Since it’s been a few years since I visited Vietnam, it was a must on my list to return to the magical town of Hoi An. I recall it only took me one evening to fall in love with the old town. My first night here in 2010 I was walking around at dusk, and I remember taking a mental picture in my head to try and capture the contentment I felt to be in such a gem. It’s my second my time in Hoi An and it’s as charming as I remembered.
So what is it about the allure of this town? Only taking ten minutes to reach down town, in an instant alleys and buildings, bridges and rivers, merged into a black canvas until the soft glow of candlelit lanterns begin to illuminate their surroundings. Imagine a city so well preserved that it had not been devastated by the war and a port town with a history as colourful as the French influenced buildings that are its heart and soul.
Narrow alleys connect the streets and it’s this closeness that creates an intimacy that is captivating. The perfect place for the hopeless romantics in all of us! As you wander through these magical streets, surrounded in the yellow and turquoise buildings with shingled roofs and wooden shutters, you can almost feel the presence of the multi-cultural characters that would have made this town their home so long, long ago. It’s said that the merchants that traded in the port of Hoi An included Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Indian.. the list is endless!
If only these crumbling and decaying walls could speak! At night Hoi An’s famous wooden Japanese bridge illuminates in different colors. Passers over the bridge hear an old legend about an underground dragon stretching from India to Japan caused earthquakes by lashing out when in a really bad mood.The Japanese solved the problem in the 16th century by building a bridge in Hoi An, thereby stabbing it in the heart.
Apart from it’s historical charm, Hoi An is also a bustling market centre with handicrafts like the famous silk lanterns that glow like gems when lit, good wood-carving and the inevitable fake antiques. Tailoring is famous here, and in shops along Nguyen Thai Hoc Street we see small children running around small tables fitted with sewing machines while clothing proprietors take time off from their noodle lunches in a bid for custom.
As a contrast to haute couture, experiencing Hoi An’s Central Market is a must see. Early mornings are given over entirely to fish and the pace is hectic as boats moor at the dock to disgorge their catches. Savvy vendors and housewives elbow each other out of the way to get the freshest buys and laden trolleys flash by to stock the stalls waiting inside the covered market. When we go back later in the day, the market has undergone a personality change and only things you can see are tonnes of fruit and vegetables- the fish have completely disappeared.
The cuisine here is so unworldly that I ate so much as I knew I wouldn’t get Vietnamese food this good in a long while. I dined on mouthwatering local specialties: crispy pancakes wrapped in rice paper smothered with fresh herbs, and incredibly delicious shrimp dumplings pinched into a perfect white rose. I spent my time strolling the charming streets watching tailors try to attract passers, and I quite enjoyed the smell of buffalo leather escaping from the leather stores. I was so glad to return to this place and revisit the history. Hoi An is one of the prettiest places I’ve found myself, and one that I would go back to in a heartbeat.
And … That is the allure of Hoi An – delightful, warm and unforgettable.
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