We’re back to one of our favorite cities, Hoi An, after a 3 year hiatus. There was something almost comforting about being in familiar surroundings. This time though, instead of staying in Hoi An ancient town, we found a home stay along that Thu Bon River. Only a 10 minute bike ride from ancient tour stay at Viet’s Family River Homestay was wonderful. I think a lot of that had to do with a little 2 month old puppy who was living there as well.
We spent the first day revisiting some of our favorite foodie haunts and just strolling around the city, which was much nicer this time around. When we were here 3 years ago, it was rainy season, the temps were cold, and the city was dark and dreary. Even then though we loved it, and being here when it’s warm (OK-hot) and sunny made it that much better. We again managed to run into Hannah and Alex, by happenstance before they headed onto Dalat later that night (don’t worry guys-we aren’t following you to Dalat, too!). A few beers later and stuffed to the gills, we said goodbye to H and A, hopped on our bike and rode off into the sunset. OK well not really, but we did pedal the 10 minutes back to our home stay.
We opted to rent a motorbike for the next two days. We drove 5km out of Hoi An and ended up in Tra Que vegetable village. Literally an entire village that grows all the vegetables for all of Hoi An. Rows and rows of mint and Thai basil, lettuce, cabbage, chilies, all growing, lush and fragrant. We were stopped by a local fisherman’s home on our way out of the village that invited us over to see his fish pond, which you could tell he was very proud to show. Back on our bike, we hopped on the water ferry that leaves from Hoi An ancient town waterfront and takes you over to Kim Bong furniture village and Thanh Ha ceramic village. We had been on this side of the water before, when we did our motorbike tour a few a years back but this time we had no set itinerary and just drove through the countryside, no final destination in mind. I even tried to ride the motorbike, but steered us within a foot or two of the riverbank and I promptly removed myself from the drivers seat. School must have been just let out, because we were running into large groups of school kids, all smiling, shouting hello, excited to see westerners and practice their English. This is one of my favorite parts of Vietnam-the people so friendly, and always enthralled when they see westerners. A few hours putting around the countryside and we made our way back to ancient town.
Full Moon Festival
Tonight turned out to be the Full Moon Festival, which happens on the 14th day of each lunar month. The town is closed to motorized traffic and electricity is kept to a minimum. Instead, in the city known for their homemade lanterns, everything was a glow with lanterns hanging on every restaurant and cafe, every lamppost and in all the storefronts. For the locals, the night of the full moon is a time to honor their ancestors, setting up alters laden with fruit, flowers, candles and incense outside homes and burning colored paper and fake $100 bills as offerings in exchange for good luck and prosperity. Vendors with special treats of moon cakes makes their appearance, the temples are awash in candlelight where monks singing traditional music can be heard, and the streets are flooded with tourists and locals alike.
In the city known for their homemade lanterns, Hoi An was a glow with lanterns hanging on every restaurant and cafe, very lamppost and in all the storefronts. Unbeknownst to us, we were a part of the full moon festival when we were here 3 years ago, but we had no idea. Last time we were here, it was New Years and we thought they had just gotten in on the Western fun and were celebrating as well. Not so. The sleepy night city comes to life during the full moon festival. Consider yourself lucky to be a part of this if you are here during the full moon. Purchase a few lotus shaped cardboard lanterns complete with a small candle and send them floating down the river. Not only does it make a beautiful sight seeing all these colorful lanterns floating downstream, but releasing the lanterns is said to bring happiness, luck and love. Don’t forget to admire all the romantic local couples who have rented out a boat, donned their best attire and have a photographer on had taking photos of them in all sorts of awkward, prom-like poses. Fun to watch
We also headed by motorbike some 45 km away from Hoi An to visit Mỹ Sơn. Mỹ Sơn is a cluster of abandoned and partially ruined Hindu temples constructed between the 4th and 14th century. The temples are dedicated to worship the god Shiva. Mỹ Sơn was once a the site of religious ceremonies for kings ruling during the Champa dynasty, and at one time encompassed over 70 temples. However, a large majority of its temples were destroyed by U.S Carpet bombings during a single week during the American War. Such a shame, as some of the temples have been reduced to mere rubble. You really have to put on your imagination cap to try and visualize what they would have looked like so many years ago. As I write this, we have already visited the temples of Angkor Wat, and if you too have done this and are debating on
whether or not to visit Mỹ Sơn, my vote is for NO. We hadn’t seen Angkor Wat before visiting, so we had nothing to compare it to, but even then we were a bit disappointed in how little remained of Mỹ Sơn. We had the time to make the 1hr30 minute drive to Mỹ Sơn, but if you’ve only got a few days in Hoi An, there are better things to fill your time.
Such as eating an amazing bowl of Pho, the $5 all you can eat meal at Ba Le Well, getting some clothes tailor-made for you (Did I mention we got sucked in again to have clothes made for us?!?) or just enjoy walking through the old market along the river. Either way, we said it before and we’ll say it again- you’ll probably fall in love with Hoi An, and that, my friends, is definitely not a bad thing.