Though there is evidence of human inhabitants dating back to the second century BC, the region where Hoi An sits at the mouth of the Thu Bon River, was once one of the most important international ports in all of South East Asia. The warehouses, constructed along the river, held treasures from China, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. These treasures were carried on ships by the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, British and American traders.
The Chinese and Japanese merchants would arrive in the spring, following the trade winds south, and stay in Hoi An until the summer when the winds shifted and they could travel northwards once again. Initially they rented warehouses along the river to live in during this four-month period, but eventually many families made Vietnam their permanent home and began to construct religious temples and congregational halls which they decorated in an elaborate fashion.
The destruction wrought on the town during the Tay Son Rebellion was almost total, but the inhabitants rebuilt, and the port reopened to its former glory. In the late 19th century the river began to silt up, limiting navigation, and Danang took over as the main port for the region. Danang became a famous military base during the ‘American War’ (Vietnamese War), and fortunately the two opposing sides mutually agreed to spare Hoi An from bombing raids and sure devastation.
Hoi An was given UNESCO World Heritage status in 1999. There are more that 800 buildings in the old town that have been protected and preserved and 15 of them can be visited with the purchase of an Old Town Ticket, but the stunning Japanese Covered Bridge can be enjoyed for free. Each month during the night of the full moon, the old town is aglow with traditional lanterns instead of modern electrical light. Residents float lighted candles in small paper boats at the water’s edge.
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
This was our fourth visit to Hoi An and on all three occasions we had stayed at the same hotel, just outside the Old Town, on the road leading to the beach, backing on to a rice paddy. We had sent Raj and Vy to stay at the same hotel when they made a quick visit after attending the wedding of Vy’s cousin in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho. This time the weather was very fine and Raj and Vy wanted to stay at a resort on the beach, and I couldn’t blame them. They had enough of the cool rainy weather in Hanoi and Hue and were craving sunshine and heat.
The morning we were due to drive from Hue to Hoi An, I woke up with a screaming migraine. I couldn’t even manage to make it for breakfast and stayed in bed while Anil, Raj and Vy fortified themselves for the trip. Anil did bring me a few pieces of passion fruit, my newest passion, and the coconut tarts that I remembered so fondly from our previous visit to Hue. I wasn’t feeling any better when it came time to check out, and despite having taken my usual medication, I had to lie down on the back seat of the van in order to tolerate the trip.
It’s really too bad because there was a portion of the journey when I could hear Anil, Raj and Vy ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ about the wonderful scenery along the coast. We drove through a small range of mountains that forms a divide between the northern part of the country and the southern portion. These same mountains are the reason that the weather differs so dramatically between the two regions.
While Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) – Saigon is said to have two seasons, wet and dry; Hanoi is considered to have three season, wet, dry and winter. As soon as we crossed over the mountains, we could feel the temperature change and felt the warmth of the sun. The skies were clear, with light fluffy clouds drifting by and it felt like summer once again. It wasn’t necessary to pass through the town of Hoi An to reach the beach resort because a new highway had been constructed linking the coastal developments to Danang, running right past what became known as China Beach during the ‘American War’.
The resort was as beautiful as the promotional brochures and the website made it out to be. Raj and Vy had opted for a villa near the swimming pool, but we had booked a deluxe double room in the two-story complex a little further from the beach. After surveying their villa, Raj came over to check out our room and declared it entirely unsuitable for us. He headed off to speak to the concierge and before we knew it, he had negotiated a move for us to a villa as well, at no additional charge. What an operator!
After moving to our villa, I lay down for part of the afternoon waiting for my headache to subside. When I finally joined the others at the pool, they were a few gins ahead of me. And did they have a story to tell. Apparently, Raj and Vy settled into poolside chairs rather quickly and ordered a bottle of champagne while they waited for us to join them. After a while, they noticed Anil arriving alone and speaking to the pool attendant. He was given towels and then the attendant followed him carrying a lounge chair.
The pool deck was quite crowded and Anil wasn’t sure where he should sit. He didn’t realize that Raj and Vy were there already and as he made his way around the pool deck, he kept stopping and starting, trying to decide on a spot. Raj and Vy looked up to see Anil walking around like a maharaja with his own bearer putting down the chair and picking it up again each time Anil moved on.
Anil had no idea how this all appeared from a distance, and walked on again until he spied his son at the far side of the pool. They were still laughing about it when I arrived and took great delight in describing the scene in detail. Raj was so entertained by the antics that he made sure to give the pool attendant a good tip.
We spent four nights at the resort and enjoyed all three days to the fullest. The first afternoon, after my headache eased, we headed to the pool, ordered gins and tonic all round and did nothing but relax, swim, relax, snack and relax some more. Just what the doctor ordered. We went into the Old Town in the evening to explore the quaint streets and to have dinner. We were astounded at the amount of development that has come up on the opposite side of the river from the part of Hoi An, that is protected by its World Heritage status.
The resort was able to provide everything we needed for our stay, including a wonderful spa with great packages, and to our delight and surprise, Raj and Vy treated us to a ‘full-meal deal’, and by that I mean a private spa room with steam bath, Jacuzzi, hot-rocks massages and lunch delivered for us to eat while we relaxed with fluffy white terry robes. In spite of the fact that we were all heated up, we chose to have Phở for lunch. Heaven!
The breakfasts on the outdoor terrace, the sundowners on the lounge patio and drinks and snacks by the pool rounded out our stay. It wasn’t until the last day that we realized that we hadn’t even been down to the beach; can you believe that? We staked out some beach chairs after breakfast but the breeze off the sea was rather chilly and the water wasn’t exactly warm. I guess we were a little too far north for swimming in March, unless one was a die-hard water fanatic. As for me, I preferred the sheltered area around the swimming pool where the sun could warm us and the palm trees kept the cool breezes at bay.