In July I traveled to Hoi An in central Vietnam to work on a feature for The Word magazine and to shoot a villa property for the Montgomerie Links Golf Course along China Beach. It was a strange trip. I’m not sure that I actually enjoy Hoi An. As many have said before me, it’s been seemingly killed by tourism. Sure, the beaches are nice, but real Vietnam it isn’t. It’s an idealized version of the nation. A preserved tourist town.
I feel like everyone that comes to and hates Hanoi expects what is found here in Hoi An. Streets closed to traffic. English-speaking street sellers. Lots of western eating options. Boats on the river. A cute little bridge. Schoolgirls in ao dai riding bicycles to class. The not-too-distant sea. A popular Vietnamese restaurant that owes more to its Caribbean influence than anything local. And more. But it all lacks soul for me.
It was moderate fun for a few days, but it quickly began to grate on me. There’s only so many times a man can be expected to refuse a freshly tailored suit, some sugarcane juice on the river, first second or even third lunch, dinner, drinks, snacks, trinkets, postcards, kites, motorbikes, fruits, vegetables, peanuts, etc. I was haggled harried. All I wanted to do toward the end was hide away in my hotel. Though even there my gentle proprietor wondered if I’d like to rent a motorbike or a bicycle or take a tour of the ancient ruins or book a bus to my next destination. I’ve never in my life felt more like a walking wallet.
Some people complain about it all over Vietnam, but having lived here for three years I’ve never felt more assaulted than in Hoi An. Which is a shame really because it could be such a beautiful little place.