Hoi An, Vietnam, 2013

hoi an during the day

Hội An is a UNESCO World Heritage city just south of Da Nang, with more than 2,000 years of history. It was once a principal port for the spice trade with Indonesia from the 7th to the 10th century and a major international port as well. Multiple cultural influences have shaped Hoi An throughout the years–from the Cham Kingdom, whose people came from Java, to Arab and Chinese traders, and the Vietnamese who settled there relatively recently.

entrance to old town

quang trieu temple

Our day began at Quang Trieu Assembly Hall, a building built by Chinese from the Guangdong province. Chinese fishermen and traders would use this hall as a rest stop and to exchange goods. Many of the statues you see are scenes from Cantonese musical dramas.

bird in cage on a quiet alley

A lonely bird on a quiet alley.

The main street of the Old Town is Tran Phu. We strolled past old, heritage hotels, tourist souvenir shops, and teahouses until Wang stopped us in front of a larger, wooden building. The Old House of Tan Ky. Seven generations of the family have worked to preserve this ancient house.

old house of tan ky

There are way too many tourists to fit in this house.

The house features a triple-beam structure that stands for heaven, earth, and human, and five round blocks to represent the natural elements (metal, wood, water, fire, and earth): features of Eastern philosophy.

Duc An medicine shop

We then went a few houses down to Duc An Old House, which has been run by the same family for 400 years. It became the most successful bookshop in the 17th Century and carried famous Vietnamese and Chinese texts, as well as political works by Rousseau and Voltaire, to name a few.

In the 1900’s it became a Chinese medicine dispensary. When anti-French revolts and movements began, the house became the darling gathering place for youths and intellects.

tran phu street

Tran Phu street.

lantern vendor

A bike full of lantern frames.

What was most interesting to me–and something you won’t find through pure research on the web or in tourist books–was that some of these houses were also used as opium dens. Upper floors were furnished with cushioned seats or beds for you to cozily drift off into ephemeral bliss.

afternoon tea

Care for some afternoon tea?

But such things were not meant for us to experience, so we made our way to the famous Japanese Covered Bridge, or Chùa Cầu. The bridge was built to create a link with the Chinese quarters across the river, and now connects Tran Phu St with Thi Minh Kai street.

japanese covered bridge

Sculptures of a dog and a monkey sit at one end of the bridge as symbols of sacredness in Japan and of the years many of the Japanese Emperors were born. A roof was constructed so that it could be used as a shelter from both rain and sun. It is the only known bridge to have a temple built inside it, which honors the God of Weather, Tran Vo Bac De.

boat vendor

We walked down towards the Thu Bon river, where the boats were. Hội An is a city to experienced at night–when lanterns light up the river like twinkles of starlight. The sun was waning, and a few of the villagers had already set afloat tea lights in colorful paper “lilies” on the water.

restaurant on street

Our tour included a “bicycle” tour of Hội An: the bicycles were actually a hybrid of stroller and bike. We kicked back in our chairs, while someone else did the peddling for us. Down Bạch Đằng street we rolled, passed various street vendors and brightly-lit restaurants.

local market

Boat vendors paddled up and down the river, seeking to make eye contact with a curious tourist who’d be willing to buy his wares. We rode past the local markets; a cornucopia of vegetables, meats, fish, and fruit poured onto the streets, splayed out in baskets or on small planks of wood.

hoi an lanterns

My favorite part Hội An was the lanterns. Maybe a third of the shops we passed were lantern stores that hung a curtain of paper lanterns, of psychedelic shapes and colors. It was wonderful.

paper cutouts

Another popular craft you’ll see in Hội An were the 剪紙 [jian zhi, Chinese], or paper cutouts. The streets were tiled with meticulously snipped and intricate cards of boats, flowers, dragons, and pictorials of Vietnamese lifestyle. We bought several of these to gift to family members, and a few for ourselves to take home and admire :).

hoi an at night

Da Nang, Vietnam 2013

It had been only two days since we first landed in Vietnam and yet it was time to fly again. We made our way northward to Đà Nẵng, one of the major port cities in Vietnam and the largest city in Central Vietnam.

My mom and I started our day with a brief stroll through Ho Chi Minh.

My DIY bowl of pho for breakfast, since the broth isn't vegetarian. :)

My hacky soup-less breakfast pho (broth isn’t veggie).

A quiet morning

A quiet morning in Ho Chi Minh.

Families and friends break bread together.

Families and friends break bread together.

And then we took off! Mountaintops peaking over woolen clouds was a wonderful thing to see.

mountains and clouds

We descended through a thicket of  gray, where we lost the sun. Chilly, was my first thought when we landed. This I was not prepared for, in my shorts and light t-shirt. Tangles of cool wind wrapped themselves around my bare legs and arms. Luckily for us, lunch was the first order of business. Hot pot at 4U (For You) Restaurant.

hot hot pot

This being an oceanside city, we went to a seafood restaurant. Naturally, all the hot pot was seafood hot pot. My mom and I fended off the cold with sips of hot tea that grew less hot with each draft that came through the windows. We looked at the other tables’ bubbling pots of warmth longingly and prayed that hot soup would be one of the things served.

Alas, our first dish was a plate of seaweed and sesame mushrooms, stir-fried with veggie ham. And a large plate of plain, steamed cauliflower. Tasty, but too much faux meat for my taste.

mushrooms and veggie meat

a giant plate of cauliflower

Doughy buns stuffed with cabbage. Too much dough, too little stuffing. The dough was too wet: mushy and sticky. We ate only the stuffing.

vegetable buns

Rice noodles stir-fried with red chilies, yam leaves, and peanuts followed. There were more peanuts than noodles. Slices of veggie ham laced the edges of the plate–an afterthought, perhaps to make it “meatier”.

rice noodles with peanuts

Then came the long-awaited soup: a thick, curry soup with deep-fried tofu cubes, fake “beef” slices, and woodear dropped in. Hot, but it would’ve been more comforting had it been less greasy.

greasy curry soup

Lunch finished with a plate of pineapple and grapes to aid digestion. A good way to end a hefty meal. Suffice to say, this was a lot of food and we couldn’t even get through 1/3 of what was served. We shared the rest of our food with the other tables so it wouldn’t go to waste.

fruit for dessert

Overall, I thought it was decent. Good enough. The others in our group looked pretty satisfied with their seafood feast. 4U has a higher price point, so if you’re willing to take a gamble, go for it. If not, I’m sure Da Nang has plenty of better and less expensive seafood options that also have a seaside dining balcony.

the view from our room

We retreated to the contemporary Hyatt Regency Danang Resort for a siesta. This was an absolutely wonderful resort–I highly recommend staying there if it’s within budget. Most of the hotel is open-air, so we were able to soak in the briny ocean air under the comfort of sleek luxury.

the pool at hyatt regency da nang

The hotel spans several buildings, some of them residences. It’s essentially a college campus. In the heart of it is a palm tree-lined Roman Grecian pool over which gentle bridges arch and fountains feed into its waters.

our room at hyatt regency da nang

We lucked out with an oceanview, balcony room. A large, swivel-y sofa chair outside was the perfect retreat. And if you simply couldn’t tear yourself away from the view, don’t despair! The glass shower sits adjacent to the balcony, so all you have to do is roll up the shades to be able to bask in seaside glory as you shower. Our room was spacious, impeccable, and so relaxing.