Today’s post is from Judith at Temples and Markets
Beautiful Vietnam calls to travellers from all over the world. The incredible people, the temperate (at times) weather, the diverse natural life, the wondrous food and drink along with the sprawling, burgeoning economy make this journey a veritable feast for the senses. A visit to historic and precious Hoi An, Vietnam, allows visitors to take in the sights and sounds of a delightful, ancient town that is awash with culture and wonder.
History of Hoi An
Hoi An has operated as a trading port for as long as anyone can recall. Records show that there were port developments and activities as early as the 15th century. The planning and architecture of the village is a traditional Vietnam blend of French and Southeast Asian. The winding streets, pokey laneways and impressive building fronts all speak of a town rich in history.
It is easy to while away the days in Hoi An. Dining at an incredible number of restaurants and food carts offers moments for quiet reflection in this town with a long and varied past. Chatting with friendly locals and sitting back to watch the local colour float by in the steaming Vietnam humidity, cold drink in hand, may make one feel as if they were in another world. Echoes of “The Quiet American,” Greene’s famed tome about the Vietnam War and the impact on Vietnamese culture and lifestyle, are present in the buildings, the cobblestones and the smiles on the faces of all those you see around you.
Things to do in Hoi An
Hoi An is accessible by road after flying to the city of Da Nang. You may also travel by train or bus from the main city hub. There are many services that operate throughout the week and most modes of transport are quite easy to access.
There are an impressive array of markets in Hoi An that offer excellent handicrafts as well as professional tailoring services at prices that are sure to impress those of us used to paying a lot more. It’s easy to find yourself leaving with at least an entire suitcase more than you arrived with as there are just so many treasures to be found. Ensure you look for ethically sourced products and keep in mind that what you are purchasing will need to pass through customs upon your return!
Long walks or bike rides through town offer the opportunity to really explore the streets, alleys and nooks and crannies that no tour guide would ever show you. There is also the option to laze on Hoi An’s beach but be warned – this is a mecca for sun seekers and will be very busy on the weekends and during special holidays.
There is a cultural blend afoot in Hoi An. As a result, you can pay a visit to the famous Japanese Covered Bridge as well as the Fujian Assembly Hall. A trip to the Hoi An Old Town (A UNESCO World Heritage Site) reveals the careful effort that has gone into preserving time gone by. Here there are lanterns lit at night, French-colonial style houses and winding old canals that whisper of a time long passed.
There are not a lot of ‘after hours’ options for entertainment but you’re sure to find a place to sink a few glasses and play some pool. There are happy hours in a lot of the cafes and dancing is encouraged. It’s just that everyone packs up quite early – night owls may find themselves at a bit of a loss!
There are diving classes, cycling tours and cooking classes on offer for the active traveller. For those of a more introspective nature, this truly is a town begging to be captured on film. There are a plethora of opportunities to capture the wonderful people (with permission) and incredible sights of this unique place on film. One could spend many an hour setting up to paint the beauty that they see around them, inspired by the incredible smells that waft up to all the balconies from the cafes and restaurants. This is an artisan city that is buoyed by creativity.
Working with local artists
When purchasing wares overseas, it’s important to pay attention to its source. Where did it come from? Who made it? What story does it tell? Where will the proceeds go? These questions will ensure the purchases you make support local artisans and community initiatives.
The people of Hoi An have stories to tell and they often choose an artistic medium to do so. Sourcing this ethically produced artistry has become a passion project for me and was the inspiration for Temples and Markets, where I look to bring these wares to the world and do their humble histories justice.
I first saw and fell in love with some gorgeous water hyacinth basket bags in the window of the Mekong Quilts Store in Hoi An. The bags and quilts sold in that store are the work of Mekong Plus, which is a social enterprise aiming to create sustainable employment for under-privileged women residing in remote and rural areas of Vietnam and Cambodia. Mekong Plus has made a difference to countless lives on the Mekong Delta.
Travelling on a budget
Thankfully, a trip to Hoi An in Vietnam will not break the budget. Food and drink is quite cheap here, as are the handicrafts so you’ll find a visit here a little easier on the wallet than more tourist-heavy destinations.
A recommendation is to do what you can on foot (or pedal) so you can make a saving on transport. As food is cheap, you’ll be able to experiment with a variety of restaurants until you find one that suits. You’ll find that these places often have eating sections upstairs so guests may take advantage of cool breezes and the music that flows from seemingly every direction.
About The Author
Judith is an avid traveller who has spent many years in Vietnam with her growing family. Judith is passionate about empowering Vietnamese locals to earn a living wage through her ethical gift store, Temples and Markets. You can read the story of one of her local sources, VillageCraft Planet, who are passionate about community stewardship and keeping local ethnic traditions alive.