Vietnam #1: It’s a Long Ass Flight to Vietnam
Vietnam #2: The Best Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam #3: A Lesson in History and Propaganda
Vietnam #4: The Streets of HCMC
Vietnam #5: Is the Mekong Delta Worth It?
Vietnam #6: My First Overseas Doctor Visit
Vietnam #7: Welcome to Central Vietnam
Vietnam #8: Two-Wheeling in Vietnam
I fell in love with Hoi An the only way I know how to fall in love: Hard and quick.
Hoi An during the day is a charming ancient town, filled with little shops, restaurants, and sprawling markets. Hoi An at night is transformed by the hundreds (thousands?) of colored lanterns lighting up its streets. It is a city ablaze with light and color, and it drew me in. I was in love. Who needs a boyfriend when I had charming Hoi An? .
We made two trips to Hoi An, so we got to see Hoi An at night twice – which is really the best part. If you only have time for a couple of hours in Hoi An, make sure it’s after the sun has set.
Let me warn you: There will be a shit ton of pictures of lanterns, but they were so incredibly beautiful. I couldn’t stop snapping. There is something ineffable about the colorful light piercing the darkness of the night that speaks to me. It reminds me of one of my favorite songs: “Where there’s shadow there is light, love is in the battle cry, even in the darkest night, there is shadow and there is light.”
A little tripod action here. That blurry person in the red shirt is Lisa.
It wouldn’t be Vietnam if there weren’t vendors hawking lanterns and other items. Idiot that I am, it took me a while to realize that the Vietnamese women had an agenda every time they told me how beautiful my hair was. I truly thought I had the most beautiful hair South Asia had ever seen. These women were much more successful with Lisa, who bought two lanterns, two tailored-made skirts, and one dress. Apparently, Hoi An is known for its silk and tailoring as much as it’s known for its lanterns.
At night, you can also buy floating paper candles for one dollar. For 150,00 dong ($6.65 USD), we climbed into a rickety boat while a woman ferried us down the Thu Bon River. After a pleasant ride, we set our candles on the water along with hundreds of others. According to Vietnamese lore, this is supposed to be bring us good luck. I’m still waiting for that to kick in.
During the day, we walked around to the different stores, took pictures of locals, and relaxed in a coffee shop for a bit. It gets rather hot during the day, so taking it slowly and relaxing is not a bad idea.
The ancient town is a pedestrian only area (bike are allowed), making it the perfect place for strolling, people watching, and picture taking. The town is made up of charming streets and decrepit alleyways perfect for exploring.
Our first stop of the day was this lantern shop where Lisa bought her first lantern.
Ancient Hoi An sits on the Thu Bon River. You can stroll along the river, watching fishermen at work, or catch a ferry to one of the nearby islands (like we did on our bike ride the day before).
There are also many markets throughout the day selling everything from fruits and vegetables, to shoes, to clothing, to trinkets. Honestly, I was more interested in taking pictures of people than buying anything.
One of my favorite things was photographing the Vietnamese people, from the very young to the very old. Surprisingly, the locals were amenable to my constant snapping. Parents didn’t mind at all when I snapped pictures of their children, and the children loved seeing themselves on the screen.
I also tried something new on this trip. I brought my 50mm f/1.8 lens which is ideal for portrait photography. It’s super light and only about $100 if you’re looking to try you’re hand at people photography. The annoying bit is constantly changing lenses as I walked about town, but I did notice a difference. The low aperture allowed me to shoot in lower-light situations and narrow the depth of field.
This kid was amazing. He came up with this pose on his own. What a cutie.
A classic Vietnamese scene.
In short, Hoi An was amazing. Do. Not. Skip. Hoi An.