Vietnam Diaries 4 -Delightful by day, Mystical by night- Ancient Town Hoi An
We took a flight from Ho Chi Minh to Danang. An hour later we were in Central Vietnam and were grateful for the difference in temperature. Getting out of the flight, the cool air was a respite from the humidity of Ho Chi Minh city. Our tour guide, Lucky was waiting for us with the 16 seater van. Lucky, a young lad of 24 ,was a stark contrast from our first guide, Dinh. While Dinh was the epitome of the Viet- minh ( vietnamese soldier who fought the war), small, sharp and ‘ inflexible’; Lucky was the child of ‘ The Laughing Buddha’. Everything and anything could make him laugh and the 2 days with Lucky were filled with laughs and made up for the pain of following his accent. Paying attention to Lucky was challenging and with all the information that Lucky wanted to share, I have to say it was a little stressful😊. Thank God for friends. Each one of us alternatively occupied the front seat, to listen to Lucky, so that Lucky was happy and so were we.
The journey to Hoi An from the airport took approximately 2 hours.
The sites for the day were The Pottery museum which does not house anything much and has a few ceramics, 200 year old Tan Kyi House which has been opened for tourists while the residents of the house stay in the same house in private quarters. The house has been used for 7 generations and is very much in the style of the old houses in Kerala- made of strong teak wood, a courtyard in the center to allow sunlight and rain to come in.
Hoi An had been designated as UNESCO site and had celebrated its 17th anniversary on Dec 23rd. It’s an ancient port town that has a 2000 year history which houses the Chinese quarters. It was once upon a time a major international port. The Japanese bridge was used to connect the Japanese quarters on one side with the Chinese quarters on the others. A little pagoda stands in the middle of the bridge.
When you cross the bridge you are in Hoi An, the Chinese quarter. Maybe Hoi An does not seem as amazing at the first instance. You’ve probably seen it in China, Thailand or Hong Kong.I, for one thought it had been hyped and was proved wrong in half an hour of walking around the town.
The essence of Hội An is that it has been preserved since the 16th century and has retained its culture. Chinese-styled houses made of timber with French-styled colonial buildings lined the streets with Chinese Pagodas in red and gold. Yellow, orange, green, red, blue, lanterns hung over the entire town, every shop, restaurant, cafe and tree giving it a warm, cheerful feel. What makes Hoi An unique is that it’s an entire town that shares a way of life untarnished by pollution and development. It’s not just one street but many streets, a market place, temples, Pagodas and the way people have continued living; only opening up for tourism. The town has been built along the Thu Bồn River.
Walking is the only way you can get the feel of the place, as no vehicles are allowed other than cycles and cyclos.
The little shops inside the wooden houses sell leather items, Vietnamese souvenirs, T-shirts, knick-knacks for tourists. Hoi An is also famous for tailoring. There are shops that will tailor gowns, dresses, suits within a day. Shopping in Hoi An is a great lesson in bargaining. The kids learnt the lesson pretty quickly and enjoyed putting it to practice. There is absolutely no shame in it.
Tip: The seller says a price. Simply say you want it for 60% lesser. If they are not willing, walk away and you’ll be called back. If you’re not, then you can always raise your quote at the next shop. There are hordes of shops selling the same thing, so don’t despair!
Hoi An comes to life at dusk when the town is magically transformed as the darkness is only lit up by the soft light of lanterns and candles; not harsh electric lights. Street hawkers from nowhere,appear, spreading their wares on the river-bank. Candles on paper shaped lotuses are displayed for sale, to be put into the river with a wish for better health and prosperity. The flickering candles light up the river-bank until they are sold and the ones sold float across the river, adding a sweetness to the tranquility. It’s mesmerizingly beautiful and it’s so natural to feel like sitting on the riverside soaking in the beauty and calm. But a traveler must leave to complete the rest of the journey and with aching feet and a satisfied soul, we moved on to our hotel in Danang for the night. The next day, we were to visit Ba Na hills using the cable car.
Photo Credits: Sanjay R. Nair