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 16th century.
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 ornamental
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
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.
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.
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 afield as India and Europe. Colourful 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 coloured 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.
developing plans to preserve their town's ancient character, Hoi An
residents decided to revive the practice of using coloured 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 jeweltoned lanterns in all manner of shapes and
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.
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 unexpected beauty.