The ancient Hoi An - An international destination

I have left familiar things to travel around the world. Finally, upon returning I realized that my heart’s home is where international tourists love to do “bed & breakfast”. (*)

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If somebody asks about the best time to spend time in Hoi An, we could highlight one of 12 months of the year, except for the last month! Can anyone find something interesting amongst the quiet streets in the cold winds? How can Cua Dai beach, with its gray waves, be compared to that of sunny days with blue ocean?

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However, in December, my house is crowded with many “airbnb” (bed & breakfast) tourists. I find it funny that these tourists are regarded as air flowing into houses and we do not need to know where they come from or when they will leave. Of course, between departure and arrival, there are lively talks around the dining table. Tables shake with laughter and are messier because no one can be patient and moderate enough to use the seafood crackers delicately for their crabs, as at luxurious hotels. In my house, guests feel this is a home away from home.

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(*) “Airbnb” or “Bed & Breafast” is a contemporary concept that has been around for 8 years. Tourists can choose to stay with local people freely or at a cheap price with available amenities and services, including bed and breakfast.

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We are not Hoi An natives. With a desire to live away from the hustle and bustle of urban life, my family decided to move to a small commune, about 10 minutes from the ancient town by car. My French father was immediately keen on a property overlooking a field. He decided to build a house there in order to walk around that rice paddy every morning.

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Hoi An, a bustling ancient city with tailors, restaurants and cafés, suddenly became a rustic destination, where Australians such as Rebeccas spent their honeymoon. They shared that they loved mornings, when they rode a bike through the poultry and cattle, and then stopped at a café before starting a new day. I would have never thought of using my house as a destination for a honeymoon if I didn’t know people like Rebecca.

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Hoi An creates new bonds. About 20 minutes from the ancient town by motorbike there is located the house of fisherman. Seven members of his family are living in a four-level house. They are poor but generous. When my father first came to Hoi An, he met a boatman named Dung and was invited to go on boat. During their travel on the river, other boatmen asked Dung how much the Western guest was paying. He replied that it was free. All of them spoke Vietnamese and did not know my father understood. Actually he pretended to not comprehend and kept silent because he was touched by this boatman. Later, we discovered that on that day, Dung had sailed a borrowed boat.

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Back home, my father and volunteers of the Water Drop charity organization bought Dung a new boat to travel around his beloved Bay Mau coconut forest. With a boat, Dung could take passengers, who are mostly from our house. Luckily, the city has been developing tourism in the suburban area to reduce the massive number of tourists within the ancient town. As such, Dung will never be without work.

Hoi An and “airbnb”

There are a number of “airbnb” tourists in Hoi An. There is one Korean girl, Ally, who is a PR executive of a bank in Singapore, and also two American girls, who are backpacking to discover win drinking customs and then found a company to import wine to America.

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One evening, I dine with Vivek, an Indian traveler, who is venturing around the world before returning to his home country to get married. On another night, I go to a bar with two talkative German girls. Back at home, I cannot believe that I have a chance to cook noodles for the man who created Google Drive. I talk to Pierre-Hugo, a cook, as written in his Airbnb profile. Its turns out he is the staff of the Human Resources department of an airplane manufacturer. “It’s because I haven’t updated my profile since I created my account”, he explains.

In the 15th century, Hoi An port was a regular port of call for merchants from Japan, China, Spain, Portugal and France, and it retains this characteristic to this day. This is where foreigners “come, lock in with their hearts and throw away the keys” (as stated by VTV channels in Danang). All these people are not only enchanted by Hoi An, and then decide to stay, but they also come here to build their dreams. At first, they stay for two weeks and then their vacation lasts longer. Finally, they move to live here. They may be an architect, who has the passion of opening a second-hand shop, or a writer with his name in textbooks and a designer, who is interested in silk. They all choose Vietnam to build their own brand names.

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Amongst those foreign friends, I am impressed by Reiko of U café Hoi An. U can be understood in two ways in Vietnamese. U can mean“flooded” because the café is often flooded during heavy rains, or “Yes” as said by local people. Situated by the Hoai river, the café is not only famous for its fusion cuisine (combining traditional Vietnamese and Japanese foods), but also the projects of developing tourism services and foreign languages (English, Japanese and Esperanto) for poor children. It is also expected to expand the organic coffee line that they sourced in Dak Lak. My biggest impression of the café is its environmentally-friendly water filtration system with an eco-biological drain system. While other people are worried about floods in the ancient town, this Japanese man is trying to filter the flood water of his café.

Japanese people care for Hoi An in the same way Vietnamese people behave with international friends. Most coming to Hoi An visit Cau pagoda, which was supported by Japanese merchants in the 17th century with the aim of exorcizing the Mamazu sea monster and bringing peace for local people in Hoi An. On his visit in Hoi An in 1719, king Nguyen Phuc Chu named the bridge “Lai Vien Kieu”, which literally means “a friend from afar”. The meaning of this symbolic bridge still remains.

No one knows whether you will become a friend from afar after coming here, falling in love with and staying in Hoi An.

Text: Trang Ami and Photos: Bridget March & Others – Vntravellive