travel bite: Hoi An, Vietnam

HOI AN has stumped me. It was grey and raining during my stay. Therefore I did not hire a bicycle, and I did not go to the beach. My mud splashed legs carried me through streets abound with tourists. At eye level I was bombarded with shops, tailors and restaurants that held no other purpose but to serve said tourists. From all directions I felt I was either being hustled to make a purchase or on the receiving end of Vietnamese ‘reality’ that was being dished up soley for visitors.

I felt disappointed that I was unable to have experienced what once would have been. Looking past the polished facade of the present I pictured a crumbling, yet beautiful, town centre of cobbled streets, an architecture of rough diamonds popping up amongst the day to day life of the locals. But Hoi An as I saw it felt staged. As though I was walking across a set in Disney World.

And yet…

…as I look back over my photos Hoi An doesn’t seem so bad. If you raised your eyes above street level, looked around corners, turned off onto side streets, blinkered out the snap happy tour groups, then you could catch glimpses of the Hoi An that once was. Colourful, decorative, enchanting.

And if you wandered out of the central maze of tourist traps real life came into view. Mechanics, wholesalers and snack shops appeared. And of course a market. Never can I go anywhere without finding where the locals buy their food. Yes there’s the large central market that jostles tourist tat against heaps of fresh produce, but I couldn’t face the hard bargaining that was sure to come in order for me to get a fair price.

But in the end it was still food – surprise surprise – that won me over. And the warmth of the locals at the market where I ate, with their smiles and belief that I was bringing them good luck by eating there. Oh, and the devouring of a brilliant Banh Mi also helped, soothing my frustration at struggling to see the charm of the tourist hot spot that is Hoi An.

My best Banh Mi in Vietnam: from Phuong on Hoang Dieu, Hoi An. 20,000 Dong but worth it for the course, dark, lemongrass infused pate, Thai basil, lightly pickled shredded carrot and raddish, tomato, cucumber, chilli sauce and meaty gravy filling, harboured inside a warm doughy baguette with a perfectly crisp exterior.

fresh skinned quails for sale at the small local market

Goi Mit: a jackfruit salad consisting of vermicelli noodles, pork pate, shredded jackfruit, peanuts, garlic, chillies, fish sauce and fresh herbs.


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