Historic Hoi An for Tet {Vietnamese New Year}

Hoi An by dayAs we made our way towards the river on the first night, along the narrow streets strung with lanterns, we became part of a larger crowd heading in the same direction. This crowd had an element of chaos as motorbikes sliced noisily though it, parting it momentarily. Hoi An seemed a hell of a lot busier than I remembered it, but this was Tet {Vietnamese New Year} and the crowds were inevitable.

This picture perfect little town has changed though, I fell head-over-heels for it back in 2008 when it was laid-back respite from full-on Hanoi but looking beyond the Tet crowds, the signs of mass tourism were there, and it is no surprise.

Hoi An is gorgeous, it’s UNESCO World Heritage gorgeous. I could gush for paragraphs about the historic honey-coloured buildings, the eclectic shops that spill out onto the pavement, the idyllic waterfront with photogenic boats, the Japanese bridge, the Chinese temples, the food…

For the most part I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but what I will say is that Hoi An is unique, a mostly wooden fusion of 19th and 20th Century Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese architecture. It was spared destruction during the American war and it is truly a gem worth exploring, even if you have to explore it with everyone else.

During the day the sun illuminates the yellow architecture, how glorious it looks next to the vivid blue sky. You can wander in relative peace along the narrow, flower-lined streets and shop for souvenirs or tailoring. It may err heavily on touristy rather than the authentic Vietnamese port it once was, but hey, I lived in Stratford-Upon-Avon for many years so I for one am used to that!

It’s once the sun sets that Hoi An changes its face, the yellow buildings de-saturate and the lanes are hung with red lanterns to light your passage to restaurants or the river. Down by the water the town comes to life, raucous musicians belt out music while young girls sell lanterns to the milling tourists to cast their wishes afloat.

Selling wishes

 

Hawkers fry noodles, pork, herbs and greens under bare lightbulbs and diners devour bowls of this dish, Cau Lao, on red plastic stools nearby. The less adventurous eat in attractive restaurants, the menu prices reflecting the tourist popularity of Hoi An.

Local dish, Cao LauHoi An may well appear museum-like during the day, but at night its heart beats vibrantly, and equally photogenically.

The prices had risen up since our previous visit, and the multitude of tourist coach parties were a new addition but, for me, Hoi An still retained its delightful charm and it turned out to be a perfect place to see in the Vietnamese New Year, Tet.

Tet is very much a family orientated celebration, tied to the lunar calendar along with Chinese New Year. We wanted to be somewhere lively to see our way through Tet as most Vietnamese headed back to their families over the period. Hoi An seemed an ideal place and it didn’t disappoint.

As we arrived the Tet decorations were already in place. Locals had placed small, pretty blossoming trees in their home, decorated with delicate charms and attached lucky images to their doors.

Hoi An by night

Across the river on the An Hoi peninsula, the riverside was a riot of colour for the Tet 2014 Lantern Festival.

2014, the year of the horse.

2014, the year of the horse.

As it was Year of the Horse, most of the lanterns had a horse theme and many of the lanterns were spectacular. As the clock struck midnight the dark sky erupted with colourful fireworks, the booms being felt under our feet.

Fireworks at midnight!

Fireworks at midnight!

If the crowds of the old town are getting to much, take a wander across to Cam Nam Island, a much quieter corner of town that’s worth exploring. We found our way over there looking for Randy’s Book Xchange, where we met his wonderfully vocal cat.

We didn’t get any tailoring done on this visit, Tet is not a time for getting a bargain as luck means traders want the best deals to start the new year on. One the previous visit we had a lot of stuff made, at a great price at Lan. She was the sweetest lady, and it was good to see they were still in business when we managed to find the shop on one of our wanders.

How we reached Hoi An

We reached Hoi An from Dong Hoi, taking the incredibly scenic day train from Dong Hoi to Danang. It was a comfortable 6 hour ride, despite the heavily reclined seat in front of us, and the views of the ocean as the train climbed up through jungle to a high pass were beautiful. We’d made this journey before, but by bus, and the bus bypasses all this glorious scenery via a long tunnel.

The train arrived in Danang and we would probably have taken a bus to Hoi An, 30 km away, but as Tet was looming Bich at Phong Nha Farmstay had arranged us a private taxi so we were able to arrive in ease and comfort.

Experiencing Tet was wonderful, even if it did mess up our travel plans {more on that in the next post!}, the lanterns were magical and although we didn’t experience a traditional Vietnamese family Tet, we heard some brilliant stories about the local customs – apparently the locals in the Phong Nha area set off found ordnance at midnight, the booms shaking the valley!

Keep travelling:

Is That A Crocodile? Cat Tien National Park. Jungle adventures in Vietnam with crocs and gibbons aplenty!

<Riding The Rails From China to Vietnam another border crossed in the middle of the night by train!

Revisiting Hanoi Returning to one of my favourite Asian cities and remembering why it thrills me.

5 Glorious Reasons To Visit Ninh Binh Fairytale scenery, ancient Vietnamese history and overnighting in the jungle.

Phong Nha Caves: The Best Thing We Did In Vietnam this quiet corner in mid Vietnam is incredible! Huge caves and perfect cycling!

h4>Have you been in Vietnam for Tet, was it as colourful for you?

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By Rachel Davis

8 Responses

  1. Dave Rowley says:

    Another lovely post! Especially your night photos, they came out so clear and evocative. And especially the pics of the horse lanterns, excellent! I loved Hoi An too, we were lucky to arrive during a monthly full moon festival with lots of lanterns and we sent our wishes down the river riding on tiny candle-lit boats. So much fun! We had some clothes tailored by Lan also, first time ever having something tailored. Did she remember you from your previous visit? Chris especially looks very different from before!

    • We were going to pop and see the lady in Lan, I even found the picture to show her but as our budget was so tight, and we didn’t want anything made, and that it was Tet {they want lucky sales} we decided not too. Didn’t want to disappoint her.
      Yay, you got lanterns too, I’m pretty sure there are some kinds of lantern at all times, tourists love it!

  2. Riona says:

    Loved Hoi An. I could totally go for a bowl of cau lau right now… such a good and unique dish.

  3. What a beautiful post! I love Hoi An, when we were there I must have taken hundreds of photographs of the buildings and the lanterns! I’d love to visit during Tet, although it was nice to see Hoi An without the crowds! Jennie

    • I bet you took lots of photos! The crowds were a bit of a surprise but didn’t mar it too much. They seemed to vanish as soon as they arrived, such is coach trips 😉

      It certainly is a great Tet place, but, word of warning, book your transport in and out way, way, way in advance!

      xxx

  4. gerryann says:

    Great post and loved the photos! Thanks

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