- Southeast asia
The Colorful Lanterns of Hoi An's Ancient City
Hoi An is a small town on the central coast of Vietnam, situated roughly halfway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city. This little city was once considered the best port city for trade by Chinese and Japanese merchants. The influence of the Chinese and the Japanese can be seen throughout the ancient city from architecture to food. The city would light up at night with lanterns while people from everywhere gather and mingle along the river. It is one of the most photogenic and laid back places I have been in Vietnam and for good reasons.
Vietnam Travel Video
Where to Stay in Hoi An
After 3 days in Ho Chi Minh City, I flew to Danang via Vietnam Airline as Nina suggested since I had only 2 weeks in the country. Thientan Homestay Villa, a homestay Nina also suggested, picked me up and transferred me to Hoi An for 10USD. As with all new cities, I went straight out and walked around the city to get the feel of what Hoi An is like.
Exploring Hoi An's Market in the Evening
From my homestay, it took me 10 minutes to walk to the ancient city. The benefit of walking is that it allowed me to observe how people actually live around the area.
As the sun goes down, the city lighted up with several colorful lanterns illuminating the road.
Hoi An has to be one of the most laid back place I have been. The ancient city is right by the river, the road is closed in the evening for people to walk, and the countless restaurants selling the most delicious Vietnamese food in all Vietnam.
You can rent a bike from Most hostels or homestays in the area. It serves as a great transportation because on one side, there is this Ancient City and on the other side, a beautiful beach, 15 minutes ride away.
You can also hire a paddler to paddle a boat along the river and enjoy the view of the ancient city from another perspective.
Even though, it gets pretty touristy at night, you can always find a quiet street that you can relax and enjoy the atmosphere.
Houses in the area are all painted in a bright yellow color with wooden decoration from windows to furnitures.
This is why Hoi An is the most photogenic place in Vietnam. It is the combination of the architecture, the color palette and all the lighted up lanterns that make this place pop!
Both sides of the river were surrounded by cafes and restaurants.
I was making a mental note of cafes in the area so that I could come back the next day for a nice cup of coffee.
It only took me one evening to fall in love with Hoi An. This place was magical!
The sight of people sitting on the street trying all kinds of Vietnamese cuisine was quite common in Hoi An.
Hoi An is big on cheap, high quality tailoring and of course lanterns.
This guy looked troubled..
As I was walking around, I stumbled upon this guy playing some sort of chinese string instrument. What captured my attention was not the instrument but the sound that came out of it. To my surprise, the sound was digital and the song he played resembled modern chill-out electronica which I like.
There were a lot of upscale restaurants in the area but you can always find street food stall as delicious as the food in the restaurants but with half the price.
I ended my first evening with a visit to the famous Japanese bridge, built by the Japanese community in 1590s to connect the Japanese community to the Chinese quarter.
Bike Around Hoi An's Old Town
For my second day in Hoi An, I decided to rent a bike and went for a spin, but first thing first, I needed a coffee!
I found this cozy cafe in the Ancient City called Reaching Out. What made this cafe special was that they only employed deafs and mutes, giving them jobs while creating one of the most peaceful experience a cafe could get.
No one was talking out loud in the cafe. They only whispered in low voices among themselves. It was the perfect place to enjoy a nice coffee while reading your favorite books.
In order to communicate with the waitresses, you either have to know sign language or use one of these blocks of words provided by the cafe. It was pretty damn cool!
The Japanese Bridge without all the light work. I much preferred it in this form than when I saw it at night with all the crazy light they put up.
A blind guy selling tiger balms in front of a restaurant.
This is what the ancient city looked like during the day. Not as crowded which made it a perfect place for a laid back day.
After a coffee, I took my bike and went up toward the beach. I did not expect much since Vietnam is not exactly a country you go for beaches but I was surprise to see how well maintained the beach was. It was also less touristy than most beaches in South East Asia.
As the sun was about to set, I went into one of the many rice fields in the area and watched the sunset.
I just couldn't get enough of the green rice fields in Vietnam. There were ridiculously green!
I wasn't sure if I was trespassing but here I was, in a rice field waiting for the sun to set.
Good morning Vietnaaaam.. or in this case, Good evening Vietnaaaam!
This is definitely my favourite photo. It captured an ordinary life of people in Hoi An very well.
Visit MySon Ruins
In the early morning, I decided to go on a tour to MySon temple, an ancient remnant of the once revered Champa kingdom. It was a long ride from Hoi An to where the temple is and to tell you the truth, I was not impressed by it.
In comparison to the Angkor Wat, this was nothing.
The temples spread out into several zones non of which are big and well maintained.
I read somewhere that the company that was suppose to take care of the temple didn't do a very good job at it and apparently they are cashing in quite a lot from tourism.
That said, it was still interesting to see how the temple of the Champa Kingdom resembled the Angkor Wat of the Khmer Empire.
It took me only an hour to walk through the whole complex but since I had to wait for my group to finish, I did not leave MySon until almost 2 PM. It was a gentle reminder of the reason why I would rather go alone than in tour groups.
The tour costed me only 5 USD so I couldn't complain much. They dropped me off at the Ancient City per my request.
Try the best Bahn Mi in the World (IMHO)!
As I walked around trying to find a nice place to eat, I stumbled upon a long line in front of this small Bahn Mi restaurant called Banh Mi Phuong.
I was curious and so I decided to sit down and ordered myself a Grilled Sausage Bahn Mi, a vietnamese style sandwich. The price was 30,000 dong per sandwich.
It was the most delcious sandwich I ever had. It was so rich in flavors every bite was a delight. The price was so cheap I decided to buy 2 more for my ride to Phong Nha the next day. If you are ever in Hoi An, be sure to check Banh Mi Phuong out.
I walked back to the homestay, got my transportation sorted out for the next day and went straight to bed.
Initially, I planned to go straight to Hanoi from Hoi An but as I learned more about the country, about the Hang San Doong cave, the biggest cave in the world that was recently discovered in Phong Nha, a small town just north of Hoi An, I decided to stop in Phong Nha for 2 nights before I continued on. After all, it would be a shame if I did not at least check the place out.
In the next entry, we will be exploring the wonderful cave system of central Vietnam in Phong Nha national park. This part of Vietnam is the most interesting part of all. The caves here are what makes Vietnam unique for me. In Thailand, we have sceneries similar to Vietnam but nothing could compare to the caves in Phong Nha. Stay tuned as I explored the ancient caverns of central Vietnam.
Further Reading about Vietnam
Are you looking for more information about traveling in Vietnam? Here are a few more articles that can help you with your trip in Vietnam:
- Looking for a complete travel guide and itinerary for Vietnam? 2 Weeks Itinerary for Vietnam.
- Are you planning to travel to Vietnam as part of a big Southeast Asia trip? Check out our 3 months backpacking itinerary for Southeast Asia.
- Ho Chi Minh City is a great place to start your journey in Vietnam and you can read more about Ho Chi Minh City here: 3 Days In Ho Chi Minh City
- If you are looking for an off-the-beaten path destination in Vietnam, do not miss a chance to explore the caves of Phong Nha National Park.
- Ninh Binh is a great alternative to Halong Bay if you are not so keen on sleeping on a boat for a few days and having to deal with cheap tour agencies and drunk tourists. You can read more about my experience of Ninh Binh here.
- I have written about my experience traveling to Sapa by train, hiking and exploring the mountains and hills of Sapa on a motorbike.
- Not convinced by my words about Vietnam? Here are 33 photos that will inspire you to visit Vietnam now.
- You can see all my Vietnam related articles on my Vietnam Travel Guide page.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by Pete Rojwongsuriya, the founder of BucketListly Blog where we will follow his solo journey around the world as he experiences different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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