This blog posting will be less tell, more show.
First a quick intro: Hoi An was a major shipping port in the 16th and 17th centuries, with Dutch, Japanese and Chinese traders passing by these very walls. It would have become a much bigger city, but in the 19th century, the river silted up and big ships were no longer able to pass through. The town languished until its 1999 designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site turned it into one of SE Asia’s most popular tourist destinations.
The tourists are here in huge numbers, and that is the one critique I have of this town. Ancient Town is a madhouse and as a tourist myself, I am adding to the mayhem, so my criticism is hardly fair. If it is uncrowded streets and mellow moments you are looking for, get here really early in the morning.
Since Hoi An’s tourist life revolves around the river, we will begin there. Boats are for hire, for short cruises at sunset or for longer tours.
While Ancient Town runs back from the river on both sides for several streets, the riverfront promenade provides a natural gathering place and events are held most nights. A Food Festival was on one night, with two intense and sweating chefs stirring the pot.
Further down the promenade, we watched two girls wade into the river, which is really filthy. Here, they’re gathering around to show off their catch – big black snails.
As the late afternoon turns into early evening, the light and atmosphere on the waterfront is magical. The heat and sun has been replaced with a welcome light breeze.
There are outdoor art displays, buskers, food vendors and good old-fashioned people-watching.
These kids were having a great time pushing each other around on this little bike.
This little one was quite unabashedly twirling her skirt and mugging for the camera.
I watched this beautiful woman for a minute or two – she never moved. Deep in thought or just enjoying a quiet spot away from the tourist throngs.
Many Vietnamese carry parasols – an excellent idea now when the sun is so hot.
I was caught by the expression on this mother’s face. She was showing something to her little children and had their full attention.
There are so many twisty little alleyways – it would take days to explore them all.
Great boughs of bougainvillea and flowing shrubs hang over doorways – bright bursts of colour against the ocher walls.
Hoi An has a number of art galleries, with striking contemporary art by young artists.
This young man was painting on the sidewalk, and took a moment for a smoke break.
To enter Ancient Town in Hoi An, you must buy a pass (about $8) that entitles you to the entrance of five old shophouses, or assembly halls or museums. That money goes to a foundation to help preserve the old structures. I took this photo from the second floor of a Chinese merchant hall. The railings and staircase felt a little fragile, and the walls are dark, but we got a good sense of how the town must have felt in its trading heyday.
The Japanese Covered Bridge is another example of the carved wood and rolled roof design of the structures in Hoi An.
Tailor shops and textile handiwork is huge business in Hoi An. In this room, a number of young women were at work embroidering fabric. They spoke no English, so I was unable to ask them about their work, but I suspect they put in long hours. If you look carefully, you can see two women sleeping on the floor.
There are hundreds of tailor shops in Hoi An, but only a few of them are well-regarded. In this case, you really do get what you pay for. Many turn out identical garments in 24 hours or less and they can be of poor quality. Having a suit or dress made here requires careful research and word of mouth recommendations.
We wondered who the target market is for these bouncy and confident suits.
I stopped to take a photo of the catchy sewing machine display – an homage to one of the town’s big industries. But then, the model caught my eye. Where did they find this Caucasian mannequin with mussy bedhead and a slightly regretful expression in her eyes?
The food in Hoi An is fantastic, and the range of restaurants is staggering. Everything from ladies selling sweet potato cakes on the street to reservation-only hot spots with American prices. We ate so well, and darned if I did not take one photo of food. I just kept forgetting – the food would arrive, we’d start to eat and make a mess of our plates and then, I’d remember. You’ll have to take our word for it. This was our view from a favourite restaurant.
And now, a sunset and evening tour of Hoi An:
Lanterns are a big deal in Hoi An. The streets are strung with them, people buy small floating lanterns with candles to launch on the river, and they are for sale everywhere. This display proved to be an irresistible backdrop for a holiday photo.
The bridge over the river is adorned with two graceful signs –
especially beautiful when lit at night.
Good-bye Hoi An. Thank you for giving us such a relaxing and elegant vacation.
21 thoughts on “Ancient Town Hoi An in photos”
I loved Hoi An, even had some clothes made here, they did a great job.
Glad your having a great time.
Joy, I was going to have a bathing suit made, but found out that they are very challenging to make well. Since I already have two suits with dicey elastic, I figured I’ll wait and hit a dept. story in Hanoi. I think the tailor experience is part of the vacation. I had one lady run out and grab me. After the usual ice-breaker, “where you from?”, she assured me that whatever dress I liked, they had my size!
Jinnny, I’ve been neglectful in reading your posts, so I felt as I were catching up with this one. So beautiful and foreign. As I sit here looking over Patzcuaro and thinking Mexico, it’s very exotic to se e the completely different architecture in Vietnam, a country I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. Have a continued great journey.
Nicola – so nice to hear from you. I’d love to hear all about your winter in Patzcuaro – we loved it there, but just spent a few days.
Vietnam is my favourite so far, not sure why, but it is different. I’ll have to try and figure out what that means. We will have five weeks here in total and leave missing so much.
You too – enjoy the rest of your time in Mexico.
Wow, no wonder people rave about Vietnam!
Oh it is so beautiful here, Margy. And the people – they are warm and touchy and have a great sense of humour. Steve buys beer from a small store around the corner that doubles as a day care, and he has the lady and all her little charges doing high fives. it is quite hilarious – and they all laugh! Now, if we walk by, they yell out, “High Five!.”
The food is so good, just so delicious. The landscape is a bit different – more beautiful and rugged. It is hard to put your finger on what makes it distinct from the rest, but Vietnam is a very special place.
Yet, there are people who don’t like the country or the people – they find them rude. We don’t know where they’ve been because our experiences have been so genuinely heart-warming.
🙂 so wonderful travelling alongside you and Steve Ginny! Is there a way to share your blog to my Facebook page?
Thanks Simone! I’m not sure – I wonder if you just cut and past the link if it would work? I’m hopeless on FB – I haven’t added a photo or changed my profile in years.
Looking forward to catching up soon. xo
Enjoyed your beautiful pixs!!Have you encountered ladies on their bikes with a scarf to cover their face? Namese women like a white face, no tan, so different from the western society in general. They are wonderful tailors, I had the dress made for my son’s wedding!!
Hope you can take a laquer course somewhere!!Beautiful art
Yes, we see these women a lot – covered head to toe in the sweltering heat. We’ve seen skin whitening products all over SE Asia. I was laughing about that with one of our guides – the irony of white-skinned people looking for a tan, and dark-skinned people not wanting to get darker.
There are so many courses I would like to take – especially a cooking course – maybe in Hanoi. We are not here for long enough, it seems.
And yes, so many people have had beautiful clothes made in Vietnam, but now with our new lifestyle, I’m not sure about where I would wear them.
Hello! The photos are superbe! Lucky you to be in such wonderful atmosphere, enjoy it all in good health
Thank you Lis. We loved our time in Hoi An – a feast for all the senses. Isn’t it funny – we’ve had almost three months of sun and heat and today we are having a rainy day in Hue, and it changes the mood entirely!
Love these photos Ginny. Looks like a good place to recharge your soul and immerse yourselves in the warmth of the people.
Oh, and those colourful suits? Now we know where Don Cherry gets his!
It was a great place to recharge – it would make a great spot for a longer holiday as there is both beach and city and so much to see and do. We could have stayed much longer.
Wasn’t I thinking of Don Cherry when I saw these suits! I have never seen anything like these suits on anyone anywhere – that’s what makes me so curious about who the buyers are.
As always your photos are amazing and we so very much enjoy your descriptive comments. …..and yes it is sad that this beautiful old city is overrun by tourists. We cannot believe what a difference 4 years have made. One has to wonder what 4 more years will do. Like you we continue travelling in spite of it, but it is certainly food for thought.
Eveline – isn’t it interesting about how a place can “get on the map”, and then – boom – everything changes so quickly. People are saying that about Cuba – get there before the character of the country is gone.
I’m not sure that is the case with Hoi An – I don’t know what it was like before, but it has still retained a lot of charm. Four more years of growth might cause irreparable harm though. One thing we do wonder about is the safety of riding bikes there. Every hotel provides bikes as there is no local bus system, and so hundreds of us ride along the same already very crowded roads. At what point will the volume of vehicles be unsustainable?
The growth in Danang (the city you land in to get to Hoi An) is unbelievable. A massive swath of waterfront (fishing villages included) has been expropriated for many miles of hotel resorts – one immense gated monstrosity after another – all luxury chains. Who will stay in these $200 and $300 a night rooms? Is this another case of the locals paying very dearly for the potential tourist dollars?
It is definitely food for thought. We want to travel and see different cultures, but not create a situation where we have helped to impact in a negative way.
As always, your pictures are beautiful … a feast for the eyes! So grateful you have chosen to share them with us.
Thank you very much Heather – but the photos really just take themselves in Hoi An. I imagine an artist would love it there because of the constantly changing light.
Thank you for this wonderful post. Together with my wife we’re in Hoi An right now and we don’t know which ticketed attractions are worth seeing. Can you recommend us something? So far we’ve been only to the Japanese Bridge.
Hello – thanks for reading our blog. I’m sorry for the delay – this may come too late to be of help – we were out on Halong Bay with no internet access and just got back.
I didn’t go into too much detail about the various shophouses and assembly halls because most of them were interesting, but quite small and dark (difficult for photos), and often very crowded. It was hard to find a standout – I think we came away with an overall sense of history and the grand old trading days from wandering through them.
I found Hoi An to be that way – a living museum, with hundreds of puzzle pieces – old doors, alleyways, tiled floors, the ochre walls – it was all the sum of its parts.
I know that is vague, but I hope by now you have discovered many of Hoi An’s treasures.
btw, we had a look at your blog and will follow you for travel tips.
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That’s exactly how we feel so far about Hoi An. But we haven’t expected this amount of tourists and irritating Street vendors. Every 5 minutes someone tries to sell us some crap :/. The architecture and General atmosphere is great though