Hoi An, Vietnam: Ancient, but Vividly Alive

We were looking for a place to chill – our “Luang Prabang fix.” In our quest we searched for a vibrant, yet tranquil retreat filled with daily life, enticing food, exotic architecture, romantic night markets – and we found it. Hoi An, Vietnam.

Village life has an everyday rhythm. The sweeping begins early in the morning. Errant leaves are whisked away.

Bird cages on balcony in Hoi An, Vietnam

Caged birds begin to twitter, and the local rooster makes himself known.

Dad and son, Hoi An, Vietnam.
Dad and son, Hoi An, Vietnam.

Families prepare for school, with two or three kids hopping on the scooter with Mom, and Dad makes sure the toddler has a healthy breakfast.

At the ever-present temples, monks go about their business while worshippers drop by for a quick prayer and offering.

Giant spirals of incense waft smoke toward the timbered ceilings while dragons and Buddhas look on.

Fruit sellers in the market begin their pineapple artistry, and the women get ready for the early-morning shoppers looking for freshly harvested seafood and veggies.

In the Old Town, time-worn shophouses, draped in bougainvillea, continue their trading legacy updated with modern goods and bespoke tailoring.

During the day you notice that beautiful lanterns are hanging everywhere.

And when the sun sets, the lanterns begin to glow. It’s magical.

Travelers come from around the world to experience the enchantment of Hoi An. As with most off-the-beaten path places, the secret seeps out. These hidden gems are eventually discovered and become popular with tourists. But Hoi An is still a deliberate destination, and the travelers who come are curious, appreciative, and respectful. You owe it to yourself to see this side of Vietnam.

Has Hoi An been discovered? Yes. Is it worth the journey? Absolutely!

Wishing you Peace, Terri and James

P.S. And if you need any further enticement …

Author: gallivance.net

We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at gallivance.net.

25 thoughts

  1. I love how Starbucks tries to blend in. Somehow I find it comforting to find something familiar in a place so far from home., even though I embrace the local food and customs for the most part. This place looks lovely. I love the photos of the locals going about their day.

    1. Darlene, after the chaos of Hanoi Hoi An was a breath of fresh air, and lovely. It’s much smaller for a start, and the only thing going on is the historic town so it’s much calmer.

      It’s funny about Starbucks. They’ve expanded considerably, and are all over. Sometimes the stores do an excellent (and sometimes downright cool) job of fitting in, and others not. But they’re doing their best to get the world hooked on caffeine, and it’s working.

      And if the locals weren’t trying to sell something to the tourists, they go on with their lives and didn’t seem to notice us – probably a healthy attitude if you’re going to live in a tourist destination. ~James

  2. I am working on my own Hoi An post right now! I really enjoyed the quaint and ancient aspects of this little town, but that river scene at night felt very touristy and manufactured somehow. I just stayed on the upper streets and enjoyed my time there very much. I liked your focus on the quotidian; sometimes we forget that these charming towns are filled with people living their real lives while we drop in!

    1. Lexie, we stayed in a Homestay place on a quiet lane off the main road which was a wonderful exposure to the normal village and its daily life. We had the perfect balcony for coffee where we could watch the neighborhood wake up and it was delightful. I’ll be interested to see your post and will keep an eye out.

      And we had read how wacky busy the river scene was so we went down early one night at dusk to check it out but when things got crazy we bolted for our hotel. The river was crazy, but some of the backstreets with all the lanterns and bustling restaurants were magical. ~James

  3. Last time I was there it seemed to be overrun with tourists and tailors, but the river at night was still quiet. I had a room overlooking the river near the bridge. Hope you made it to My Son.

    1. Kathy, the night time scene at the river is pretty crazy and crowded, but on the streets parallel to the river it’s not as bad. We stayed in a Homestay place on a quiet alley near the main road. It was really nice being in a real neighborhood. And we were there for record heat so we got up and going really early before the tour groups finished their breakfast.

      And the tailors weren’t any problem for us. Guess I didn’t look like the type for a bespoke suit. Anyway, my Mom worked in a clothing factory much of her adult life, so I found the process interesting. We really enjoyed Hoi An. ~James

    1. Maggie, we really enjoyed Hoi An as well. We’re interested in architecture, so seeing all that original Chinese and Japanese architecture was very interesting for us. And the temples and community houses were wonderful as well. We’ll definitely be posting more on Hoi An. ~James

    1. Funny you should mention pineapple Ray, because I had it many times while I was there and it was all delicious. And it was very cool watching that lady in the market sculpting the pineapples. It was an interesting process and took a good amount of skill. ~James

  4. Looking at the photos, I can’t imagine anyone not liking it, James. And those little conical hats are so practical! I’ve got one on my Christmas list. I know! I’ll look silly…

    1. Don’t worry Jo, at this point in our lives people expect us to be eccentric. So I’d say go for any type of hat you desire.

      You know, until visiting Vietnam I hadn’t really thought how useful these woven hats could be. They are a very effective head covering, as well as a basket for carrying things. A great idea in fact. ~James

  5. I loved Hoi An, and I can see why you were thinking of it to get your “Luang Prabang fix”. Both were undeniably very charming during my visits, although I saw more visitors in Hoi An. I agree how this Vietnamese town is a deliberate destination, and how those who come are usually curious, appreciative, and respectful. However, it was actually here where for the first time ever I saw a White tourist so wasted he felt asleep on the roadside, unable to walk back to his hotel. Hopefully he’s more of an outlier than the norm.

    1. Bama, we’re not part of the party scene, but we saw none of this in our time there. In fact, down on the river at night when the crowds were at their peak, everyone was excited but well behaved. This person must have been the exception for sure.

      I think that the Hoi An gets a lot of small tour buses from the resort hotels up the beach in Danang, and maybe it was one of these folks that overdid it. Anyway, it’s always sad and disheartening when you see this sort of thing. But, in the meantime, we loved Hoi An. ~James

  6. Beautiful photos of Hoi An, James. The town is rich in history, art and architecture. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Hoi An myself. Your post brought back many memories.

    1. Natalie, it’s a delightful place and as you say, it’s chock-full of interesting details. We toured a couple of the houses and in one in particular, the attendant was friendly and very informative. He said that his family had lived in the house for 8 generations, and other than electric lights, it must have looked exactly the same for all that time. Awesome. ~James

  7. The colorful lanterns really do add to the ambience, Terri and James.As did the dragon and Buddha. Laughed about the Starbucks poking its nose in everywhere. My prejudice may show a bit here, but better Starbucks than McDs as a symbol of American enterprise.

    1. Curt, as I said to someone else, we’ve seen Starbucks literally everywhere we’ve visited. They’re here to stay, which I don’t really have a problem with. I certainly like it better when they use local buildings and try to fit in like they did in Hoi An. ~ James

  8. Brian and I loved Hoi An, your photos brought back so many good memories. We found it to be particularly charming at night with all the pretty lanterns lit up.

    1. Gilda, it sounds like you enjoyed Hoi An as much as we did. We stayed in a homestay place down a quiet alley off the main road, and it was wonderful to be in a neighborhood that was off the tourist track. And even with all the crowds in the village at night, it was still very cool. It’s a very special place for us. ~James

  9. I’ve long had Hoi An on my list of places to visit, and your post has enticed me further. Even if a bit touristy it still looks absolutely charming. Lovely post guys. One day I’ll get there.

    1. Alison, forget about the complaints about other tourists, Hoi An is very charming, historically intriguing, and a real pleasure. When you can see it jump at the chance. It shouldn’t be missed. ~ James

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