Thursday, February 20, 2014

Into the past, historic city of Hoi An

Hoi An is situated on the East coast of Vietnam and comes in the central zone. Even though it is situated on coast, beach is definitely not the main attraction there. No, it is more famous as a historically elegant architecture along the banks of Bon river.
My bus from Mui Ne was supposed to take 16 hours to reach Hoi An, but it took 24 hours instead, thanks to multiple breakdowns. As my bus finally entered the age-old town, it was almost entering into past. There were no tall, modern buildings. Only small houses which seem to be at least a century old, with many lanterns hanging on the ropes on the streets. The sides of the street were lines with many cafes as is the case with rest of Vietnam, many of which selling beer as cheap as for VND 3,000! I met my travel companion, Josette, at the homestay and we started off to explore the town. Our homestay was in the center of the city and it took us about 10 minutes to enter the famous old town, which lies along the river. There are many old monuments here, such as old houses, old assembly halls, a Japanese covered bridge and many temples and pagodas. Entrance ticket of VND 100,000 allows you to visit 5 of them. However, most places don't ask for tickets and you may leave the town with a few tickets still unused.
The river is not too big, but big enough to support many boats that offer rides to tourists. There are a few bridges that take you to small islets on the river or greater Hoi An. As you enter the old town and walk along the river, the atmosphere is festival like. It is thronged with tourists, and perhaps you will see more foreign faces than locals. Yet, the place retains its historic importance and old charm. It's almost like going back in time and you can imagine how the place would have been a few centuries ago. The roads might have been cobblestones instead of tar, there would have been walkers and carts instead of moto-bikes, people would have been wearing traditional Vietnamese clothes (women, wearing the same conical hats as today) and there would have been more royal people around instead of cafes, bars and souvenir shops. But as I mentioned, there's something about the place, that, in spite of so many things changing, has still retained the old charm. And this charm is what tourists flock the town for, both foreigners and Vietnamese alike.
Old town


The river

We entered the Japanese covered bridge, which is probably the symbol of the town. It was constructed by Japanese before they left the town as early as in 1600's. There are dog statues and pig statues at each end serving sentries.
Japanese covered bridge

We continued the walk through the town and reached another famous piece of architecture, Tan Ky house. About 5 generation of the current family have lived in this house. As we entered the house and presented our ticket, we were greeted by a family member who gave us a cup of tea and explained a little bit of history about the house, at times pointing at the ceiling or columns to show how Japanese or Chinese architecture was incorporated in this house. There are a few poems written in Chinese on the columns and many photos of people who have lived in this house. Its not the biggest of the structure, but worth a visit.
Inside the house

Japanese inspired ceiling

From the outside
On the road we visited many other houses, museums, temples and assembly halls, each carrying different and interesting history and significance.

As you walk through the town, small speakers on the poles play out instrumental music, which goes well with the place. The night adds a different flavor to the atmosphere. Lanterns are lit and throw different colors according to the canvas they are carrying. Little girls sell small candles which float on the river bank. The river itself reflects every light in its dark waters, creating a magical world. Japanese bridge changes colors according to different lights thrown on it by various bulbs below. There are flashes everywhere with people posing for the camera. Streets become walking zones and there are no more moto-bikes you need to worry about. The town is more beautiful in the night than in any time of the day. You can not leave this town without doing a night walk along the edge of the river!
Start of the evening

Lighting it up!


Japanese bridge, night view

The town

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