24.02.2017 - 28.03.2017
Well, well, well, we have finally made it to the town that everyone has raved about our entire trip! Each traveller we ran into always asked us the same question, “Have you been”, or, “Are you going to Hoi An”? The moment we arrived, we realized why everyone was making such a fuss - there is something special about this gem of a town and it’s hard to explain without witnessing it in person. Hoi An has been inhabited for over 2200 years and has not evolved easily with the changing times. It was almost destroyed in the Tay Son rebellion and as the Thu Bon River silted up within the last century, the town was no longer able to support large vessels and lost its major port status to Danang. This was a blessing in disguise for the town though, as the town has retained its’ small town feel and charm. The Ancient Town, which is where most everyone spends their time, is now filled with buildings of many cultural influences. From the Japanese merchant houses, to the Chinese temples; French colonial buildings to Buddhist Pagoda’s, this town feels magical and accepting to whomever enters.
In order to visit the preserved Ancient buildings in the old town, we had to purchase an entrance ticket that allows access to this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The ticket however, only allows you to enter 5 out of hundreds of buildings, so we had to choose wisely. One of the sites we decided to see was an old Apothecary, filled with bottles, jars and vases – some of which held the original “medicines” used by the people of the town hundreds of years ago. Next we visited the Tan Ky House – a house built over 200 years ago and is still lived in by the same family. It was originally built by a Vietnamese family, however throughout the house there remains Chinese (poems and characters written on beams) and Japanese (ceilings carved with sabres) architectural influences. One beam in particular resides in the back of the house which is marked like a growth chart. However, instead of measuring the heights of children, the lines instead represent how high the water has been during many of Hoi An’s floods. In 1964, the largest flood of the century, the water almost reached the ceiling of the 1st floor – 9 or 10ft high.
The one day we did not explore the old town, we took a tour to My Son, which is an area 37km away from Hoi An, covered in religious Hindu temples built over 1000 years ago. Settled underneath the Sandstone Mountains, in a lush green jungle with trickling streams meandering throughout, this site was an extremely important area to the Champa Kingdom. It was used for prayer mostly, but was assumed to be a burial site for monarchs as well. The temples look similar in colour and shape to the temples of Angor Wat; however they are much smaller and are in poor condition. Because most of the temples were destroyed in the Vietnam War (the Northern Vietnamese fighters were hiding in the temples, so the American’s bombed the entire area destroying all but 20 structures) archaeologists and local agencies have been trying to rebuild them as naturally as possible. This is noticeable in the temples as the newest areas have bright orange stones and the original areas are a darker black color. The archaeologists are still uncertain of exactly how these structures were constructed and are amazed that the older bricks are continuing to outlast the new ones.
As we neared the end of our time in Hoi An, we realized that one of our favourite things about this town was exploring at night. There were lights shining up and down the streets with neon signs flashing outside stores and restaurants. People were wandering around with their eyes peering into every shop trying to figure out how much to bargain for. And then, there were the lanterns. Oh, the lanterns! There were so many of them everywhere and they were absolutely beautiful, as if they were floating above us in the night sky, adding to the magical spell this town has already cast upon us. Each lantern had its’ own shape and colour and they were strung up for what seemed like miles, from shop to shop, building to building. No matter what was happening around the town, they seemed to steal the show as every tourist was snapping pictures, taking videos or buying these whimsical ornaments.
On a lesser note we were lucky enough to have eaten at one of the restaurants featured on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown Anthony Bourdain - Banh Mi Vietnam video link. They are world renowned for their Banh Mi and they did not disappoint. Even with all of the fame that the show provided to this small sandwich shop, the prices remain low and the quality is excellent. We highly recommend this place when in Hoi An.
Anyone who is planning on heading to the beach while in Hoi An should know that due to a violent storm, Cua Dai beach has eroded significantly and continues to erode at an alarming rate. Large parts of the beach are now sandbagged and the water is very dangerous to swim in. Nice beach does remain in certain parts around Hoi An, but please ask around and make sure that you find the right spot before heading out.
And just for fun