Hoi An, the Hidden Gem in the Heart of Vietnam

It had been raining for days when we arrived in Da Nang. Our plans to stay out late are cut short and is turned into Phở dinners in the cold, drizzly evenings.

Once the skies clear up, we will go to Hoi An to finally start our two-day adventures here.

Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, sits in the heart of central Vietnam. It is a quaint, old-timey village with shallow and murky rivers flocked by the local fishermen. Moreover, Hoi An is renowned for its lantern festival where the whole town is lit up with countless of lanterns and candle-lighted paper boats.

That Wednesday morning seemed like the perfect weather to pay this gem a visit. The skies were blue and the winds were blowing just enough for a day of strolling. I wore my plaid shirt over my shirt to protect my skin from getting sunburnt.

Once we got to the bus station that routes to Hoi An, it started to rain again. Da Nang’s weather have been so unpredictable that every outfit I prepared were all hits or misses.

We hopped on the bus and dried off as we sit there — clueless. This exact scene is always the nerve-wrecking part when travelling in a foreign land. One mistake could ruin your whole itinerary because going back on track eats up a lot of time. Thank the heavens we are inside the right bus and that the skies are starting to get bluer.

The bus driver dropped us off in this ghost town-like area. I mean, there are people, but it is so quiet, which honestly drives me a little insane (due to my paranoia). But it pacified my already weary body, so I guess it’s a good thing.

Walking on the streets with no knowledge of where to go can be a bit frightening. But in my heart, I know we are going on the right path.

Before making it to the town proper, we passed by a temple where we took pictures and of course had some street food (food is an automatic response to everything for us, apparently.)

Hoi An is already overflowing with tourists, going a little ballistic on those selfie sticks and gopros. I went on a different route and decided to take photos of the people and the place first.

I don’t value much of my “selfies”, instead I want to remember the place and the experience so vividly inside my head. Like these pictures, once printed and on my hands, can transcend me to the certain day like it was just yesterday. Call me sentimental, but those are the things I want to give importance to.

The streets are so narrow and the houses are so rustic. Everywhere you look is like history in the flesh. Even the locals dress in a very retro style (which I honestly dig). They add this certain charm to the old town. The house paints range from warm shades of bright yellows to pale beiges which seem so inviting to anyone. Plus, every house is so open, welcoming guests from all corners of the world.

We reached the riverbank unknowingly just by going with the flow of the crowd. Colorful wooden boats are resting on the shore with the fishermen standing on it. They asked me if we want to go on a cruise but the timing is just off. We need to go around more rather than going on a water trip. So we walked past them (with a heavy heart) until we ended at the foot of the bridge.

A lady was selling paper boats with lighted candles inside the frail-looking folds. We tried our luck with sailing the boats but the candles are always blown out by the winds. Feeling a little disappointed, we promised the seller to come back at a later time.

On the other end of the bridge, was a man who sells snacks. I don’t even know what the food is called. But it is a fluffy bread with sesame seeds on top. A little roasted but still so soft, I get to devour it a few minutes after taking instagrammable photos of it adjacent to the enchanting river.

We are now currently on side of the town where there are bigger houses lined up in an old-fashioned manner with lantern stores sprawling all around them. Everything is picture perfect here in Hoi An. I can live here if I want to — if I could only leave the people I’ve left back home — deciding would be a lot easier. Felt like a sword has crushed my tiny heart at that very moment. Here I am, in a far off town, trying to get a new sense to my existence, making new connections like I’m going to mean it once I’m back in the four corners of my safe zone. At this point, I wish I could bring everyone at home here, if only traveling isn’t such a luxury these days.

I shrugged that pinch of loneliness and tried to inhale Hoi An’s refreshing air. It cleared my mind and renewed my eyes. I know I was born to be where I am right now — to discover and to be a storyteller back home. I will make the most out of my day here.
Watching the sun set calms my tempestuous mind. I love how the once mighty sun faintly vanishes in the strips of clouds scattered in the vast Vietnam skies. Like a watercolor, the watery texture of the blue skies are now suddenly in pastel oranges and pinks.  I can try my best describing it, but you have to be there to experience the magic in the air and the wonder, that is Hoi An’s sunset.

After sundown, we set on a foot journey and agreed to circle the town as fast as we can. Too bad we seem to always be in the middle of some prenup shoot (since our Hanoi trip). It’s like a hypnotic chant. You can’t help but stare at them as they wrapped each other in their loving arms.

Uncovering Eden - Hoi An Vietnam - 39

After the prenup fiasco, our stomachs are rumbling from all the walking and photo-taking. Our gastronomical experiences here have been great, so far. Even with street foods, they are always A+. Without a doubt, any eatery we choose, the food will be great.

We ordered shrimp noodles (hủ tiếu nam vang) and spring rolls (chả giò) for dinner. The tables and chairs are low which is a little uncomfortable for my bulging tummy. As usual, the food never disappoints. I found myself binge-eating the nuts, then the shrimps, then I will go and get one spring roll — on repeat. There is a freshness in every Vietnamese dish that is kind of unique to them. You can always see coriander leaves on their bowls and other leafy greens to make the dish a whole lot healthier.

We sprinted our way back to the bridge to give the paper boats a second chance. Surprisingly, the vendor was still there. And when she saw us, an immediate smile painted her weary face. The lights get put out each time we tried sailing it on the water. Guess the wind was not kind to us. So instead, we jumped on a docked boat and had a quick “photoshoot” on it.

After a few more tries, we have successfully sailed the boats in the river (if you’re ever wondering.)

Before finally leaving this magical town, we took photographs of ourselves inside the lantern shops. Frankly speaking, the word  “magical” is such an understatement. The ambiance is certainly way beyond that. The charm of this town is undeniable. It is so magnetic that there are times you will think of settling here, far from the hustle and bustle of modernized cities — so disconnected from the world.

We got so caught up in the magic mist of Hoi An that we forgot that service cars are not 24/7 around here. Thank goodness for Uber that we were able to get home in less than an hour.

Wishful thinking rushed into my already stormy brain. I wish I had more time to get lost in the spider web-like streets of Hoi An.

If I’ll have a second chance to meet this majestic town for the first time, I would stay longer. Eat more of their food. Check out ancestral homes and museums. Buy some paintings. Bike around the town like its always summer. Sail across the river and have a chat with the boatmen.

Hoi An made me fall so hard, real hard. I guess, some things are worth revisiting.