I went for a short getaway over the weekend with a girlfriend. We made a trip to Hoi An, a historic old town located near the central eastern coast of Vietnam. It was my first time traveling without my kids and I realised that I haven’t done any trip on my own for the last 2 decades! That’s like half my life! Geez, no wonder I felt like a frog that has just escaped the well.
My friend was dying for a trip where she could eat, sleep, do spa and nothing else. Unfortunately, the place was too beautiful and I didn’t allow her to do just that! I made her walked the streets and she probably rolled her eyes at me many times while I took pictures of almost everything. Whooops!
Hoi An’s old world charm and beauty made me fall in love at first sight. It is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port from the early years and is unlike anything we saw in Sapa and Hanoi. The architecture of Hoi An old town is an interesting mix of Chinese, Japanese and European influences and cultures.
Its winding streets and orchre walls reminded me of the narrow alleys in Nice. It probably shouldn’t be a surprise because the French had fought for control of Vietnam for years, as far back as the 17th Century, and had it under their French Indochinese empire until the Vietnamese regained control in the First Indochina war in 1954. The French had certainly left their mark in places like Hoi An and Sapa.
The old town riverbank is a vibrant place docked with boats of different sizes. There are the smaller wooden sampans to larger, noisier fleets which are just as colourful. This place brought back memories of the floating city of Venice and I gleefully told my friend that this place should be crowned ‘The Venice of South East Asia’!
The many Chinese assembly halls (or what we commonly known here as ‘huay guan’), temples that dotted the town and the emblematic Japanese covered bridge are clear evidence that the Chinese and the Japanese once had their glorious days there.
The assembly halls usually feature a grand gate, a garden with bonsai, a main hall and a large altar room where different gods and goddess are housed depending on the Chinese community’s beliefs.
They were created as a place in which residents from the same province in China could meet up and socialise whilst living in or visiting Hoi An. There are the Fujian, Cantonese, Hainan and Teochew assembly halls.
There are many shops like this that sell paintings. But whether these paintings are factory mass produced or hand painted by artists left to be judged by the experts.
Apparently, Hoi An is well-known for their skilful tailors. Many of them can trace their tradecraft through several generations and they are able to copy any design they see. But like any touristy spots, you have to do some homework before choosing a tailor shop to go to.
Apart from clothes, there are people who go to Hoi An to get their shoes made. Again, you might want to do some research before deciding which shop to go to. We chanced upon this shop with a window or doorway decorated with shoes! How lovely.
Lanterns of every bright and brilliant colours are a common sight in Hoi An. In fact, the people in Hoi An celebrate the Full Moon Lantern festival on the 14th day of every lunar month. The festival is held in the old town where motorised vehicles are banned and colourful candlelit lanterns are used to provide light on the streets. It is something you shouldn’t miss if you plan to go there!
There are so much to see and absorb just walking around Hoi An old town. I was totally mesmerized and love everything about this place, from the coffee joints to the rivers and lanterns and the often overgrown creepers and blossoming bougainvillea that add character and natural beauty to the old shophouses.
This place is a photographer’s paradise, an instagrammer’s playground and wonderland. Everywhere you look is a photo opportunity. Pity I only had my iphone and my photos might not do justice to the beauty of this place.
I could spend the whole week in this place just walking around, taking pictures and drinking Vietnamese drip coffee. Alas, I only had 2 days but the consolation is getting to Hoi An from Singapore is a breeze.
It is only a short 2.5 hour flight from Singapore and currently Jet Star and Silk Air fly direct to Da Nang International Airport. From there, it is only a 45 minutes drive to Hoi An.
I am so happy to discover this place. Even with air ticket, accommodation, food, spa and even shopping, our 3 days 2 night trip cost less than a 2 nights hotel stay in Singapore!
Hoi An Ancient Town is such a rare gem and beauty in this region and it is no wonder it is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site. I can’t wait to bring my family for a visit soon!