We had heard nothing but good things about Hoi An, Vietnam. Besides being a much smaller town then the other cities we had visited in Vietnam it was also a UNESCO Heritage Site. These two things combined sounded like the perfect place to spend a couple weeks.
We arrived at the Da Nang train station a little after midnight, later than we had planned. Luckily we found our driver waiting for us with a sign with our name on it. We loaded our bags into the van and drove the 30 kilometers south towards Hoi An. We had found a good deal for a weeklong 2-bedroom homestay, which is what they call a vacation home rental. When we arrived we found the owner of the home waiting for us and let us in. It was after one in the morning and everyone was tired, so after quickly showing us around, he left and we went to bed.
The next morning we walked down the quiet residential street in search of breakfast. Our rental home was outside the town center so we were happy to not be surrounded by honking scooters and hordes of tourists. When we reached the beginning of the commercial zone we found a small restaurant and after a bite to eat we explored a little of the area. We were surprised to find so many tailor shops, but later learned that Hoi An is famous for custom tailoring. We made our way back to the house and decided to stay an extra week. In hindsight, perhaps that was a rash decision.
One of the benefits of renting a house or apartment while traveling is that it allows you the opportunity to prepare your own meals. Not only does this save money, it also gives you more control of what you consume. The Vietnamese love to put MSG (and God knows what else) in everything they cook. But to be able to cook your own meals you must find the markets. This is where our problem began. Right in the center of the tourist zone in Hoi An is a giant street market with lots of nice looking produce and other items for sale. We are not new to haggling and know that the Vietnamese expect you to haggle. The problem in Hoi An is that the market venders marked up the price 3-4 times the normal cost and would not budge. We found ourselves going to every single vender trying to buy basic produce, but being laughed at when we would try to get a lower price. Having just spent a week in Nha Trang where we had an apartment with a kitchen and shopped daily we knew what the prices should have been. We tried all the usual tactics of walking away, which sometimes worked, to breaking out our secret weapon of sending in our 9-year old daughter to negotiate. And just when we would finally get a fair price, once we returned the next day it would start all over and often they would not give us the price they did the day before.
After 2 weeks of this we came to hate the people of Hoi An and their evil games and decided that Hoi An was a beautiful city, but the people sucked! We loved the Vietnamese people in every other city we had visited in our 2 months of traveling throughout Vietnam, but tourism had made the people of Hoi An bitter and grumpy and they love to take it out on westerners.
The funny part is that almost everyone else we have spoken to has loved Hoi An and cannot understand why we did not like the people. The simple answer is that these other people stayed in hotels and ate out for every meal. We did find the hotel and restaurant staff in Hoi An to be very friendly and if you never have to experience the grumpy hags at the market, you will have a great experience there.
The first thing I noticed after leaving Hoi An and going to the city of Hue was seeing people smile. I had forgotten that the Vietnamese had teeth…