The ancient town of Hội An, just south of Da Nang, lies on the banks of the Thu Bon River. Occupied by early Euorpean traders, Hoi An was one of the major trading centers of Southeast Asia in the 16th century. Hội An has a distinct atmosphere that blends French colonial with Chinese. The Old Town has low, tile-roofed houses and narrow streets. The original structure of many of these streets (such as the one pictured below)still remains almost intact.
Laura and I visited Hội An from March 29-31, 2010. Upon arriving, we first visited the local market (below), where produce, fish and other goods are sold.
Below, Laura is standing in front of the noodle stalls inside the marketplace.
For lunch, we each had a bowl of cao lầu. Cao lầu is a regional dish made with noodles, pork, and greens and is only found in the town of Hội An. Each bowl cost about $0.20.
After lunch we walked around the Old Town. Below, Laura stands outside the Cargo club, one of the more popular night spots in this surprisingly festive town.
Like other parts of Vietnam, Hội An has many street hawkers who sell some of the best food in town. Below, Laura samples some sweets.
Later in the afternoon, we pass by the Old Town’s school as it’s letting out. The kids race home, perhaps a little faster than usual, because tonight is a special night.
We arrived in Hội An the night of the full moon festival. The town is alit in lanterns (below), there is folk music in the street and everyone is partying like its the 14th day of the lunar month.
Laura puts on a sour face outside the Mango Bar because, being pregnant, she can’t enjoy a La Guapa (which just happens to have some of her favorite things). Let’s hope the little one appreciates mom’s sacrifices. In the background, you can see some of the floats that will parade through Old Town once the festival gets started.
The Lantern Festival centers around the Thu Bon River, particularly near a bridge that spans the river. Hanging from the bridge are some super-sized lanterns proclaming the festival (below).
The Lantern Festival is now in full swing and I’m making friends with some of the locals (below). The candle-lanterns I’m holding are two on the hundreds of rainbow colored lanterns that revellers place in the Thu Bon to help light up the Old Town.
We hire a small row boat to take us up and down the Thu Bon and, along with other party-goers, place our luminaries in the river.
Meanwhile, back on shore, the festival is getting more lively as folk musicians and dancers in traditional costumes entertain the crowd (below).
The nighttime streets of Hội An are lined with open-air restaurants and bars. Below, Laura stands on the street under some lanterns while people dine in the background.
The Japanese Covered Bridge (below) or Cau Nhat Ban is one of the landmarks of Hội An. The bridge was built by the Japanese trading community in 1593 to link them with the Chinese quarter on the other side of a small stream.
The photo below is one in a series Laura took of the women carrying fruit on don ganh (carrying yokes). These women, many of them eighty or older, hike a few miles into Old Town from surrounding farms loaded with fruits.
We took the Red Bridge cooking class at the Hai Cafe. Below, I’m making a fish with Vietnamese spices wrapped in banana leaf.
Laura rolls the perfect spring roll (below).
The women peddling on this strip of Old Town make up the sort of Rodeo Drive of Hội An (below).
I take an afternoon breather at our hotel on one of the red hammocks that are common all over Vietnam (below). We stayed at the Ha An Hotel, a boutique style hotel close to the Old Town.
Hội An is serious about its eating. We enjoyed many fine restaurants. One of my favorites was Bale Well. The restaurant is tucked away in a little, winding alley in the Old Town. A practically hidden sign, easy to miss even if you’re looking for it, marks the small, open-patio dining area. The meal is a simple set menu at a fixed price, around $2.00 per person. This gets you a never-ending supply of nem nướng (grilled pork satay), shrimp spring rolls, bánh xèo (sizzling crepes), kimchee and fresh vegetables. The suggested approach is to roll all the ingredients up in rice paper with a peanut and chili sauce, yielding a wonderfully crunchy and chewy, sweet and savoury spring roll. Below, my “Vietnamese grandma” keeps on rolling up more lunch and, literally, stuffing it in my mouth. I’m in a bit of pain at this point, but she shows no sign of slowing down.
Somehow I’m able to stop her from shoving more food in my mouth and, with much difficulty, get up from the table. I could sense she was disappointed that we left so much food on the table, so I promised her that one day we’d return.
Life is pretty laid back in Hội An’s Old Town and the people seem quite content. Maybe it’s the five-hour long Happy Hours or maybe it’s just that the beer is never that expensive no matter what the time. Whatever the reason, we really enjoy it (below).
Our final night we had dinner at Mirmaid. We had beef in lotus and shrimp, very literally, in coconut (below).
Hội An is truly a town out of another time and place. To drive this point home, consider that below I’m hanging out at the neighborhood gas station. A few days earlier, I took a run a few miles down the street in the background. The paved road soon turned to dirt, winding through sprawling rice patties. I dodged wandering water buffalo and women carrying bananas in don ganh (carrying yokes). I reached Cua Dai beach on the China Sea while the sun was still low in the morning sky and the traditional wooden fishing boats crested the distant surf. I took off my shoes, ran into the breakers and felt so light I might float away.
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