At Hoi An, we stayed at the Palm Garden Resort, a 5-star hotel. We had a very nice room with a view of the beach. It was perfect in almost every way. Unfortunately, it was also way out of town. The taxi ride was only $5 each way, but took about 20 minutes and meant you had to really plan to go into town. Though it is nice to end in luxury, we usually put being in the center of a walking downtown as a higher priority. Had we known the location was so far out, we would have changed hotels ahead of time.
The hotel location also reinforced the idea that we should have come to Vietnam 10 years earlier. It was near the end of a very long stretch of luxury condos and resorts that made us think we were driving down Miami Beach. Or course there were also lots of signs for new resorts still being built, so it will only get worse.
It did make us glad that we travel off peak season though, as I shudder to think what the city would look like with all those places full. One benefit of traveling when we do — and risking the occasional bad weather — is that there were not very many other tourists around. We were certainly not alone, and the behavior of the locals (particularly in North Vietnam) made it clear that they were used to people like us invading town. However, we only rarely came across busloads of other tourists, and could usually make a hasty retreat when we did stumble across them.
Lan took us on a tour of the Hoi An Old Town (a UNESCO world heritage site) in the morning, which was interesting. We wandered among the street vendors, and Evelyn finally bought the Vietnam Red Star hat she had been looking for over the past two weeks. My head is too big to fit most Asian hats — it took several vendors before we found one that would do more that perch on top of my hair (my mother always warned me my head would swell up, but I insisted it just needed to be this big to hold all those brains — how else could I excel at World of Warcraft?).
We had the afternoon off, and walked along the beach to find a restaurant for lunch. As usual, the food was excellent. Afterwards, we started to wander the beach front exploring the round coconut-shell shaped fishing boats… and almost immediately saw the wind start to whip up a fury, followed within a few minutes by a few raindrops. We ducked into a nearby beach restaurant for another of now habitual fruit smoothies, just as the sky opened and the gods dumped a full bucket of water on us. As usual, it all cleared up in less than half an hour, and we continued our beach walk.
That evening we linked up with Etienne Bossol, a professional French photographer who now lives in Hoi An. Along with his professional local photography, he leads photo tours. I would definitely recommend him if you ever decide to visit this part of Vietnam and want a photo tour, complete with local models and very helpful instruction:
He took us around town for the evening tour. He would go up to an old woman with an interesting face, talk to her in Vietnamese (he claimed to only have primitive language skills, but I never saw any sign of them not understanding him), and get them to model for us. He would always pay them a small sum at the end, and demurred when I asked how much he was giving them.
The result was that we no longer had to do grab shots of these people. They were now willing models. The downside was that these people had no concept of modeling, and tended to freeze up in front of the camera. Etienne helped overcome that by talking to them and getting their mind off the cameras, resulting in some of our best people photographs of the trip.
In one interesting scenario, Etienne convinced a very beautiful girl in an art gallery to pose for us. It took him awhile to convince her, since she was nervous and did not consider herself sufficiently good looking to model. Etienne finally won her over, and she moved into the doorway that Etienne had suggested. Just them, the young woman’s husband came in and she froze saying (in Vietnamese) “I can’t do this. My husband is here and does not want people taking pictures of me.” Sure enough, the husband was adamant that no pictures were to be taken. Even though Etienne knew the husband and had done work for him before, the man was determined that nobody take his wife’s picture. Moving on…