Traveling to Vietnam has got to be on every traveler’s bucket list for this is a nation of mystery, white sand beaches, and incredible natural wonders. And unlike many countries, Vietnam has a seamless and easy entry process. While there are many cities of note found throughout this exciting nation one of the highlights is the charming city of Hoi An. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this ancient seaport consists of incredibly well-preserved yellow-hued buildings, Family Cult Houses*, and quaint bridges alongside traditional shops with Chinese, French, and Japanese architectural influences seen throughout this exuberant city.
Part of the charm of Hoi An are the elderly ladies carrying bamboo shoulder pole baskets (quang ganh) laden with fresh fruit and traditional wares. It’s also a city to explore by darting into an alleyway or two to observe families living out their daily lives doing various household chores. Watching peddlers float peacefully in their colorful wooden boats down the Thu Bon River was another favorite past time of mine when I was lucky enough to spend time in this lovely town.
Perhaps one of the most unique events I witnessed while in Hoi An was the New Year Celebration. In preparation for the holidays locals were paddling their boats down the river and placing brightly colored lotus lanterns on the water while pungent heavy incenses filled the air. I lit a candle and put it inside a brilliant green lantern allowing the current to carry my wishes as far as the eye could see as I took an idyllic stroll along the banks of the river. In case you miss the New Years Celebration; the lighting of the lanterns also occurs every 14th day of each lunar month.
The food in Hoi An rivals that of any found in Asia. One “must try” is the Cao Lau a specialty featuring pork and rice noodles soaked in lye with pungent local spices. Locals swear that the magic ingredient that makes this dish so special is the water that bubbles forth from the Ba Le Well. Banana Blossom Salad topped with shrimp is also a noteworthy dish. Yet, when food sampling in the city, do not miss the explosive combination of flavors found in white rose dumplings which feature shrimp, sugar and chili. They were one of my most memorable tasting experiences in Vietnam and they stole my culinary heart.
Shopping is never an issue in this venerable city for it is easy to find your heart’s desire here. One of the things I loved was taking a short tour and learning about the silkworm while watching them produce silk. After the tour, I stepped next door to buy beautiful silk scarves, garments, and a silk lantern or two. And one must not forget The Night Market which is revered by the citizens of Hoi An. It’s a great place to bargain for a variety of local crafts while mingling with the locals. It is an exciting way to spend an evening people watching, indulging in street food, and just grooving to the totally different vibe you will find when darkness descends.
Just a few miles outside of town you will often find women hard at work in the rice paddies and water buffalo roaming nearby. At a roadstead I stopped and had my first taste of water buffalo milk which has a thick, creamy texture and has more protein than cow’s milk. It’s a treat that can best be experienced rather than described.
Travelers the world over have fallen in love with the people, architecture, and history of Hoi An. This world-traveler rates it as one of the top small cities in the world to explore and I am willing to bet that after your visit to this amazing city that you will too.
Girls’ Guide to the World has a trip going to Cambodia & Vietnam with a stay in Hoi An in January of next year.