Our next stop in our travels North to South of Vietnam was to the amazing Hội An! Sadly we were only there for a very short period of time, so we didn’t really get to see much of the area. But what we saw was truly gorgeous, and it doesn’t surprise me in the least that Lonely Planet (my Bible whilst I travel) describes it as ‘Graceful, historic Hội An is Vietnam’s most atmospheric and delightful town’.Hội An, which translates as ‘peaceful meeting place’, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999. This is due to the Old Town, which is a particularly well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port from the 15th century to the 19th century. During the 18th century the town was considered by both Chinese and Japanese merchants to be the best destination in southeast Asia for trading. Indeed the Japanese even believed that the heart of all Asia (the dragon) lived beneath the earth of Hoi An. However, after the 18th century the prominence of Hội An fell until it was almost forgotten. The positive to this decline however, is that the town remained practically untouched by change for the next two centuries.
My number one recommendation for anyone visiting this area is the night market. Even if you only have one day to explore make sure you pay it a visit. During the day Hội An provides an incredible insight to the history of Vietnam, and walking down the streets of Old Town you could almost imagine yourself transported back in time. But like so many places, night is when the town truly comes alive! Suddenly there are market stands and lights everywhere, and more people than you thought possible. As you walk along the river there are dozens of women selling small candle lanterns, which float along in the current. The night market stretches along the streets selling everything you can imagine, from souvenirs, to food to brightly coloured lanterns for you to take home.
Another spot that is definitely worth a visit is the Japanese Covered Bridge, dating to the 16th – 17th century. The bridge gets its name from the fact that when it was built, it divided the town and marked the boundary of the Japanese settlement there. The bridge is also interesting since it is the only known covered bridge with a Buddhist temple attached to one side. But be warned, you’ll have to fight all the other travellers for a good photo of this spot!
Hội An is also famous for another, completely different reason – its tailors. Strolling down the streets you will find dozens of shops where you can have clothing custom made in just a matter of days. When I visited Vietnam a few years ago with my family I had a jacket made. I quite literally drew the design I wanted, was measured, picked the fabrics and then within two days it had seemingly magically appeared. However, I would recommend staying in Hội An for at least a couple of days if you’re planning on having anythin made. It’s definitely worth going back for a couple of fittings and making sure that all the details are to your liking. Another option is to send your measurements over along with instructions for what you want. This is exactly what both my parents did whilst I was there this summer, which is how I somehow managed to find myself in a Vietnamese tailors picking out the fabrics for my father’s work suits – not a situation I had imagined myself in when I first started planning this trip!
“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson