On the Streets of Hoi An.
Historic Hoi An is known as Vietnam’s most atmospheric town with its fascinating architecture and enchanting riverside location it draws large numbers of visitors every year. Hoi An was also the last destination for us to explore during our three week long trip in Vietnam. In total we would be spending seven nights in and around town. Curious to discover if we would agree to the prevailing praise of the town we jumped right onto the streets of Hoi An after our arrival at the Atlas Hotel. The hotel’s convenient location within walking distance of the Old Town made it the perfect spot for our initial stay in the area.
Tickets to the Old Town
Our concierge had explained to us that we needed to get a ticket from one of the Old Town Booths, located at all major entrance points to the centre of the ancient quarter. Walking along the busy pavements towards the ticket both we encountered many fruit sellers and street stalls similar to those we had seen in Hue and Hanoi. However, the roads were by far less busy and much easier to cross. The Old Town ticket booths are virtually impossible to miss, as the guards will pester to see the entrance tickets from every person passing. We bought two, 120.000 VND for Chris and myself. Jerome did not need to pay the fee, luckily they last for several days.
Free Re-Entry With a Ticket
The ticket needs to be purchased only once and may be reused to enter as many times as you like during your stay. It also comes with 5 entrance tickets to temples, ancient houses and the Japanese Covered Bridge. If you are interested in visiting more than the five of 21 listed places you would have to purchase an additional ticket. I was shocked at the many negative comments online about the entrance fee to the Old Town of Hoi An. At 6 USD it can barely pass as an expensive fee or even as some people might suggest as another tourist trap. Everyone should keep in mind that these architectural monuments need money for their upkeep. There are about 800 houses in total throughout the Old Town that have been preserved and still look like they did hundreds of years ago. Thankfully it was virtually untouched during the American War and the town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.
Long Trading History
The town has a long history and was a port on one of the main trading routes with the rest of Asia. The Japanese, Chinese and other nations all established a presence there to trade crafts and agricultural goods. The result was the beautifully built trading and community houses in the area and these form the core of the Unesco preserved section of the town.
Strolling Past Shops
Strolling along the pedestrian street, in direction of the Japanese Covered Bridge, we got distracted by the colourful lanterns gently swinging above our heads and the many shops lining the streets. With no plans to buy anything we still wandered into the odd shop, most of the goods for sale were the standard tourist tat, but there were some surprising exceptions. I got stuck in a store selling handmade baskets and bags, plus some interesting jewellery, however there had been a power cut for sometime and I had to make use of the torch on my mobile to see the wares. In the end I decided on a pair of pearl earrings, they were just the right size and imperfect texture and they more than made up for failing to find a pair in Ha Long Bay.
No Electricity, no Food!
Back out on the picturesque streets of Hoi An, we were heading for a restaurant I had stumbled on online. The eatery was housed in a narrow side alley and empty of any other guests. When we wanted to sit down, the waitress quite rudely told us we could not. At first we were dumbfounded by her reaction but then realised that it must be due to the lack of electricity and therefore they were not able to serve us any drinks or food. This experience somewhat spoiled our excited mood. Hungry we walked on, turning left back towards the main road.
Raining Cats and Dogs
We were just admiring the beautiful dresses of a local dressmaker when the heavens opened and it literally rained cats and dogs, peeing down and raining buckets all at once. So far we had been lucky with the weather, apart from the odd thunderstorm in the early evenings with just a few spots of rain. This was entirely different and it did not look like it might stop anytime soon, swimming pools of water were cascading down. Jerome and Chris ran across the road to help a shopkeeper put up a plastic rain cover outside his stall, he could not quite reach on his own, while I stood there watching the water collect into puddles and then small rivers along the roadside. The locals seemed to take it with ease and immediately got out their plastic raincoats and umbrellas. It was quite a sight to watch the residents on their motorbikes and bicycles roll by all covered up or some just getting wet.
Torrential Rain and a Black Out!
Not only was there a black out, Hoi An also welcomed us with torrential rain. Eventually I braved the torrent and ran across the road to join the boys at the clothes stall. It was only a few meters but I was pretty much drenched when I reached the other side. Thankfully the hot weather made the rain more bearable and all I could think about was that I was glad that I had not worn my favourite shoes…
Banh Mi, Our Saviour…
To the far end of the stalls we noticed a Banh Mi stand glowing amongst the grey and wet surrounding. There it was our saviour! Or I should say there “she” was. The lady was more than happy to welcome us under the dry cover of her parasols. Jerome and I sat down on the little plastic chairs and we ordered three Banh Mi.
Hoi An’s Speciality
She took the baguettes from a bag and laid them onto a glowing barbeque before filling them with vegetables, pork and Hoi An’s speciality, paté. I added some spicy sauce to mine and all together it created a delicious Banh Mi that we had eaten far to quickly. Once finished I was thinking to myself that I could eat another one, the boys obviously had the same thought and our Banh Mi lady was surprised when we ordered a second round. There we sat on low plastic chairs, with the constant tapping of the raindrops falling onto the parasol and the water running between our feet. Weirdly enough, our late damp lunch turned into one of our most memorable moments of our holiday.
The Tastiest Banh Mi in Town
At some point her daughter turned up, slightly older than Jerome and she started to chat with us. She was curious about where we came from and how long we would stay in Hoi An. So if you are ever in Hoi An, head to 57 Phan Chu Trinh for the tastiest Banh Mi in town. I am aware there are others that might consider Phuong’s Banh Mi as the best bread in town but from reading between the lines and the queues out the door I would skip this touristy eatery and try the real thing sitting on the roadside with a view of Old Hoi An.
We Would Come Back For More
Eventually the rain had eased and we said “bai” to our banh mi lady and her daughter not knowing then, that we would come back twice for more of the tasty bread. Especially Jerome had taken a liking to the dish and he still talks about it now we are back at home.
Return to Our Hotel
We returned to our hotel, leaving the sightseeing of the Old Town for the following day, hoping that the electricity would have returned by then. At the hotel we played card games in the bar before heading out for dinner, followed by exploring the night markets.
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