The day starts earlier than I can make a habit for myself. But when in Vietnam do as Vietnamese do. Trying to accommodate this philosophy I wake up in these hours when in our country the whole city sleeps and the stray dogs rule the streets. The hour is 5am, the town is Hoi An and I can’t believe my eyes are opened. What makes me leave the cosy bed is the knowing that outside the world has already burst into a pale, gentle, pre-morning light.
The day in Hoi An has begun – awake, energetic and as hectic as a day in Vietnam can be.
… Is the time of the rich melody of the market: Vietnamese women coming from the nearby villages to sell their fresh green herbs, fruits and vegetables are almost screaming in a furious bargaining. The small market street is full of women on motorbikes doing their morning shopping. They don’t even get off the bikes. It’s amazing this skill of shopping from your bike.
Fishermen’s wives are sitting on the ground, in front of their big plates with a fresh catch of shrimps, small fish, and squid. In this market, I see all the compounds of a Vietnamese dish – the mountains of fresh herbs, the fruits, the noodles drying in the sun, the smell of fish sauce. Everything is a composition of noises, colours, and smells. A life painting of Vietnam. The market ladies laugh, talk and bargain, creating a hustle which works better than a strong coffee to wake me up. From this coffee, I take big gulps and feel the aroma of the morning atmosphere.
It is so early, I am the only foreigner so I think “Alright, maybe for a change they will be generous and sell me bananas on the local price”
“How much the bananas?” I ask the woman sitting behind a long row of bananas.
“…….” She is looking at me trying to calculate how much would I pay, maybe checking my clothes to determine if I am a rich german tourist. I am not.
Here I start chatting in Vietnamese, bragging with my language skills and with the fact that I’m almost a local. This causes euphoria in the surrounding market ladies, they gather around and after a discussion they mercifully decide that maybe I deserve to pay just double the price of the bananas. That’s fair for me 🙂 so I take them and after what I think is “Have a beautiful day” (which probably sounded like something else) I dive into the yellow, early morning world of the old town.
Just after passing the market I see the fishermen’s boats after the night’s catch. They move slowly in the morning sun reflecting river. It’s quiet here. Everyone says Hoi An is most beautiful in the evening, but after seeing the emptiness and the purity of the early morning streets I believe this is when the charisma and authenticity of the town can be felt the most.
The street on the right takes me to the breakfast spots – women, men, and children gather for their morning power meal around food stalls on the street. Mi Quang (egg noodles with pork and fresh herbs), Com Ga (rice with chicken) and Com Tam (broken rice with meat) are meals which are often taken for breakfast.
…Is when time stops. After 12pm, Hoi An mostly sleeps. If somebody doesn’t sleep, he hides in the shadow, drinking Mia Da (sugarcane juice). The tourists and expats go to the beach, trying to bathe the heat in the ocean waves. Since I am one of the latter, I have no memories and photos of the town during the sleepy lunch hours.
…Is when the town becomes lively and quite bustling again. The colours of the old houses are vibrant when the sun gets tired of being so high in the sky. Vivid blue, yellow and orange walls with bright pink bougainvillea hugging the awnings gracefully. The pavement in the old town streets is covered with food vendors selling Vietnamese sweets, coffee, tea and ice cream. The tourist peak hour has begun. All the market sellers who had spent the last few hours chillin’ are back. In Vietnam, the street food stalls change their places depending on the time of the day. Where in the morning was Mi Quang now another food seller makes the people happy and full.
Near the river boats arrive offering boat rides over the Than Phu River.
…. Is when the ancient yellow town reveals its beauty. The multicoloured street lanterns on each small alley light up and create a romantic atmosphere. However, this is also the time when all the tourists are out, so the romantic feeling is a bit repressed or stepped upon by a big group of Chinese tourists (we all deserve to travel, no offence to the Chinese fellows). Still, the town is very charming, opened only for pedestrians, with live music coming from some of the bars.
By the river, many stalls for grilled pork in rice paper and other tasty treats are set up. There is even a woman selling food from her boat.
As the hours pass, “Buy Something” becomes the favourite phrase of all the sellers around the tourist town. So many local people work mostly in the evening. I walk slowly, enjoying the view of the glittering boats on the river. “You, notebook, you” I hear on my left. “You, free drink, you, come”, “Now happy hour, you!” is coming from the right. These are the voices and melodies of the evening-night time in Hoi An’s ancient town.
Hoi An is a town with many faces and with very special atmosphere. I tried to portray and photograph those moments and places that I see and experience every day because they are the face of Hoi An which has found its place in my memory and heart.