Vietnam’s Most Charming Town: Hoi An

Hoi An Lantern FestivalHoi An was by far our favorite town in Vietnam. A trading port dating back to the 17th-century, it has been shaped by the cultures that passed through its ports—Japanese, Chinese, Dutch, Indian and Vietnamese. With its well-preserved homes, shops, and temples, the whole town center has been deemed a UNESCO world-heritage site but it still bustles beyond the museum-goers. We were lucky enough to be in Hoi An on the night of the Full Moon Lantern Festival, the time when the locals celebrate their ancestors with music, food, games, and lots of candlelight. It’s a magical night but even if your trip can’t coincide with the festivities, the charming town and nearby Cham ruins, Marble Mountains, and beaches would give you plenty to write home about.

 

Hoi An Bridge for Travelers from AfarBeing a UNESCO site, Hoi An’s biggest attractions require a ticket (kind of annoying but worth it). An essential visit is the “Bridge for Travelers from Afar.” Built in 1593, this bridge connected the Japanese settlement to the rest of town. Today, its beauty and ethnic roots have become the symbol of Hoi An.

 

Tran Ancestor Worship House Hoi AnWe went into a number of the historic homes and loved seeing the blend of architectural styles. One of our favorite stops was the 19th-century Tran Ancestor Worship House. The gorgeous space was built as a shrine for the deceased members of a wealthy family which was largely Chinese in style but very Vietnamese in concept. It’s customary in Vietnam to annually commemorate relatives’ lives with offerings and prayers but in Hoi An…it’s monthly. We saw mini altars set up all over town with burning incense, tea, flowers, bananas, family photos and even bonfires of fake $100 bills to carry luck and prosperity to the heavens.

 

Hoi An Ladies selling flowersIn preparation for the night’s ceremony, the market was overflowing with flowers and goodies to adorn the family altars and celebrate the night.

 

Hoi An full moon festivalWhen night fell, the first thing we noticed was the force of votive candle sellers. It is tradition to light a lotus votive for good luck, love, and happiness and send it out to sea. Thousands of people partake, leaving the water twinkling with lit flowers and positive vibes.

 

Hoi An Full Moon Festival

The energy and beauty of the Lantern Festival is too hard to capture with just words and photographs so we took this quick video to give you a feeling for the night.

 

How much does Bia hoi cost VietnamAnother essential part of the festivities is bia hoi or fresh beer. This is actually available for any occasion all over Vietnam but this was our first taste. It is brewed daily creating a very light refreshing lager at a fraction of the cost of bottled beer…as in 3000 Vietnam dong or 20 U.S. cents. The whole process and pricing sounds impossible but it is true and it is awesome (anyone want to learn this brewing process with us and open a Bia Hoi bar in NYC?).

 

Nam Hai Pools, VietnamIn true Honey Trek fashion we spent two nights of our Hoi An stay at a $10 guest house and two nights in a five-star resort (for Honeymoons.com). The amazing Nam Hai is just a little north of town on the beach and a total oasis of luxury. With 100 rooms and 568 people on staff, the service was amazing and the attention to detail was incredible…everything from sugar-encrusted cinnamon sticks with your morning coffee to the sculptures nestled into the impeccably manicured landscape.

 

The Nam Hai, VietnamWe spent one of our days at the hotel vegging by the pools, taking walks on the beach, playing tennis, savoring three delectable meals, and soaking up our suite. The 861-square foot space contained a canopy bed, two seating areas, a sun deck, and a private courtyard that served as quiet possibly the largest outdoor shower ever. If at all possible, stay at the Nam Hai!

 

My Son, VietnamThe next day we woke up early and went to the neighboring UNESCO site My Son. This Champa kingdom complex was built over the course of the 4th-14th centuries and has many of its Hindu temples and royal structures still intact.

 

Marble Mountains TemplesOn the way home, we went to the impressive Marble Mountains. Using existing caves and grottoes, Buddhist and Hindu worshipers carved temples right into the mountains. We were hiking up the natural marble stairs and ducking into caves, often to find that a simple crack in the rock could open up to a massive and ornately decorated sanctuary. We explored the area for hours discovering unsuspecting spaces and artwork.

 

Bike limo in VietnamFrom Hoi An onward, we started to get into the Vietnam swing of things. We still kept our guard up a bit but finally figured out how to let the beauty in.

 

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21 thoughts on “Vietnam’s Most Charming Town: Hoi An

  1. Hoi An was one of my favourites. I did a cooking school there which was unbelievable. Marble Mountain was huge climb up, but worth it. You bought back good memories.

    1. Ooo a cooking class would have been fabulous. Hoi An had particularly good food too. So glad you got to go and that our post brought you back!

  2. So glad you guys caught the Full Moon Lantern Festival, which was so special and beautiful! Hoi An is such a charming spot.

    1. That’s awesome you got to go to the festival too, Deb! Hoi An is fab on any ole day but if you can go on the full moon it is exponentially great, right?

  3. 20 cents for a beer?! I’m so there! It must have been a really cool experience to be there during the festival.

    1. Sometimes less than 20 cents, I think that place was actually 14 cents a glass! We totally need to open a bia hoi bar, want in? Yea, and being there for the festival was total luck but for anyone who can plan a visit for the 14th day of the lunar calendar should!

  4. Beautiful photography–Hoi An looks clean, green and very romantic!

    1. Thanks Lesley. It was pretty green and clean (just don’t walk through the fish market in flip flops lol) and romantic indeed!

  5. Hoi An was one of the highlights of my trip through Vietnam. I loved that town, the food, the markets, the tailors, being able to bike around the city. It was wonderful! 🙂

    1. Audrey I’m so glad you enjoyed Hoi An too and reminded us of the tailors! Those tailor shops were everywhere! We actually had one of our duffel bags fully reconstructed by one of the seamstresses there and it lasted us the whole trip!

  6. […] Nguyen dynasty and their decadence is largely what makes the area so beautiful. Just 80 miles from Hoi An, the city is set along the Perfume river and anchored by a massive moated citadel (above). We […]

  7. I looooved Hoi An! It was my favorite town in Vietnam, too. Wished I had more time there. I’ll be definitely go back!

    I took this picture inside the bridge.

    1. great photo @esecamalich:disqus, the people of vietnam were quite photogenic right? are those Lychee fruits?

      1. Yes! Those are lychee fruits 🙂

        And you’re super right about vietnamese people being photogenic and really friendly. I felt like I was back home in Mexico the whole time I was there.

  8. What a beautiful experience at the festival! I absolutely loved Hoi An when I visited back in 2010 and my motorcycle trip to the Marble Mountains is one of my favourite memories of Vietnam! Thanks for helping me reminisce!!

    1. the festivals, costumes, lights, food….what a sensory delight….glad we could bring you back @journeycount:disqus!!!! Do you guys have a travel blog? What’s the URL, we want to check it out!

      1. I do indeed! You can find me and my partner Oli at http://journey-count.com 🙂

  9. Hoi An was definitely our favorite part of our visit to Vietnam. I love the people, the clothes, My Son, the Perfume River…loved it all! Nice post!

    1. we totally agree @corinnevail:disqus, we loved Hoi An!!!! was the purfume river running right out front? not sure we made it there.

  10. I’m just starting my research for a trip to Vietnam and your article just convinced me to go to Hoi An. I read more about it. Thanks for the idea 🙂

    1. Oh we are so glad, Fabiana! Have a blast and try and time your Hoi An with the full moon so you can catch the festival!

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