The lantern heaven of Hoi An
We surely kept the best for the end - on our third and last day in Central Vietnam we did a day-trip to Hoi An. We took a taxi from our hotel in Da Nang and the ride lasted for around 20-30 minutes. As a measure of preservation, Hoi An's Old Quarter is traffic free but our driver managed to leave us very close to the central area.
Going outside the vehicle we were instantly received by thousands of colorful lanterns, hanging from every single shop. We crossed the Thu Bon River and found ourselves right in front the Japanese covered bridge. There's an entrance fee for everyone wanting to visit it, however we bought the combined ticket for several spots within the Old Quarter. It costed us 120,000 VND (around 5 euros) and was valid for 24 hours.
The Japanese bridge was built in 1593 by the Japanese trading community to connect themselves with the Chinese quarter on the East side of the town. In 1663 however, the Tokugawa Shogun lemitsu issued edicts, forbidding the Japanese to trade abroad which led to the abrupt end of the community. In 1719 a Vietnamese temple was built on the North side of the bridge's structure and the new name Lai Vien Kieu (Bridge from Afar) was carved on it, but locals continue to call it by its original name until nowadays.
West from the Japanese bridge is Nguyen Thi Minh Khai street which is less crowded and pleasant for chill walks and refreshing glass of wine in the Asian heat. Boy, it was so hot that day!
On the opposite direction is the main Tran Phu street which is extremely busy, filled with art galleries, souvenir shops and tailors. Hoi An was an important trading port between 16th-18th centuries and is still famous for its high-quality tailors. After crossing back the Japanese bridge we went through the Tran Phu street until we've reached the Phu Kien Assembly Hall with its pink, rich façade. Founded by Chinese merchants, who moved to Hoi An from the Fujian province after the fall of the Ming Dynasty in 1644, this temple complex worships the Goddess of the Sea (Thien Hau) - the savior of sailors.
A little further on the same street we reached the Central Market. I can't say it offers something impressive but it's interesting going inside. We left on its South exit and then headed back West on Nguyen Thai Hoc street. There, at its number 9 is the Hoi An Artcraft Manufacturing Workshop. Twice a day (at 10:15 and at 15:15 by the time we visited) a mini concert of traditional Vietnamese string instrument is performed. Make sure you get there at least 15 minutes earlier to get good seats. The concert lasts around half an hour (may be less) and is a very nice, genuine experience. After the concert I did a lantern workshop - happiest kid on Earth! I don't remember the price of the workshop itself, but it was very similar to simply buying an already done lantern. The difference was that I got involved in the entire process of its making - went to the back to choose the textile and the wooden shape I wanted it, and then a very kind old lady showed me how to attach them together. Yes, the smell of the glue was extremely strong (I think I left quite tipsy) and sometimes even burning my eyes, but it's part of the experience after all. The lanterns actually fold, so are easy for transportation between continents.
In the afternoon we negotiated a private boat ride at the Thu Bon River - it was really nothing special. The view from one bank to the other is what's really nice and as the river is not that wide, we had it very well at the shore. The mix of Japanese, Chinese and French architecture is so mind-blowing and with the thousands colourful lanterns added to it, really is a fairy tale.
As the night was falling down, the tiny streets of Hoi An gained new, more vivid atmosphere, lightened by so many shapes and colours. We sat for an ice-cream and as the entire world changed in front of our eyes. I was fascinated by that unique and flamboyant scenery.
The river also gains a whole new look at night. Millions of tea candles inside of paper baskets are sent away floating at the river's water. Unfortunately, it's all trash that eventually will end up at the sea, but it's beautiful though. As it gives a completely new life to the river and even to the entire city.
For a dinner we chose probably the best restaurant in town - Mango Mango, owned by Vietnam's most famous chef Duc Tran. Both cocktails and food were delicious and worth every penny. Best part - we shared this yummyness with great friends we made cruising Halong Bay - for sure the best part of that experience.
Hoi An definitely stole my heart. An endless fusion of Asian and European, at some point quite typical for Vietnam (and so well preserved here, as the city stayed intact during the Vietnam war), gives an exotic and kind of romantic scent to the entire town experience. Adding the colourful lanterns and magic becomes real here. I guess, this is how heaven looks like.