The entire town of Hoi An is an UNESCO heritage sight. Some people seem to feel that it has become too touristy. But insider advice recommends to wander the streets very early in the morning before the vendors open their shops to see the the town’s architectural beauty for what it really is. Despite many shops selling the same wares, there is an enchanting atmosphere to the town that can’t be denied no matter what time of day you choose – each time of day in Hoi An has its own personality.
Hoi An is not far from the ocean and is made up of islands, lagoons and winding rivers that cut through picturesque farm land and rice paddies. It’s a photographers relaxing, dream world and a foodie paradise.
On our first evening out, we took bicycles from our hotel and went cycling the streets as the sun set. A particularly magical time for Hoi An. The evening has an entirely different feeling to it, as people come out to sell paper lanterns and offer boat rides down the river where you can set your candle aglow with a special wish – floating down the canals. It is a very romantic sight. It used to only happen on the full moon, but now it seems to happen every night. You can find vendors by the bridges leading away from the farmer’s market.
Besides the paper, candle lanterns – the evenings are lit up with beautiful silk lanterns over bridges and hanging over shops and streets. They come in every color and some hand painted with designs. In the evening you can hear live music being played along the river. The night takes on a heightened energy around dinner time.
In the town there is a group of tickets that allow entrance into historical buildings throughout town which have beautiful architecture, art work and sculpture. At one point there was a Japanese community which lead to some unique and interesting design features in Hoi An, including the Japanese covered bridge with a temple inside of it and some very intimate and relaxing courtyard gardens hidden inside some of the structures.
The old house of Tan Ky was a highlight, mainly for its two beautiful art pieces of kanji script that as you get a closer reveal that they are written with images of flying birds made of mother of pearl inlay. Worth the price of the entry ticket just to view that. Some of the houses have been marked by floods that happen every few years. It is a wonder that despite proximity to the canals, so much has remained preserved. Lucky for us.
There are some very charming boutique shops, restaurants and cafes scattered in the streets including many shops where you can get a dress or suit custom tailored in 24 hours. But a highlight for us was a food market tour and cooking class called “My Grandma’s Cooking” class and tour. Hoi An is well known for its delicious, organic cuisine.
Our tour guide Thom took us to the farmer’s market at the end of town in the early morning to learn about the various organic produce made around Hoi An. This area still uses archaic methods of farming including using water buffalos to plow the fields. It’s an amazing sight to see along with women in their triangular bamboo hats planting rice by hand.
Afterwards Thom took us on a boat to an island not far from Hoi An where she and her Grandma lives. Fun fact: You can see from the photo above, that all the boats in Hoi An have painted “eyes” on the front. When asked why, locals said it is because of a legend of a sea monster and the big eyes are to scare it off, like a good luck charm. In the morning and evenings you can also see store owners as well as fisherman performing various rituals in front of their shops and on their boats for good luck. Usually involving burning incense. This adds to the enchantment of the town.
Thom showed us and allowed us to try some of the ancient methods for shucking and separating rice from its husk and producing rice milk. We then made rice crepes, one of the ingredients in a delicious dish on the menu. At the end of a full day out, we cooked and ate Thom’s Grandma’s recipes all day and sat down to one final course with dessert before heading back through the canals into town completely stuffed and satisfied. Vietnamese cooking is so delicious.
Highly recommend staying a few days in the historic center of town if you have time to slow down and relax. Hoi An is small enough to see in one or two days, but we found extra time was really nice to have in such a magical place. There are beaches, but they are quite far from the historic center of town and are missing the charm that downtown Hoi An exudes, however we rode our bicycles there one day and it was a nice ride. We stayed at the Hoi An Riverside hotel. Nice staff, great food and comfortable rooms.