If you have never heard of Hoi An
, this is a big loss I am here to fix. In my travels through Vietnam, this one special city has deeply touched my soul by its unique history and inimitable atmosphere.
In the next few lines, I will do my best to put in words the emotions felt during my visit and share my experience.
Hoi An is the product of a combination of both ethnic and foreign cultures. Due to its favourable location near the sea, it used to be one of the most important trading ports in South-East Asia. The bustling trade centre attracted business from across the globe, merchants decided to settle in Hoi An and we can nowadays witness the results of this foreign influence in the Japanese and Chinese quarters in terms of architecture. France also sent many missionaries, it is said that the edition of the Vietnamese alphabet ‘Quốc ngữ’ used today, was completed by a French priest, Alexandre de Rhodes, when staying in Hoi An.
Its rich cultural history gives Hoi An a unique position in Vietnam, especially because it has been so well-preserved despite several wars. No wonder the old town was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999.
Wandering around the Old Town is very satisfying. First the area is mainly closed to vehicles, only bicycles are allowed which makes it more relaxing not to hear the constant sound of horns or look over your shoulder every minute. Every shop you will cross offer crafted items such as leather goods, silk and of course the distinctive lanterns.
The city is covered by hundreds of lanterns of all shapes and colours. The trees, the shops, the restaurants, everywhere you turn you will see them bringing such a colourful and joyous touch to this special place. The best part is at sun down when all the lanterns light up to offer the most spectacular atmosphere. Any heart would melt with such beauty!
The houses and shops certainly do not require this additional touch, they already look stunning by themselves. Some houses follow the lines of Chinese architecture with a lot of engraved wood and revolving doors. Even classic ready-to-wear shops seem not so classic anymore. The magic worked quite instantly, and I felt enchanted from day one.
You will be surprised to see the number of temples you can walk by on one street. Fees are involved for each visit but you can buy a pass with 5 tickets at Hoi An’s Information Centre, and then pick 5 visits of your choosing in the list.
At night, as the shops start closing along the main street, the activities move on to the river. On both banks there are dozens of restaurants, cafés or pubs, all with different coloured lanterns, welcoming you with smiles and good-smelling food.
On one side there is the night market. I am not an expert when it comes to cultured pearls, so as I was reviewing the impressively large stall covered with jewellery, I wondered how to distinguish a fake pearl from a real one. Well the answer came by itself in the shape of a little woman who took a lighter and hold it under a necklace. As the pearl remained unburned, she told me this was proof of its quality. The story ends with an impressed traveller buying two necklaces and ear studs (yes it was me).
In addition, barely 15 minutes away on a bicycle, you can find some of the most beautiful beaches of the country. Smooth white sand and great weather to combine entertainment in the city and leisure at the beach. A complete package offer!
This resumes my experience in Hoi An
. This city is a one-of-a-kind jewel, colourful and original, perfectly adapted to an international clientele yet respecting its multi-cultural heritage. An absolutely must-see during your stay in Vietnam!