Aug 14 2013
We’ve been hearing some disturbing stories from late night revellers caught off guard that suggest Hoi An is not the safe place it once was, with motorbike taxi gangs and bar-owning chancers taking advantage of the drunk and confused.
Until recently, if you were looking for a misspent night dancing on the pool table till breakfast in Hoi An you’d be heading for Kong’s Happy Why Not Bar on the outskirts of the old town. Fast forward a few years and boom! Hoi An has embraced the backpacker late night scene, loosening its belt on midnight curfews for bars outside the pedestrianised zone. The originally named Backpackers, Good and Cheap and Meet Market Bars over on An Hoi have teamed up with Ba Trieu’s Volcano Club and are beginning to shatter Hoi An’s sleepy little market town reputation.
While Kong’s Why Not drivers boast of a ‘bad boy’ reputation, on the whole you can trust them to get you back to your guesthouse in one piece, although maybe a little lighter in wallet than strictly necessary. With the new bars, there are new xe om drivers and new turf wars, and driving drunk 20 somethings around town at 02:00 in the morning ain’t a job for nice kids who can’t hold their ground when they are faced with trouble. These xe om drivers work in gangs and are quite likely to be in possession of some form of defensive weapon, which is not good news if you are a mouthy drunk with a short fuse.
We all know the rules for staying safe on a night out. Look out for each other, don’t leave drinks unattended, don’t accept sweets from strangers and don’t take abandoned kittens home in your handbag… Most of this is common sense that you would apply anywhere. But there are a few additional, Hoi An-specific tips we’d suggest also keeping in mind.
Hoi An is not Saigon and it’s not Hanoi. Tourism is relatively new, people here mainly live off the land and the most influential fashion movement to hit the streets is the two-piece pyjama set. Strolling around day or night with flesh-flashing outfits — guys or girls — is not going to give you much respect.
Leave your key at your hotel
Most hotels in Hoi An go into lock down shortly after 22:00 unless there is evidence that all the guests have not retired for the night. If your key is still there, the night watchman will usually not lock up completely until you are safely tucked up in bed. This means if you are in any kind of trouble outside your hotel, you will be able to alert him quickly and get inside.
Plan your exit
Make sure you know exactly how you are going to get back to your hotel and who with before you get carried away. If plans change make sure everyone in your party is aware. If you are bailing out early or on your own then get the bar to arrange you a metered taxi directly to your hotel.
Don’t do bar tabs!
If you are unlikely to remember how much booze you have ploughed through then your end of night bill is never going to be pleasant. We always used to wonder how the Vietnamese bar staff were so fluent in English when it came to paying, and it’s because this conversation is practised every night, about 40 times, and not always because they are cheating you. Pay as you go and if the bar is offering an all-you-can-drink deal, establish what’s included and pay up front.
You may have just been in a club for four hours and suffering from perforated ear drums, but once you’ve closed the door and you’re outside, do keep it down. For most Vietnamese, it’s lights out at 20:00. Noise has a habit of attracting trouble – you is disrespecting the neighbourhood. Innit?
If a situation is brewing, remove yourself from it, even if it’s one of your group. If you feel compelled to get involved, go and get help from someone who can call the police. Situations can quickly escalate and a simple communication error can trigger a cultural misunderstanding of epic proportions and conclusions, especially where drink is involved. Don’t try to be the hero.
Be vigilant, wear a helmet, agree the price before you get on, and don’t travel alone. If they are asking anything over 50,000 VND each, get someone to call you a taxi, as it’s not going to cost much more than 120,000 VND if your hotel is in Hoi An. If you do find yourself in trouble with a xe om driver, try to control the situation till you get to your hotel and shout for the night watchman to help with negotiating the situation back to safe ground.
If something bad does happen, report it to the police. Your hotel should be able to help with translation. Not only will this deter the culprit from repeating their behaviour and highlight the need for a crackdown, it will protect you from a repeat performance later, especially if the perpetrator feels the situation ended with him feeling cheated.
Compared with countries like Thailand, Hoi An is still an incredibly safe place, so long as you have your wits about you. But if all that potent, cheap bia hoi has made you a bit wobbly on your feet, treat yourself to some water before you go home. It might just help you get through more than tomorrow’s hangover.
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