Apparently that’s how you say “Where am I?” in French, at least according to Google Translate. There’s a certain amount of confusion in this country at times, all thanks to the French and their colonisation of swathes of Indochina in the late 19th/early 20th century, and nowhere has this been more evident than here in Hoi An.
Hoi An’s a sleepy little town on the coast of Central ‘Nam, famed more for being THE place to go for cheap tailormade suits than anything else, which is a crying shame because it’s so much more. Miraculously the town seemed to escape the American War unscathed, leaving the majority of the beautiful French Colonial architecture in pristine condition, to the extent that the centre of this town of 122,000 people is now home to over 800 UNESCO listed buildings.
And that confuses the hell out of me. This morning I was sitting in a patisserie, munching on poached eggs, hollandaise sauce and toast and sipping on a gorgeous dark coffee while watching the boats drift past on the river and listening to the French couple next to me natter away. Am I in Vietnam or Nice? What’s going on here? While I’m glad that the Vietnamese managed to remove their occupiers they really have a lot to be thankful for in the shape of their lingering influence, not least the afore-mentioned architecture and the existence of genuinely delicious coffee, chocolate, bread, beer, beef, wine, everything we can’t get back in Thailand.
(This was noticeable throughout Vietnam, particularly up in Sapa where every waiter beckoned you into their restaurant with a “Bonjour”, before handing you the French menu with tiny English translations.)
Hoi An itself has more than just the tailoring and the Franco-Victorian facade though. Okay, so the tailoring is the lifeblood of the town and there’s no escaping from it but there’s a reason for it – the work is good, it’s cheap and they’ll make a perfect reproduction of anything you lay in front of them. It goes beyond the clothes though, there’s such a strong creative vibe running through the town that it’s impossible not to feel somehow inspired by it – none of the endless stalls selling the same generic, factory-made tourist tat which plague Thailand from Bangkok to Koh Samui.. No, here you’ll find a different artisan behind every storefront, be they artist, carpenter, metalworker, sculptor, you name it. Even the chefs take a genuine pride in their food rather than churning out the same old dishes – and as a bonus most of them will give you lessons on how to prepare your favourite dish if you ask, for a mere $1-2 surcharge you can make your own dinner!
I’m leaving tomorrow unfortunately, the end of the trip approacheth and we still have to check out Mui Ne and the Cu Chi tunnels before heading to Ho Chi Minh City, but I have too return, preferably when I have enough money to really enjoy rather than being in my current penny-watching mode. Not only that, I have to bring Em here – nothing would make me happier than seeing the look on the face of the most creative girl I’ve ever known while walking around the most creative town I’ve ever visited. I miss her more than I ever imagined I could, only six days till she’s back though. Yay 🙂
Unfortunately my hard drive is being somewhat stubborn and selfish and won’t let me post photos just yet, I will hopefully be able to get some up here when I get to Mui Ne though. If I survive a 20-hour budget bus ride that is…