Hoi An, Vietnam: City of Lanterns

28 12 2016

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Our Vietnam trip began with big cities, and we were in need of relief. Saigon, with over 10 million population, biblical traffic congestion and pollution was becoming exhausting. It made us yearn for something more intimate. But up the coast, what we imagined to be a peaceful seaside town, Nha Trang, turned out to be more like Atlantic City New Jersey, its beach lined with 40-story hotels and booming boardwalk. Hoi An would be the antidote we needed.

Hoi An was once one of SE Asia’s most visited ports. Its docks hosted ships from as far away as India and Europe. The architecture has roots in Japan. If its river had not shallowed due to silting after a major flooding event in the 1800s, Hoi An would no doubt still be an industrial magnet. Once the river became too shallow for big ships, other ports took up the trade and Hoi An’s economy collapsed. But its historical significance and beauty caused both sides in the Vietnam War to agree to declare the city off limits to fighting. As such, it retained its character until the 1990s, when Vietnam opened up again. It’s been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tourism  opportunities were realized, and Hoi An Town was declared a walking-only district. Today, one can stroll the streets free from choking, honking motorbikes and cars. Of course, that means the tourists come in throngs. Nevertheless, especially in the morning, Hoi An can be quite relaxing and charming.

We lodged at the Hoi An Lantern Hotel, conveniently situated walking distance from the vehicle-free zone.

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Its rooms surround a nice pool. And I availed myself of its cool waters twice. One day, we had monsoon-like downpours which came without notice, completely drenching us on a bike ride. I returned soaked, and simply jumped in the pool!

In Hoi An, there are a number of top activities. Walking has to be numero uno. Just strolling around taking it slow is a good way to spend time.

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Along a canal

Renting a bike is another, and I’ll cover that is the next blog post. It’s easily pedaled. Sampling the cuisine, and taking cooking classes are not to be missed. Seafood, especially crab and dumplings are specialties. Some opt for a sampan ride. And of course the tailors. Supposedly Hoi An has 600+ tailors. So, if tailored clothing is your thing, you’ll love Hoi An. I don’t have much need for tailored clothing, and shopping is not my cup of tea. And frankly, the goods to buy in Hoi An are repeated over and over again all over the city. So walking early in the day, and just people watching were enough – plus some nice food!

I walked and walked, hunting for a crab lunch and boy did I find it! Two crabs with lots of to die for veggies. I risked a total stomach melt down on that lunch but it went well. There was no penalty for all those veggies! In SE Asia, you take risks when eating fresh veggies. You never know what might happen a few hours later!

A famous sight in Hoi An is the Japanese covered bridge. Reminded me of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy, with lots of tourists, and an exhibit inside. There, I was treated to some Vietnamese hospitality. I had an extra large umbrella from my hotel, and when I saw a friend, I dueled him with it. After some conversation, we were walking about two blocks away and I realized I didn’t have my umbrella! I headed back to the bridge, where I asked two police hoping to find it. Guess what? They actually had it for me!

There are some 800 designated historical buildings in Hoi An. Some are Buddhist temples of Chinese architecture, and entry to these is partially covered by a ticket folks must purchase to enter the vehicle-free zone. They’re worth exploring.

I kept walking back alleys, across the canal, to the part of the city nearer the sea. I was hoping to find a kayak rental facility, but when I got there, all that remained was a shell of an old boat. So, I stopped in for a hair cut.

 

$5 later, I was on my way. If you’re in Vietnam, I’d say you’ve got to visit Hoi An!


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