There are some things that I began to welcome while traveling and then there are things that if they never happened again, EVER, I would be ok with. Beautiful towns like Hoi An don’t come along that often, but what happened in Hoi An can stay in Hoi An as far as I’m concerned.
This is how it began….
Me: Why is the bus stopped already
Celine: I do not know, maybe we need gas
Me: But, we just left – what is the driver looking at?
Yes, this was the start to a long, long night on our way to Hoi An, Vietnam. Our bus stopped before I even settled into my reclining window seat. It wasn’t gas we needed but to fix the engine. After several people climbed under and around the bus, some crazy dancing in the gas station and some interesting snacks we were on our way. Eight hours, two sleeping pills and no air-conditioning later we stopped, again, only to find a flat tire. In hindsight, when we finally arrived in Hoi An we probably should have just continued to the next city but we had heard such great things that we decided to check-in and see the town anyway.
I arrived to the quaint little town with nothing more then a desire to have something special made. This town is known for making not just custom clothes, but shoes, bathing suits, suit suits and whatever else can be stitched together with a needle and thread. It had been months since I’d worn anything aside from the few things in my small little bag and frankly I wasn’t that concerned. I’ve never been a clothes whore, in fact a friend once tried to get me on the show “what not to wear”. Anyway, I really wanted to have a cobalt blue dress made, but little did I know that the stress of designing a dress and actually picking fabric would be overwhelming. Long story short – I did not come away with a cobalt blue dress but something with orange and animal print. Celine on the other hand had grand plans. I will spare the agonizing details of how she had several things made, none of which she really liked, none of which came out how she expected and how she was ultimately yelled at and thrown from a store with just a paid receipt in hand.
One of the few towns in Vietnam that “we” did not destroy during the war, Hoi An has several preserved streets fitted to appeal to le gran touriste. Filled with said tailors, jewelry shops, lanterns shops and pretty much any other little ticky tacky knick knack that one would want to stuff into their bag and schlep home to remind them of their time in Nam. I was more interested in capturing the beauty of the city, I spent the early morning hours wandering the streets taking in the sights while the locals went about their morning business and just before the hoards of khaki shorts and sneakers arrived. Celine and I dined on some of the most delicious food I’ve had, white rose (banh bao vac), this was not a place for ‘street eats’ but a town to linger and be seen twirling chopsticks and sipping on local beers.
We were welcomed by a family onto their restaurant boat/home and enjoyed their fresh noodles, fresh beer and marveled at the inquisitive little girl. She couldn’t have been more than 6, but she was fearless. I actually let her run around with my small camera so she could practice taking photos, she hopped right off the boat and snapped pictures of her landlubbing friends, storefronts and of course us. I envisioned her dropping my camera into the water or someone snatching it from her tiny hands but somehow none of that seemed to bother me because watching her in the moment was fantastic. Nice experiences with the locals like this were in direct competition with a woman screaming at Celine and I to leave her restaurant after we told some would-be patrons that the 2 for 1 mojitos we had just ordered tasted nothing like mojitos.
To add insult to injury there was the ATM fiasco. Celine left on an earlier bus, she had had enough of Hoi An. She left me with a few Dong (the Vietnam currency – get your mind out of the gutter) to pay the bill but I needed a few more bones I mean Dong to make up the balance. ATM number 1 – no Dong available. ATM number 2 – no Dong available. Hmmm? That’s weird I thought. ATM number 3 – no Dong available. Ok, now I was getting suspicious, certainly Vietnam hadn’t run out of Dong completely???? I rushed back to the hotel to log onto my bank; I didn’t see anything suspicious with my checking account so I skyped the bank.
The Bank Woman: you’ve reached the maximum daily withdrawal amount.
The Bank Woman: yes, your daily withdrawal amount has been exceeded
Me (blood pressure rapidly rising): Well, that’s impossible – I haven’t been to the ATM in at least four days
The Bank Woman: You’ve reached the limit
Me: What’s the limit?
The Bank Woman: $750/ day
Me (slightly hysterical at this point): You’re kidding; I haven’t spent that much money in the last month!
You get the idea, there was fraud – luckily I caught it on the first day and I was able to cancel the card. The crazy thing was that the people were able to get into my savings account, without my card or my PIN. Anyway, I eventually got ALL The money back but the rest of the day I was completely stressed. Against my fathers advice I hadn’t brought any travelers checks and all the secret stash of American Dollars I had were shredded. Luckily, I had just enough to pay the bill and get the hell out of dodge!
Hoi An, friendly and not so friendly – we were frenemies right from the start!