Old World Charm of Vietnam’s Central Coast
By Mary Carol Fitzgerald
Light flickered from the paper lotus candles as they floated into the darkness. I had released mine into the water, sending prayers of peace and feelings of comfort to a loved one far away. Here I was on the other side of the world, hoping that the message and energy through this grand moon would be received.
The quiet hum of crowds neared as the oars lapped against the water. I looked up at the beam of light in the sky illuminating the magical ambiance below — a full moon festival before us — streets, shops and restaurants lit only by the soft glow of colorful lanterns draped across pathways and along river boats. Luminaries danced their way throughout the river like playful children chasing lightning bugs on a midsummer’s night.
As we approached the dock along the boardwalk, we merged into the enchanted setting. We are in Hoi An, a captivating ancient town located along Vietnam’s central coast, approximately 30 minutes south of Da Nang.
After taking an overnight train from Nihn Bihn to Da Nang, we hopped in a taxi from there and checked into our accommodation earlier that morning. We found Odyssey Hoi An Hotel through friends’ recommendations whom we met in Halong Bay. They had preceded our visit to Hoi An and said they would have stayed for weeks had they the time. I was intrigued to discover what this special place was all about.
Upon our arrival, we were immediately impressed with the hotel’s welcoming staff, baby banana snacks and the most delicious Vietnamese coffee we’ve ever had. Within steps of the entrance, our sights were set on the relaxing open aired lounge and pool deck. Odyssey was in located in a quiet rural area and only a 5 minute walk over the bridge to the city center.
We set out for the afternoon to get a feel for the town on foot. Hoi An is known for their tailoring industry. Having received an abundance of travel tips from friends, this was the place to get clothes custom made for unbeatable prices. There are literally hundreds of tailor shops within walking distance. Within a day or two you can have brand new suits, dresses, shoes or even handbags ready to take home with you. TripAdvisor is a great resource for reviews and trusted shops.
Marking a few must dos on our map, we meandered our way through the historic Walking Town admiring the character of the colonial architecture. Narrow alleyways gave way to colorful textures on the moss laden walls. Smiling faces of store owners beckoned passersby to come inside their stores. Street side cafes were nestled within the commerce offering relaxed and intimate atmospheres.
Having worked up an appetite, we made our way to Banh Mi Phuong, a restaurant featured by Anthony Bourdain on “No Reservations”. We wanted to get our taste buds on the internationally acclaimed ‘best Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches in the world’. Our palettes indeed were satisfied with the mouth watering flavors. Hoi An is also known for it’s food and eating your way through the town by going on a culinary tour is a popular activity.
The next day we explored the countryside on bicycles provided by the hotel. When traveling, biking is one of my favorite ways to explore a lot of ground in addition to getting in some good exercise.
I was impressed with the cultural charm discovered on the outskirts of town. We peddled our way throughout the land in the hot humid air. From lush tropical coastal scenery to the expansive inland farmlands, my senses were fulfilled.
Rural back roads led us through rustic neighborhoods to local riverfront fisheries. I experienced the industry action before dawn the next morning by going on the Hoi An Photo Tour with Etienne Bossot, a French photographer that resides in Hoi An. If you have any interest in travel photography whether a hobbyist or a pro, this is a fantastic opportunity to have an in depth experience of Hoi An. It was a highlight of my trip.
Traveling further into the land, hidden pathways became open roads. Worlds of history and culture unfolded before us. The faces of young and old welcomed our presence, adding to the essence of a place filled with such charm. Knowing that there was more to explore and discover is to know that new experiences will always await.
Odyssey Hoi An Hotel
Things to Do
Hoi An Photo Tour (with Etienne Bossot)
Rehan Art Gallery – A cultural experience of scenery and people of Vietnam
Hoi An Food Tour
In loving memory of William E. Fitzgerald
(March 30, 1941 — April 17, 2017)
For more travel photos and stories, visit www.marycarolfitzgerald.com.