Coming from a country just one degree north of the Equator, you would think I would be used to the sweaty stickiness of tropical heat. But Hoi An upped the ante and took humidity and heat to a whole new level. Everyday, barely half an hour after leaving the cool sanctuary of our hotel, we would already be dripping with sweat. It is a heat that saps the energy and the enthusiasm for sightseeing. And so, it was in this 38 or 39 degree heat, that we would half-heartedly wander Hoi An’s lanes, small museums, temples and shops, our explorations interspersed with frequent cafe breaks. But in the bright whiteness of Hoi An’s light against a backdrop of cloudless blue skies, we found small delightful details of the old town and therein lies its charm.
As the line from Noel Coward goes, only mad dogs and Englishmen brave the noonday heat. Well add us to the list until we realised that the streets were empty most of the day until about 4pm when the worst of the heat had subsided. The other tourists, my tailor explained, were very wisely taking refuge in their hotels or by the poolside.
With the heat too, my plans for hitting the seaside village of An Bang and cycling through the rice fields evaporated. I quickly realised I’d either be fried to a crisp or brain-dead from heatstroke if I’d been foolish enough to try this. So our days were largely spent at the tailors getting our fittings done or in Hoi An’s many pretty cafes nursing one (or many) scoops of ice-cream – which wasn’t a bad thing because it turned out that having nothing to do and nowhere to go was actually pretty relaxing – the whole point of being on vacation. Languid is good.
If you ask me, there are no singular blockbuster sights in Hoi An. The town’s beauty lay as a whole in its compact old quarter, which comprised roughly all of three main streets and the riverside, walkable in a day. Car-free except for the cyclos and the scooters, walking in Hoi An was nice – except for the heat.
The palette of yellows, blues. the burst of vibrant vermillion in the Flame of the Forest in full bloom and the occasional riotous pink bougainvillea give Hoi An a look and feel that would not be out of place in Greece or Italy or Spain. Turn down any lane zig-zagging through alleys and you will find interesting details that sharpen Hoi An’s appeal.
A leaf, a lotus petal and a pickled plum with a dash of lemongrass flavour all for 10,000dong. This very quickly became our favourite drink in Hoi An. We came back two days in a row for this.
But as the day winds down and the tourists emerge from their hotels, the lanterns come on and Hoi An’s true appeal shines.