It is a well-preserved city where every street corner reflects both local and foreign influences, somehow reminding you of a place or a country you once visited and yet the sight of nón lá (Vietnamese conical leaf hat) brings you back to your present location. This over-all ambiance mainly the result of what once considered as the largest harbour town in South East Asia, what once an active trading port between 15th and 19th century.
With dominating colors of yellow merchant houses, to explore Hoi An is quite easy, it can be done either by foot or by bicycle, though cycling is my preferred option in order to easily reach the old town from my hostel at Hai Ba Trung Street and to loop around each and every corner of the old city ensuring that I won’t miss a scene.
Like others UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hoi An have plenty of prevailing characteristics that when combined resulted into one distinctive atmosphere. To begin breaking down these characteristics, it makes total sense to start with the town decoration – lanterns.
Several shops can be found inside the old town while most of them are encouraging visitors to watch the lantern making process, with Hoi An Handicraft Workshop particularly combines the ancient Vietnamese crafts with a traditional show.
Exploring the foreign architectural and religious influences that made Hoi An somewhat unique, it is important to start at two of the town most iconic sight, the Japanese Covered Bridge and the Quan Cong Temple.
Upon stepping inside the temple dedicated to Quan Cong, a Chinese general worshipped as a symbol of loyalty, integrity and justice, apart from everything red and gold expected from a Chinese temple, one thing surely stand out at Quan Cong Temple are the spiral-like structure hanging on the ceiling that can be mistaken for a lamp shade but in fact an incense offering.
Apart from Quan Cong Temple, there are several temples and sights across the old town often located in between merchant houses, the pink gate of Fukian Assembly Hall, the Phuoc Lam Pagoda and Chuc Thanh Pagoda to name a few.
Truly, what makes Hoi An remarkable aside from everything touristy pleasing is the fact that it remains to be an active place of trading. Like any other town in Vietnam, it is a common sight to see nón lá clad women selling or preparing something, as if a moment spent idle is a wasted time.
Family owned shops offering custom-made suit and dress are plenty both in and out of the ancient town. I was quite satisfied simply admiring the beautiful display, thus cannot attest to the quality or the price of tailored made dress.
Close to Hoi An market is the port area, a good place to spent an afternoon sipping a freshly pressed sugar cane juice while waiting for the sunset and admiring the port scene of boats carrying passenger and their valuable motorcycles. This port scene requiring no further explanation and attest to the two most important transportation life line in Vietnam.
The old town of Hoi An could be just any typical town and its progress on becoming one of the most historically important and picturesque town in Vietnam solely relies on its location beside the Thu Bon River.
I could spend hours or days waking inside the old town, seeing the same thing and yet having a renewed sense of wonder and excitement, a sense of wanting to keep a specific frame before I depart for my next destination. One of those scene that made such impression is that of a Vietnamese farmer attending to her crop with the whole old town as her background.
What made it truly remarkable is her farmland, a very small portion of land against everything that is now transforming Hoi An into a 21st century tourist draw, how she was unfazed doing her work despite all the shutterbugs around her.
Impressive is how I will describe Hoi An.
I was too impressed to the point that I find myself quite dissatisfied with the many photographs I took, a feeling of not fully capturing the every essence of this UNESCO World Heritage town, maybe this yearning will be the same reason why I see myself coming back to this town once more.