Hoi An – My Coup de Coeur (or Be Still my Beating Heart)
I know I’m far from being one in a million when I say that Hoi An was hands down my favorite city in Vietnam. Most people who have visited Hoi An will proclaim the same thing. It’s one of those places that makes you feel like you’re in a fairy tale – that is, a fairy tale with uniquely stunning Asian architecture. It’s one of those places that makes you (literally) stop in your footsteps and think how fortunate you are for being there. It’s one of those places that could easily be the official image found under the definition of pretty or charming in the dictionary.
Yes, it’s that dreamy of a place. (Oh, it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site but even if it weren’t it would still be just as dreamy).
Dating back to the 15th century, exceptionally-preserved Hoi An can seem overly touristic with a wide selection of restaurants (with English-written traveler-friendly menus) and bars thumping the latest top-ten hits but it somehow still managed to retain loads of charm thanks to its flaxen houses and terracotta roof tiles. (I admit the row of bars across the quiet Thu Bon River slightly tainted my picture-perfect image of Hoi An but there was so much more to like that I didn’t let it phase me).
Despite its seemingly overdeveloped nature, Vietnamese women of all ages still wear their conical nón lá hats, the central market still shamelessly overflows onto the streets with all sorts of local foods and the colorful Vietnamese silk lanterns still look quintessentially authentic. Like I said, loads of charm.
So with no further ado, I’ll just let the following photos (and a few narratives) perfectly demonstrate how Hoi An became my unequivocal coup de coeur.
Many visitors flock to Hoi An to take advantage of its reputation as being the capital of custom-made (silk) clothing. Here you could have a whole suit made in a matter of days for very little money. There’s certainly no shortage of shops lined with stacks of fabrics on offer – the choice was almost intimidating! But, brace yourselves, I might be part of the very infinitesimal number of visitors who go to Hoi An who actually didn’t have anything made. Nada, zilch, niente. Shocking, I know!
Don’t get me wrong, I was tempted more than once but, the truth is, I much preferred discovering the most I could of the prettiest town my eyes had ever seen. Well, that and the fact that we were in Hoi An for only two days (we both wished we would’ve stayed longer).
I’m a very indecisive, not-at-all-impulsive and should-I-shouldn’t-I kind of person who loses sleep over which fabric (remember the rolls and rolls) to choose. Add to that the fact that I tend to break a sweat and get covered in red blotches when presented with an obscene amount of choices in so little time (ah, the woes of a first-world traveler). Given my nature, I decided rather wisely to not even attempt having the simplest piece of clothing custom-made. Not to mention the heat and humidity at the end of April already did a fine job of making me look less than camera-ready; I didn’t need the added pressure (once again, the woes….) activating my sweat glands even more.
But please don’t let my silly antics stop you from spending your dongs on your very own custom-made piece of clothing. (There’s also an abundance of ready-made clothing if you don’t have time to wait – or if you’re as pathetic as I am in the decision-making department).
If you absolutely need a pair of shoes to match your newly-made clothes, several shops offer custom-made footwear. I did contemplate having some made but (notwithstanding the above-mentioned reasons) I wasn’t convinced the quality would be good enough to hold up for an extended period of time.
Take the handsomely-decorated bridge across the Thu Bon River to stroll through the night market where all sorts of
cheap goodies can be found including lots of street food stalls. If you want to bring back a souvenir from your time in Hoi An then a lantern should be your first pick. Not only is it lightweight and easy to carry (they fold up) but Hoi An is widely known for its handmade silk lanterns. They can be bought at a number of shops on both sides of the riverbanks. The prices are as attractive as the variety of vibrantly colored lanterns. And they look so pretty lit up at night creating a very romantic atmosphere!
The Japanese Covered Bridge is an emblem of Hoi An attracting many visitors both local and from abroad. The construction of the bridge started in the 1590’s by the Japanese community as a means to connect them to the then-Chinese quarter. To this day, it kept its authentically traditional Japanese architecture rendering it very photogenic.
If I haven’t yet sold you on the idea that Hoi An should definitely be on your list of places to see, then let me inform you that a mere 4 km away there’s a beach. A very nice beach, in fact. It’s a great place to mingle with the locals, grab a bite to eat at the many pop-up restaurants lining the beach or simply sip on a coconut drink. Or why not all three!
Remember the name: Ao Bang Beach – hop on your scooter and go!
Interesting fact: Vietnamese girls and women are very modest so will, therefore, swim fully-clothed. I noticed that young men also ran carefree into the water still wearing their jeans and tops. I could only think of how uncomfortable wet denim can be and of how long it takes to dry. To each his own!
Have you been to Hoi An? Please do tell in the comments below!