Darkness fell when I arrived in Vietnam’s Lantern City, Hoi An. Riding a rickety bicycle I rented from my hotel I headed to Hoi An’s downtown area for the very first time. I smiled with excitement as I was finally here to see what the hype was all about.
My eyes looked in every direction seeing the pedestrian streets sparkling in a display of colorful lights. I weaved in and out of the big and small alleyways of the town, each unique and colored by the lanterns hung above from wall to wall. In such glistening atmosphere, hearing the echo of traditional folk songs, seeing endless lanterns decorated outside ancient houses, convinced me that I was wandering in a Vietnamese fairy tale.
The riverbank was a spectacular sight brought to life by the backlight from the Hoi An Night Market scene in the distance. The plumes of photo taking tourists and bobbing junk boats and punting canoes filled with people drifting gently like the Venice gondolas. The river banks are lined with lantern sellers, pop up street food cafes, souvenir stalls and ancient game playing locals unphased by passersby.
The calls of hawkers are temporarily subdued when I turn my head to see people igniting tealights, adding a touch of cosmic twinkle to the heart of this enchanting little town.
Hoi An translates to “Peaceful meeting place” is exceptionally well-preserved trading port dating back from the 15th century.
Buildings and streets reflect a unique blend of influences, indigenous (Cham) and French, while a prominent “Japanese Bridge” in the old town lures all kinds of travelers.
The Old town is decorated in what looks like Christmas lights.
The Japanese Landmark is an 18th-century wooden bridge featuring elaborate carvings & a pedestrian passageway.
Walking to Hoi An Central Market
The walk to The Central Market
I had heard travelers at my hotel raving about how mouth watering the local food was at The Central Market. I’m a sucker for Vietnamese food, even talking about it gets me salivating.
The morning walk to The Central Market can be described as the most prolonged and distracted journey to the supermarket.
Women in traditional conical hats and street vendors filled the multitude of small stalls. The verdant vegetables and fragrant smells of fruits spoke to me.
The lady behind the stall of fresh mangoes stared at me with a smile and offering “One mango 2 dollars” I raised my eyebrows thinking I could get this cheaper in my home country or even in Hanoi! Eventually seeing the Market entrance, I sighed with relief escaping all the awkward looks from annoyed vendors whom I did not buy from.
The market entrance was a familiar scene like the traffic in Hanoi except I was in it. Market goers, food group tours en masse and vendors pushed through the entrance while I could feel slight pain on my toes being trampled on by many feet.
Annoyed and hearing my stomach growling, I scanned the market for food stalls and seeing a side entrance too late had me feeling stupid.
Finding myself deep into the market, my senses were assaulted by fish smells, visuals, and noises of all sorts. Live ducks and chickens tied together were made ready for sale and the sounds of knives sharpening could be heard in every corner.
Food stalls to Fresh fruit and vegetables
I was in a photographers paradise. Action, great lighting and an endless supply of interesting subjects. Although the fish smell was thick, I could feel myself about to gag before taking my camera out.
My eyes focused on the ground, to avoid stepping on the buckets of stinky fish and the baskets of cabbage on the side. I didn’t see her coming. I feel a light tap on my shoulder and quickly turn around. A young Vietnamese woman seemingly in her 30’s greeted me with a smile. ” Sorry, madam. What are you looking for?”
She takes me to a food stall labeled in a Bold font that advertises ” Pho” ” Banh Cuon” and “Cau Lao” and we take a seat on a plastic stall as I wait excitedly for a steamy chicken broth with fresh herbs and delicate layers of rice rolls.
“Was the food good?” the woman says touching her bright silky scarf. I reply with a smile and thank her for taking me here. The vendor hands me a glass of black iced coffee, and unaware that I could understand Vietnamese, asks the woman if I was the “first catch of the day.”
I remembered what the hotel receptionist had warned me about earlier this morning. Hoi An is famous for its population dense tailors, ready to whip up clothes for you in 24 hours. The tailors at The Central market are known for following foreigners, and their friendly smiles leading them to their own cloth shop. And the fates of these foreign prey? Hours of haggling and empty wallets. For me it was finding an escape route.
The Hoi An fish market is a sight to behold. Coming to life at 6 am, I watch fishing boats motor in as they bring in their catch. At the dock market vendors and local buyers carrying baskets on sticks of poles dive in to get the best fish. Pushing and shoving seemed normal. Eager buyers swarming over these boats, haggling for the cheapest price and quality hurry back to the shore to set up their stalls and sell.
The market is like a moving sea of conical hats and the high pitched voices arguing and negotiating is enough to baffle any visitor.
I received stares from smiling observers and invites to their boat with fingers pointing to their baskets of ready to buy fruits. I realized the best course of action was just to walk away.
Women swarming the dock to buy fish for their stalls.
Food made during a cooking tour.
Vendors prepare to take their bought fish to be sold again.
The riverside on a perfect day.
The morning riverside during rainy day.
One of many Tailor shops ready to make clothes for the passing customer.
The view from a tea house and the hats display downstairs.
Me walking through the small alleyways.
Me standing by a Chinese communal house.
The museum of Folklore
The Waterfront on a sunny day.
Walking through Hoi An feels as if you’re walking through a different time in history.
Tours to book
Hoi An Ancient Town was naturally going to be on my bucket list. A quick Google search will give you results describing Hoi An as “charming,” “quiet,” and other similar synonyms. You may not find another place exists like this in Vietnam.
Despite the fact that Hoi An is more touristy than other places I visited in Vietnam, I have a feeling that it would be impossible to resist its charms.
Hoi An’s old colonial houses with their yellow paint are aesthetically pleasing making it every photographers dream. Explore the streets and hop in and out of the historical homes, pagodas and street-side cafes. There are no motorbikes to bother you—just curious souls.
With beaches just 15 minutes away, Hoi An makes for a relaxing destination, a break from frenetic cities like Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh.
Sure, it’s a tourist trap, but I’m not opposed to the idea of getting trapped once in a while.
If you liked this post, feel free to share or comment. I hope Hoi An will be one of your Vietnam highlights! 🙂