride in a traditional “basket boat”; observed the production of rice wine (and
enjoyed endured a tasting of said wine); and watched an 83 year old woman and her daughter weave a beautiful straw mat in a startlingly short amount of time.
Despite the heat and oppressive humidity, our Vietnamese tour guides Moon and Happy wore clothing from head to toe, including surgeon-like face masks. This is pretty typical for Vietnam; men who are out and about wear shorts and t-shirts, while women cover every inch of exposed skin (even wearing socks with their flip flops). Moon explained that many Vietnamese women have adopted this practice to maintain the lightest complexion possible. Western beauty ideals are likely at play here, but I can attest that after several hours in the sun, all of my exposed skin was lobster-ified. And I was wearing sunscreen!
On a separate note, we met the CUTEST little puppy when we stopped for lunch. Jeff, unfortunately, turned down my desperate pleas to adopt the pup. [Note: upon reading this, Jeff wants our readers to know that the puppy was not up for adoption.] Ughh!!! Just look at that face!