Lessons from Hoi An
Posted December 4, 2014on:
Hoi An is a world heritage site and it shows. It is very photogenic, charming, and even soulful. But I wonder how long it will remain like that.
If you asked me what my favourite photo was from the trip, I would say it was this one of my son standing among the lanterns. The lanterns were practically a symbol of Hoi An.
But the most poignant photo might be the little girl trying to read by candlelight. I took a few others of identical twin boys also selling lanterns, but they did not turn out well because of the very poor lighting.
I noticed that there were not many children in Hoi An Ancient Town during the day. The few that we encountered were table touts (see this tweet).
The kids came out at night and lined the riverside selling water lanterns or other paraphernalia.
I do not think that all of them really wanted to be there. At least the girl in the photo spent her time reading. She did not even notice her friends around her or me crouching nearby to take a shot. If anyone asks me for a definition of “self-directed learning”, I will show them that photo and tell this short story.
My wish for Hoi An is that it does not become like our Boat Quay or Clarke Quay at night. The place is free from Starbucks and McDonald’s for now, but a few bars thumping bass across the river or out the street are already present.
There is a tourist ticket to buy to enter heritage establishments and to support the preservation of the place. There is a false information in travel forums that you have to pay each time you enter the town. You do not. The ticket is reusable and you use the five tabs on each ticket to enter special heritage areas like shrines or homes.
It costs 120,000 per adult (a mere SGD 7.30) and children enter for free. I would gladly pay more if that meant Hoi An kept corporate entities at bay. I would pay even more to keep louts out.
I like travelling to places where I am very unlikely to bump into the ugly Singaporean tourist. Unfortunately, I heard and saw ugly tourists from other countries. Like the group beside us at Morning Glory loudly declaring what they liked and did not like about their meal. Or the very sunburnt man shouting, “Smile, smile, SMILE!” to a Vietnamese street vendor as he hovered over her with a phone camera.
Incidents like these remind me that the body can travel, but the mind might not. They also remind me to do the least harm  . In this context, that would mean exchanging a huge carbon footprint for your footprints. It is about leaving your tourist dollars to do some good instead of leaving a bad impression on the locals.