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  • Writer's pictureSaptadeepa Bandopadhyay

Hoi An - How I Explored the Heritage Town of Central Vietnam

Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Port Town in Central Vietnam along the coast of the South China Sea. Hoi An has been considered a tourist's favourite destination in Central Vietnam. Ancient preserved towns have always fascinated me as they allow you to relive an era from the past! It reminds me of my experiences in Fort Kochi and Pondicherry, similar heritage towns I loved visiting in India.

Chinese Heritage Temple in Hoi An
Chinese Heritage Temple in Hoi An

Ancient sailors and visitors of this town have left behind a townlet full of their cultural history. We couldn't wait to find romance in these lanes from yore.


But the weather gods had other plans. When we landed at Danang Airport, it was pouring heavily around Central Vietnam. The heavy showers had disrupted our plans to explore Hoi An. The drive from Danang Airport to Hoi An took merely 40 mins as the roads were empty due to the rain. Once we checked into the hotel rooms, the only unavoidable reason to step out was for our meals. Borrowed umbrellas and ponchos came to our rescue! We lunched at a beautiful garden restaurant at the closest walking distance to our accommodation. Back in the hotel, we took a long nap until evening.


Getting the best out of a bad weather day in Hoi An

The fear of losing the whole day sitting in our room made me anxious, given that we had only two nights in Hoi An. Eventually, the showers turned to light pitter-patters by 7:00 PM. Still unsure, we took a taxi ride to the Ancient town, hoping to end the day well.

Romancing the empty lanes of Hoi An

I am glad we stepped out that day! The entire town of Hoi An seemed drenched, roads wet, water dripping from the edges of its old houses, and tourists like us turning up slowly after the rains had stopped. But beautiful dimly lit lanterns around the town made the place so dreamy and charming! We had stepped into the land of romantics, and the feeling was so surreal that I squeezed my palm into A's, trying to hold his hand like young lost lovers. Passing by two musicians playing a Japanese melody on their instruments, we were in love with this place. Across Hoi An's famous Japanese Bridge, as we moved to the Chinese side of the old quarters, the path was illumed by colourful hanging lanterns while a few toy sellers lulled the passing tourists. The boatmen were looking for some customers to try a river cruise over the Thu Bon River. They had not seen a good business day because of the continuous rains.


We grabbed the opportunity as the pitter-patter had faded, the river was calm, and there were not many individuals, thus making it perfect timing for an otherwise touristy town in Vietnam. The boat ride among the many floating lamps in the quiet waters was a pleasant experience. The rest of the night, we strolled around the dimly lit streets of the old quarters. I distinctly remember sitting at a cafe with coffee and rice pancakes overlooking the Thu Bon River, where a few boats sailed with hanging lanterns and some live music played on the other side of the river. We noticed that the town shut pretty early, around 08:00 PM. Some vendors began leaving for the day though a few shops and restaurants stayed open until 10:00 PM. After trying a few street foods and a good-filling bowl of chicken salad at a restaurant, we headed to our hotel!


The following day was dry, and the dark clouds were parting away. Our accommodation was very close to the Thanh Ha Pottery village of Hoi An. Hence we chose to visit it as the first place for the day.

Visiting Thang Ha Pottery Village in Hoi An

Entrance to Thang Ha Pottery Village
Entrance to Thang Ha Pottery Village

All houses in the pottery village practice various forms of pottery. Some potters still used the traditional manual pedal wheel, which one could see in a few homes. The entrance of these houses was decorated with tiny clay birds and animals hung on strings. Some even displayed clay figurines on the outside. We were happily welcomed in many of these homes. We visited a few to see the handmade pots and artefacts. Most homes use their front yards to display their pottery.


At the potter's place, we even tried our hands at the wheel to mould a tiny pot and a bowl each. It was the first time I was trying my hands at pottery. I never knew clay had to be handled so cautiously. The pressure of our figures was so vital while moulding the wet clay.



The pottery village is adjacent to the Thu Bon River, which is calmer than the commercial stretches along Hoi An town. We strolled by the riverside and visited a couple of ancient temples in this village. A terracotta museum is also set up in the village and displays a diverse variety of miniature pottery.

Exploring Hoi An Heritage Town by the Day

By midday, we rode a motorbike, that we had hired at our hotel, scouring some random routes in Hoi An. The stretches of green paddies soaked in muddy fields offered scenic settings.

Hoi An Heritage Town and Market
Hoi An Heritage Town and Market

We were fascinated by the previous night's scenes at the Hoi An ancient town. So we hoped to explore the real hustle and bustle of a port townlet by the day. Nights in Hoi An were more about the tourists, but days were about the locals here.

Hoi An Central Market

Chợ Hội An - Central Market of Hoi An
Chợ Hội An - Central Market of Hoi An

Once, Hoi An was a hub for sailors and traders to stop here on their long sea voyages. Many of these sailors eventually settled in Hoi An and built their communities around this town. Hoi An can be distinctly divided into Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese quarters. The central market of Hoi An remains the main trading hub. Walking around the Central Market, we could discover sellers specialised in various commodities, food items, fresh seafood, fruits and vegetables, and condiments. You get everything around the Central Market of Hoi An.


Florists add bright colours to the market. Leather accessories are sold by the people who make those themselves. We saw stores selling the famous Hoi An lanterns, which they were painting in their stores. Though the market is full of cheap printed lanterns, the handpainted ones stand out distinctively. Hoi An is a shopper's paradise. It is also a renowned marketplace for customised men's suits and ladies' dresses, which you can get made to your taste in just 24 hours and at very cheap rates.

This lively atypical marketplace in the heart of Hoi An Ancient town is not just a history, but the life of this town revolves around this market. Thanks to all the efforts at conserving this place under UNESCO's World Heritage project.

A Women-run Food Market inside Chợ Hội An

Street food and cafes around Hoi An town might be among the tourist's go-to options for their culinary experience, but we found a food haven inside the iconic yellow building named Chợ Hội An. Though we were sceptical about trying the food here, we were welcomed by the smiling faces of young and old ladies. The entire alley serves Vietnamese cuisines with freshly sourced ingredients at nominal rates. We savoured every bite of fresh juicy spring rolls filled with shrimp and veggies and a bowl of raw vegetable salads. Each of us also tried the fresh fruit juices from the menu. Across Southeast Asia, it is common to see such women-run markets/bazaars. This place reminded me of the Ema Market (mother's market) we visited in Northeast India's Manipur state and some similar markets in Thailand.

Exploring the Cultural and Architectural Heritage of Hoi An

If you look away from the consumables, ancient history and architecture are found in every lane of this town. We learnt that outside the gates of Hoi An Heritage Town, there is a ticket counter. Here you could buy a ticket worth 120,000 VND, which allows you access to the inner sanctum of the ancient temples, merchant homes and other ancient architectural structures. You will not be stopped from exploring the markets if you do not buy a ticket, but it is a good practice since the amount goes into the maintenance of the ancient buildings in this town. This ticket is valid for the total duration of your stay in Hoi An. A single ticket can give you access to five structures. If history interests you, please find a guide to accompany you.

Town


I found these temples and buildings quite captivating. Since traders of different ethnicities frequented the port town over the years, and many even settled there, they brought their cultural and architectural influence into Hoi An. You will find Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese architecture. We visited a few Chinese temples and the Japanese Bridge. The temples here were dedicated to the sea goddesses to pray for the well-being of the sailors in distant seas.

A visit to an ancient house of a Chinese Merchant

We also visited the 17th-century home of a Chinese merchant, which is now open to visitors. This was a single-storey building whose front and back entrances opened to the road and no windows to the sides. A small opening in the ceiling filters daylight into the house. The house featured collections of currencies, ceramic pots and antique wooden furniture. The family's shrine was placed above the entrance door, and the traditional stove kitchen was at the back end.


Some of the old quarters have been turned into cafes and shops.

Evening Moods of Hoi An

By 4 PM, the tourist influx into the town amplified. Many cyclos (tri-cycles) were plying through the narrow lanes of the heritage town. Hoi An Town is a pedestrian-only zone. Only cyclo pullers are allowed to ply with their tri-cycle rickshaws. When cyclos rode in the middle of these narrow lanes, the pedestrians had to make way for them. We sat sipping a big cup of Egg Coffee while overlooking the happy commotion around the adjoining streets.

Relishing a cup of Egg Coffee in Hoi An
Relishing a cup of Egg Coffee in Hoi An

Lit Nights of Hoi An

By sundown, Hoi An was looking like a carnival. There were too many people and as much noise. The Thu Bon River was full of boats rowing tourists posing with lamps in their hands. It was nothing like the previous night we had experienced. The other side of the river looked like a partying town. A cacophony of live music playing in the bars and restaurants was audible from the other side of the river. We chose to hang around the peaceful quiet parts of the old town. In these corners of Hoi An, I could spot little kids playing or cycling around while their parents were busy at the market. Artists and crafters merrily worked away on their next piece, as they sat on pavements to get their art sold to the tourists.

Night Market, Hoi An

The night market was lively and was selling everything at cheap throw rates. We tried the local street foods in the night market, such as sweet rice dumplings stuffed with coconut filling and pancakes with quail eggs.

Scores of stalls were selling souvenirs that were cheaper than anywhere else in Vietnam. Travel accessories like caps, hats, flip-flops, travel pouches, bags, and so much more were displayed in these stalls. Bargaining hard is the way to buy something in the night market.

Final thoughts on Hoi An

The lively touristy Hoi An vibes were infectiously joyous, while for a person like me who romanticises slow travels and peace, the magic of the dimly lit lazy Hoi An after the previous day's heavy rainfall is what made me fall in love with this little Heritage town for the first time.

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Other Interesting things to do and explore in Hoi An if you stay longer (i.e. beyond three nights) -

  • Visit the ruins of My Son on a half-day trip, the only surviving structures of the Cham Empire of Ancient Vietnam. You will find a lot of Shiva temples since the Cham dynasty practised Hinduism.

  • Take a day trip to Hue, the ancient capital city of Vietnam.

  • Take up cooking lessons to learn some unique Vietnamese cuisines during the day in Hoi An

  • Take a boat ride in the Thu Bon River from Hoi An town to the Thang An Pottery Village.

  • Join a guided food tour arranged by student volunteers around Hoi An.

  • Go for a basket boat ride in the coconut mangroves and try your hands at crab fishing.

  • Drive around to see the paddy fields and vegetable farms. You could even try a water buffalo ride!

  • Hoi An also has a beach named An Bang, which happens to be devoid of tourist crowds. Hit the beach to relax and gorge on some seafood.

Important Tips to Explore Hoi An

  • How to Reach Hoi An: The nearest Airport and Railway Station is at Da Nang which is at a distance of 30 km from Hoi An. This distance can be covered by shuttle buses from the Airport and also from Hoi An town at a nominal cost. However, if you wish to hire a taxi, it could cost you up to 500,000 VND which is an added expense above your flight or train tickets.

  • Tickets: While entering Hoi An town, do not forget to buy a one-time ticket, which will cost you 120,000 VND and help you explore the old temples inside.

  • Accommodation: Plan to stay closer to Hoi An Old Town if you would want to explore it extensively. Eco Resorts or Farmstays are a good option if you wish to explore village life.

  • Commute: Many hotels provide a bicycle to take it around the town which is sufficient if you do not plan to go far from the town. Motorcycles are available for rent. Grab taxis are available as well.

  • Best Season to Visit: May to September are summers in Hoi An. October to December experiences heavy rainfalls, carry your ponchos if you visit during the rains. Hoi An is prone to flooding, so avoid the rains if possible.


10 Comments


Deepali
Deepali
May 04

Great writing. Here is a travel guide to Hoi An that anyone may use to ensure they have an amazing time there.

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akanksha pandey
akanksha pandey
Apr 19

"Great read! I found this article really informative and engaging. It's always fascinating to learn more about Hoi An. Looking forward to more content like this in the future!"

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Rashmi
Rashmi
Apr 17

Amazing. Seems to be a great experience. Here's a travel guide to Hoi An anyone can go through to have a great experience at the place.

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Saptadeepa Bandopadhyay
Saptadeepa Bandopadhyay
Apr 19
Replying to

The key is to just wander in Hoi An and get lost in time!! That's the reason I never intended to share a 'Things to do' kinda blog! That's for the algorithm I know!

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Uma Raheja
Uma Raheja
Apr 03

Going to Hoi An was like being in a beautiful picture of Vietnam! The streets are old with colorful lights, the food is delicious, and everything there tells the story of Vietnam. It was like a trip back in time that you won't forget!

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Lokesh sharma
Lokesh sharma
Apr 02

"Your journey through Hoi An truly captured the essence of this enchanting heritage town in Central Vietnam! Reading about your explorations, from the ancient streets adorned with colorful lanterns to the serene riverside vistas, transported me to the heart of Hoi An's timeless charm. Your vivid descriptions and personal anecdotes not only painted a beautiful picture of the town but also offered valuable insights into its rich cultural heritage and architectural treasures. It's evident that Hoi An's unique blend of history, cuisine, and artisanal craftsmanship left an indelible mark on your travel experience. As someone planning a visit to Vietnam, your blog serves as an invaluable guide, igniting my excitement to immerse myself in the magic of Hoi An. Thank…

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ABOUT
Me

Hi, I am Saptadeepa, an Indian travel  enthusiast.

My curiosity to explore the unexplored, has led me to some offbeat destinations across India and a few neighbouring South East Asian countries.


Seeking Happiness Diaries is a travel inspired lifestyle blog where I share my adventures, stories, experiences and life lessons  through my journeys.

In leisure, I finds solace in reading books or writing about travel and life experiences on this blog.

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