Hoi An Attractions on a Full Moon Night
I looked towards the ancient Japanese Covered Bridge from a distance. It seemed to groan under the weight of visitors.
“Don’t look so worried,” Thanh Nguyen said.
My Vietnamese friend proudly held up a VND20 000 note, which showed the Japanese Covered Bridge, the symbol of Hoi An Ancient Town.
Built-in the 16th and 17th centuries, Hoi An Ancient Town is the only town in Vietnam to survive the American War unscathed.
I visited during winter when it was wet and cold, and the temperature dipped below 18C.
The beautiful serene riverside setting was misty and surreal in the early hours of dawn.
It was too cold for a morning swim in the hotel’s pool, so I walked in the drizzle towards the Cho Hoi A central market.
The first river and seacoast setting have their buildings intact and well-preserved. In the old days, the trading port was the busiest in Southern Vietnam.
In the afternoon, the temperature rose to 25C. The “Mellow Yellow” lime-washed walls appear a little too bold and sunny at first.
The natural sunlight turned the yellow buildings to sparkle like bright gold. Hoi An seems perpetually wrapped in sunshine.
The original street plan comprised a grid of streets with a bold axis parallel to the river.
A maze of streets and tiny alleys were set at right angles to it. With so many hidden passages, it was easy to wander around in the maze for hours.
Old House of Tan Ky
The architecture is a unique combination of Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese elements.
Packed with antiques made in hardwood, which were lifted by a hoist and pulley system, the house has survived many floods through the centuries.
This heritage site has a unique concentration of architectural monuments, assembly hall, communal house, pagoda, shrine, temple, bridge, wharf, a wet market, homes, and water wells preserved intact.
Did I get lost wandering around? Absolutely yes, but I discovered hidden local shops to drink coffee and while away the hours quietly.
It’s easy to stay connected with the rest of the world as there’s free WIFI in the cafes, shops, and around town.
Hoi An is also a traveler’s dream come true in a city full of tailors, artisans, shoemakers, artists, embroiderers, and lantern makers.
Lantern Festival at Nightfall – Biggest Hoi An Attraction
Hoi An turns magical and more beautiful than you can ever imagine in the daytime.
Lanterns light up the night with romance as you wander around everywhere.
Thanh Nguyen tells me that it’s better to visit during regular days instead of a full moon or half-moon nights.
The area gets crammed on a festival night. Locals outnumber tourists and flood pagodas, temples, and assembly halls to offer prayers and ancestral offerings.
On the streets, there are vegetarian versions of street food classics for sale.
All transport, including bicycles, is banned during festivals. The perfect way to escape the crowds and enjoy the celebrations would be a river cruise on a sampan.
One of the most popular Hoi An attractions is to release a paper flower lantern in the water and pray for a compassionate, peaceful mind for yourself and everyone.
Eating Cao lầu only available in Hoi An
Everything changed after a bowl of Cao lầu, a regional dish only found in Hoi An.
The Cao lầu noodles are made with lye water from ashes of trees grown on Cham Island mixed with water drawn from nearby Ba Le well.
The noodles have a light-yellow tinge with a slightly firm fragrant texture and cannot be replicated outside Hoi An.
One of my best street food experiences was sitting on those tiny plastic stools a mere 12″ high from the pavement. It felt like a sitting squat.
My long legs were folded uncomfortably.
I wanted to eat as fast as possible, so I could get up before my legs fell asleep.
I shoved the Cao lầu noodles, pork slices, greens with the raw Vietnamese chili.
Big mistake – biting into Vietnamese chilis!
Vietnamese chilis are incredibly spicy and measure 100,000–225,000 SHU on the Scoville scale.
My eyes tear up, and my tongue was utterly numb afterward.
Bánh mì Phượng – My No. 1 Reason to visit Hoi An!
By evening, I recovered to hunt down the best foodie meal worthy of queuing up in Hoi An. I had secretly planned on savoring the exact Bánh mì Anthony Bourdain ate on his show.
I was disappointed the night I went; as it was the only night that Bánh mì Phượng was closed.
The next morning, I thought I could beat the crowds by showing up before opening time at 11 am.
A 20-foreigner steady queue had already spilled onto the road.
Thanh Nguyen smiled and assured me I would get a taste of the coveted Bánh mì Phượng VND 25,000 as he had pre-ordered the delicious Vietnamese specialty.
I tried the version, which was loaded with everything.
The sandwich was tasty and flavorful. Biting into the unbelievably super crusty and crispy baguette is uncanny. It had the loudest crunch.
It had liver pate at the bottom with the dressing, lots of greens, and flavorful meat filling. It was so pleasurable to eat.
Another big mistake – to miss another Hoi An attractions.
I should have tried Bánh mì the day I arrived in Hoi An and not on my departure. It was so good that I could have all my meals like a sandwich!
If you’re not up to queuing, then head over to the rival shop, Madam Khanh – Banh Mi Queen’s version for VND 20,000.
Ms. Vy’s Market Restaurant – A perfect Find!
Kelly G and I were in the wet market and saw Western tourists with a marketing bag.
I was curious as usual and soon chatted with a few people from the group.
They’re shopping for fresh produce to learn Vietnamese cooking!
Alas, we didn’t have the time to join the classes, but we managed to find the lovely Ms. Vy’s Market Restaurant.
You can experience a unique culinary adventure here.
The staff will show you how Vietnamese food is prepared from the kitchen to the table.
I had a clear understanding of how ingredients are selected and assembled to create local dishes.
The food prices are affordable.
The noodles here can be cheaper than that on the street!
It looks like I need to make another trip just to stuff myself with Banh Mi and maybe spend the nights chasing after paper lanterns to burn off the calories!
How to go to Hoi An
Hoi An has no airport and no train station either.
The only way to get there is by road. You can hire a taxi from the neighboring city of Da Nang, which does have an airport with daily flights from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and other large Vietnamese cities.
Plan your trip with advice on Vietnam’s best destinations, what to do in Vietnam.
Firefly flies from KUL to DAD (Da Nang, Vietnam) a connecting by taxi to Hoi An cost about VND240, 000
A story previously published in Fireflyz in-flight magazine.