In Hoi An Old Town night lanterns sway in the breeze, painting a symphony of lights as they reflect off the meandering river below. This is a place for the senses and the sensual, where lovers stroll hand in hand and the tang of the ocean mingles with the aroma of freshly cooked dumplings. Thanks to the piped music that drifts down from speakers throughout the precinct, the Old Town is heard before it is seen. From the moment the notes meet the light of the lamps you are in another world.
Hoi An means ‘peaceful meeting place’, and it lives up to its name. Located just 30km south of the bustling city of Danang, this small coastal town is the perfect location for a relaxing getaway that is layered with the sights, tastes and styles of Vietnam.
By day Hoi An is a bustling maze of tailor shops and cafes, all with wooden facades and shutters that open directly onto the street. These facades have remained unchanged since the fifteenth century, leading to the area being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. History may be alive and well within the confines of the Old Town, but modern design has its place when it comes to attire. Famed as Vietnam’s hub of tailor-made clothing, tourists flock to the town with fashion magazines and fabric swatches in tow. Whether you are looking for a clone of your favourite worn out pants, in need of fitted business shirts, or seeking to turn a rough pencil sketch of a lavish frock into a reality, this is a place where anything is possible.
For those who are all shopped out, boat tours to the surrounding islands abound, while the Old Town boasts several museums that provide a glimpse of what life was like in the trading port in previous centuries. When stepping into the cool courtyards of the ancient houses, the weights of the shadows and of history are tangible in equal measure. Then there is the nearby beach, where exhausted shoppers can relax on deck chairs in the shade of the palms, while the more adventurous types hire jet skis or try paragliding in the afternoon sun.
By night Hoi An Old Town transforms into a tourist attraction in its own right, with access to the lantern-lit quarter and its range of open-air musical performances by ticket only. Restaurants offering al fresco dining line the promenade and entice the custom of passerby with local delicacies such as the White Rose shrimp dumpling. After dinner, a stroll through the traffic free streets reveals a town full of dancing shadows. Shopkeepers chat outside alongside their wares, illuminated from behind by the light box that is their storefront. Old women sit by the bridge, selling lanterns and the chance to make a wish as the fragile basket of paper and flame is lowered onto the water below, where it drifts away to the distant strains of the nightly soundtrack. Gradually, crowds disperse, guided by the light of the lanterns. Still, the memory of the town lingers as notes float over still waters.