Hoi An, Vietnam, The most BEAUTIFUL City in the world
Video source: TK tv
Video source: TK tv
This picturesque town is a wonder and a beautiful example of a Southeast Asian trading port straight out of the fifteenth century. Hoi An has something for every kind of traveller: UNESCO World Heritage Sites, custom tailoring, unspoilt beaches, gourmet restaurants, traditional crafts and much more.
So far the authorities have avoided the temptation to allow modern development to intrude on Hoi An as the city’s attraction comes from the combination of its French colonial architecture and old world charm.
Once the commercial capital of the Cham Empire, Hoi An is now the garment centre of Vietnam. Whether you’re looking for a reproduction of your favourite ensemble, an outfit clipped from a fashion magazine or simply a tailored suit, Hoi An is the place to shop.
It’s easy to arrive in Hoi An and be overtaken by your quest for a new wardrobe as your sightseeing agenda falls by the wayside, but don’t miss out on some of the ancient treasures tucked away. In addition to the countless old houses featuring well maintained traditional architecture, there is a wealth of colourful markets, grand halls, natural formations, stunning pagodas and fishing villages just a motorbike ride away.
This may be a traditional city better known for its shopping and historic architecture, but that does not preclude the presence of quality restaurants, innovative cuisine and informative cooking classes. The food scene is alive and thriving, a magnet for gourmets and amateur eaters alike. While in town, make sure to try the town’s specialty, Cao Lau Hoi An, made from.Top off your touring with a trip to the coast and a dip in the ocean at the nearby Cua Dai beach, or a visit to Thanh Ha village – 3 km to the west of Hoi An – where friendly villagers are more than willing to teach you traditional pottery.
Hoi An is most picturesque during Tet Nguyen Tieu, which usually falls around 15 January. This marks a hugely important festival in Hoi An, and residents always put enormous effort into making it the most colourful, meaningful, and cultural festival in Vietnam. It is the time when good food, traditional music and performance art is on every corner, and hundreds of lanterns hang on almost every street. If that’s not impressive enough for you, then stroll to the river, where thousands of lanterns float toward the ocean. Get yourself a lantern, make a wish, and drop it into the drink. Who knows, maybe your wish will come true!
The historical city of Hoi An, famous for being one of Vietnam’s most “well-preserved” cities, is fast becoming one of the most visited cities in the Southeast Asian country. At one time it was Vietnam’s most prominent port. For that reason, to this day it is considered a melting pot, with architecture reflecting a blend of cultures and historical eras. Chinese shophouses, Buddhist temples, and the Vietnamese rustic skyscrapers known as “tube houses” line the streets of Hoi An. Along with the famous Japanese Bridge, all of these sites serve as a reminders of the many influences that have come together to create the diverse and dynamic tapestry of Vietnamese culture.
Image source: flickr.com
According to the People’s Council, in 2017, Quang Nam, home to the iconic Hoi An City, received a record number of visitors with 3.22 million tourists reaching the central coastal province.
This record-breaking number of visitors was 21.66% higher than the figures from the previous year, which saw a total of 1.78 million tourists with the city providing services to 1.44 million domestic visitors, according to Vietnam Tourism.
Duc Tran was born in Saigon in the late 1960s and was a boat refugee to Malaysia in the mid-1980s. After travels led him through Latin and Central America, Australia, New Zealand and Europe, Duc found himself in Vietnam again in 1997. “I found Hoi An was nice, beautiful, and the people are wonderful, so I said ‘hey, why don't we try and live in Hoi An for a few years?’ Obviously I made the wrong decision because I’ve been here for the last 16 years! [laughs]” He credits his mother’s love for cooking and nurturing for compelling him to open Mango Mango, a restaurant and hotel that takes modern culinary approaches to traditional Vietnamese “soul food”.
Image source: asiatourism.news
He explains that the influx of tourism has been good for business, but has brought challenges concerning infrastructure, sustainability and the natural environment. “There are definitely problems to think about now, like the river of plastic in the ocean.” According to the Global Environmental Facility, between the 120,000 citizens in Hoi An, and the deluge of tourists that visit the city on a daily basis, 75 tonnes of solid waste are created daily. The city’s waste eventually finds its way to the oceans, which has long-term, extending, detrimental effects. Duc says, “We are concerned and we want to be sustainable and support and sustainable ways. For example, there’s a pretty good collective of businesses using bamboo straws. With education, it’s coming.”
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He adds that there are traffic infrastructure problems that need sorting out. “There needs to be more organisation regarding the tourists coming in and out. Often when buses enter Hoi An, there’s not enough space for the buses to park. There’s a bit of chaos and the customers get stressed and actually want to leave Hoi An. Once it’s built-well, functionally, and aesthetically pleasing, people will enjoy with a sense of relaxation. It’s not necessarily a matter of cutting down on the numbers of tourists, but making it manageable.” He also wishes to see more dialogue between the city and the business owners as a means of creating an environment in Hoi An that’s more welcoming to tourists as well as local artists desiring to express their local pride through their work.
Image source: chudu24.com
Hoi An stands apart from many tourist destinations in Vietnam in that much of its attractiveness comes from its ability to allow visitors to step into a piece of living history. For this reason, local businesses concerned with drawing large crowds of visitors have an added pressure to preserve while at the same time, growing with the times and creating the infrastructure that will make the central coastal city accessible. Duc states hopefully about Vietnamese people’s ability to surmount difficulties, “We are aggressive enough to approach solving problems and create an opportunity for ourselves. If there’s an idea, get it done!”
Video source: Benn TK
Image source: vietnam-visaonline.org
Kathleen Brown, her husband John and their two adopted children, Peter Quang and Claire Xuan, are touring around Vietnam during their Christmas holiday. Kathleen is a long-time television producer and /media consultant for humanitarian agencies and her husband, John, a professional photographer. Every couple of days, they will post a story along with photos on their travels and adventures.
To get a true sense of how people live in the countryside of Vietnam, all you have to do is take a bicycle tour of the Kam Kim Commune and Kim Bong Village, just across the waters from bustling Hoian.
We challenged the chaos of traffic on the the busy Hoian streets, dodging motorcyclists and bicyclists whizzing by, to make our way to a ferry that would transport us to the island.
It was a crowded ride, sitting elbow to elbow with local residents who were going or coming from work.
One woman took an interest in our children, and by the end of the short ride she had translated our life story for all the commuters.
Reaching our destination, we peddled down country roads, intersecting rice fields and croplands, encountering water buffalo and peddling through villages and past holy pagodas.
We were invited to visit the home of a basket boat maker -85 years old, and still working to support his family.
Generations look after each other in this country -- grandparents and parents living with children, and caring for each other.
Photo by Ken Marshall
With the help of one assistant, it would take 20 days to weave a circular boat, which would be sold for approximately $200.
We then continued on to the carpentry village, to see first hand the skilled craftsmen carving statues of Budda, furniture with mother-of-pearl inlay, and other trinkets to be sold at the market.
We visited a family whose business was to weave reed mats that would be stretched across bed frames to bring rest to this weary, hard-working community. We saw the fermentation of rice wine to quench the thirst of the neighbors.
And finally, we peddled to a boat yard, where three large wooden fishing boats were under construction to be sold to the local fishermen. This stop provided Peter the chance to save a piece of charcoal from the fires, which he would later use as a piece of coal to place under his sister's pillow on Christmas Eve!
This is an industrious country of hard-working people, who let nothing go to waste - and who revel in family and caring for each other. As our guide explained, the people in this village are poorer than poor, but it was clear that they had riches beyond measure in their family life and caring for each other.
Writer: Kathleen Brown
Other articles written by Kathleen:
Kathleen Brown, her husband John and their two adopted children, Peter Quang and Claire Xuan, are touring around Vietnam during their Christmas holiday. Kathleen is a long-time television producer and /media consultant for humanitarian agencies and her husband, John, a professional photographer.Every couple of days, they will post a story along with photos on their travels and adventures.
What if I told you one can spend half a day immersed in the arts and at the same time help make the lives of women more secure and full of purpose. Would you do it?
An important aspect of our heritage tour is giving our family an opportunity to support humanitarian efforts to help the less fortunate in Vietnamese society.
LifeStart Foundation’s work enabling women with disabilities to learn income generating skills to support themselves and their families proved a way to do this creatively and impactfully.
LifeStart founded in 2000 by Australian Karen Leonard is largely volunteer run. Women in the program’s workshop create scarves, jewelry, clothing, handbags, accessories and fair trade items for purchase at their store in Hoi An and online at www.lifestartfoundation.org.au
After breakfast, we board a smallboat to visit one of Hoi An’s nearby islands to learn traditional painting by local artist and LifeStart Foundation recipient, Sinh Trong. Another two women, both “ex-pats,” teaching in Hanoi, roundout our group for the half-day tour.
Time stopped as our small group learned to hold paintbrushes, apply small amounts of Chinese ink, and create works of art on handmade paper. Sinh, our teacher, assures us we will all be fine artists at the end of the session and delivers nicely on this promise in a lively, enjoyable and fun two-hour session.
Afterwards we return to LifeStart ‘s store front in Hoi An town to learn about the organization’s fine work, meet some of their clients and spend several hours making small lanterns, drinking tea and supporting their mission.
Working through the creative arts to both transform thel ives of its clients and offer a relational form of giving to supporters is a rich and meaningful experience. It could well be the future of philanthropy which is personal, respectful and most important, relational.
The sister of our guide long affected by a disability is one of LifeStart’s client artisans; so it was a personal testimony of the organization’s enormous impact. We will be coming home with far more than her note cards and bookmarks. Our eyes have been opened and our hearts touched.
Writer: Kathleen Brown
Other articles written by Kathleen:
By Peter Mahomet
Nestled in ethnic Co Tu territory, in the mountains between Da Nang and Laos, is the picturesque village of Bho Hoong. Roughly 65km from Da Nang, to get there you follow an incredibly scenic (for both natural and cultural sights) country road that winds its way through steep mountains, lush forests and swidden lands. From some viewpoints, you can see all the way down through the valley to Marble Mountain and the azure ocean in the distance.
Well regarded in the past as fierce warriors – the Co Tu only stopped headhunting 50 years ago – they have largely been left alone by the Vietnamese Kinh majority. Like many of Vietnam’s remote ethnic groups, the economic success enjoyed by coastal and riverine areas of the country has not really made it to their alpine home yet. Theirs is a simple agrarian existence, occasionally supplemented by government pensions for their efforts as tenacious fighters during the American war.
The government has attempted to improve a few Co Tu communities, including Bho Hoong village, but with mixed success. And this is where Active Adventures Vietnam comes in. About seven years ago, the government decided to turn Bho Hoong into a tourist “homestay” with a view to increasing the villagers’ incomes. A number of traditional-style longhouses and a communal house were built as accommodation for visitors. Unfortunately the project was not well thought through, and the whole ‘new’ village sat dormant and unloved for a few years.
Pham Vu Dung, Mark Wyndham and Vu The Vinh from Active Adventures Vietnam negotiated with the local government to let them renovate and reignite the homestay venture – and it worked. As you cross the suspension bridge that spans the rolling Kon river, you are met by a beautifully bucolic scene: a cluster of traditional wooden houses on stilts, with their steep thatched roofs, dotted around the edge of a village common, the whole area lorded over by the majestic communal house. It is difficult to describe the splendor of this communal house, with its massive central wooden column thrusting towards the firmaments, covered with intricate yet subtle carvings and tribal paintings.
What makes this small ethnic village different from the rest is that the traditional houses have been individually styled, each one taking the name of a different animal sacred to the Co Tu people. In addition, all the bungalows have their own private balcony overlooking the peaceful river – the perfect place to rest, read, contemplate and forget all your troubles.
Modern conveniences such as marble en-suite bathrooms and comfortable mattresses with high quality linen have been added to ensure a luxurious stay. Twin and triple rooms are available for friends and small families, and a nice hot cup of locally grown tea awaits you when you arrive.
The great thing about this whole venture is that everyone wins: tourists get a glimpse into a wonderful bygone world that most people will never see; local villagers benefit from increased employment and ownership; the environment and culture are protected through increased awareness and education; and Active Adventures Vietnam gains another successful tourism partnership in the region.
For more information about this amazing village, visit the Bho Hoong project website: www.bhohoongbungalows.com