1 of 1000: Hoi An – The Old Harbor City

Posted by on December 1, 2011
Night Bus in Vietnam

The night bus in Vietnam

After a rough night in a Vietnamese sleeping bus, we got to see Hoi An, a historic harbor town which has been preserved it flair from the 16th and 17th century and allowed us a glimpse into the past.

We will try our best to let you experience the beauty of Hoi An with this blog post and the pictures. 

Hopefully you get a good enough taste of Hoi An that makes you want to go there, too.

The Overnight Bus to Hoi An

Before I tell you about Hoi An, I don’t want to keep our journey from you. To save money we again opted for the local bus, this time we took the overnight bus. Just the bus ride is already an experience of its own. Not exactly the most pleasant one, but it is an experience we won’t forget. The buses have three rows of chairs which can be pushed back to an almost lying position. There are two seats stacked over each other so you might had to climb a bit to get in our seats.

The seats felt perfectly comfortable, for someone not bigger than 1.80 m. In this case my 1.85 m didn’t do me any good. Even with my height I still managed to get a better sleep than Soni who was more often waken up by the noisy Vietnamese passengers or the bus driver honking every time we passed a car, motorbike or truck.

The Vietnamese don’t really understand the term “nighttime peace”. It doesn’t matter if it is 2 am and everybody is sleeping. If you want to listen to music with your smartphone – without speakers – or if you want to talk loudly on the phone at 3 am then it seems to be acceptable to do so, because nobody complained.

At 5 am we finally got to Danang, from where we agreed to a fare of 300,000 Dong for the taxi to Hoi An. When we got there, the driver wanted 500,000 claiming that we agreed to pay 500,000. The 3 of us (we shared the taxi with a Swiss backpacker who we met on the bus) insisted that he showed us 300,000. We gave him 100,000 more and let the hotel receptionist fight the rest of the battle for us.

Delightful Hoi An

Receding flood in Hoi An

Cleaning up after the flood in Hoi An

Apart from getting to Hoi An, almost everything else was really nice. When we got to Hoi An, we were told that the yearly flood had just receded just a day earlier and that the water level at the reception was 1 meter – we were lucky because we didn’t even now that there was a flood. When we walked near the old harbor the water was still running over the streets and workers were cleaning up the parts where the water already receded.

We learned that the water level was almost two meters in some places and only a day later everything was cleaned up and the only thing reminding of the flood was the wet house walls.

Hoi An used to be an important harbor city at the South China Sea for the Chinese, Japanese, Dutch and Indians in the 16th and 17th century. The historical development of the city led to Hoi An being forgotten as a harbor as the nearby city of Danang was used by the French as the new harbor in the region. The result is a town that hasn’t changed its architecture in more than 200 years.

Touristic Hoi An

Rikschas in Hoi

"You need Rikscha? One hour!"

Now Hoi An is protected and recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which of course brings lots of tourism to the city. There is a restaurant, shirt shop or some other kind of touristic store in almost every house in Hoi An. Some people say that it has become too touristic to be enjoyable.

We disagree. Even though the overflowing tourism and the vendors (“You want boat ride”, “Buy my t-shirt”, “Rikscha, one hour”) can be annoying , the presence of tourism – and the money coming with it – protects Hoi An from being torn down to create space for another 4 star resort.

We visted two family houses which are part of the tourist attractions around Hoi An, where they offered us some  tea and gave us a quick tour through the house. I was really impressed how they coped with the yearly flood. They just build 2-story houses and whenever the flood comes, they just take all their furniture upstairs and wait for the water to flow into the ocean. They even showed us the marks of the flood level from the previous years. Sometimes the flood was up to 2m.

The other attractions in Hoi An are lots of temples and community houses built in a combination of different styles. Actually the whole city is a combination of Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese architecture which is a remainder of past times when Hoi An was one of Asia’s most important harbors.

Our encounter with Hoi An’s wild life

Chinese Temple Hoi An

Chinese temple in Hoi An

Unfortunately we got a first hand experience of the wild life around here when we got back to the hotel room and could here some strange noise on the ceiling. It didn’t take us long to discover that there were lots of rats running around on the wooden ceiling above us.

The receptionist was surprised and said they are most likely there because of the flood. Well, that didn’t help us at all. And we paid 20€/night, which is quite expensive in Vietnam. Since we couldn’t change it, we put in ear plugs so we wouldn’t hear the rats squeaking all night long. Sadly, that shouldn’t be our last encounter with rats in Vietnam. But more on that in another post.

Is Hoi An really one of the places?

Even with all the touristic shops that have moved to the city it is still a very lovely city that gives a good impression of what an old harbor town in South East Asia looked like in the 16th and 17th century. The tourism helps to preserve the historic buildings so that is something that we will have to live with.

Overall, thumbs up for Hoi An.

More pictures

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