I’ve named this blog ‘tourist trap’ a bit misleadingly. Sure there’s many tourists in Hoi An, and yes it’s definitely a landmark on the well-worn backpacker route through Vietnam, but I care less about sharing my overseas discoveries with a few hundred of my closest, whitest friends than some other people do. The ‘tourist trap’ I’m talking about is one that Brad and I fell in to all on our own.
We booked a nice hotel worth $25 a night (double our normal accommodation budget) that had a pool and air-conditioning and breakfast included. Not a problem, we needed a week off staying at budget hotels and hostels, and I seem to have developed a perennial travel cold that was getting the better of me.
The availability of very nice but still affordable western restaurants combined with our excitement at eating familiar food, just for a couple of days, meant that most dinners were spent in restaurants rather than folded into child-sized furniture on the street. But, once again, not a problem, we’d probably reached rice and rice noodle saturation point for a little while anyway.
Hoi An is the capital of Vietnam – and probably the capital of Asia – for getting nice, fast and quality tailor made clothes and conveniently enough our wardrobes (backpacks?) were needing an update. Instead of throwing ourselves into the thick of the cloth market and walking around until we found someone friendly that we really liked (which is how we choose most things in travel and life, including our wedding venue and, presumably, each other) we did the wildly mundane although probably intelligent thing of actually researching to find the best tailor. We found her; her shop is Miss Forget Me Not, number 20 in the Cloth Market, and she is wonderful. She doesn’t push sales on you and she is very good at what she does. She also not only tolerated our terrible humour but seemingly found us inexplicably delightful and wildly attractive; although I have a feeling she might just be a very good sales woman since I saw her coos of ‘so handsome!’, ‘so attractive!’, ‘so pretty!’ echoed the next day to a middle aged and overweight couple. I haven’t had the heart to tell Brad.
The making of our clothes went off entirely without a hitch, which was great. And we stayed in a nice place, and we ate nice food, and nothing was wrong with any of that, but that was it. We didn’t get abducted and passed between a steady stream of sisters and mothers and cousins and come out the other side slightly dazed and $15 lighter with massages and a manicure and my eyebrows plucked by an old woman with a rubber band without my consent. We have no stories. But it’s our fault, not Hoi An’s.
Hoi An is certainly not celebrated as the ‘real’ Vietnam, but really where is and what is the ‘real’ Vietnam? I once heard a British tourist in Malaysia loudly trying to impress her friends with her experiences as a seasoned international traveler (yep one of those) by emphatically describing Western Australia as the ‘real’ Australia, because all of the tourists go to the east coast. What What? Why does a lack of people make WA more Australian? Everywhere is the real Australia, even, and it pains me to admit this, even Sydney. Back in Vietnam, whatever your definition of ‘real’ Vietnam is, you can find it in Hoi An. Rice paddies? Sure, there’s even a little one just outside the Old Town. Near death experiences with and on motorbikes and push bikes and motorised pushbikes? Definitely, 47 times a day! Vietnamese people? Duh. Pho? You know it. But staying in your hotel and only venturing as far as the pool? That’s not ‘real’ anywhere.
We were vaguely aware that there was more to Hoi An than the two streets we walked up and down daily, but we weren’t really interested in seeing it. We fell into the trap of calling Hoi An our ‘week off’; our week off backpacking, our week off eating street food, our week off doing anything. We didn’t go to the beach, or to the My Son ruins. We didn’t chat to the people or get absorbed by the place. We floated along the surface of Hoi An, dodging hawkers and other travelers and potential stories. We left our room and pool in little shifts around mealtimes and we even resented that. We have no stories. And like I said, it’s our fault, not Hoi An’s.