The coastal town of Hoi An lies in the belly of the sea horse shaped boarder of Vietnam. The Quang Nam province, in which Hoi An is located, is one of the narrowest parts of the country. One can drive from the east coast of Vietnam to the boarder of Laos in only 4 hours (give or take a few for bogged cars or rogue cattle). To give an idea of the proximity of these countries, it is not uncommon to come across isolated communities beyond the village centre that even speak a mix of khmer, lao and vietnamese. In recent years, the untouched ‘old town’ of Hoi An has also drawn an enormous amount of interest from the tourist community. The slender cobbled streets and dusty yellow buildings meet the tastes of champagne backpackers who can enjoy the elegance of the village and its lifestyle on a tight (or not so tight) budget.
The colours of multiculturalism are painted across all corners of Hoi An village. Lunch menus list the traditional local specialty cau l’âu noodles next to frankfurts and jacket potatoes, schoolgirls in the delicate ao dai carry backpacks in the shape of Angry Birds and Psy…Surprisingly, however, there are many elements of the vietnamese tradition in Hoi An that remain fixed against the surge of travellers and their persuasive cultures.
One such tradition arrives during the week prior to the annual tet celebrations. Tet is the Vietnamese celebration of the Lunar new year that usually falls between the turn of January and February. It is a time where the people embrace colour, lights, presents and food and one of the only times in the year in Hoi An where tourists take a backseat in the lives of the locals. The streets of the old town are lined with lanterns and lavish markets from day to night. Hundreds of tailors and restaurants who spend the rest of the year trying to coax customers in, shut their doors and hold parties for friends and families, only occasionally inviting a few lucky travellers along. The air of excitement is infectious.
The greatest credit to the strength of the Vietnamese culture in Hoi An is perhaps the annual flower market which is erected in the streets in the week preceding tet. Despite the inconvenience the flower market poses to many tourists attempting to travel through Hoi An, it still arrives every year with more gusto than ever before. Early this year I was lucky enough to find myself in Hoi An for the opening of the flower market. With camera in hand, I sauntered up to the junction I had been told it would be. It is hard to describe my first impression of the markets were as I am not certain my eyes had the capacity to take in so much colour. The market-goers appeared to be swimming through small fields of roses and poppies, or else wading beneath sunflower canopies. Plants of all sizes, shapes and colours were placed on the back of motorcycles that then weaved there way around pots and stall owners to deliver their loot to a celebrating family. I spent an hour photographing what I could (some owners are superstitious, believing flowers that have been photographed will not sell) before I bought a small bunch of blood red roses off an elderly woman. For the rest of the week I would walk past the flower market and watch as little by little the flowers disappeared and the tourists came back. By the time my roses had wilted away, so too had the market and Hoi An had returned to the bustling tourist hub it is known to be. But for that short moment I had enjoyed something beautiful, like stopping to smell a flower on your way to work.