Notes: travel date, summer 2014
Hoi An was the third stop on our trip. This coastal city is considered central Vietnam, located about midway between Hanoi in the north and HCMC in the south. Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The old quarter is full of winding streets lined with old colonial buildings, most painted a cheerful shade of yellow. It was extremely hot on both days that we toured the city. Many of the small streets had low-hanging trees offering shade. It was also easy to pop into cafes for a quick break and re-hydration.
In addition to many handicrafts, Hoi An is famous for it’s beautiful silk lanterns. The lanterns are handmade and strung up all over town. The colors were beautiful and the various shapes added more curves and angles to displays. At night most of the stores light their lanterns, as if attracting tourists like moths to the flame. Like many things in Vietnam, the lanterns were very cheap. I bought five for less than $20. They are even collapsible, easily folding down to skinny cylindrical shapes.
A peaceful river winds along the edge of the old quarter, feeding a few canals along the way. This river was an important circuit for the east Asian trade routes and as a result, many foreign merchants came to deal in Hoi An. For a time, the city was divided between Japanese and Vietnamese merchants on either side of the river. The famous Japanese Covered Bridge connected the two sides of town, stretching across a small canal. The bridge is several hundred years old. It is the only known covered bridge in the world to contain a Buddhist temple. The bridge was quite beautiful, both inside and out. It was interesting to see the familiar styles and symbols so far from my Japanese home.
Some of the food we tried in Hoi An was fantastic; some of it was not. The hotel, while large and impressive by sight was quite lacking in cleanliness and food options. Thankfully, one of my friends was dedicated to trying the local specialty, Bahn Mien, a baguette sandwich. There is a famous restaurant in Hoi An, which grew from a single stall at the central market and was featured on the show “No Reservations” with Anthony Bourdain. After a little wandering and some help form a local, we found the restaurant and I enjoyed the best meal I had in Vietnam. The sandwich was delicious and the baguette was actually bread, not the super sugary white stuff I eat in Japan. The flavors and the spices were just right. I’m glad my friend had done her research before arriving!
So unlike the busy southern city of HCMC, Hoi An was calmer and more relaxing with beautiful scenery. The river and the reflecting lights provided beautiful imagery throughout the day and evening. It was a lovely place to visit.