Every so often you come across a place that captures your heart. You arrive with nothing more than hollow expectations and are shocked to find yourself falling in love with a town you’ve never been to. I think that after weeks of traveling you begin seeking out comfort and familiarity, or simply just a sense of belonging. And just as you reach your breaking point you arrive in a place that cradles your emotional needs and sends you off feeling rejuvenated.
Hoi An, in central Vietnam, was this place for me. It’s everything your Lonely Planet guidebook tells you it is. It’s cheap custom suits and bike rides. It’s street markets and French architecture. But it’s also so much more than that, if you let it be.
It’s the three women selling fresh fruit on the sidewalk who ask you if you’d like to marry their sons. And when you deny, they insist that you sit and tell them about your hopes and dreams. And they smile like they understand your English, when really they just understand that you need someone to listen.
It’s the lanterns that guide your way through the colorful streets. They inspire you and delight you.
It’s the most delicious Banh My sandwich that your tongue will ever have the honor of tasting. Anthony Bordain said so and you better listen to him!
It’s the husband and wife duo who make the sandwich. Who put so much care into slicing the fresh tomato and fold the bread with glowing pride. They ask you to take pictures of them because they want to travel with you wherever you go.
It’s the street vendor who gives you a flower on Valentine’s Day because he says your smile deserves it and your heart needs it. He expects nothing in return.
But most of all, it’s the way Hoi An makes you feel. You’ve been searching for comfort and you found it. You found it in the curves of the smiling lips and in the warmth of small intertwined streets. You found it, even if only for a day.
What places have you been that stole your heart?