Hoi An, Vietnam
A maze of yellow walls told us that we had entered the Old Town. We parked our bicycles against the beam of a wooden bridge, locking them together. The roads in front of us were only for pedestrians. Labyrinths of aged shophouses, waiting for us to lose ourselves in them. Tall palm trees craned their necks to see the slow town below come to life in its iconic relaxed pace. It was fresh and quiet at this time of the morning. Most of the town’s visitors were still asleep. Tailors were beginning to open their doors for the early dribble of customers. Banh mi stands began preparing their first rolls of the day. Watching the town shake off last night’s slumber was a delicate and almost intimate experience. Uninhibited and modest, mornings were definitely the best time to explore Hoi An.
Lanterns hung lazily between telephone poles and cafe balconies. Hoi An wore a film of decorative skin but remained rooted in ancient authenticity beneath. Its mix of Japanese, Chinese and European influences penetrated deeply into its solid walls and tiled roofs. We wandered into coffee bean stalls and absorbed the rich smells of a slowly roasted morning in Vietnam. Craft shops spilt their creations onto the steps of their storefronts, enticing us in after we flicked through their stands of quirky postcards. Sets of banana and watermelon patterned outfits grabbed our attention on every corner. We examined eclectic modern art canvases nestled between traditional framed pieces. Artisan jewellers and ceramic experts displayed their finest work in neighbouring stalls. Everything begged to be touched, coveted or photographed.
Over the bridge
The morning was the best time to explore Hoi An and soak up the artful gems on the main side of the Old Town. But as the afternoon began to show its face, the tourist crowds thickened and stifled the languid atmosphere. It was at this time of the day when a walk over to the other side was the perfect escape. We settled into a cafe on the peripheral line of the town. Open views of the river lay ahead of us, a backdrop too picturesque to register until we were gone. Women selling baskets of fresh produce and handmade trinkets called out for a sale while strolling or cycling past. Masseuses advertised their massage spa packages and daily deals. Fishermen sat patiently with their rods and nets along the river.
We spent the remainder of the day indulging in extremely low priced full body massages and steaming bowls of cao lau. It would have been much less pleasant to explore Hoi An Old Town in the midst of the shopping and selfie-taking masses. Many people had warned me that Hoi An was a bit too touristy to enjoy, but if you start the day early, this is definitely not the case. Rise before the teeming crowds and you will have plenty of time to take in the enchanted quaintness of this historical attraction. This beautiful town is well worth the effort.