Hoian, meaning “peaceful meeting place”, used to be a significant link in the trading route between the Orient and the Occident in the 16th century. With the up-and-down history of Vietnam’s foreign affairs, its role as a major trading port ceased to exist in the late 18th century. This unfortunate fate did not lead to the town’s dooms day, in fact, thanks to the neglect that it had to suffer through, Hoian is still bearing traces of its once glorious past for us to behold.
A Hoian’s ancient house
To fully appreciate the charm of Hoian, one may need up to a week to weave through its scenic back roads and several handicraft villages, but with a bit of strategy, cramming the allure of Hoian into one day is possible. Here helloVietnam will show you how:
Hoian’s Old Quarter
Line your stomach with a serving of Banh mi Phuong and let the perfect harmony of spices wake up your every sense. This morning will be dedicated to exploring the well-preserved architecture of Hoian. The best way to do this is to purchase an inclusive day pass and cover all sites on foot. Wander on your own or take a Hoian day tour to have everything arranged for you and benefit from your guide’s expertise.
Banh mi Phuong
Step back into the 15th century and see the fusion architectural features of Hoian come to life in front of you. Tan Ky house, built over 300 years ago, used to function as a merchant house with the iconic narrow but long “tube house” style that is popular in Vietnam. The façade faces one of Hoian’s main roads for convenience, while the back faces the river to facilitate loading and off-loading goods. Despite having no window, the house has good ventilation thanks to an open-air courtyard. Tan Ky house boasts a wealth of unique ancient artifacts including a one-of-a-kind panel with Chinese letters formed by drawings of birds.
Inside Tan Ky ancient house
The Cover Bridge is one of the legacies that the Japanese merchants left in the town. The bridge was built to fulfill both practical and spiritual functions. For everyday life purposes, it links the Japanese community to the rest of the town, while the bridge is also a sacred sword to hold the Namazu monster in place. This giant mythical catfish in Japanese culture is believed to cause earthquakes and floods every time it moves. Hence, this holy “sword” will bring peace to the three countries where this creature rests, which are India, Vietnam, and Japan.
Japanese Cover Bridge
Hoian is packed with quirky souvenir shops filled with eye-catching lacquered objects, colorful fabric lanterns, and costumes. Take advantage of the town’s talented tailors to upgrade your wardrobe, as they can conjure up almost anything within a given time. Plus, they keep their customers’ measurements on file in case they wish to come back for more.
At noon, opt for cao lau, an iconic rice dish of Hoian. Native and unique to the town, cao lau reflects the cosmopolitan culture of this small town. While the flat and chewy noodles can be related to the soba of the Japanese, the char siu meat is the iconic dish of the Chinese. However, cao lau is not entirely foreign. The Vietnamese have put their own spin on it by adding herbs, crispy cracker croutons, and pork crackling. For an authentic bowl of cao lau, head to where the locals eat. Quan ba Lao (Number 22, Hung Vuong, Hoian) is famous among Hoian’s residents and is under the tourist’s radar. It is an address that Hoian’s connoisseurs frequent and travelers don’t even know exists.
Hoian blooming as the key trading post has given rise to an array of handicraft and vegetable villages serving the nearby once bustling trading town.
Kim Bong woodworking village takes pride in its rich history of producing the finest carpenters. Some of them took part in the construction of the well-preserved Hoian’s Old Quarter, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hue Royal Citadel, and a dozen other tombs and temples in Central Vietnam. The East side of the village specializes in shipbuilding while the woodcarvers gather in the West side. The carved items on display and for sale in Kim Bong are not lacquered to retain the natural figures of wood. Kim Bong’s carpenters tend to feature the bucolic aspect of Vietnamese culture with buffalos, bamboo, and flowers as the main patterns on the products. Eastern dragons are also a frequent subject, but as they are to serve the humble mass, these mythical creatures are carved without the majesty and solemnity of dragon figures for the royal. Kim Bong village is accessible by a 10 minute ferry ride from Hoian’s Old Quarter.
Woodcarving at Kim Bong village
Thanh Ha is one of the rare few pottery villages that still preserve the traditional technique of throwing and firing the products with minimal use of support tools. The village’s women are often in charge of forming the products. This process takes two potters; one kicks the wheel-head to make it spin while the other throws the clump of clay into ceramic wares. What makes Thanh Ha’s ceramic stand out is its entirely-manual process. The potters here do not enamel their products or blend different types of clay, and they determine the time of firing based on their instinct and experience What you find here will not have any sort of uniform color or texture, uniform color or texture, which is definitely a highlight in this world of mass production. Thanh Ha pottery village is 3km west of Hoian and charges an admission fee of 20.000 VND.
Potters at Thanh Ha village are mostly women
Phuoc Kieu is a 400-year-old bronze casting village and is the birth place of the famous musical instrument, the gongs. Phuoc Kieu’s bronze casters possess certain aural skills and extensive knowledge about the spiritual culture of several ethnic tribes to be able to cast out the instruments with the right degree of echo. Phuoc Kieu offers a wide range of products from home wares, candle sticks, to ornaments, and censers.
Phuoc Kieu’s old gongs
Embark on a leisurely cruise down the Thu Bon River. Popular choices range from sampans, wooden boats, to kayaks. For the most memorable experience, negotiate with a river lady on a wooden canoe for an hour excursion to catch the sunset. These helmswomen know how to cover the most ground on a given amount of time to maximize the memories for their passengers.
Take a break with Hoian’s local residents in a humble eatery that serves the best com ga (chicken rice) in town. Quan com Hien only opens at night from 6 p.m to 7.30 p.m. While Com ga Ba Buoi takes the spotlight, Quan com Hien only has local diners, a perfect place for any traveler who wants to explore a corner of Hoian that has not yet been overrun by tourists. This eatery is at number 593 Tran Hung Dao Street.
Hoian chicken rice
For a small amount of money, you can purchase a lotus-shaped lantern with a candle inside. Light the candle and float the lantern down Thu Bon River, this is believed to bring about good luck and happiness.
Hoian at night
Go out for a casual stroll through the dimly lit streets of Hoian’s Old Quarter. Stop at some of the street food stalls for snacks. This can either be done on your own with a bit of research beforehand, or on a Hoian food tour by night.