VIETNAM’s Hội An. An ancient town of crimson coloured lanterns.

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An exceptionally well-preserved example of an Indochina trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century, and today a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hội An is a town whose buildings and street plan reflect the fusion of the Japanese, Chinese, and Portuguese influences that came together in it.

Along the Thu Bon River are boutique shops interspersed with Buddhist temples, art galleries, and traditional mustard-yellow shophouses that have held the same families for generations. Possibly Vietnam’s most atmospheric and graceful town, the first stroll through is a feast for the senses. Fishermen launch their bamboo basket boats along palm-fringed beaches and farmers in conical hats tend their water buffalo and harvest rice in green paddies.

The most iconic site in town is the Japanese Bridge, which dates back to the 18th century. A historical piece of Japanese architecture, it features the sculptures of two dogs and two monkeys, marking the years that construction began and ended. Another landmarks attraction is the Ba Mu Temple, a Chinese relic from 1626. Navigate the maze of motorbikes and vendors in the Hội An market, where durian and coriander vie for dominance, and where produce is displayed.  This is an excellent place to get freshly squeezed juice, a bowl of hearty noodle soup, or a typical Vietnamese banana pancake.

Located only 5 km from Hội An’s Old Town is Cam Thanh Village, a seven-hectare water coconut plantation where nipa palms have been planted to protect the area from the flooding Thu Bon River. Nearby, Thanh Dong Organic Farm offers cooking classes, and, if you’re lucky, you’ll meet the tiniest 80-something-year-old lady, whose home backs onto the farm.

The Lanterns of Hội An

The lantern is said to dispel evil spirits and to bring peace and happiness. The first lantern appeared in Hội An around the 16th century; it was brought by the Chinese who settled here. Lanterns are now found outside every Hội An home, decorating the riverside and crisscrossing the streets and restaurants. By night, lovers are seen placing them on the river as they float around in small gently lit boats reminiscent of Venice’s gondolas.

A snapshot of my visit

Having explored Hoi An’s Ancient Town and walked past the charming, traditional homes that have housed the same families for centuries, as well as placed a lantern on the Thu Bon River with a prayer and a wish onto the water I wanted to see more. The best way to explore outer Hoi An, is on a guided bike tour with Adventure Hoi An, which I did, stopping at the river, the organic farm, driving through the old city and of course for a traditional Vietnamese coffee.

Meeting the tiniest most beautiful old village lady at the Thanh Dong Organic Farm in Hoi An. She called us over for a chat – our scooter guides could translate – as she picked a handful of homegrown veggies from her garden which opens onto the farm where a variety of herbs, fruit and delicious veg are grown. She tried to talk me out of my sunglasses too.

Thanh Dong offer tours and cooking classes. They have a restaurant where the freshly harvested produce can be enjoyed.

** This post forms part of my 100x Magical Places series which offers an introduction to my favourite destinations.

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