Hoi An, city of lanterns

Storytelling Vietnam

Halfway along our circuit of 3 weeks in November 2016, we stayed 3 days in Hoi An.

It’s a small city of 120 000 inhabitants, located in the province of Quảng Nam, about 30 kilometers from the south of Đà Nẵng. Hoi An has been listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1999, and anyone can confirm the singular cachet of the city with its typical wooden houses, and the charm of the strolls you can enjoy by cyclo.

It was a peaceful moment, and a pleasure to start visiting with the Japanese Bridge, one of the most famous tourist attractions in Hoi An. It became emblematic of the city, and you also can visit the temple inside, which we highly recommend. One theory of the bridge’s religious purpose is that it was built to subdue a world-spanning « Mamazu » monster, whose head was located in India and its tail in Japan. The movement of the tail was believed to cause earthquakes in Japan. As Vietnam was located in the area of Mamazu’s back, the bridge was intended to pin Mamazu down, thus preventing any earthquakes.

The entrances of the bridge are guarded by weathered statues: a pair of monkeys on one side, a pair of dogs on the other. Actually, the tale says that the construction of the bridge started in the year of the monkey and was finished in the year of the dog. In addition to this Japanese style, the constructions in Hoi An reflect many influences, with a both Chinese and French architecture. Thus, it’s an interesting mix of cultures with so many lovely buildings and places of cultural significance.

But one more reason why we particularly enjoyed this little jewel of Vietnam, is because Hoi An is the cradle of the Vietnamese lanterns. They’re like the symbol the city, and when night comes, hundreds of lights give their magic colors to bring a poetic and nocturnal beauty throughout the streets. They come in various shapes and sizes in front of every restaurants, shops, hotels… Once again, when you stroll through the peaceful city by night, you cannot forget the harmony, and somewhat nostalgic beauty. But the visit reaches its peak when you get to the riverbanks. The lanterns become dragon, turtle, or again phoenix to honor the sacred animals of the Vietnamese religious belief.

Lovers picture themselves on their row boat and then burn a candlelight that they make drift on the black waters, just before making a wish.

Neither Nico nor I could have resisted to this alchemy of the trip, that mixes so well tradition, charm and even spirituality together. Because among all the numerous tailors and leather shops in Hoi An, temples remained unchanged since centuries.

Pagodas, the little sculpted fountains and pink incense spirals that burn slowly, suspended from the ceiling : everything here stands for Hoi An’s life.