The vibrant Hoi An, the Lantern City of Vietnam

It was hot when I arrived in Hoi An. The driver who had taken me from Hue to this new city left me by the hotel I had booked. I was starving but first I needed a quick shower before heading off to explore the city everyone had said I would absolutely adore.

Yet, after having a Banh Mi at a highly recommended place in Hoi An, I felt strange. The morning had been full of highs, with me visiting a temple in a cave at Marble Mountain, and having gone through the vertiginous views of the Hai Van Pass.

There was a lethargy in me that I could not shake off – I suppose I was tired and the heat did not help. It was twenty-six degrees, not even that bad, but it was getting to me – it had been a week since I had arrived in Vietnam and my body had gone from cold to hot temperatures, from rain to sun. And I knew rain was to come again. Actually, that was the only day of sun I had in Hoi An, which was disappointing too. I was hoping I could spend some time at the beach, but that plan would prove fruitless.

I could not turn off a button in me to make me feel cheerful again, but I can tell you that Hoi An was helping. The town is simply gorgeous, and the colourful streets, the bright yellow of the buildings, and the dense greenery observed in many houses were almost forcing me to get out of the dark blues in my mind seem to be insisting on. There were people everywhere, all laughing, smiling, and taking pictures as if there was not a single care in the world. Adults looked to me there like children themselves – so carefree, walking in the sun, savouring some coffee, enjoying the good weather. I was jealous and that prompted me to make myself feel better. So I did what I always do – picked up my camera and started to photograph.

The well-preserved old town – despite the floods that happen at least once a year – is unique and it really takes you back in time. The famous colourful lanterns could be seen everywhere, as well as the renowned tailor shops, where you can get any piece of clothing made to your measurements. The town was in full preparation for the Lunar New Year as well, and many locals were seen taking pictures in traditional attire.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in Hoi An in the 16th century. In fact, it was formerly known as Faifo, a very Portuguese word indeed. Yet, this place is so unlike Portugal or any European country for that matter, that I could only assume my ancestors had little influence here, besides the old name of this city.

But it’s quite important to talk a little bit about how Hoi An came to be. Hoi An ancient town is in fact a UNESCO site considered one of the best well-preserved examples of a South East Asian trading port. Dating from the 15th to the 19th century, the wooden buildings and the street plan reflect indigenous and foreign influences, mostly Chinese and Japanese, with the famous Japanese bridge being a perfect example of this, dating from the 18th century.

It is the only covered bridge in the world to house a Buddhist temple and remains a central spiritual landmark.

With the Ancient town ticket, you can visit up to five different attractions. you don’t need a ticket to enter the town, but all of the different museums, houses and other attractions need to pay for through this – and it’s only 120,000 VND, about 5 USD. Tan Ky is one of the most famous houses to visit. It was built in the 18th century and it is still a private home to the descendants of the original family – you can visit the majestic ground floor, as the family occupies the upstairs rooms. The furniture was what drew my attention, the dark wood decorated with mother-of-pearl designs.

And then you have a beautiful example of the Chinese influence in the Phuc Kien Assembly Hall. It was a community space for the Chinese migrant community in the 17th century and it still is a spiritual centre for locals.

The city comes even more alive at night when all the lanterns are lit up. The riverside becomes magical, with the boats passing by with passengers holding these patterns that reflect in the dark waters of the river, creating a unique atmosphere that cannot be captured on camera. These lanterns have been handcrafted by Hoi An’s artisans for centuries. The locals believe that lighting and floating these lanterns on the river can bring health and happiness. Overall a prayer for good fortune.

To me, Hoi An was a place of rest, with so much to do but also to absorb. Unfortunately, the rain did make it hard to photograph this town with the freedom I would have liked, but I am proud of some of the pictures I managed to snap here. Looking back at it, two months after being back in London, I can feel that itch, that burning desire to just launch myself out there again. As I write, I feel such uneasiness. I know I need to go on another adventure soon and soon can’t come soon enough!

For now, I’ll have to content myself with the sweet memories of Vietnam. Even if it’s painful to look back and wonder what if I did this full time.

Of all the places I visited in Vietnam, Hoi An is where I would potentially settle in for a while. I was in love with the wooden houses, the smell of coffee in the streets and, most of all, the artistry. Galleries of art were everywhere, with beautiful, stunning pieces. To me, it was no surprise that this place inspires the soul of even the most tormented artist.

I particularly liked the inner courtyards of the wooden houses. A lot of them were transformed into little museums telling the story of Hoi An, telling us about the local crafts, the folklore. And so you get a chance as well to explore these houses whilst learning a bit more about the culture.

More to come on Hoi An!

Love, Nic


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