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Fear and clothing in Hoi An

VIETNAM | Tuesday, 2 November 2010 | Views [1406]

The postcard perfect view of street life in Hoi An

The postcard perfect view of street life in Hoi An

My stay in Hoi An certainly didn't start on the right foot because it didn't start on my feet. The friendly hotel receptionist at Hue had organised his 'friend' to pick us up and escort us to his $10 hotel that had a pool. We were both craving sunshine and the heat of Hue lead us to believe a pool was an essential luxury. Neither of us really believed we were going to stay in a place anything like the palace detailed in the brochure though.

Our luck in accommodation did seem to run counter to our health misfortunes in that most places have been cheap, roomy and found with very little fuss or effort. So part of me was hoping for a rats nest or a rip off purely for the fun and adventure of it. Someone heard my silent wishes but something got lost in translation. The friend that was awaiting us was waving the biggest placard ever with my name emblazoned across it. No doubts or worries there. Only when he handed us to his friend did my fears begin.

Every single woman on a scooter in Vietnam wears a face mask. Not the whispy piece of tissue a surgeon dons, but a sturdy, nappie like construction replete with 'Hello Kitty' patterns and the like. Taxi drivers live in air conditioned comfort and have different needs. When a dainty little camp Korean style ninja ushered us out onto the side of the road, I realised we weren't going anywhere in a taxi.

My first ride on the back of a scooter ended with the infected Mcknee burger giving me plenty of grief on my last trip to Thailand. I had come to cope with being in control of scooters, riding them with absolute caution like they were untamed Brumby's. I was still far from comfortable being a passenger to someone I didn't know, even more so loaded up with a backpack. Still, there was no other option as no taxi's had been sighted as I pretended to arrange my belongings while secretly preparing myself mentally for a gory death.

Confronting this fear turned out to be as straight forward as they all are. Digging my fingers so deeply into the drivers back that I was massaging organs helped him drive with more care than most scooters show on the road. A few rapid accelerations at traffic lights nearly catapulted me off but I would have taken the drivers whole rib cage with me had I have fallen. Even though the short distance felt like an eternity, I felt better for having had the experience, a sentiment strengthened greatly by the fact it was over.

The hotel itself turned out to be almost everything the brochure promised, photographed in the best possible light though. The pool was actually indoors and better suited to penguins but we still tested it out. The weather was turning to shit and the forecast was showing no signs of improvement for the next few days anywhere in the south of Vietnam. So our skin was going to continue to whiten, not helped at all by the bleaching properties of every skin and hair product sold in Asia. Brown skin means you're poor and work in the fields so albinism is held as the pinnacle of beauty. Having not seen much sun since Ko Samui, I was somewhat pleased that someone may have thought my beauty was increasing daily.

Hoi An was different to the big cities we had seen so far with their vast strips of commercial enterprise catering largely to customising phones, scooters or wardrobes. Or karaoke salons. The Old Town contained more than 800 preserved historical buildings, only 15 of which were open to tourists. The prettiest part was the faded glory and mossy roofs on the mustard coloured French buildings that lined the river. After a solid day of rain, the river broke its banks at one point and the waters lapped against the steps of a few shops.

Such reduced space for passing by was a boon for business there as you had to walk in closer proximity to their wares. There are roughly 500 tailors plying their trade in Hoi An and all were experts at assessing your expected degree of expenditure from indicators unknown to eyes untrained to notice detail. The clothes I chose to dress in overseas doesn't make me look much like a spender, or that I even have enough dignity to buy new clothes, but it seemed like a sport to try and change my habits any way.

Bars and cafes usually offer refuge from persistent touts but a lovely place overlooking the river was the first place that changed that idea. Drawn in by 25 cent draft beer, we should have known something else must have covered the shortfall. Sure enough, after taking our order, the waitress pulled some jewellery out of her pocket and started waving that in our face. Their abilities at assessing expenditure also extend to assessing imminent violence and the appeal died off pretty quickly after a flared nostril, icy glare combination. Particularly with our manic eyes.

Thankfully, the lotions we were using were starting to take affect. Pain and swelling had all but disappeared and the redness had reduced to slightly stoned and suspicious looking. Having started her medication before me, Uma needed to start a new bottle of cleanser until the antibiotic solution was finished. Unfortunately the other two bottles had been opened by the cookie monster and we were both unaware that the end needed to be trimmed first. Failing to force a single drop out, Uma continued to apply increasing pressure until the whole nozzle fired off and cannoned into her eye with a third of the bottle of solution. It didn't give the high polish you would imagine from such a quantity of cleanser but further irritated her eye instead, not in any way aided by my incessant laughter.

Without really meaning to, we still succumbed to vast consumer pleasures as Hoi An is the clothing bargain capital. Uma was a runaway spending train and I hoped aboard briefly thinking it to be the best way to moderate her excesses. Bags are bursting now but no real financial damage was sustained thanks to the cost. Most of the stuff will probably break, tear or fall apart before I get home anyway.

Tags: on the road, shopping, touts

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