Vietnam – Part 3 of 7 – Hoi An

Longing to travel in Vietnam?  This 7 part series, which travels from Hanoi in the north to the Mekong Delta in the south, will entice you to experience Vietnam’s vibrancy and beauty; meet its resilient and hospitable people and marvel at their ability to blend calm serenity with seeming chaos … and make it all work.

Old Town

Hoi An old town

In the 16th century, Hoi An grew from a small fishing village into a flourishing sea port which attracted merchants as far away as Japan, India, Indonesia and Europe who purchased the area’s silk, spices and porcelain.

By the late 19th century, the bay had silted up enough to stop big ships from easily loading their cargos. Hoi An once again fell quiet. Bad news for the then residents and their offspring who left but good news for the families who stayed until a road was put through from Da Nang. The forgotten treasure of Hoi An became valued for its seaside beauty and heritage buildings. Old Town Hoi An, with its tile roofed shops/houses, shady pagodas and colourful communal hall, became a World Heritage Site; a living museum.

Japanese Covered Bridge (Old Town)

Hoi An Covered Bridge

When Hoi An was a flourishing sea port it had a Japanese district and a Chinese district (later to be joined by a French district). The official symbol of Hoi An, and one of its most visited sites, is the covered bridge first built in the 1590s by the Japanese community as a physical link to the Chinese across the stream. Through years of rebuilding and restoration, its appearance has remained relatively faithful to the original design. Like other covered bridges in Asia the bridge was constructed with a roof to provide shelter from both rain and sun. The bridge was named in 1719 and 3 Chinese characters placed above the opening read “Bridge for passengers from afar”; its welcome is still true today.

Dip Into An Old Temple

Hoi An Old Town Temple

For the majority of visitors to Asia, stopping at temples is a way to appreciate Vietnam’s diversity of religions and better absorb local culture and history; some of the reasons you have travelled so far. Temples also provide a chance to step away from the heat, chaos and commercialism of travelling; a chance to quiet the mind, if only for a few minutes. Each temple is unique; this one (above photos) in Hoi An’s Old Town honours the deity which watches over those who go to sea. Although not required, a small donation (money or piece of fruit) is always appreciated.

See More In Stores (Old Town)

Hoi An shops

When shopping in Old Town, see more than the goods on racks and shelves; look at the building itself, for they tell much about living in Hoi An before modern amenities. Made almost entirely of wood, shops were (and many still are) also homes. On the main floor at the front of the building was the business end of things; a small courtyard connects the front and rear; behind the building was a kitchen allowing generations of family to live close together while maintaining privacy. Look through a doorway, you will see other openings aligned from front to back; maximizing airflow. Look across the street; you may see those shop doors are aligned as well to better increase air circulation right across the street benefitting all. It is fascinating to realize these structures were built by Chinese against the principles of feng shui but clearly with comfort in mind.

Look up. There is an open area between floors. The second floor rooms open to a balcony encircling the opening.  Old Town Hoi An is no stranger to flooding; often with little warning. Shop owners could quickly save their merchandise by passing it up through the opening to the safety of the upper floor.

Silks

Hoi An Silk Shop

Silks, along with spices and porcelain, made Hoi An’s seaport famous. Today silk still draws foreigners to shops. To satisfy today’s ‘only-here-one-night- shoppers’, not all of Hoi An’s cloth shops (there are about 400) live up to the quality standards of ‘tailor-made’ or ‘customer satisfaction’ of decades past. Unless you have done your homework before arriving in Hoi An, it may be more satisfying to buy ‘off the rack’ and flat-goods (scarves, etc.). A few custom shops entice shoppers through the doors by providing demonstrations on the process of making silk material: from the raising of silkworms, to the cocoons and harvesting. Tourists should be aware, everyone in Hoi An (from guides and hotel receptionists to locals on the street) is connected to the commission-based silk trade in Hoi An … even some folks writing internet reviews.

Hoi An Beaches

Hoi An Bang Beach

Cua Dai Beach with its white sand stretches for several kilometers passed beach resorts, bars and seafood eateries and is where most Hoi An tourists dip their toes into the East Vietnam Sea. Its calm waters attract swimmers and those who enjoy jet skiing, wind surfing and kayaking.   From here you can go by boat to the eight Cham Islands for scuba diving and snorkeling.

In the summer locals cool off at An Bang Beach (pictured) whose tree-fringed soft sands edge down passed palm-frond umbrellas to sweet sounding surf. Those fleeing from crowds of tourists might find the beach a more serene spot in the less popular spring months.

For surfing and other water sports, enthusiast may prefer the better known Non Nuoc Beach which is renowned for its emerald green waters and nearby hiking in the Marble Mountains.

Hotels in Hoi An

Hoi An Hotel

For Western and European travelers, finishing the day off in a hotel which closer reflects home is not a bad thing. It allows the body and mind to return to ‘normal’. After a wonderful day of visual, physical and taste stimulation these sanctuaries provide needed rest for another full day tomorrow. The continuing appeal of Hoi An to travelers assures competition in hotel accommodations. This generally means a good selection and reasonably high standards, however, do your homework, particularly if you are travelling independently, and do not always assume price indicates value.

Old town At Night

Hoi An, Vietnam

If you are not ready to call it a day Hoi An continues after dark. Old Town glows with quiet restaurants and shop lights while you might hear music drifting on the cooling breezes. Well-wishers and remembrances float with candles down the Thu Bon River and a ‘thousand’ silk lanterns light the island of An Hoi urging you to cross the bridge to a lively night market which sells just about anything from famous Hoi An silk lanterns, trinkets and fans to fast foods, sangria and beer. Just be aware the lights go out in old town at 21:00.

Beyond Old Town a more boisterous night life may be found behind closed doors of city bars, however, residents call it a night about 20:00 and being disrespectfully boisterous between bar and hotel could invite regrettable attention.

Wait – there’s more! Next is Vietnam – Part 4 – Hue!

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