Pretty In Pink

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“If you feel lost, disappointed, hesitant, or weak, return to yourself, to who you are, here and now and when you get there, you will discover yourself, like a lotus flower in full bloom, even in a muddy pond, beautiful and strong.”
― Masaru Emoto, ‘The Secret Life of Water’

As Hoi An’s relatively small it’s very easy to get out into the sprawling rice paddies of the countryside. Today we hired out a couple of bikes in town and headed out for our first proper taste of South East Asian rural life.

The alternation between vast fields of rice, fish ponds and water gardens was entirely novel to me. I was immediately drawn to the murky ponds of the lotus ‘farms’ so stopped to investigate. ‘Nelumbo nucifera’ (lotus flower) is Vietnam’s national flower and has an extraordinarily long list of uses, being pretty much entirely edible in various different ways; The unusual Vietnamese lotus tea is made using scent from the stamens, for example. The man wading about in the field came over to introduce himself and seemed more than happy to pose for photographs and even made a gift of some of the flowers he was picking!

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In fact the country folk in general were extremely accommodating and friendly. We came across a vegetable and herb farm and were invited to ‘help out’ a little – I’m sure being more of a burden than any real form of assistance.

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An extremely uncomfortable traditional way of watering the lines of crop, in this case lemon grass. I didn’t really get the hang of it – the plank of wood kept slipping off my back!

The most exciting surprise though was still to come. After stopping to photograph the water buffalo wallowing in the mud or wandering about the fields, a friendly old man offered to give a short ride on his buffalo through the paddies. It was hilarious – strangely bald and slippery to the touch and it kept whipping me with its wet and muddy tail!

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Below you can see a man herding about his flock of ducklings with a large stick. This brought about conflicting emotions, as however adorable it is seeing an entire fleet of baby ducks they are all inevitably soon for the slaughter – an idea that doesn’t particularly sit well with a vegetarian. This is however, an existence far preferable to sitting in a corrugated iron shed though, surely.

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Overall, saying that the exploration proved to be fruitful would be an understatement. If you’re planning a trip to any of the main cities In Vietnam, you definitely need to take the time to get out into the countryside – Hoi An would be a great place to start!

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To Buddhists, the lotus symbolises purity of the body, speech, and mind detached from the muddy waters of desire.

Into The Past

Hoi An Lanterns

Hoi An seal

Hoi An is undoubtedly my favourite spot in Vietnam as of yet. Being a UNESCO world heritage site, it has been incredibly well preserved as a 15th to 19th century South-East Asian fishing port. Surrounded by old, traditional buildings and a simple way of life, you feel as if you’ve taken a step back in time.

Hoi An

Hoi An bikes

Japanese covered bridge, Hoi AN

Above, you can see the Japanese covered bridge, an example of the imprint left by the countries that used the town as a trading port in the 16th and 17th centuries. The most evident influence is from China and Japan but there are still undercurrents of the period of French administration such as the bakeries and baguettes/paté etc.

The atmosphere during the day time is incredibly relaxed and mellow – with large areas of the old town being only accessible by foot or bike. It seems apt, therefore, that the original translation of ‘Hoi An’ is “peaceful meeting place”. The town is also filled to the brim with tailors of all sorts of descriptions making this a fantastic place to be fitted out with a very reasonably priced new wardrobe (if you have the luxury of packing space and excess money!) Another local speciality is silk production; you can even stop in to one of the silk ‘houses’ to see the traditional process – worm to scarves:

Trays of adult silk worms. The yellow balls are the cocoons. Before the worm has a change to reap the benefits of it's hard work and metamorphose, the cocoons are sadly to be boiled and threaded.

Trays of adult silk worms. The yellow balls are the cocoons. Before the worm has a chance to reap the benefits of it’s hard work and metamorphose, the cocoons are sadly to be boiled and threaded. Rather tragically ironic, therefore, that they’re entirely dependent on humans for their reproduction and don’t occur naturally in the wild.

silk worms hoi an

If you’ve had enough of pottering about the magical streets, or bartering with tailors, then Cua Dai beach is also just a few km away and in my opinion is far preferable to the likes of Nha Trang: Fewer tourists, not built up, cleaner and bigger.

Cua Dai Beach Hoi An

Cua Dai Beach Hoi An

At night time, the town takes on a whole new lease of life. Colourful lanterns light up the streets – dotted along the bridges, buildings, shops and trees. The entire population seem to suddenly emerge from no where and new markets spring up selling locally crafted produce (notably, large collections of the lanterns). Women and children along the riverside sell candles in little paper boats for you to send down stream for good luck, traditionally on the full moon. It’s definitely a site not to be missed.

Hoi An Lanterns

Hoi An Lantern

Hoi An Lanterns

Hoi An Lanterns

Hoi An Lanterns