The travel guides describe Hoi An as a laid-back town, a well preserved example of an ancient trading city. What they don’t mention is that those 600 year old shops are now filled with key rings, joke T-shirts, brand name knock-off backpacks, and mass-produced “traditional art”. It’s shoulder-to-shoulder tourists at this UNESCO World Heritage site, especially after dark when the lanterns turn on and two-for-one happy hour kicks off.
Lanterns have been a special feature of Hoi An streets since the 1500s. But at some recent point, city fathers saw fit to heavily promote the monthly Full Moon Lantern Festival as a tourist attraction. It’s traditionally a time of meditation and connection with ancestors. Now lanterns light the crowded streets not only at the full moon but every night, like summer in Disneyland. Visitors cruise the river in lantern-festooned boats and set paper lanterns containing lit candles to float downstream “for love and good luck.”
A friend told me that when she was in Hoi An about ten years ago, the islet where a carnivalesque night market is now was at that time dark and uninhabited. The rows of venerable-looking shops and restaurants on the island are actually brand new.
Right now this rolled ice cream is a popular item in the night markets.
Hoi An is not without charm. The colored lanterns are pretty. The historic buildings are, too, and in the daytime there are museums and temples to visit. In the morning you can see residents going about their daily work on the river and in the market.
We watched a group of Vietnamese people enjoying a traditional song-game called bai choi.
On every street there are custom tailor shops where you can get a dress or suit made from a picture in just a day or two. I would have ordered something if we’d stayed a little longer.
The food, like everywhere in Vietnam, is fresh and cheap. The overpriced tourist restaurants are not hard to spot. We dined at the central market.
24 hours in Hoi An was enough for us. I recognize the hypocrisy in complaining about excess foreigners when I am one myself, but it seems to me that Hoi An’s little ancient district is a destination that has fallen victim to its own success. I’m not sorry we came here but I wish I could have visited ten years ago.