There are certain locations that exist where the appeal lies not in a bounty of historical sites, not in their proximity to crumbling temples or prayer pagodas, nor due to the blessings of a beautiful landscape, but in the character and personality of the location itself – through the intangibles and ethereal characteristics that are difficult pinpoint, but that one will vividly remember long after leaving. Over the last few months, I’ve had the pleasure of passing through several such locations (Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang spring to mind), but I’ve found myself in yet another: that of Hoi An, Vietnam.
Originally a port city that dates back as far as the 1600′s and shows its classic Vietnamese architecture, influences imported from the world abroad can still be seen in the face of Hoi An, whether it is the Japanese-style bridge on the edge of the old town, the temples and congregation halls that look as though they were plucked directly out of Beijing, or the ever-present pale yellow paint that the French were so fond of in days past. Beyond simply the peaceful and welcoming atmosphere, Hoi An is also known both for its many fine-dining culinary creations and its dearth of tailors, seamstresses, and clothing designers, making it one of the best spots in Southeast Asia to indulge a foodie’s appetite or to satisfy one’s shopping impulses. Below is a quick walking tour of the city itself:
Although the city of Hoi An itself is the primary draw to the area, those history buffs and temple-hoppers out there will still be able to keep themselves entertained. About an hour’s drive outside of town lie the remains of the My Son temples, one of the most significant sites for the Cham Empire — a group that emigrated from Malaysia and held power over much of Vietnam and Cambodia during the 9th century. Although the ruins can be over-crowded with fellow travelers much of the time, it is still worth the trip, if for nothing other than the sight of the crumbling ruins against the backdrop of the nearby mountains:
Additionally, if you’re weary bones are aching and nothing sounds better to you than a nice spot of sand along the beach, a cold beverage in one hand, and a day free of obligations, Hoi An can deliver in that department, as well. There are several beaches (though it is really just one long beach that stretches all the way to Danang) about 6 kilometers outside of town, complete with beach bars and rental chairs for those particularly lazy days. Although the long, sweaty walk through the rice paddies to get to the beach offers a few nice views, renting a bike is likely a more sensible options — especially given that the going rate for hiring a bike is only $1/day:
Hoi An is also the home to several notable dishes in the Vietnamese cookbook, such as White Rose Cake or Banh Xeo, but the standard-bearer is without a doubt that of Cao Lau. In this pork-flavored dish, one can find the same variety of influences as in Hoi An itself – thick noodles similar to that of Japanese Udon; crispy squares of pork skin and wonton skins, straight from the Chinese repertoire; and a lemongrass, lime, and herb broth that could only originate from Vietnam:
These next few dishes aren’t specific to Hoi An itself, but were still on my list of “Must try Vietnamese Dishes” that I hadn’t yet gotten around to sampling:
I’m continuing my march South towards Saigon, with my next stop being the beach-bum town of Nha Trang. Until then, Chia from Hoi An!