Xin chào quý khách*…. unless this is the first time you’re reading my blog or you’ve had your head buried in the sand during the last few weeks I think you’ll probably be aware that I’ve recently been to Vietnam with my family on a trip that practically took on pilgrimage proportions as JF and I returned to the country where we met more than 20 years ago. With so much anticipation and so many emotions churning through our veins the fear was it might not live up to our expectations or the country might have changed so much that we’d feel disappointed, disoriented or deceived, but I’m delighted to report that it was a total success on all levels. I have thousands of photos to sort through and equally as many words to process before I can really do justice to such an incredible journey but I wanted to get something down on paper sooner rather than later, and had to start somewhere, so what better than the place that stole all our hearts. Hoi An.
Hoi An, a small city right in the centre of Vietnam, left me almost speechless! It’s a place I didn’t really know having only visited briefly once in 1993 but I’d heard so much about. And the reason I’m almost lost for words? Its exquisite beauty. And laid back ambience. Vietnam is such a frenetic place with so much energy at times it’s exhausting, that the calm of Hoi An came as a very welcome surprise. That’s not to say the town is sleepy, far from it, it has all the buzz of other Vietnamese cities with street sellers, markets, galleries and tailors (plenty of them) but the centre is pedestrianised which changes everything! Only having to contend with bicycles and the occasional law-breaking motorbike while moseying around made sightseeing, shopping and general exploring a real pleasure. Add to this thousands and thousands of lanterns strung across the streets and on every beautiful traditional building and the result is something unique and very special.
Hoi An is a cultural melting pot of Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and French influences and the architecture reflects this unique history. UNESCO designated it a World Heritage site in 1999 which has resulted in strict laws regulating the height of buildings, colour of the facades etc. While almost all buildings that aren’t pagodas house art galleries, shops and restaurants, the name signs are all low-key hand painted and sympathetically designed while the products being sold are for the most part attractive local souvenirs and lanterns. In the old town you won’t see garish neon hoardings advertising “Made in Vietnam” knock-offs/seconds but instead every building is painted in mustard yellow and retains its traditional features. At night when the lanterns are lit it takes on an ethereal beauty the likes of which I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world.
I’ll write about what we actually did in Hoi An in another post but for now I’ll leave you with a selection of photos that I hope give you a feel for this gorgeous, authentic, ancient riverside port.
There are lovely shady streets with scented flowering trees, palm trees, bougainvillea and other flowering creepers (and elegant tourists) everywhere.
The town is dotted with Chinese Assembly Halls from different regions in China.
You can see the French influence in these elegant buildings.
The night market stretches out away from the protected central zone, so you can see taller buildings here. There are plenty of delicious street food stalls in the market.
The choice of lanterns for sale is enormous….and if you look carefully you might even spot a marrying couple having wedding photos taken!
Inside the Chinese assembly halls and pagodas there are dragons and other mythical beasts and incense offerings for good fortune, even from foreign visitors.
The food scene in Hoi An is incredible, with everything from simple street stalls and ambulant sellers, to backpacker cafés, local joints, trendy coffee shops that wouldn’t look out of place in Melbourne or London and classy restaurants with European prices.
The Thu Bon river is alive with tourist boats, traditional fishing boats and rowing boats for romantic sorties to release floating lanterns.
Night time in Hoi An really is magical. My photos don’t do it justice.
The interiors of the old wooden buildings are beautiful too. Below is the 16th century Japanese Covered Bridge (which can be seen in full in the first photo in this post and at night here).
Hoi An is considered to have the best tailoring in Vietnam and the very best food too. Together with all that I’ve shown you and tranquil streets like these below where you can explore until you are happily lost, is it any wonder I think it might just be the best place in Vietnam?
This is as busy as we saw the old centre of Hoi An.
What do you think? Have you been to Hoi An? Would you like to go?
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