Finding authentic Vietnam in the tourist cloud of Hoi An

Finding authentic Vietnam in the tourist cloud of Hoi An

Hoi An, a small city in the middle of the long slender Vietnam, has a history that stretches 2000 years back to the Champa Empire, when it was a commercial capital of the Malayo-Polynesian people. Today, the small alleys lined up with charming houses keeping the secrets from times gone by have given way to hypertourism and tailors eager to fit even the most precious of visitor with a laughable budget.

Needless to say, we expected not much else after realizing where we were.

We hired two scooters ($5 each) and decided to escape the stranglehold created in the search for every tourism dollar. Bad maps and no idea of where we were going, led us down a few roads, until the road turned into a small path, then the path turned into rocky something with grass on each side and we ended up in the middle of a huge rice paddy.

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It was hot and the sun seemed even stronger out in the open, but the green was calling us and we decided to push through and see what we can find.

Mr.Blab stopped ahead of me and then I could see a group of farmers in the distance. We were not sure whether we could/should keep on going, are we being too nosy, horrible tourist folk or will it be ok to go say hi. After a few minutes of uncertainty we decide to keep on going and bumpity bump, trying not to flip on the pebbly path into the irrigation channel next to me, I followed him until we got close enough.

We turned off the scooters, got off and approached.

And then our fears quickly melted at the sight of the first smiling face welcoming us, followed by the loud laughter and excitement that spread through the group of farming women. Before long we were surrounded, the kids stroked and touched,  vigorous gesticulation was cutting the thick hot air and who had how many children and what ages was not a secret anymore.

And then dragon fruit was shoved in my kids hands. Laughter.

When that was done, water melon was brought out and the little ones were even happier. Laughter.

A dried up old man appeared from somewhere, big brown smile adorning his face, three beautiful pink lotus flowers in hand – for me.

I am completely lost in the moment, overwhelmed.

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Hoi An in Vietnam (8)

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Then a bowl of rice appears in my hand. Their rice, the fruit of the small patch of land that turns out is theirs. Knowing it has grown two feet from where I am staying, makes it taste delicious.

The bowl disappears and comes back with toppings.

“Cám Æ¡n” – sounding like ‘gum uh’, the vastness of my knowledge of Vietnamese is all I can muster.

The bowl is taken from my hand and more things go on top.  More laughter.

And so we experience the best, hands down, Vietnamese food of our trip.

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The spicy sprouts with pineapple was my favorite, Mr.Blab falling more for the nutty tofu and we both agreed the root vegetable something was pure delight.

This hospitality felt bitter sweet – surfacing melancholy about my homeland, Bulgaria, where we like to think we are masters of it, where when guests arrive, the tables overflow, even in the poorest homes, and the basic joy of being  welcomed with open arms and laughter by people you dont know and will never see again.

Then break was over, pots and pans were cleared and the work was calling. Most of the women waded in the water, while one of them invited the heated up kids to chill out in the channel.

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Hoi An in Vietnam (4)


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The girls got to pull and plant some rice and if you ever wondered, the water is warm and the ground squishy.

A few wrong turns, a little bit of an open mind and flexibility to roll along with unplanned developments and we ended up experiencing one of our most authentic moments in one of the most heavily tourism centered places in Vietnam.

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And yet again, we got reminded that its not the sights we see, but the people we meet that shape our journey.

On this day they shaped it – unforgettable.

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Hoi An in Vietnam (10)