Nestled along the picturesque central coast of Vietnam lies a town that seems to have stepped out of a time capsule, preserving the charm and elegance of centuries gone by. Welcome to Hoi An, a jewel in Vietnam's cultural crown and a destination that beckons travellers with its rich history, enchanting streets, delectable cuisine, and timeless beauty. Curious? Follow me on Instagram and YouTube for more adventures!
Hoi An, once a bustling international trading port during the 15th to 19th centuries, stands today as a UNESCO-listed Ancient Town, a living testament to the confluence of cultures that have graced its shores. It's a place where centuries-old architecture whispers stories of the past, where lantern-lit evenings cast a spell of romance, and where the vibrant mosiac of Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, and European influences is woven into the very fabric of the town.
This charming town, gracefully crisscrossed by the Thu Bon River, invites travellers to immerse themselves in its rich tapestry of experiences. As you wander through the narrow, atmospheric alleyways of the Ancient Town, you'll encounter exquisite temples, well-preserved merchant houses adorned with wooden carvings, and hidden tea houses offering respite from the bustling streets.
Hoi An is a town where history mingles harmoniously with modern life giving a plethora of fun things to do. The locals, known for their warmth and hospitality, continue to practice age-old traditions, whether it's crafting tailor-made clothing, preparing aromatic street food, or celebrating cultural festivals with zeal. Here, you can taste the delicate flavours of Cao Lau, an iconic dish unique to Hoi An, or watch skilled artisans handcraft colourful lanterns that light up the night during the enchanting Full Moon Lantern Festival.
Hoi An's UNESCO-listed Ancient Town is a marvel of architecture and history. Stroll through its narrow, atmospheric streets lined with beautifully preserved buildings dating back to the 15th century. The fusion of Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, and European influences is evident in the unique architectural styles. Don't miss landmarks like the Japanese Covered Bridge, Phuc Kien Assembly Hall, and the old merchant houses. The Hoi An Japanese Bridge, also known as the Chùa Cầu or Lai Vien Kieu Bridge, is one of the most iconic and historically significant landmarks here It was constructed in the early 17th century, built by the Japanese community that lived in Hoi An during this period. Its primary purpose was to connect the Japanese settlement on the west side of the town with the Chinese community on the east side. This helped facilitate trade and cultural exchange between the two communities and other foreign traders - tapping into how international this port town was.
You may also notice how the historical ancient buildings of Hoi An are all in a rustic golden yellow shade. Due to the predominant use of yellow paint on many of its historic buildings, Hoi An is often referred to as the "Yellow City". The yellow colour is actually not just a random choice but has historical and cultural significance! Yellow is considered an auspicious and sacred colour in Vietnamese culture. It symbolizes prosperity, happiness, and good fortune. Many Vietnamese believe that painting their homes and buildings in yellow will bring blessings and positive energy. The decision to paint Hoi An's buildings in yellow is also linked to preservation efforts. The use of traditional yellow hues helps maintain the town's historical appearance and authenticity. It's part of an overall strategy to preserve Hoi An's unique heritage.
Hoi An is also famous for its enchanting evenings when the streets come alive with the soft glow of colorful lanterns. Try not to fall in love with this place when its all lit up! The town is particularly magical during the monthly Full Moon Lantern Festival when vehicles are banned from the streets, and traditional performances, food stalls, and lantern-lit boats on the river create an unforgettable atmosphere. Lanterns have been a part of Hoi An's cultural heritage for centuries. Since the town's history as a major trading port brought influences from various cultures, the lanterns became a symbol of these cultural exchanges, reflecting the diverse and cosmopolitan nature of Hoi An. In Vietnamese culture, lanterns are believed to bring luck and happiness. They symbolise light, which dispels darkness and evil spirits. So in Vietnam, llanterns are often used during important occasions, such as weddings and Lunar New Year celebrations, to attract good fortune and ward off negative energy.
As you wander through the streets, you will notice how this town has a strong tradition of lantern-making. Local artisans craft lanterns by hand, using materials like silk, bamboo, and wood. These lanterns come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colours, from small, intricate designs to large, ornate creations. You can also wander into one of the many lantern shops here to purchase these beautiful, handmade souvenir - or better yet, take a workshop and make your own!
Since this is Vietnam - food is everything. One of my favourite dishes in all of Vietnam originates from Hoi An, so it is no surprise that this town is a food lover's paradise. I highly recommend taking a cooking class to learn how to prepare Vietnamese dishes, including the iconic Cao Lau from Hoi An. This is a specialty of this historic town is known for its distinct combination of flavors, textures, and ingredients, which make it a standout in Vietnamese cuisine.
Cao Lau features thick, chewy rice noodles that are similar in texture to Japanese udon noodles. These noodles are a crucial element of the dish and give it its signature texture. One of the distinguishing features of Cao Lau is the addition of crispy rice croutons, which provide a delightful crunch and contrast to the soft noodles and tender pork. Cao Lau is typically served with a small amount of savoury broth, which varies slightly in flavour from vendor to vendor. The broth is often made with ingredients like pork bones, garlic, and star anise. Interestingly, the water used to make the noodles is said to be a crucial factor in the dish's unique taste. Traditional Cao Lau is made with water drawn from a specific ancient well in Hoi An, known as Ba Le Well.
Oh, and don't forget to explore the bustling Hoi An Central Market for an authentic taste of Vietnamese street food! This is where I tend to go to try out a magnitude of various little bowls and bites from all of the kind vendors there.
Beyond the historic town's confines, Hoi An's charm extends to its tranquil countryside and pristine beaches. I always rent a bicycle - as its the locals main preferred method of transportation when in town and out of the town. With it, you can explore the emerald-green rice paddies, where water buffalo lazily graze, or find solace on the soft sands of An Bang or Cua Dai beaches. An Bang Beach is located just a short drive from Hoi An's Ancient Town, and its one of the most famous and accessible beaches in the area. This long, sandy beach is known for its laid-back atmosphere and gives you a really authentic experience of the Vietnamese’s coastal lifestyle. There is also Cua Dai Beach, which is located a bit farther from Hoi An's center than An Bang Beach, but it is still easily accessible.
Truly, from the tranquil beaches and vibrant markets to the delicious cuisine and centuries-old traditions, Hoi An offers an enchanting blend of experiences that cater to every traveller's desires. It is a place where the past and present coexist harmoniously, where lanterns light up the night sky, and where cultural exchanges have shaped its identity. As you embark on your journey, remember the serene moments by the Thu Bon River, the captivating beauty of the Japanese Bridge, the flavors of Cao Lau on your palate, and the warmth of the locals' smiles. And when you leave, carry with you the magic of Hoi An in your heart, knowing that its lanterns will forever light the path back to this captivating town whenever you choose to return.
Hoi An, Central VietnamOld Town, Hội An, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam
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