Hoi An is one of the most dreamy quaint towns that most travelers who have traveled in South East Asia immediately fall in love with. After months of planning and teasing myself with picture of this beautiful romantic town, I ended up stuck in a hotel for 3 days.
When I was making my travel plans for this trip that happened in December, I was aware we would have bright sunny days in Ho Chi Minh and Phu Quoc , rainy Hoi An and Hue, chilly Hanoi and mystic Halong Bay. Bart and I started our Vietnamese journey down South and started making our way to the North. As we lay on the beach enjoying the white sandy beaches of Bai Sao in Phu Quoc we made plans of getting our tailored clothes in Hoi An for Christmas, strolling the nights lit up with lanterns and floating away our lanterns on the river. It all seemed perfect and magical until we landed at Danang Airport and the hotel called and said “welcome Lea! Not to worry, the taxi drives you, and then you take boat.” I looked at Bart very confused and asked him, “boat? Oh well, maybe I heard her wrong.” So we jumped into the hotel van and drove towards Hoi An as we listened to the light shower, said bye to modern neon lit Danang and headed to Hoi An.
After about 30 minutes and maybe just the edge of the old town, the van came to a halt and the driver says it’s time for boat. Once again very confused we step out of the van only to step into mid calf chilly water, a small boat waiting for us about 5 metres away. ‘Oh fck’ was my initial reaction but the boat man and driver were all too cheery and excited to be in a low mood. “No worries, no worries tomorrow water go down” they kept repeating until I believed it. Together with another couple who had arrived from the North, we all rowed in silence along the river and streets-turned-river, giving each other awkward smiles with our hearts all willing for the following day to be better.
We had booked to stay at Lantana Boutique Hotel right along the river for the perfect Hoi An experience. Due to its proximity to the river, the hotel patio was flooded but the main hotel area and rooms were fine. The boat rowed right to the hotel door where a bunch of extremely friendly and cheerful staff awaited us. They were all so happy to have us and despite their town being under water they had smiles and great stories to give. The hotel is stunning and if I had to choose a hotel to be stuck in, then I made the right choice. Their color scheme is turquoise and cream, which was very relaxing. We spoke to other guests who had already been there for 1 or 2 days and the good vibes from the locals had spread to them – no one complained, no one grunted, we all just relaxed mostly lost in our thoughts and unanswered questions – of what might have been? Why? Will it stop? To stay or leave?
Unlike what I would expect with a calamity like an entire tourist town flooded, there was no panic, no chaos, no freaking out, no disaster alerts. It was all calm people in their balconies looking at the damage done to their homes as they used buckets to try drain away as much water from their homes as they could. The streets turned rivers floated away with the lanterns, furniture, poles, signs… It made me sad, not for the lack of beauty that I had expected but for the loss and sadness in the people’s eyes.
The next day the water dropped enough to give us a hope for better days and with spirits high, we enjoyed warm swims in the hotel indoors pool, great banh mi’s and pho’s and hours of staring at the flowing river. On the 3rd morning however, water levels had risen to a point some of the staff members didn’t show up for work. The currents were strong to a point the small boats couldn’t handle. At this point, we wanted to do something else, anything really – take a boat and just row around the town, even. The hotel manger advised us against it so we stayed indoors for yet another day, eating drinking, eating some more, chatting, waiting and hoping.
That night, we stood at the door with water levels almost 1 meter trying to figure what next. We had initially planned for 4 nights of pure magic and we got a different kind of magic. So we finally had to say what we both feared – we had to leave. The receptionist gave us the “I know you want to stay but cant” look and cancelled our final night. Dinner that night was different – when you know everything you had hoped for would not be achieved. We sat, looking out the window at the rain, listening to loud winds, quietly sipping our cocktails and sporadically making a comment or two to the other guests till late in the night.
Day 4 came and it was time to leave and go find adventure elsewhere and we were okay with it. As we had our breakfast the receptionist who was making our travel plans to Hue, a town further North of Hoi An, came to us with a big smile ” 2 streets water go, you can walk and see real Hoi An”. I knew we still had 8 days to Christmas but this was like Christmas come early and my Santa was a young, smiley and awkward Vietnamese girl.
In less than 10 minutes backpacks were on the boat and we rowed to the Japanese Bridge where we got off the boat and were finally able to see colourful lanterns strung from moss-covered rooftops across the narrow street and women happily selling all sorts of souvenirs. They made it look like nothing had happened and it was just another happy day.
Here are some shots of the Hoi An that I may not have fully experienced but still fell in love with.
No hurdle too high