Lanterns, right? Well I’m not enjoying this town quite as
much as Hanoi. It’s got nothing to do with the rain or the monsoon – I mean, I come from a wet country, but we don’t get warmth with it. So the weather is indeed fairly wet, or damp, or soaking – but no problem. Blue skies do make for much better photos, but there are ways round that. So what don’t I like? Ambleside comes to mind…maybe Bakewell … that sort of vibe. (Because I don’t know the South of my country at all.) This is exceptionally and purposefully a tourist magnet, and perhaps Hanoi is more incidental or accidental for its visitors. Because I partially grew up in a seaside town, I could very well be a bit over sensitive and cynical. So really don’t take this post to indicate that I disliked Hoi An – it’s just for me, there were a few irksome things which made me aware I had stayed there too long.
There’s a tactic here that I don’t think we have even in the most up market of our UK tourist areas. For example, if the puny punnet of non-potato-origin fries is £6 at Alton Towers – everyone pays £6 – not only foreigners. Here, there is an audacious double pricing system based on the assumption that everyone from Europe or the US is swimming in wealth. Many are – and this seems a place that attracts them, but not everyone is. Like me, they may staying in an 8 bedroom dorm, wearing the same clothes for 5 days and counting the 1000D notes to see if can avoid going to the ATM today, because they are really on a budget. And yes they still are acutely aware of how much further there money goes here, how privileged they are to be able to travel, but still – they came on a shoe-string. I’m not getting into a deeper ethical discourse about world economy and distribution of wealth because I don’t consider myself well informed enough. I am only recounting my experience, not expressing indignation. (Well maybe just at the bus conductor.)
You might expect some small amount of adjustment considering the difference in our economies, and some negotiating. I was prepared and had had a little practice in Hanoi. Despite all the websites telling you that you need to negotiate, I have found here a flat out refusal to do so. But – the thing that really got me was – I’m sorry it sounds so embarrassing … the bus conductor. The bus conductor from Da Nang charged me twice as much as the local girl sat next to me – and unabashedly put the extra 20 000 in his pocket before my very eyes! No amount of remonstration would recover the money. The aforementioned local girl told me that she had seen bus conductors charge 5 times the actual price, so perhaps I came off lightly. And though this is a 100% profit margin for him, we are talking about very little amount. However, as I am an alarmingly honest individual, I got a bit agitated.
I noticed another strategy to fudge pricing – the dollar scam. The hostel insisted on doing this this with my bill, my bicycle hire, my tour, my water – everything! Now I am not a US citizen, and neither is my hostel owner – so why is she telling me the price of everything in dollars all the time? The entry fee for My Son Holy Site is 150, 000 dong, but you can just give her or him $7.50 please. Now you can see from the XE table below (great app) that they are over charging by a dollar. 80 people on the bus. Two tours a day. $160 in pocket. The bike hire is $1 because thy can make more than by asking for 20 000 dong. Again it’s not much, but I don’t feel that comfortable with it.
I always overpaid the Uber drivers in Hanoi – I didn’t feel pressure or need prompting because I looked at XE and saw it cost me 80p for a half hour ride – ridiculous. And as I said before, I think that most people backpacking are aware of their privileged situation and will be generous. But I just don’t like the underhandedness.
It was a very hard sell all the time, and I found it tough not being able to sit in a coffee shop ( until I found the Espresso Station where I am now – address withheld ha ha ) without vendors walking in and trying to sell me peanuts, newspapers, Christmas cards, a sun hat. I can’t walk along the riverside without a chorus of “boat? photo? mango?’ This kind of selling is very bothersome to me, and I decided a few days into my stay not to spend any more money in Hoi An other than eating and coffee. Coffee at my coffee shops is 50,000 or 55,000 – more than my meal, and it is somewhat hypocritical of me to be so penny pinching in other areas. But there are plenty of people who do have money to spend here, even if I don’t. I’m sorry retired Brits and Germans, Koreans and teachers (they are not exclusive of one another obviously) – I don’t mean to be pointing any fingers.
I’ve not said anything about commission, but that goes without saying. The hostel will refer you to their ‘partner’ operators and services and that’s just that. They will charge you for the privilege of booking something you could have done so for less money on the internet.
I hope I’m not giving the impression that I didn’t enjoy Hoi An at all – no it’s a charming, picturesque, yellow, characterful town on the river, that is beautifully lit and buzzing at night. Its ramshackle, blackened old buildings hugging the river bank, the serene brown waterways, the slow, noble water buffalo, the ornate temples and shrines – this is the authentic beauty of the place for me , and actually, once I left the town centre, I felt exhilarated and thrown back in time, cycling aimlessly around the many islets. I think what I am getting at is that, if you have plenty of money and it is ‘that’ kind of holiday for you, you will get the most out of your stay in Hoi An Town. Like Ambleside, it is mainly a cool cafe vibe, restaurants and clothes shops ( be it not ‘outdoor’ ones). And perhaps you will be able to afford the many tours to far away places. With limited funds, it might be a bit beyond the means of most backpackers for more than a couple of days. In my post ‘Whatever happened to Cam Kim?’, you will see just how much I liked the area, and all the lovely things about Hoi An that you can do with very little to spend.