What’s not to love about Hôi An? This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a small, walkable city of shops and restaurants, friendly people, and old-world charm with its mustard yellow buildings interspersed with colorful temples, art galleries and meandering canals. The sales pitch is low-keyed so this is the place to shop. Cooler temperatures make sitting in a cafe over a LaRue Beer, watching the passing boats along the river, the street wagons, and the women with their baskets of bananas, a most pleasurable experience.
We visit the small Hôi An Museum and a Chinese pagoda. An ancient Japanese Bridge spans one of the canals filled with sluggish brown water. Then we walk through a centuries old Chinese home and observe how generations of owners lived. The city is an interesting mix of cultures as its proximity to a port made it a trading mecca for world merchants.
But the best part of Hôi An is wandering the streets with numerous photo opportunities of the architecture, balconies, and rustic patina of age. Along the river are boats willing to take me up and down the slow-moving waters. Fishermen demonstrate their skills manipulating nets from shore with an ingenious system of pulleys and wheels. It’s a relaxing afternoon of strolling streets, most of which are free of cars. Unfortunately the national transport, the motorbike, remains the most commonly used transportation by the locals. It and bicycles are a constant threat to the distracted walker.
The shopping in Hôi An is pleasant as there is less in-your-face salesmanship. Yes, sellers always have “many colors” but a firm “no thank you” usually ends the sale’s pitch. One can get a silk pair of pants made in hours for $12. Art Galleries and crafts shops are spread among the side-by-side souvenir shops. Prices are good and all purchases are negotiable. The Central Market is lively with everything one could need from household items to the ubiquitous vegetable and fish sellers.
One tip: do your shopping in Hôi An. Prices are reasonable but still negotiable. A pair of silk/bamboo pants can be sewn overnight for $12. There is a huge selection of silk, bamboo and cotton materials. Scarves, pants, dresses and a variety of shirts and blouses are available. Shopping is hassle-free and pleasant, something you won’t find in most other cities.
I have enjoyed Vietnamese cuisine and tonight I got a chance to participate in a cooking session at a culinary school. It was lots of fun assembling fresh spring rolls, but the subtle art of making it attractive was lost on me. I was happy to get the ingredients into the rice wrap and, in spite of it looking like I made it with a mallet, it tasted good. Vietnamese food is nutritious and generally healthy but I don’t have the patience for all that fine chopping and carving. However, the eating has come easily for me as the food is varied and delicious and the presentation always appealing to the eye.