Tuesday, 23 February 2016 17:52

Down the alleyways of Hoi An

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As I sit sipping an iced coffee on the sidewalk with my colleagues in Ho Chi Minh City, inevitably, somebody brings up the fact that Tet is approaching “What are people doing ?” ask my friend.

Many Vietnamese people will stay at home for Tet and enjoy feasting and visiting old friends, relatives and colleagues. Recently, more and more Vietnamese people are using this long holiday to travel both in Vietnam and oversea. Some of my friends will travel with family, others will celebrate Tet at home before shares their plans, I tell them that I will travel to Hoi An and they all laugh “Are you not bored of going to Hoi An ? You have been so many times !”

I just smile and sip my coffee, savoring the flavor of this bitter bean mixed with thick condensed milk and the crunch of ice in my mouth. “No, I am never bored when I am Hoi An”. I love wandering the back alleys of the Old Town…”

I know I am not the only person to find the Old Town’s ancient houses with their yellow walls, moss-covered titled-roofs so enchanting. Nobody can deny that Hoi An is unique. And no matter how many times I visit, nothing can change that.

When I arrive, I beeline for Old Town and immediately start to wander the smaller alleys, which are just about wide enough for a person to walk down. If you encounter another person, sometimes it’s a squeeze to get past. There is something truly evocative about these alleyways which link the larger streets in this centuries-old town. I find them quite romantic and I would always recommend to visitors coming here to wander freely down these small lanes. It is where you will discover the hidden charm of Hoi An.

Thu bon river


To backtrack a little, another reason I never hesitate to travel to Hoi An via Danang is its close proximity to Ho Chi Minh City. It’s just over an hour fro Ho Chi Minh’s Tan Son Nhat, take 30 minutes taxi to Hoi An.

Driving to Hoi An you will get to enjoy the sight of Danang’s newest bridges in the soft. Spring weather – in particular the monumental Dragon Bridge, now a symbol of Vietnam’s most-livable city’s arrival as a dynamic hub. All along the coast, you will see how this part of Vietnam has also been transformed into one of Southeast Asia’s most attractive areas for beach tourism with world-class resorts.

Soon you will see a large board welcoming you to Hoi An. About 15 minutes later, you will be in the heart of the Old Town, an UNESCO-protected world heritage that stuns first-time visitors for its quaint beauty defined by those beautiful centuries-old house, which aere carefully protected.

Ba le ancient well


How has much of Hoi An’s beauty been retained ? The town was once a bustling port and major trading venue in Southeast Asia. Chinese, Japanese, and European ships docked here and traded wares once upon a time. But when the river silted up, the trade move on to Da Nang, As a result, Hoi An slid into obscurity, which ironically meant much of the old architecture was preserved.

When tourism started to blossom in Vietnam in the early 1990s, Hoi An was quickly rediscovered and heralded as one of Asia’s most charming destination by every traveler. Although now there are many restaurants, hotels and shops, strict regulations ensure that the main draw card – the town itself, and its wonderful architecture – is retained. For example, you can’t paint over the characteristic yellow walss.

You can wander the streets and discover delicious local cuisine, hear folk music, while admiring the old pagodas club houses and other distractive architecture features. Just remember to keep an eye out for the alleyways and when you see one, don’t hesitate to duck inside it. It will be beautiful ! You will see are-old wooden doors and colorful, floral trellises, inside the doorways, you will see warm, cozy homes.


Afterwards, you might find yourself walking along the banks of the peaceful Hoai river where many small boats will offer you a leisurely tour. But you can keep exploring the alleyways which criss-cross the Old Town lending Hoi An a very close-knit, community feel. Much cultural and historical value can be found in the alleyways, too. For example, the”Sica alley” is famous for housing French wine warehouses, Ba Le alley is where an ancient well supplied the town with the most pure and the coldest water, and Nhi Trung alley also has a wonderfully evocative well that is filled with moss.

You can also find an alley with ancient wooden panes all along both alls. At times the main streets of the Old Town can feel relatively hectic with the large numbers of domestic an international tourists. But down these magical alleyways you can still capture the essence of ancient times – the alleys are peaceful, if not serene. Certainly, everyone will be amazed at the quiet and peaceful space, where it is and utterly enchanting.


The accidental decoration supplied by Mother Nature is the town’s moss. It’s everywhere and it seems to add an aged, authenticity to the architecture giving the tourist a felling sense of satisfaction, as if you are the first person to discover Hoi An. To admire the mossiest lane in Hoi An, enter the alley off Tran Phu street from where you can see Hoai river.

While wandering down Tran Phu street, you will also see a wooden gate down an alley that is quite distinctive with red bricks and a moss-covered fence. Stepping through the gate. I always feel as if I entering a “different world”. Under the roof there are bird cages gently swaying adding an extra bucolic feel to this unique part of town.

Here I always find peace and inner calm. What else can you do but linger and appreciate the magic of Hoi An’s hidden beauty ?

hoi an street food


And that is why I keep returning to this ancient city. Besides the alleyways, and it’s amazing architecture, I am also a huge fan of the food – and yes, some of  the best local foof can be found down the alleyways, too !

Personal speaking, you can only experience the true beauty and the soul of old Hoi An by taking the time to crisscross the town by exploring the alleys. It is a picturesque tow that always rewards the casual explorer with something magical.

I fell in love with Hoi An the first time I ever came and I have yet to grow bored of spending time here after countless visits. You don’t need a guide. You just need to wander and if you do, you will fall in love with Hoi An, too, and after you leave, you will be counting the days till you come back again, and again.

Vinh Gau

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