Close your eyes and picture a world of fairy lights, colourful lanterns, music, little boats paddling along the river, with stars shining above and the warmth of the humid night alleviated by a salty sea breeze.. that’s Hoi An. Or at least it is if you’re lucky enough to be there for the Hoi An Lantern Festival!
Hoi An was our last stop in the ‘Northern’ part of Vietnam before crossing into Cambodia for a few weeks and then back into the South of Vietnam and I can safely say that it’s my favourite city in Vietnam. Perfect for shopping, be prepared to get hassled about tailor-made everything: suits, dresses, shoes, handbags.. prices are exceptionally reasonable and the quality is good. They are so fast, they can literally turn things around in 24 hours, you just need to choose your materials, go in for measurements and then two fittings! And if you’re worried about having to then cart around extra luggage, they can ship it directly to wherever you like, we had two suits sent to Sydney directly, which arrived just before we did.
We stayed in a cute homestay just outside the old town in a nice quiet street called Minh Phat Homestay which was perfect and our hosts made us delicious breakfasts that included big plates of fresh fruit, as well as noodles or omelette of course. We took two bikes and cycled to the beach where we discovered mango served with salt and chilli, as well as those little ‘coconut’ fishermen’s boats and I even got to ride a buffalo! Now that was an experience. We also spotted an incredible sunset on our way back into town and wandered through some of the rice fields and vegetable crops to enjoy the view.
In the evening we wandered into the old town and were simply blown away by the atmosphere and beautiful decorations all round. We soon discovered that it was the infamous Hoi An lantern festival, hence the whole of the old quarter was covered in lanterns of all colours, shapes and sizes. The river was dotted with little paper lanterns carrying a candle, that people had handed to the water together with a wish.
We took one of the small wooden boats, where a lady rowed us up and down the river for about 20 minutes and it was truly magical. I too made a wish and put a paper lantern into the river to join the others, watching it slowly float away with its candle flickering brightly. I loved every second. There was music playing in the background, aromas of street food, light sculptures and so much life around us.
I wanted to buy so many of those beautiful silk lanterns to fill my future house and we even started contemplating starting a business selling them in Australia until we saw them on eBay for less than we’d be able to ship them across.
The city was almost divided in two, with one side full of bars and restaurants and the other full of little authentic local street food spots, with their usual small plastic stools and tables, which is where we chose to dine. For just a few dollars we enjoyed some delicious local food, including the famous Hoi An ‘fat noodles’ that one must try called Cao lầu.
I didn’t want the evening to end, I was just so happy soaking it all in, it was everything and more than I’d hoped for. All it was missing was paper lanterns to let loose in the sky! But we had stars instead and it was a perfect night I’ll never forget 🙂