After my time in Saigon and before heading to North Vietnam where it's cooler and rainier, I knew I needed some time at the coast. Originally I had planned to go to Danang, the third largest city in Vietnam. Luckily, however, I opted to go 45 minutes south to Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I didn't really know what to expect besides a beach, an old town, and a room I had booked at Lam Hung Seaside Homestay. Well, Hoi An easily surpassed these expectations.
My first night in town I was invited to dinner with Hung, Lam, and their parents, as well as two other guests. The meal was delicious and the company even better. I was immediately taken in by the family as one of their own.
Hung (24 years old) and Lam (21 years old) largely run the booking and guest interaction side of the business, as they both speak English. Their parents speak some English, but that doesn't mean they don't want to learn. One morning I worked with Lam and her parents to teach them a couple of sentences about the Homestay, and almost every morning I would talk with their mother over the delicious breakfast she had made.
During the daytime I'd ride a bike to town, or Hung would take me on the back of his motorbike and show me around. I was lucky to get to eat at local places with him, though the best meals I had were at their home. Hung took me to try cao lau, chicken rice, and balut (if you don't get grossed out easily, look it up). I have to say, the balut was actually quite tasty, but had it not been dark out I don't know that I would've been able to eat it.
Hung showed me around town, taking me to the Japanese bridge, and showing me the Chinese and French areas of the town. At night we went to see the beautiful lanterns that light up the night sky with brilliant colors, and watched tourists purchase lanterns to set into the river for a wish.
Hung also directed me to a tailor (Jenny's in the market area) and a leather shop, which both proved to be extremely dangerous. Hoi An is clearly the place to go for custom made clothes. I found that you can get women's pea coats for $50-60, pants for $22, shirts for about $15, and dresses for around $20, all fit to your body. For leather goods, depending on the quality of leather you choose, you can get handbags made for $70-90, shoes and boots for anything from $40 up, and leather jackets for $150-200. The only problem with the food at my Homestay was making sure I'd fit into the clothes I had made! Eleven kilos of clothes, shoes, and handbags later, I knew I had to stop! Luckily, Hung's home is right across the street from a beautiful beach, so I spent time there to avoid spending any more money.
On my last morning I woke up for sunrise on the beach, and was bummed to see that it was cloudy. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see the locals coming back from a fishing trip; they invited me over to watch as the whole family cleaned the fish and the net - even a 3-year old boy was trying to help. As I watched them and an older man who went in chest height with a net to catch fish, I noticed that the sun had risen above the clouds and was a brilliant orange-pink. With the sun now above us, I put my camera away, and helped them push the boat back into the water.
A quick breakfast and goodbyes with the family, and it was time to go. I really didn't want to though. The combination of the beach, the quaint town, and Hung and his family had made Hoi An feel like home. It's a place that I can say I will definitely be back to...and not just for the custom clothing (though that's an added benefit).