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The Future for Hoi An

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Bury, manchester
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The Future for Hoi An

I have just returned from 2 weeks in Hoi An staying at the Boutique Hoi An. Most nights we went into Hoi An to try and enjoy the town.

If you read this forum you will invariably see it described as charming and quaint, but I would seriously exercise caution if you are willing to believe these descriptions.

I am aware that it is a world heritage sight but wonder how long that will be the case?

The problem is quite simply traffic. The narrow streets you are advised to meander down are a health hazard and you are constantly on the look out for motorbikes that drive at ridiculous speeds for the conditions, pedal cycles ridden in the main by tourists who just cant control them and the stealth like electric cycles that just appear without a sound. You just can not wander and admire the buildings because you are always on the look out for the next bike.

If you want a tailor then obviously there are endless supplies – I don’t get it myself! Why go half way round the world for a cheap outfit?

There are any number of places to eat and drink all of a reasonable standard but equally all serving much the same thing, even the menus are in the same order. Some are higher priced than others for the same thing but you can see that just from the décor and the fact that not many people are in them. One of the great things about Saigon and the surrounding area was the food, each dish served with a side order of all sorts of greens and herbs and general stuff you could try. Just not the case in Hoi An – samey, bordering on boring. Its as if they have given up their individuality to cater for the mass tourist market as opposed to retaining the culture – one of the reason we go there. Street food was restricted to banana pancakes and no savoury things in evidence in the other places we have been.

We enjoyed our time in the area but it was not what we expected at all. It was almost brash and loud and I fear it will end up like other resorts, South Goa for example, once tranquil and generally unspoilt we have decided to knock that in to touch - Hoi An is already further down the road than that.

I realise its all about personal choice and there are those who will love the place for what it is, like I used to love Goa. Good luck to them. But they will also lead to its eventual fall.

What does the future hold – well unless they are willing to restrict the traffic down the narrow roads, drag back some individuality and stop more shops selling tat and tailors then it will undoubtedly deteriorate and people will stop going.

Hanoi, Vietnam
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1. Re: The Future for Hoi An

Lack of traffic was one of the main reasons I've liked Hoi An in the past, but apparently it's changed considerably in the few years I've been away. Guess it had to happen? Same goes with Luang Prabang, Bali, Maui, S. California and numerous other paradises lost.

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2. Re: The Future for Hoi An

Yes, well, Brian.

It has been many years since I determined never to return to Hoi An, but that was simply because the things that turned me off and depressed me about the direction in which the town was heading were precisely the same things that so many people still need to get them through the next working year in their home countries: relaxation, pampering in the form of spa-type things, shopping, tailoring and the like, and some reasonably pleasant dining. Perfectly understandable and not for a second to be condemned.

One thing I can tell you from first-hand feedback is that the provincial authorities in charge of Hoi An are entirely happy with the way things are developing, and no doubt will continue to be until it all becomes too tacky and aggressive for some tourists to turn their back on the place.

That could take years, especially with the changing demographic of tourism. Westerners and people from similarly oriented countries might eventually eschew the town for some of the reasons you list, but they're an increasing minority of visitors to Vietnam and people from some other parts of the world have different expectations and requirements.

Nha Trang, Vietnam
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3. Re: The Future for Hoi An

I'm never going back to Hoi An, for the same reasons you mention.

Vietnam is being ruined by the 'giống nhau' mentality (same same) but unfortunately 'not different'. 600 tailors in a small town is ridiculous.

Tourism is not getting developed, since more tourists find there way to the country every year, government efforts to halt this none withstanding (raised visa fees, silly rules for foreigners to ride a motorbike are good examples).

Vietnam is getting to be like Prague. In some places there are more tourists than Vietnamese.

Edited: 15 February 2013, 23:02
Hoi An, Vietnam
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4. Re: The Future for Hoi An

On the contrary the thought of 600 tailors in one town would excite some.. Not me personally, but others...

Vietnam is a progressive country and nothing will change that. And despite the tourism and tailors, Hoi An Old Town is quaint and very photogenic.

The main point I want to make is that this post was made during TET which is when the town is absolutely crazy for 3 weeks with tourists and locals preparing and celebrating their New Year and the no motorized vehicle restrictions in the Old Town are not enforced..

What I love about Hoi An. Which one needs to explore a little to experience, is that it is safe and small enough to bicycle around. One minute you are in the hustle and bustle of the the Old Town Tourists, then the busy local markets, a and then suddenly you can be on a quiet spot of the river bank watching to fishermen and wandering through alleys and rice paddy fields where you don't see other tourists only locals who greet you with village smiles and hospitality... You can bicycle around for hours feeling lost and soaking up the ambience and quaintness of Hoi An and when you have had enough you can end up on the beach or back in the Old Town...

Hoi An like all of Vietnam is changing quickly, the locals in Hoi An are still learning tourism - one of the quirks is that they think they can all own a tailor shop, sell the same old fashioned designs and make money, I can sit and hours and watch and ponder the logic of this with a sense of amusement!!!

Melbourne, Australia
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5. Re: The Future for Hoi An

Gosh- if I hadn't spent the last 7 or 8 years being smitten with HoiAn, and I read all the above opinions first, I might seriously not bother stopping off in Hoi An.

This year we are accompanying some 'vietnam newbies' and I have allotted 6 full days to HoiAn for them so it will be very interesting for me to gain a new perspective first- hand. For ourselves we'll stay on for at least a further 8 days and hope it still offers everything We treasure in a holiday destination

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6. Re: The Future for Hoi An

Yeah agree Maz,

I'm also heading there in May with some Newbies. Only got 3 nights as we are on a whirlwind tour but I will fill those days and nights easily with a lot of food, a lot of touring and a lot of fun.

Unfortunately the bride didn't want to tag along with 5 blokes but she is so p - ssed off about missing Hoi an. No shopping on this trip. Yeehaaa!!!

Horses for courses I guess :-)

Hoi An, Vietnam
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7. Re: The Future for Hoi An

The streets in the old town are only open to motorised traffic between 11.00-14.00 and 16.30 till 18.00 (this is so that deliveries can be made to businesses and so that parents can collect their children from school, at all other times the street are closed to everything except pedestrians and bicycles.

There are some exceptional places to eat and in two years of living here I have never seen banana pancakes sold at street stalls.

Hoi An's government work alongside UNESCO for any changes, yes they moved the street food vendors - but all that were based in the old town were set up in a covered area near the old market on Bach Dang Street where they are able to maintain better food and hygiene standards. They have also just invested in the recipe for the Cao Lau noodle (Hoi An's most famous dish) from the one family that know it as the family's children are hoping for better careers, the recipe would have been lost forever had they not done that. Hoi An has three small trade villages - Kim Bong (wood carving), Tan Ha (pottery) and a silk village (the original is still running on the way to My Son) that were established during the busy trading during Hoi An's heady days as the main port on the marine silk road. The government has invested hugely in keeping all of these old trades alive. Businesses within the old town have to abide by strict guide lines to keep the authenticity of the old town alive, the government are trying to make Hoi An greener and are setting new environmental rules to big hotels. They have also invested in the villagers on the beautiful Cham Islands - Bai Huong village is a good example of this - fishing families who struggle to earn enough to educate their children and are forced to fish when the sea is too dangerous have been educated and financed to run their own sustainable homestays (real ones). New businesses are encouraged to source materials and workmanship locally, not because its cheaper but to help people in Quang Nam province overcome hardship. Tour operators wanting to start up tours in the countryside are subjected to the same strict rules, minority villages where these tour groups stop over for a night are being given the choice of whether their village is used and if they are in agreement they are given the skills and help to manage and maintain the lodgings.

I'd have to say that Hoi An's government are doing everything they can to keep the old town special.

The outskirts of the town are of course growing.

Sometimes when you visit a place for the first, second or fifth or sixth times you expect something and when you arrive it does not pan out that that way, maybe its a really busy time (eg TET) and you have to dig under the surface a little more to find Hoi An's hidden charms. They are however still here, its just so terribly sad that you missed them.

Melbourne, Australia
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8. Re: The Future for Hoi An

Thanks Kirby for that great information

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9. Re: The Future for Hoi An

We really enjoyed Hoi An but we were there in October when it is relatively quiet. I don't think it's different from anywhere else as soon as places become tourist favourites they inevitably become tourist traps but I still wouldn't consider Hoi An like Goa.

Melbourne, Australia
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10. Re: The Future for Hoi An

There is a book in the bookshop just over the Japanese Bridge on the right side of the road. It is called 'The Secrets of Hoi An". Read it before you make a decision whether to go or not, whether to stay longer than 2 days or not.

Hoi An is and has always been changing, some love it, some don't make enough effort to love it as it is when they find it.

Maz and I do.


Edited: 16 February 2013, 08:56