THE OLD TOWN OF HOI AN IS BEST BY NIGHT
Hoi An was an important trading port from the 15th to the 19th centuries and has had a major harbour since the 1st century. The town’s past has lent it a multicultural, cosmopolitan air which persists to this day thanks to the millions of tourists that flock here from as far afield as China, Korea, Japan, the USA, Europe, and Australia. Another legacy of Hoi An’s merchant past is its gorgeous architecture and history, which we soaked up with glee today. The city was even more beautiful by night, with multicoloured lanterns strung across every street and the river alive with people (tourists and locals alike) out for an evening stroll.
Given how hot and humid it can be here we were keen to start our sightseeing early; by 7:30am, therefore, so were already on the streets of Hoi An’s old town. Walking through the streets at that early hour was magical – there were hardly any one around and the lighting was surreal.
Strolling through the streets we saw elderly Vietnamese people going out for their morning walk; women out in the river harvesting morning glory*; and fishermen returning from their morning forays into the river delta.
*Variously known as morning glory, swamp cabbage, and river spinach, this green vegetable grows in watery environs and tastes great. It’s just important to note that this humble vegetable can exert a rather powerful laxative effect. Morning glory no kidding!
We wandered aimlessly for a while, losing ourselves amongst the weathered French colonial buildings and stopping for lots of photos along the way. Being a Sunday things were slow to get started, but gradually people began to emerge from their homes and shops started to open.
Once things were open we ventured in to see the Quan Thang Old House. Like the Ty Kan Old House we saw yesterday, this traditional wooden house is owned by a family whose ancestors were wealthy merchants (the family still lives in the house but very generously open the front rooms to visitors).
The house is 300 years old and is very impressive, with detailed decorative carvings everywhere: on the beams, the roof, shutters, and even on the rafters. Many of the antique furnishings and homewares were also on display, adding to the home’s sense of history and prestige.
Not far from the Quan Thang Old House was the Museum of Folk Culture, a small museum dedicated to showcasing how the people of Hoi An would have lived and worked centuries ago. There were wooden threshers, shovels, ploughs, and fishing nets on display, with descriptions on how farmers and fishermen would have used them day-to-day.
There were also some great artefacts showcasing how silk weavers would have once worked to create the soft cloth Far East Asia is famous for. The traditional Vietnamese musical instrument display was also really interesting.
Our final historical site for the morning was Fujian temple, a simple place of worship dating back to 1690 and dedicated to Thien Hau – the goddess of sea who protects sailors from danger.
After a bit more strolling around we stopped at a local coffee shop for a morning caffeine hit, before continuing on to explore a bit more of the old town.
By the time it was lunch time we were hot and just about worn out. Lucky for us we weren’t far a little local place we had been recommended to try. Ho Lo Quan is a small, family-run place tucked down a side street, away from the main touristy parts of Hoi An and it is great! Despite the unassuming décor, the food was great – tasty, fresh, and delicious. Just how we like it!
Cooling down was a breeze at our AWESOME hotel* as we have a wonderful air-conditioned room and there’s a lovely little pool downstairs too. That’s where we spent the afternoon actually, lazing by/in the pool. Quite a nice way to spend a few hours really…
*All our hotels in Vietnam have, to this point, been incredibly comfortable and quite luxurious – especially compared to the simple guesthouses we stayed in around Laos.
The rumbling of our bellies eventually forced us away from the pool and back out into the streets. After dinner we spent our evening strolling back through the same streets we saw earlier, mesmerised by their transformation.
There were lanterns lit along every street and hundreds of people were gathered along the riverfront, enjoying the cool night air.
Along the river bank tiny little old ladies were selling candles in tiny paper rafts that you could buy and release into the river for good luck.
All in all our 2 days in Hoi An have been very relaxing – there’s not a huge amount to do here, but it’s such a lovely town that just being here has been great. The (relative) peace and quiet of Hoi An has been wonderful too – especially as we’re flying to Ho Chi Minh City (i.e. Saigon) tomorrow, where the honking of horns and chaos of Vietnamese city life will no doubt feel overwhelming by comparison!