Friday, September 9, 2011

Hoi An - An Unexpected Highlight

Hoi An is the reason we travel the way we do.  It is the reason that for almost two full months, we rarely planned our time more than one day in advance.  It is the reason all we carried was a photocopied guide book, two empty calendars and one trusty mechanical pencil that helped us to fill in the boxes as we traveled north, east, south and west.  Without expecting it, these calendars became some of our most valuable possessions.  Not because we would have been lost without them, but because they were a constant reminder that we were 100% unscheduled, unplanned and absolutely free for an entire summer.  It wasn't until I started looking at these calendars, (where the only days that were filled in were the ones in my past) that I realized just how much of my daily life is dedicated to looking at calendars where the weeks ahead are already full.  This is a habit I now hope to break.  Nothing feels more freeing than recognizing the true potential of your future, and trust me when I say, the feeling is almost addictive.  It was not uncommon for us to take out our calendars over long bus trips, just to look at them because we knew doing so would make us giggle like nothing else. Unfolding those homemade papers gave us goosebumps, staring at the blank boxes gave us freedom and reading what we had filled in gave us pride and gratitude.  Now, as I read over them with nostalgic eyes, different places stand out for different reasons, and Hoi An is a place that resonates with me today.  Hoi An is one of those special places that we probably would have missed had we chosen to plan out our trip before hand.  But because the road before us was blank, we made the last minute decision to stop there and make it our home for a few days.  (Thank you Peter).  While we didn't do much while we were there, we did exactly as we pleased, and life was good.  We soaked in the culture of the Marble Mountains.  We spent two full days submerged in a swimming pool.  We drank fresh beer by the glass at sunset.  We strolled through the markets and haggled for fruit.  We walked aimlessly down the cobblestone streets and lantern lit bridges.  We met amazingly worldly people. We shared delicious food and insightful conversations.  We  enjoyed our time with them immensely.  Our eyes were open to the world around us and all the while we were fully conscious of the fact that everything we were experiencing could not have happened if we weren't open to it in the first place.  All of this was the direct result of a blank piece of paper.  Literally, it was all thanks to nothing.

This was our first sleeper bus experience in Southeast Asia.  We took this bus to Hoi An from Hanoi.  An interesting experience to say the least.  We slept in these little sleeper pods all night and they were very comfortable.  Despite the fact that we had to negotiate for our seats hardcore, this was the best sleeper bus experience we had our whole trip. 
Fresh beer, no preservatives, and 20 cents a glass.  Amazing.
The hotel we stayed in was amazing.  Rooms here were as cheap as $12 total.  Needless to say, we couldn't have been happier (or any cooler for that matter - it was so hot)!

The Marble Mountains

A very happy Buddha (Andy's favorite).

This view of this chamber as you walk in is absolutely breathtaking.
  It was not what we expected.  

The spiritual nature of this chamber is undeniable.  The buddha within was not the largest we had seen, but it was the most powerful one we encountered.  We spent a long time just sitting on a bench inside this chamber simply in awe of the Buddha's vast presence.  Everyone around us was praying.  It was a very peaceful experience.
One night we met up with our friends, Lenny, Liz and Jack.  We went out for dinner at this restaurant by the river where the owner serves a notorious 6 course meal and all the customer can specify is if they want meat, fish or vegetable.  It was one of the most expensive meals I think any of us had while traveling (costing almost $10 each), but it was definitely a meal worth splurging on and we had a wonderful time sharing our stories and getting to know each other.  
We enjoyed our dinner so much we ended up staying until closing time.  The owner had to kick us out, but even while doing so, he was in such high spirits,  he even had time to pose for a picture.
Jack took this photo of Me and Andy while we drank beers on the sidewalk outside a bar.  To get there we rode motorbikes in the middle of the night through the shut down streets of Hoi An (one of my favorite memories still).  When we arrived, we decided to take matters into our own hands and make our own outdoor seating area.  We laughed on the empty streets and took a series of unposed pictures. Everything was perfect.


LAura said...

The smiling Buddha is my favorite too...hehe!

sabzii said...

loved this.

Francis Bubbleworth said...

Calendars are fun to throw away. Andy could your dad have ever imagined back in the day that he would have a kid going to 'Nam for a vacation?