Here we are in Hoi An, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999. This gives it some advantages. Among other things, several streets become pedestrian from 3 pm until 9 pm. It is also forbidden to smoke within the city limits, but if a tourist lights a cigarette on a terrace, it is the restaurant owner who pays the fine. Waiters refuse to serve the customer who is quickly sent off to the street
For our first full day in Hoi An, we had planned a Vietnamese cooking class at the Red Bridge Restaurant & Cooking School. After a welcome tea and meeting the group, we followed the chef to the local market where we found out that here, everything is different from what we’ve seen before.
It must be said that each town’s local market is different and has a distinct vibe. We found out there are only three families of butchers in all of Hoi An and although there are many stands of meat and meat products they all belong to these three families who also work the stands. Everything is very fresh. The fish are brought in the same morning and it’s easy enough to check for freshness by looking at their eyes. I was happy to be wearing my sneakers rather than sandals since the concrete floor was flooded near the fishmonger’s low counters with runoff from the fish that are constantly rinsed as they cut and filet them.
After a short boat ride down the Thu Bon river to the actual site of the cooking school, the chef gave us a tour of the herb gardens where we sampled mint, coriander, Vietnamese basil, lettuce, biter herb and lemongrass and a cooking demo. We were then set up at long tables and started cooking under the watchful eyes of several cooks. The activity ended with a delicious meal consisting of our creations and some local delights.
Back to the old town by mid-afternoon, we continued our visit of the pagodas, assembly halls and heritage houses, some of them inhabited by the descendants of the original owners. The houses have been preserved and restored and several period furniture pieces with mother-of-pearl inserts can be admired. Architecture is a mix of Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese influences.
We walked to the Hoi An Museum (Centre for Cultural Heritage, Management and Preservation) which is worth seeing. There is a roof terrace which gives a splendid view of the city.
Noteworthy is the fact that Hoi An is the place where tailors can make custom clothes and shoes within 24 hours. On the last day, we even found out that if you order in the morning, clothes can be ready by early evening, if you’re willing to submit to measurements and adjustments in the course of the day. We preferred walking around and revisiting the market to discover the outdoor kiosks and unexplored sections inside.
On the south shore of the Thu Bon river, there is an evening market busy with local people. Street food, music, restaurants and bars make for a festive atmosphere.
What impressed me the most about Hoi An: Multicoloured lanterns are everywhere. In the streets at night, on the boats that shuttle on the river, they also adorn the bridge which links the old town with the south side, it is absolutely breath taking. There are many Chinese dragons in decorations, fountains, houses, roofs. The Chinese dragon symbolizes continuity, power, stability and prosperity and is omnipresent in Hoi An.
Several houses have been transformed into shops, many of them similar, which is a little disappointing. On the other hand, the architecture and the history of this commercial port, extremely important from the 16th to the 18th century, are worth exploring.
The next step will be famous Saigon now renamed Ho Chi Minh city.
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