Saturday, January 16 2010 | Travel

Dos and Don’ts in Hoi An, Vietnam.


Here are a few things not to miss on your trip to Hoi An.

  1. Take a lazy boat ride on the river.  Catch any tourist boat from Bach Dang St, there is a size and price to suit every budget and persuasion, shop around.
  2. Red Bridge Cooking School.  One of the most professional activities I have taken part in in Vietnam.  And we made fabulous tasting local food ourselves – lots of fun and well worth the seemingly expensive $25 price tag.  Forgo breakfast, there’s LOTS of food – and they cater to vegetarians!
  3. Pick up a copy of the little Live Hoi An booklet, a lovely monthly tiny magazine about Hoi An.  Lots more ideas of current things to do, bike rides out of town and the like.
  4. Look out for the Full Moon Festival, once every month.  Take a boat (70,000VND) down the river at night and float a lantern on the water and watch thousands of candles making their way out to sea.
  5. Also, keep an eye open for the once-a-year Dragon Festival.  When it’s on, you will know about it – drums beat every day for a week while the children practice for the big night.  Trucks of performers come in from surrounding towns to display their dragons and dancing on 10-foot high poles.

What to definitely NOT do.

Do not visit any orphanages in Vietnam (or any other county for that matter) with a tour group or as a tourist to have your photo taken with a disabled orphan.  Really, just think about the dignity of the person you are encroaching on before you join your tour group in going.

If you have a skill (English teaching, social worker, fund raiser, physical therapist etc) then scout out a local charity organization.  In Hoi An, if you would like to donate or volunteer your services to help orphaned or disabled children, contact the Kianh Foundation.

Do not purchase items from child street sellers.  The children sell whistles, bracelets, necklaces and other small ticket items.  They will usually tell you if you buy something from them they can afford to go to school.

Just so you know, there is a free school run by Lifestart Foundation that all of these children could attend, starting today, but their parents choose for them to work on the streets selling bric-a-brac to gullible tourists.  The children earn a huge living, even just selling two or three items a night, often meaning their whole family can live off the child who sells the most.

Want to really help these kids?  Donate to Lifestart Foundation education programs.  Slowly but surely most of these kids are gaining scholarships to school or places in the free school which caters to children who can no longer enter the government school system.

So then, can you buy from adult street sellers selling the same items or newspapers?  Sure, but just don’t get sucked in to the story.  The main income for these sellers is not the immediate sale of a newspaper or necklace to you, but the sale of a story typically about a health condition, their poverty or another family members problem which will undoubtedly take a lot of (your) money to fix.   I have seen so many tourists lured into these stories, some even opening bank accounts and providing monthly deposits of money.

It is hard not to want to help everyone, our ego often takes over when we see people less fortunate than ourselves.  We think it’s so easy for us to dip into our pocket and hand over a little of our cash which we think will make a huge impact on someone else’s life, so why not?  It’s only $5, $10, $50 – so what?  But there are larger social implications when you take part in this ad-hoc, ego-inflating form of generosity that need to be considered.

Hoi An has to be the most over supported town in Vietnam.  There are so many NGOs and charities here to help the disadvantaged, I can’t even count them all!  Every person in this town with a story, with a health issue is very well aware of the charities that exist here and that they can easily access free medical care, education for their children, training opportunities and support for disabled relatives.

If you feel so desired, the best way to help people in need in this town is to connect them with the relevant charity or NGO.  They will then be taken through the relevant process of assessment and will be given appropriate assistance for their needs.

Please think before you open your wallet (or bank account!) about the wider ramifications of your actions.

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6 Responses to Dos and Don’ts in Hoi An, Vietnam.

  1. Pingback: Jade Leonard » Blog Archive » The Definitive Guide to Hoi An, Vietnam.

  2. Jacinta says:

    interesting, i visited hoi an last year and must have bought 4 of those little clay whistles, thanks for giving us the insight thats so hard to find over the internet. We probably all know deep down these kids are pulling the wool over our eyes but we love thinking we are helping out even though this lovely gentle people are not as innocent as we think!

  3. jadeleonard says:

    It’s a tricky situation Jacinta. Somehow we need to educate travelers beyond the ‘don’t give to beggar children’ warnings in travel guides. Especially in towns like Hoi An that ARE so well supported by international NGOs covering all areas of education, health, housing, employment and general aid for poverty stricken families. I would probably write from a different point of view if I were in a city with no government or foreign aid for it’s citizens.

  4. Mike Everest says:

    WE bought whistles and cards from an illiterate 12 year old boy, then we got him a private teacher to teach him to read and write Vietnamese. After1 year we brought him to England for summer each year for 3 years. Having spent 2 weeks at a local school, just for fun, something clicked. The next year he did’nt want to come, ‘unless he could get a job or go to school’. Eventually I found a college that would take him and enrolled him in a ESOL course for 6 months. He came top of his class and asked to do another one. He returned to Hoi an after1 yearwith ESOL2 and is now learning to be a tour guide. Cost me a fortune, but the best thing I’ve ever done.Sso I don’t totally agree with all the above comments, Maybe we were lucky and chose the right kid

  5. Torey says:

    Stop being so cynical and self righteous – there is absolutely nothing wrong with buying things off the kids, or their families for that matter. I’m so sick of people like you who think that giving a little extra is a “feel good ego trip” and your comments on the social implications this has on the Vietnamese people is absolutely ridiculous. No doubt you are one of those tacky tourists who barter your heart out to get a good deal – I bet that gives you an ego boost to add to your bucket of bullshit.

  6. jadeleonard says:

    Hey Torey,
    Well that was a reasonably unpleasant way to start my weekend. But thank you for your venting honesty. As someone who has lived, worked, volunteered in and travelled to Vietnam over a dozen times in as many years, I can tell you that you make a lot of assumptions about me in your response, though you are entitled to your opinion, as am I. Perhaps you have more experience in social and economic development and change and NGOs in developing countries than I do and perhaps have more to offer on this topic. I’m fascinated to hear about your experience and the depth of your understanding about the implications of tourism on people in countries such as Vietnam.
    I hope you have a wonderful week. Cheers, Jade.

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