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Hoi An - 'The Yellow City'

Hoi An - 'The Yellow City'

Hoi An Ancient Town
UNESCO World Heritage Site

Upon my early morning arrival in Hoi An, Vietnam, I am anxious to explore the Old Town. Before going directly there, I stand at the edge of the Thu Bon River peering over the many boats decorated with colorful lanterns anticipating the many tourists to arrive. Soon the streets will be crowded and the river full of boats filled with giggling passengers. I cherish the relative silence that will soon flutter away.

Staying on An Hoi Islet, close to the Night Market, the Old Town, and the Lune Performing Center...... my location is perfect! I am fortunate to attend two completely different shows: A O Show on my first night and Paleo towards the end of my stay. A warm welcome back to my days in the performing arts.

After each performance I walk along the river admiring the golden glow across the river, on the river, and along the river. The entire town is aflame with handmade lanterns. People are everywhere! Am I the only one without a selfie stick? It definitely seems so. My dream is to capture the heartbeat of Hoi An.

Soon I arrive at the night market. Anyone selling food, dream catchers, or lanterns is surrounded by large packs of people impatiently pushing to get as close as possible. I stand back and observe.

Charming handmade lanterns are everywhere!

Each day is full of surprises. While always en route to somewhere, I never resist the overwhelming temptation to follow paths to the unknown. From sunrise to sunset and beyond, I walk throughout this treasured city and take excursions to places I may be familiar with - or not.

Questioning what I might discover: something or someone - or not.

Instead of rushing from one planned destination to the next, I take the time to meander, sit on a stoop, or do anything that allows for serendipity. I meet many interesting people and learn quite a few secrets along the way - about people and places.

Neither sturdy nor clean - an interesting place to rest and meet people.

While I am definitely uneasy sitting in front of someone's private entrance - I do. Time passes quickly as I listen to people who stop and share their travel secrets and more - much more. The sun is setting and a woman carrying many bags from the market is approaching. Embarrassed, I jump up. It is with an awkward gesture I present an offer to help. She smiles and shakes her head - implying no. My time is up and I walk towards the Thu Bon River dreaming about my journey tomorrow floating in a bamboo basket boat through the Nipa Palms.

In serenity floating into the unknown: until...

The performer and the tourists on the other side of paradise.

All is peaceful as I paddle solo through the coconut palms - a dream busted. As I go through the narrow opening in the forest, I immediately see the crowd and hear the music. Indeed, the laughter and excitement are contagious. I am always at home on the water, and as I return to the dock I know the adventure is over too soon. I want more time exploring life in the Nipa Palms. Fortunately, I am looking forward to my late afternoon meeting with the artist Phan Thanh Minh.

Going up: my mysterious intrigue with steps.

Alone at CO Gallery, I am curious about the treasures hidden upstairs. Climbing with caution, I enter the artist's studio. Aware I am standing in his private space I turn to go back downstairs. Suddenly, the door next to the easel opens and the man entering motions for me to stay and look around. I quickly learn that he is the artist, Phan Thanh Minh, and is eager to show me his paintings. In addition to the gallery, there are numerous stacks of paintings. I carefully go through each one admiring his work. It is my understanding that he predominantly paints portraits of the locals, tourists and definitely his family. Figuring out which paintings are self-portraits is not an easy feat.

Phan Thanh Minh's Paintings: portraits and one self-portrait - guess!

Phan Thanh Minh's Paintings: the females in his family? Definitely not all.

A tourist from France enters the gallery: sold as I assist.

Once a merchant - always a merchant. Once a shopkeeper - always a shopkeeper. I prepare to leave the gallery when a customer enters. I sense he is overwhelmed with the quantity and the chaos. Ah, an opportunity to step back, observe, and make myself approachable if need be. And, yes, he chooses to communicate through me, rather than directly with the artist. Do I miss having my shops? Absolutely! I welcome the surprise of being a momentary shopkeeper. The taste is tempting and delicious. Thank you, Phan Thanh Minh, for providing me the opportunity to assist you. 

As for other galleries and artists - there are plenty. A fabulous way to achieve a broad overview of both local and international artists living in Vietnam is to visit Art Space at the Anantara Hoi An Resort - founded and curated by Bridget March who also has her own gallery nearby.

Réhahn is someone I follow on Instagram and visit both of his places: Precious Heritage Museum and Couleurs d'Asie Gallery. The Museum provides many backstories to the lives and heritage of the people he photographs - exquisite visuals enhanced with history. He brings you on his journey as he meets, befriends, and photographs people. I visit several times - always learning something new.

Interesting and exciting trips outside of Hoi An are plentiful: there is always somewhere to go. Come with me to two villages - first to Thanh Ha Pottery Village and then to Tra Que Organic Vegetable Village.

Life of the artisan in Thanh Ha Pottery Village: days are long and hot.

Traditional wood burning kiln: the covered bowls are for export.

I discover old terra-cotta containers behind an artisan's home. 

Life on the farm: Tra Que Organic Vegetable Village.

Walking through the vegetable gardens, I appreciate breathing the fresh air filled with a mixture of fragrant herbs and observing daily life on the farm.These fields provide food to the local restaurants and herbs to the traditional Vietnamese doctors to make medicine. Merchants cycle through the fields selling food and drink to the hungry and thirsty farmers.

A final good-bye before heading back to life in the city.

Looking up to find peace from the crowded streets of Hoi An.

The beauty of bougainvillea and handmade terra-cotta roof shingles.

A quintessential snapshot of Hoi An - then off to the market.

The sentinel at the Central Fresh Market: grounded in familiar territory.

Merchants everywhere: a lifestyle in Hoi An.

Stopping to sell as she crosses the Hoi An Bridge.

Compassion: offering food and drink to someone in need.

Architecture: inspiration in the details - floors, walls and ceilings.

Visiting the many heritage sites in Hoi An provide an abundance of design inspiration. The one major challenge is dodging the crowd. However, each push and squashed toe is worth the startle and pain.

Symbol of Hoi An: the Japanese Covered Bridge.

Usually congested with people, I attempt to time my crossings over the Japanese Covered Bridge accordingly - not an easy task, but often doable. And when not, I either accept the chaotic scene, or take another route.

This pedestrian passageway provides so much history, it is possible to learn something new with each passing. My favorite is the story as to why the bridge is guarded by a pair of weathered monkeys on one side and dogs on the other. Some say that these figures were selected because many Japanese emperors were born either in the Year of the Monkey or the Year of the Dog. Others stand firm in the belief that construction of the bridge began in the Year of the Monkey and completed in the Year of the Dog. Regardless of the story, the reason for building the bridge was to link the Japanese community to the Chinese community on the other side. Today this site is a popular landmark in Hoi An.

Peace on the Thu Bon River: before the tourists flood the city and the river.

The locals are up preparing for an active day. Observing the local lifestyle in Hoi An is both refreshing and exhilarating. My early morning walk along the river is my favorite time of the day. Of course, every moment holds a special value to cherish - even learning to elude the the crowds becomes a welcome new skill set. Another place I go is to the edge of a rickety dock. While I may see this as an attraction, others do not.

A place for solitude and away from the chaotic crowds.

It is too soon to say good-bye to Hoi An, however... I will return.

  • Post author
    Debra Levine

Comments on this post (2)

  • May 14, 2019

    Lovely photographs and observations!

    — Diane Bradbury

  • May 13, 2019

    I loved this! I love your talent for writing and let me see this beautiful place from my recliner. The colors of everything is very impressive and a little envious of your ability and bravery to take us to these unfamiliar places! Love you and miss you bunches. Xo

    — Betty

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