I waved goodbye to Minh, and set off on my own into Hoi An for the afternoon. Hoi An is a UNESCO heritage site (as is My Son), which more than satisfies my quota for this trip. At the mouth of Thu Bon river, Hoi An was a bustling sea of merchants from all over the world, although particularly China and Japan. It is also famous for its high number of tailors who will make you fitted suits, shoes, and all other manner of clothing in as little as 20 minutes in some cases. If you want some shoes with your name proudly displayed on the side, this is the place to come.
As I walked into the central area of Hoi An (it’s not very big), I came across a sign blocking the middle of the road. “The town for walkers and primitive vehicle users”. No motorcycles allowed. I screamed with glee, and ran forwards into salvation. I considered hiding out in Hoi An for the rest of my trip. Ignoring Minh, pretending I was lost and sitting quietly against the nearest building until someone arrived to deport me. Bit of a waste though.
“Excuse me”, a small voice sounded behind me. “Crap, they just come in without their motorbikes, and drag you out!”, I thought to myself. All smiles, I turned around, “Hello”. “Hello sir. You come to my shop now? I make you very good suit. You need suit?” Shit.
I knew it was too good to be true. I’m starting to think that Vietnam will not be happy if any tourist makes it out with less than double a years salary of debt. I’m exagerating, but there is a feeling of “take take take”. Perhaps it’s not totally unwarranted, and at least I hadn’t seen any beggars in the country so far. Any money you do part with is for a service or goods, and earnt. Which is rather refreshing when I think back to our own Welfare State back home.
As in Hue, there has been heavy rain in Hoi An overnight and the banks of the river are full to bursting. Water floods the lower streets, and up to the edge of the lowest of the bridges. Children are laughing, playing, and enoying themselves in the water, as cyclists try and manoveur through the water. “Well at least it’s keeping them amused”, I laughed to an older english-looking lady standing on the corner watching. “It’s keeping me amused, too” she replied.
I’ve been staying in hostels and mostly around young travellers embarking on South Asia tours between schools, or before a career has properly taken hold – everyone recommended Laos. “You must go, the tubing is awesome”. You might have heard of it, you take an inflatable tube down the river and visit bars alongside the riverside, staying in your tube, slowly drinking and making your way to liver failure, and the last of the bars. “I had to drag my buddy back, because he fell asleep in the tube. I threw up in mine.” Sounds lovely.
So it was incredible to hear Avryl’s very different story. She joined a tour of Laos last year with over 20 other people, which involved skipping about all over the place very quickly and very much sticking to the well-trodden tourist route. Feeling a little short-changed, she contacted the same local tour guide and arranged another private tour within Laos for this year. As the year went on, she arranged fund raising with the help of her local church and raised over 3,000 pounds to help a number of schools that the tour guide knew, and was somehow related to. The money has been used to build school-buildings, and buy equipment to give the children a better future. She spoke with such passion about how it felt to be handing over a simple notebook and a pen to each one of these children who had nothing. Retired, she is now travelling through Vietnam and up to Hanoi – before returning home to continue the fund-raising and helping the children she has met however she can “in whatever time [she] has left”.
“Go, go to Laos. Visit the local people. You won’t regret it,” she advised me. “I can give you the name of my tour guide.” Touched by her story, I handed over my card and offered all I could think of. “If you need a web site… For the fundraising. Drop me a line – I won’t charge.” It seems a pitiful offering in the light of her achievements, but it’s all that I have.
High-spirited by the interesting and varied people I’ve met in Vietnam, I explored the rest of the city by foot. I’m looking forward to the tour into the mountains tomorrow, so I hope I can get a good nights sleep.