“Life Isn't About Quotes About Life ”
So it may appear to the casual reader of our travel blog that we fall in love easily, and we do. Every place we have traveled in SE Asia has really been astonishing. We are very grateful that we have had the opportunity to finally experience this part of the world. With that being said, Hoi An (specifically An Bang) has now taken a commanding lead as our favorite destination to date in SE Asia. For us, this place is an absolute dream.
When we first arrived in Vietnam 2 months ago, we were struck by how friendly and engaging the Vietnamese people are. We had read a couple blogs that had expressed that the opposite was true, so we weren't sure what to expect. A lesson in not believing everything you read online I guess, or maybe it's the old adage "you get what you give"? If you treat people with respect and kindness, and don't insult them, they usually return the favor. On several occasions, we had Vietnamese women shop owners come up and hug Josie (they love kids here!). Without exception, we felt welcomed, safe, and accepted in every interaction we had with the Vietnamese people.
It's difficult not to make the correlation between cultures of whatever place we travel, and what we've all become accustomed to in the United States. And in general, it's also hard not to see the shortcomings in the way we interact with each other in the US. I don't think we saw a single Vietnamese person with their face glued to their phone (with exception to when Vietnam won gold in the Southeast Asian Games, that was a big deal!), and when you made eye contact with someone it was always followed by a smile and "xin chào". When you start with warmth and kindness, and not guarded indifference, it makes everything better, and the plain truth is that they're doing it better here.
An Bang Dreaming
The main street through the village is a single lane paved road shaded with a canopy of tropical trees. It takes just 10 minutes to walk from one side of the town to the other if you walk at a normal pace, but we never did. Stray dogs lounge in the doorways of the restaurants and shops, waiting for you to stop and say hello, and we rarely missed the opportunity. The SE Asian dystopian scooter gangs still rule the streets here, but at a much less hurried pace. Taxis sometimes drive through, but they mainly stay on the more touristy south end of town.
April once again absolutely scored on our Airbnb. We were a little apprehensive, because this place was more like a two bedroom hotel than a proper apartment. It turns out that the accommodations were some of the best we've had so far. Trang and her family (our homestay host) were so welcoming, and really made our stay special. The yellow building in the slideshow is where we stayed.
The shops that line the streets mainly cater to the tourists, but they are all run by local Vietnamese families, and you can really see the positive impact the tourist industry has here. In Hoi An, the standard of living seems comparable to most developed countries. It has yet to be inundated with corporate hotel chains, etc. I hope it stays this way. There are also a few bars and restaurants that cater specifically to the expat community - and there was always friendly people wanting to share their stories and experiences on how they got here, and what living here is all about. We met some fantastic people that are doing fantastic things.
The real treat was when you walked off the main street into the winding roads and alleys on the beach side of the village. It's impossibly picturesque. Tropical foliage climbing the walls of old colonial style buildings, mixed with newer, more modern homestays and boutique hotels, with the occasional family restaurant sandwiched between. The restaurants hidden back in this part of town felt more like going over to a friend's house to eat than going out to dinner. We are here during the slow season, so there were many occasions we were the only people in these places, which made the experience even more intimate. We ended a few meals playing with the family's children and pets, and having great conversations with the owners.
It's difficult to describe An Bang with words, because it's like a daydream. The friendly locals, the sweet smell in the air, the vivid colors, the sounds of waves crashing (and roosters crowing), the warm days and just perfect chilly nights. The simple slow way of living. The beaches are absolutely spectacular, without the same volume of trash we encountered in Nha Trang. This place has made an indelible impression on all of us, and we're all a bit heartbroken to say goodbye.
This is a slideshow of An Bang, and the surrounding rice fields
Holy Hoi An!
To be honest, we didn't spend much time in Hoi An. Not because we didn't like it, but because we were all digging the sleepy beach vibe of An Bang so much. But we did enjoy the visit and the experience. Hoi An is the 15th century Unesco World Heritage older sibling of An Bang. It's a very beautiful city, and worth checking out. It looks like a postcard come to life with loads of eye candy and photo opportunities.
It was an hour walk for us through the rice fields and outlying villages to get into Hoi An Ancient Town. It's the off season here, but the ancient town was still pretty crowded. I think the general consensus was that the walk through the villages and rice fields were more enjoyable than the actual destination. Don't take that the wrong way, Hoi An is fantastic, but so is the walk!
This is a slideshow of our adventures in Hoi An
Josie is half way through sixth grade (!!!), and is doing great with her online course work. She just finished her cumulative exams, and did very well. We love the school we've signed up with (Excel Online.) It gives us tons of flexibility while making sure she's working at the same level as most US middle schools. Josie has stayed engaged and challenged through it all.
That's not to say that there hasn't been some challenges. We knew the lack of socialization, and missing her friends would be an issue - and it has been. The missing component here has been Josie not being able to make meaningful connections with other kids - which is a tall order when meeting kids for the first time, and then before you know it we part ways for our next destination.
While in Hoi An we've met a few other families doing the same thing we're doing, and that has been really helpful in not feeling isolated, and knowing that there are other people out there as crazy as we are. Also, it's given Josie the chance to hang out with some kids her age. We met a family that have been traveling for almost 12 years (!), and kind of helped pioneer the whole worldschool movement. It was pure luck that they were in Hoi An the same time we were, and their story was an inspiration to us. Lainie and Miro run a worldschool group that facilitates family and teen summits all over the world. They are a wealth of knowledge, experience and resources, and we count ourselves lucky to have crossed their paths. We felt a real connection with them, and are looking forward to the day we can meet up again!
Florida, Here We Come!
Our next stop is our old stomping grounds. It'll be good to see our friends and family. We land on Christmas day, and leave for Europe in about two months. We're going to treat Florida like another stop in our travels, and we'll do a few blog posts while we're there. Thanks for checking in on us, and we'll see some of you real soon!