"Exploring Vietnam" is part of my vacation series recap. If you're just tuning in, you can catch up here: Vietnam Trip Recap.
The moment we stepped into Hoi An, it almost felt like a book of ancient fairy tales came to life. I've never been to a city with such a great level of preserved history (over 2,000 years), beauty and grace. Hoi An isn't just a food destination, there's plenty of things to see, explore and learn. As you stroll through the magical cobblestone streets, you'll be greeted with illuminating beautiful silk lanterns everywhere, ancient buildings and temples, and friendly faces (some locals will smile for a photo and demand $1 from you afterwards).
In my third and final Hoi An post, I'm sharing my favorite non-food related moments and photos from our trip, including my memorable experience from the Full Moon Lantern Festival.
If you missed my last two Vietnam posts, you can catch up here: [#1] 13 of my favorite specialty dishes of Hoi An and [#2] fresh seafood, fruits and vegetables at Hoi An's street market.
Hey, it's us! It took a while for us to take this selfie and this was one of the few photos we have of ourselves where we're not stuffing our faces with food. Hoi An was definitely my favorite place on our trip, but I can't say the same for Patrick. Unfortunately, he was sick for 2.5 days likely due to eating vegetables and herbs that were washed with contaminated water. I was completely fine and ended up exploring most of Hoi An solo. Go figure!
Hoi An's river system used to be the ancient transport network of Cham Kingdom for importing and exporting goods. The river stretches hundreds of kilometers inland. You'll see a variety of boats used by locals mostly for fishing and transport, but most of the boats you'll come across are touristy like the ones below. There are tons of ship owners waiting to get your business.
The buildings are full of history and damage-free from war activity. You'll find that the town is made up of timber frame buildings, with brick or wooden walls. According to UNESCO, "The surviving wooden structures and street plan are original and intact and together present a traditional townscape of the 17th and 18th centuries, the survival of which is unique in the region. The town continues to this day to be occupied and function as a trading port and centre of commerce."
Phuoc Lam Pagoda
This enchanting Buddhist temple was built towards the end of the 17th century. The architecture and wood carvings of the temple are extremely detailed. I loved strolling through the garden and checking out the large marble hand-carved statues of the different Buddhas. The temple was a nice place to find peace away from the main attractions.
This temple is the home to many Buddhist monks (if you look closely above you'll see them in the photo - click to enlarge). I arrived while they were sitting on the floor chanting their midday prayers and paying their respects to Buddha.
Shopping & Fashion
If you're into fashion, you're in luck because Hoi An is a mecca for silk threads and tailoring. You can get customized quality clothing created at very reasonable prices. There are many people who come here to get a custom suit or dress made. A lot of the locals have the skills to make their own clothing, so the tailor shops really cater to those who can afford it.
You can clearly differentiate between the locals and tourists based on the outfits worn. The locals enjoy wearing daytime-like pajamas with unique patterns.
One of my biggest pet peeves walking into a store in Vietnam (not only in Hoi An) was getting followed and monitored closely, like we were crooks. I don't think they have an understanding of what personal space means.
We picked up some of these beautiful coconut bowls, all hand designed with acrylic.
How the Locals Live
Here's one of the neighborhood streets we stumbled upon. In this photo is a lady selling banh cuon, a rolled rice sheet with filling) from her food cart. We walked through these homes and learned about how the locals lived through observation. The locals live minimally in small one or two-story homes and trust the neighborhood enough to leave their doors wide open for all eyes to see. We were told that Hoi An is such a small place that almost everyone knows one another.
There wasn't much inside these homes other than a television and maybe a few chairs. Inside of these homes are families laying on the floor to watch television. Outside we spotted the elderly sitting outside to watch the day go by, while the small neighborhood dogs run around playing tag with each other.
Even when the city gets rained on, it's picturesque. As you would expect, there are plenty of bikes everywhere, unlocked and parked on random streets and alleys. The cobblestone roads were really charming.
HOI AN'S FULL MOON LANTERN FESTIVAL EXPERIENCE
It was truly incredible to experience Hoi An's Full Moon Lantern Festival. The old town is beautifully transformed by flickering candlelight and multi-colored lanterns. The locals sell floating cardboard lotus flower-shaped lanterns with tiny candles to release on to the river to symbolize happiness, luck and love.
I purchased a floating candle lantern from a sweet little girl (pictured above) and she left her station to gently hold onto my shoulder to ensure that I don't fall into the river while releasing it into the water. I will never forget this night because it restored my faith in human kindness. These are the magical moments that I yearn for.
When I was doing research for our trip, I stumbled upon a photo of these twin brothers. They have become internet sensations and I can see why - they were dressed cute enough to sweet talk anyone into buying a candle. They weren't so happy in this photo though because their mom came back and scolded them for having too much fun.
In this photo, the younger sister lights up lanterns to sell while the older sister looks out towards the waterfront, holding a stick used to release the candles. If you look closely, you'll notice that they are standing on a section surrounded by water, a prime spot to quickly release the candles into the river.
I have great memories of Hoi An and do hope to make it back for a quick visit if we decide to go back to Vietnam again in the future.
VIETNAM TRIP RECAP: UP NEXT
In the next post about Vietnam, I'll quickly walk you through my one day in Da Nang.
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