Impressions From Hoi An, Vietnam
It is hard to believe that Hoi An was once a thriving commercial port that in the early 17th century was the largest trading center in Vietnam, and one of the busiest commercial ports in all of Southeast Asia.
The streets are narrow and the buildings are beautiful and old, mostly made of Ironwood and painted in faded yellow colors.
Hoi An was not destroyed during the Vietnam war, and many buildings still stand, offering great examples of how the locals lived, engaging in their commercial trades inside their houses.
Thanks to its favorable geographical position, traders in Hoi An sold goods such as silk, pottery, porcelain, swallows’ nests, and Agar-wood, used in incense and fragrance.
Hoi An became the home of international merchants. Ships from Japan, China, countries in South and Southeast Asia such as Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, and some European countries such as Portugal, Spain, Holland, Italy, England and France, all anchored in Hoi An to participate in local trade.
Many foreign traders, especially the Chinese and the Japanese, were allowed by Nguyen Lords to settle down, build streets, open shops, run businesses, and open their own temples, thus preserving their own customs and ways of life in the town.
There are many historic merchant houses on the ancient streets, along with community halls, tea houses and temples.
A covered bridge, also known as the “Japanese Bridge,” is a big feature in the center of the old city.
You can walk the streets of the old town for free, but if you wish to enter the historic sites, you have to buy a ticket which allows you to enter all of the historic buildings, temples and museums.
The ticket is very inexpensive ($6), but on the day we came to buy the tickets, we saw a sign saying:
“Today there is free admission to HÔI AN ancient town, on the occasion of the 23rd anniversary of UNESCO’S recognition as a WORLD CULTURAL HERITAGE SITE.”
It takes at least two whole days to walk around the streets and visit all the historic houses, temples and markets at a leisurely pace.
We took three whole days, and an extra two days visiting other places in the surrounding areas.
There are plenty of cool cafes and places to eat around Hoi An.
We mostly hung out at Vegetarian restaurants like “Nourish” and “Good Eats Cafe,” but when we toured the old city, we had refreshments and snacks while walking around the buildings in the old city center.
In one of the old houses, seven generations of merchants have lived in the same home.
We admired the architecture.
It had dark Japanese wooden sliding doors, Chinese symbols carved in the windows and traditional Vietnamese design elements like dragons decorating the inner courtyard.
They operated a small cafe in the house, and served us fresh Coconut water and “White Rose Dumplings” (Bánh bao bánh vạc), which are a regional specialty of Vietnamese cuisine served mostly in Hội An.
The rice paper of the dumplings is translucent and wrapped to resemble a flower shape.
The family made it in a vegetarian version, because it is usually made with shrimp.
As avid tea lovers, spending time in a tea house like the Hội Quán Bách Việt, is a great way to waste away the afternoon while reading and resting.
Their selection of loose teas is extensive, and spending the twilight hours before dinner in a traditional Vietnamese tea house is a cool experience.
After you select your tea, it is served on a bamboo tray with many bamboo tools.
The lady prepared our first pot of tea and left us with a large thermos of hot water to refill the small teapot at our own pace.
As evening fell in the teahouse, a beautiful woman played a stringed instrument called a “Dàn Tranh,” that resembles a Japanese Koto. Her sounds were so soothing, we were transported to a heavenly realm.
It is so nice to be in a place where history has not been erased, but seems to be integrated into every brick and balcony.
The people living here today carry in their DNA the memories and wisdom of the olden days, improving on outdated traditions while continuing wholesome traditions, like eating fresh unprocessed foods, and healing with herbs and drinking tea leaves mixed with tree bark, dried fruits and an assortment of flowers.
At night, Hoi An comes alive as the colorful lights of the lanterns leave shimmering reflections on the glistening river….
From Hoi An with love,