Imagine a morning walk that takes you along a winding path shaded by towering pines. Nestled in the woodland around you are homes with pleasant gardens, flower-filled pots and bougainvillea-draped walls.
A few minutes is all it takes to reach the low-slung dunes. You pause on top lito take in the view: 29 kilometres of brilliant, golden sands fringing warm, tropical waters. About 19 kilometres out are eight small islands, which form a biosphere reserve where you can dive on coral reefs and explore the ruins of an ancient civilisation.
Up the coast, in the distance, you can make out the modern high-rises of a big city. You could actually walk there along the beach if you desired. In front of you, a few traditional boats are pulled up on the sand. But the one thing you don’t see is other people…the beach is entirely yours for your morning swim.
This is Hoi An in Vietnam and it really is a special place. It’s home to the most breathtaking stretch of beach I saw in this whole region, and the old town core has immaculately preserved architecture from its time as an important port, from the 15th to 19th centuries.
Tourists flock to see the honey-coloured, timber-framed buildings, and to pick out the Japanese, Chinese and European influences. But the old town is not where the slow trickle of expats has settled. Rather, the 300 or so foreigners living here are in neighbourhoods where you’ll find the beach scene I describe.
Right now, for example, just a few minutes back from the beach, you’ll find a two-bedroom house with a small garden, air conditioning and a Western-style kitchen. It’s nicely furnished, and there’s a flat-screen TV and WiFi. Both bedrooms have an en-suite. Living here, you’re close to the local market, where a kilo of fresh scallops is just $2.50 and you can load up on delicious mangoes or other exotic fruits.
This home is yours to rent for just $570 a month and is typical of the value you can find here.
In fact, a couple can live well on $1,200 or less a month, including rent and eating out daily. You can shop in one of the most colourful local markets I visited…or, if you’re feeling lazy, order a free delivery from the Canadian- and Australian-run deli nearby. They specialise in international foods and tastes of home. The French colonialists left a legacy of fresh baguettes and strong coffee here, too, and the tourist scene means you’ll find a good range of restaurants and bars.
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