Becoming an Accidental Expat in Hoi An

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After a three day drive with a stop in Buon Ma Thuot and Pleiku, we arrived in Hoi An.  When I arrived here, I had no idea that it would become my home for three months.  Hoi An is a place that many backpackers get stuck. At the hostel I hung out at (and stayed in when I first arrived) I started noticing the “one more day club” – the people who kept extending their visit, missing their busses, and turning their three day stay in Hoi An to three weeks.

Handmade silk lanterns are a trademark of Hoi An.  You won't really find these anywhere else in Vietnam. I strongly regret not shipping some lanterns home.
Handmade silk lanterns are a trademark of Hoi An. You won’t really find these anywhere else in Vietnam. I strongly regret not shipping some lanterns home.

Hoi An is a bit touristy being a UNESCO World Heritage site and all. The handmade silk-lanterns adorning every shopfront are not only beautiful, but also welcoming . Its’ ancient buildings line the ports of the old trading days; all of which have been well-preserved. It’s home to An Bang beach, ranked one of the most beautiful in the world; their laid back sense of “laziness” is perfect for the worn-out traveler.  

A storm front coming from the Da Nang on An Bang beach
A storm front coming from the Da Nang on An Bang beach

 

Well-preserved French colonial architecture
Well-preserved French colonial architecture

 

Women selling fruit in Ancient Town.  (beware: they'll try to get you to take a picture of them, then they'll ask you to buy fruit for a ridiculously high price if you don't know what local price should be)
Women selling fruit in Ancient Town. (beware: they’ll try to get you to take a picture of them, then they’ll ask you to buy fruit for a ridiculously high price if you don’t know what local price should be)

I originally decided to stay for a few reasons: I had a longer visa than my friends, Alex and Grant, did; I had a friend I met in Cambodia staying here for a month; and I was feeling ready to settle in somewhere for a little while.  I had only intended to stay as long as Elle was here, but I couldn’t leave.  There were a few times where I thought I would.  Another backpacker I met in Cambodia was going to be coming through, so I thought I would leave and head north when he made it through, but I didn’t. A few weeks later I was going to have to move out of the room I was renting.  Instead of just heading north, I found another house.  

How could I leave now that I had a beautiful house on right on the rice paddies?
How could I leave now that I had a beautiful house on right on the rice paddies?

 

I was really conflicted. Now I had a family in Hoi An. The more time I spent in here, the less time I would have to see the rest of Southeast Asia.  In the end, I don’t regret staying.  I know I’ll come back to SEA and  revisit those people and some of the places I sped through the first time. Hopefully, some of these places will still hold their charm; and the difference between 2015 and 2017 will be minimal. Hoi An, on the other hand, will never be the same.  I got to form incredible relationships with locals, expats living there, and backpackers passing through that I wouldn’t trade…

This bamboo bridge was built by two local brothers when motor boats were banned. A friend of mine, Ben, who is also a local tour guide brought me and some friends out to see this.  I made Mitch drive over it- terrified I would just drive off the side.
This bamboo bridge was built by two local brothers when motor boats were banned. A friend of mine, Ben, who is also a local tour guide brought me and some friends out to see this. I made Mitch drive over it- terrified I would just drive off the side.

So this post so much about Hoi An as it is about making choices.  Everyone has different styles of traveling.  A lot of bloggers make the argument that first time backpacker’s biggest mistake is trying to see too many places in too short of a time.   Do you lose out on the heart of a city if you can’t spend an adequate amount there? – Absolutely.  BUT, I’m not going to tell you that it’s the wrong way to travel.  I prefer to spend enough time in each place to really get a feel for it’s culture and people, and, of course, do all the fun activities available to me.  My friend, Alan, who I started traveling with, likes to see as much as he can and get more of a taste of everything.  It’s whatever works for you.

 

What I am getting at here is that there is that you should just get out there and see how you like to travel.  Don’t take other people’s opinions and experiences too close to heart – this is your journey.  For me, this meant accepting that I found somewhere special to me, somewhere that felt like home, and with that…comes missing out on some other places.  The point is – just get out there – see the world – find out what makes you feel home.  

I found something special about having a place to put our keys.  This was our house and Hoi An was our home.
I found something special about having a place to put our keys. This was our house and Hoi An was our home.

 

I pretty much stopped blogging when I got to Hoi An, because everything became too personal.  I couldn’t figure out how to tell the complicated, beautiful, and sometimes sad story that was living in Hoi An.  I opened up my heart to a foreign place, and it sucked me right in.  I laughed, I loved, I lost.  I had (and still have) relationships with people that have shaped who I am as a person.  

Part of my Hoi An family
Part of my Hoi An family

I would have loved to see more places, but I wouldn’t take back staying in Hoi An for anything.  I think becoming an expat made me a more conscientious traveler.  I cared more about what the life of a local looks like; I’m more inclined to get off the backpacker trail, and I got better at learning how to be in the moment.   At the end of the day, that’s all life is – a collection of moments.  How will you spend them?

Mitch at the top of Marble Mountain
Mitch at the top of Marble Mountain

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