Hoi An or Faifoo, the old name, right in the Central Coast of Vietnam, 30-40km from Đanang, Hoi An used to be a trading port, back to 15th century. In 1535 a Portuguese explorer and sea captain, Antonio de Faria, tried to establish a trading center in Faifoo, but only in 1595 Hoi An has been founed as commercial port by Nguyen Lord, Nguyen Hoang.
Hoi An means a “peaceful meeting place” and used to be the best destination for trading in all South East Asia for Chinese and Japanese merchants in 18th century. Nowadays we still can find the influence from the Chinese and the Japanese throughout the old town from the architecture to the cuisine.
The Japanese bridge or Chùa Cầu was constructed by the Japanese trading community in 1593 to connect them with the Chinese area on the other side of a small stream. The bridge remains until today as a remarkable trace of the Japanese influence in Vietnam.
My first time to Hoi An was between 1992-1993, when I accompanied a group of Australians who did a commercial filming for a Korean electronic brand. We were staying there for 2 days, we did a film shooting in one of the oldest wooden houses in Hoi An, over 300-year old.
I had a chance to meet the owner, he kindly explained his house history, some unique details in construction like no any nails, the light well in the middle of the house, the unique gutter, the ornaments…I can’t remember much from that trip but was very impressed with the house. That was in 1992. Hoi An was getting more popular in 1999 when considered as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
One of my friends who has been in Hoi An, back in 1985, what he still keeps in his mind about Hoi An – was a small textile village, back to that time he could hear from far the sound of the old traditional textile machines working in almost every single house in Hoi An. Most houses were very old, required big maintenance…Now unfortunately all gone, nothing left with the textile business that used to be a major business activities in the old town.
It’s not easy to maintain the house in the original construction, as it requires a lot of efforts, so some families either replaced it with the new construction or just sell it. Nowadays there is a law to protect the old quarter so new construction seems no longer allowed and the sale price is also up to sky.
Hoi An today is full of tourists and the old houses turned into shops offering everything that could attract visitor’s attention: from the paintings, handmade souvenirs, lacquer, tailoring, fashion, jewelry…to the famous lanterns.
There was time I wonder why lanterns ? To me it sounds like something new for Hoi An until I heard the story – the first tourists who came to Hoi An in early 1990s, saw some gorgeous traditional bamboo red lanterns in the old wooden house, they loved it very much and decided to order, ever since the new business was born “the colorful lanterns from Hoi An” either with paper or silk.
But not only lanterns, the tailoring, especially Vietnamese traditional ao dai also became a favorite gift. Japanese or Korean, single or couple, they order or buy ready-to-wear and dress up for walk in Hoi An, with the bamboo hat in the sunny days, it’s adding the lovely beauty to the old town.
In 1999-2000 the movie “A quiet American” by Philip Noyce surely was shot in this house as while enjoying my smoothie in this coffee-restaurant, I noticed an old TV keep showing some fragments from “A quiet American”, I didn’t check with the staff but my guess this house was one of that American film locations.
The street along Hoài river, it’s quite nice to wander to feel the breeze in the summer heat, there are many coffee shops, restaurants along the road, one side is the local market, another side leading to the famous ancient Japanese bridge – Chùa Cầu.
I was told during the full moon, every 14th day by moon calendar, the town turns off the household electricity, use only these paper lanterns to light up the town and by Hoài river the locals hold the lantern festival, by preparing the small lotus lanterns and let it floating on the river in hope for luck, happiness and prosperity. It would be a spectacular scenery, I wish I could come back for the Mid-Autumn Festival – the biggest full moon festive of the year.
I didn’t have much time to explore the specialities in Hoi An this time, there are many nice restaurants offering those famous dishes but I would prefer to taste the original not the ones for tourists. I couldn’t find any, partly I was not that hungry, partly I was tired enough so just wanted to go back to the hotel. I will definitely come back and try those delicacies I have in my mind.
Time for me to go back to Đà Nẵng, it would take another 30 minutes by car. I would love to come back to Hoi An one day, probably by the end of the year, take a bike from Danang to Hoi An, to have more time enjoy this old town.
My next post will be about my experience at one of the most luxury hotels in the world, located on Peninsula Sơn Trà (Đà Nẵng). Meanwhile you can enjoy some more lanterns from Hội An, or order them online or do visit Hoi An, spend some time to learn how to make the lanterns!