A different kind of travelogue. As an avid young traveller I often wondered what would it would be like when I got older, gathered commitments, created children and accrued debt. This is what it's like.
My name is Doug. I am a tourist. It’s an admission that one has to make.
Tourism can be good and it can be bad. Tourism can bring much needed cash into communities and it can bring inequality. I travel. We travel. Some places we have been have tourism models that seem to displace or enslave the locals. We are a half-Mauritian family. In Mauritius, the sometimes darling of the IMF model of development, tourism seems to exclude the locals. International tourism brands taking profits off shore by building walled off resorts with security guards on the beaches. Local Mauritians are turned away. Should a beach ever be private? Should that kind of development be allowed at all?
Hoi An is one of the jewels in the tourism scene in Vietnam. It’s on most “must-see” lists. It is an example of what happens when development doesn’t happen. Hoi An was a significant trade centre for 2000 years where the river meets the South China Sea and then the river silted up. The business ended up moving to Danang. The structural part of the town somehow dodged a bunch of wars. Next thing you know its a living museum. Lucky that! How can you protect it in the future? UNESCO World Heritage Status. Except that the amount of tourism has skyrocketed since that rarified status was inferred in 1999. It’s now a very busy spot. The locals have largely been bought out.
But it is still beautiful. The World Heritage Status may be a double edged sword but there certainly are advantages. The Old Town is protected and traffic is greatly limited.
I have always enjoyed the few places around the world where there is no traffic. Maybe it has been banned. Maybe the architecture cannot accommodate it. Maybe the place cannot tolerate it. In Hoi An all of these apply but that wouldn’t have stopped the ubiquitous vietnamese motorbike.
In Hoi An the traffic is barred from the centre of the old town for most of the day. And it is enforced. No trucks, no cars, no motorbikes. It is a very pleasant change. Its not actually quiet but a change is as good as a rest. Apparently. (Maybe not for this chap.)
Hoi An is a 30 minute drive south of Danang. Danang is a big city, with a big beach, on a big natural harbour. It has a big building program, a big high end golf tourism scene and it’s big. I didn’t stay there. I think many people visit Hoi An from Danang. I stayed in Hoi An and if you are having a vaguely settled family holiday in Vietnam it is my No. 1 Top Tip.
Our hotel was a museum in itself; Vinh Hung Heritage. We were on the main thoroughfare, Tran Phu. The hotel was used during the filming of the Michael Caine version of the Quiet American. An incredibly atmospheric spot and with incredibly lovely discreet staff. $90 a night for 4 in a room with a king and two singles and an awful lot of little perks; free river trips, use of a pool at a sister hotel, free massages daily, the list went on.
Hoi An has got character. It’s got history. It’s got rivers. It’s got beaches. It’s got good food. It’s got a variety too. It’s got vegetarian food. It’s got accommodation options. It’s got tourists; lots an lots of tourists. Lots and lots of tourists may not be your thing the way the whole thing fits together somehow and if you can admit to your self that you are a tourist then this is a great spot.
The funny thing was that there was always an activity (or non-activity) that seemed to have the right level of busy for us. It was quietest in the old town at 5-6 am; go for a walk in the glorious first light of day.
It was hot with temperatures in the mid thirties everyday so it was pretty quiet at the hottest time; sit on a balcony and watch the street or the river. From our hotel the street watching was fantastic especially late at night.
Even the beach scene had several distinct phases; lots of bronzed lizard like backpackers during the day. They played games and played on their phones and uses the bars at the back of the beach. They mostly left as the sun sank. At that moment the beach changed and the locals and asian tourists turned up to eat from tiny stalls that sprang up in front of the bars. Later again a nightlife scene turned up at the bars again. Most nightlife was around town and you could go through the night.
Danang Airport has flights from all over Asia. I, of course, would recommend the train, especially if you are coming from the north as the Hue to Danang part of the train trip is another must see!