The ancient town of Hoi An, 30 km south of
Danang, lies on the banks of the Thu Bon River. Occupied by early western
traders, Hoi An was one of the major trading centers of Southeast Asia in the
Hoi An has a distinct Chinese atmosphere with low, tile-roofed houses and narrow
streets; the original structure of some of these streets still remains almost
intact. All the houses were made of rare wood, decorated with lacquered boards
and panels engraved with Chinese characters. Pillars were also carved with
Tourists can visit the relics of the Sa Huynh and Cham cultures. They can also
enjoy the beautiful scenery of the romantic Hoi An River, Cua Dai Beach, and
Cham Island. Over the last few years, Hoi An has become a very popular tourist
destination in Vietnam.
NO FLUORESCENT LIGHTS. NO MOTORCYCLES. NO TELEVISION. ON THE 14TH DAY OF EACH
LUNAR MONTH, THE RIVERSIDE TOWN OF HOI AN GIVES MODERN LIFE THE NIGHT OFF.
In a wood-fronted shops a woman in traditional dress sits at a desk, bathed in
the light of a lantern made from a simple bamboo fish-trap. Outside, two old men
are absorbed in a candlelit game of Chinese checkers. These scenes, straight out
of the 19th century, still take place in Hoi An, a sleepy riverside town in the
central province of Quang Nam.
Hoi An has long been a cultural crossroad. More than five centuries ago the
Vietnamese nation of Dai Viet expanded its territory southwards, encroaching on
the Indianized Kingdom of Champa, which covered much of what is now central
Vietnam. Hoi An, located on the Hoai River, emerged when Japanese and Chinese
traders built a commercial district there in the 16th century.
These diverse cultural influences remain visible today. Visitors will find Hoi
An's Old Quarter lined with two-storey Chinese shops, their elaborately carved
wooden facades and moss-covered tile roofs having withstood the ravages of more
than 300 years of weather and warfare. These proud old buildings, which back
onto the river, remind visitors of another era, when Hoi An's market was filled
with wares from as far a field as India and Europe. Colorful guildhalls, founded
by ethnic Chinese from Guangdong and Fujian provinces, stand quietly, a
testament to the town's trading roots.
While Hoi An's old-fashioned charm is always visible, on the 14th of every lunar
month modernity takes another step back. On these evenings the town turns off
its street lamps and fluorescent lights, leaving the Old Quarter bathed in the
warm glow of colored silk, glass and paper lanterns. In ancient times,
Vietnamese people made lamps out of shallow bowls filled with oil. Later,
foreign traders introduced lanterns, ranging from round and hexagonal designs
from China to diamond and star shaped ones from Japan.
Let there be light
When developing plans to preserve their town's ancient character, Hoi An
residents decided to revive the practice of using colored lanterns. Starting in
the fall of 1998, one night each month is declared a "lantern festival". On the
14th day of each lunar month, residents on Tran Phu, Nguyen Thai Hoc, Le Loi and
Bach Dang streets switch off their lights and hang cloth and paper lanterns on
their porches and windows. Television sets, radios, street lights and neon
lights are turned off.
In the ensuing quiet the streets of Hoi An are at their most romantic, the
darkness broken only by jewel toned lanterns in all manner of shapes and sizes.
Strolling through the lantern-lit streets is like walking into a fairytale. It
is all the more picturesque since motor vehicles are banned from Hoi An's Old
Quarter. On Trai Phu Street, stop at the beautifully preserved Faifo Restaurant
to sample some traditional Chinese-style pastries. Or walk on to the Treated
Café, where bamboo baskets, commonly used to wash rice, have been transformed
into unique lanterns. These basket lamps are but one example of people's
creativity as they experiment with new shapes and materials, including lights
made from hollow bamboo tubes.
A Warm Glow
The 14th day of the lunar month is a Buddhist day of worship. Residents place
offerings of food and incense on their ancestral altars and visit one of Hoi
An's many pagodas. The scent of incense and the sounds of people singing add to
the town's enchanted atmosphere. On these evenings, visitors will get a rare
glimpse into another era. These nights are a welcome reminder of life's
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