After Nha Trang, it was finally time to head to central Vietnam. First stop, the city all our friends who’d been to Vietnam recommended we go to: Hoi An.
And let me tell you: our friends were correct. Hoi An was amazing, it was our favorite city in Vietnam and was also one of our favorite cities from our entire year of travel.
Hoi An is a small coastal city located in the tropics in central Vietnam. Everything about this city was great; the locals were happy and friendly, the city relaxing and beautiful, the culture exciting and active and alive. This is pretty much everything Inna and I love about small towns, and it was a big reason why we found Hoi An to be awesome.
While all of Hoi An was charming and beautiful, some of its neighborhoods were even moreso. Just look at this shopping area above, we loved it!
Even more beautiful was the city’s riverfront. This was in my opinion the most beautiful spot in the city.
In addition to culture and beauty, Hoi An also has history, enough to make its old town a World Heritage Site. Hoi An’s most notable historic landmark is the bridge pictured above. This bridge, named the Japanese Bridge, was constructed by the Japanese in the 1590s, originally to connect a Japanese village to the main city. Interestingly, Hoi An is (or at least was) a very important city to the Japanese, as they once believed the heart of Asia lived underneath this city.
Old Town Hoi An had lots more to see, but nothing as grand as the Japanese Bridge. Actually, the sites themselves aren’t the most impressive aspect of Old Town Hoi An, the real most impressive aspect is the fact that Old Town has survived at all. The buildings are old and outdated, many even made out of wood. Almost all Vietnamese buildings like these were destroyed during the Vietnam War, but for some reason Hoi An was spared and so its Old Town survived.
EDIT: Inna wants me to add that she completely disagrees with the above paragraph. She loved the rest of Old Town Hoi An, as we got to see and experience the marketplaces and merchant homes of old Vietnam.
In addition to its climate, neighborhoods, and history, Hoi An’s beauty also comes out in its art. Vietnam as a whole was an incredibly artistic country, but I think Hoi An may be the most artistic city the country has.
Hoi An’s most famous artwork is woodcarving, a craft that is centered in a village just outside the city. The above photos show examples of their work; that’s right, the statues above aren’t made out of stone, they were carved out of wood.
If all the above hasn’t convinced you that Hoi An is awesome, there’s also the fact that this city was even better at night. All of Old Town was so beautifully lit, the city has a wonderful night market, and the riverfront has amazing nightlife. The drinks in particular were amazing, or it might have just been the restaurant we went to (Mango Mango), which had by far the best tasting cocktails I have ever had.
I hope by now you think Hoi An is awesome, because Inna and I loved it so much. But even if you don’t, there’s another reason you must come here: one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites is only a short drive away. This destination of course is My Son.
Located deep in the jungle (sort of, its only a 45 minute drive from Hoi An), My Son was built between the fourth and fourteenth centuries and is considered, alongside Borobudur, Ayutthaya, Angkor Wat, and Bagan, to be the foremost archaeological site in Southeast Asia, which itself is one of the foremost archaeological areas in the world. My Son was also built as a Hindu temple, making it one of the few large-scale current-religion non-Buddhist archaeological sites in existence.
The first thing we noticed about My Son: it is enormous! When the site was discovered (in 1899), the person who discovered it counted 71 temples here.
Above are several of My Son’s temples, all located at My Son’s main site. That’s right, My Son is so large it actually consists of several sites, although all are walking distance from each other.
Here is a temple from one of My Son’s accompanying sites; this one only a two minute walk from the main temple area. One advantage of this and My Son’s other non-main sites was that the building concentration was much less dense, allowing for pictures like the one above.
You may have noticed that I previously mentioned that My Son originally contained 71 temples, the key word being ‘originally’. Unfortunately, many of My Son’s temples no longer exist; they were destroyed when the site was carpet bombed during the Vietnam War. The crater pictured above was formed by one such bomb, the force from this bomb being enough to topple what was the largest temple at My Son (the base of this temple can be seen in the upper-left of the above photograph).
This is a penis. I’m not kidding; it really is. Hindu women having trouble finding a husband were supposed to rub this thing for good luck. I’m not kidding.
My Son was definitely the highlight of our daytrip from Hoi An, but even the trip back was nice. First, we drove through the jungle, and then our tour took us on a boat ride, down the Thu Bon river, to the woodworking community mentioned above, and then back to Hoi An where we docked on the riverfront and had lunch.
Oh wait, I almost forgot: Hoi An also has a beach! Inna and I biked there and any city that you can bike to the beach from is awesome in our book.
Hoi An didn’t have the greatest beach, but a beach is a beach and it was nice enough. This is especially true when you consider how amazing the rest of the city was; this beach was simply icing on the cake!
Amazingly, even with all of the above, we still haven’t covered everything we did during our stay in Hoi An. For three hours south lies My Lai, one of the most significant sites in the Vietnam War. Our visit there is covered in our Vietnam War post (coming soon).
And now, finally, we’ve come to end of our Hoi An post. Not that we couldn’t have stayed longer, as this area offered even more to see and do, not to mention the city itself, which I don’t think we’d ever get tired of. But despite all this it was time to move on, for the rest of Vietnam awaits! Up next, another of Vietnam’s great central cities: Hue!