Once upon a time, there was a boy named Than. He lived in a black and white town, so he always ended up getting lost without finding his way back home until he came to a distant rice field and discovered the color green. Then the blue of the beach and the pink of the sunset. And so, little by little, he collected all the colors necessary to give life to Hoi An. This is one of the many legends that tell of the birth of the ancient Lamp Ap Pho, belonging to the Kingdom of Champa, of Malay-Polynesian origin, and the most important port in Southeast Asia during Antiquity.
Silk, jewelry (like mothers ring, engagement ring, wedding ring, necklace, etc.), spices, and ceramic pieces arrived here from around the world, macerating a splendor that would reach its peak in the 17th century. By then, the Vietnamese were already living with Chinese, Dutch, Indians, Portuguese and Japanese in this microcosm perched on the banks of the Thu Bon River, in the coastal province of Quang Nam. However, the final icing on the cake would be the French at the end of the 19th century. Influenced by the colonial airs of French Indochina, Hoi An became a piece of Europe trapped in an exoticism of old colors. Decades later, Hoi An is the result of all his memories. And for this author, the most beautiful place in Vietnam.
THE WORLD NEXT TO A RIVER
After eighteen hours of travel, the bus leaves me next to a rice field on the outskirts of Hoi An. As I go, the picture of every other corner of rural Vietnam follows women wearing their conical non-là hat, some wandering ox, and of course, motorcycles; many motorcycles. Until I see a lantern, and then another; and so, like a particular version of Dorothy on a yellow brick road, I follow the trail until I reach a river, the Thu Bon, which overlooks the main streets of the old town. Only then do I know that I have entered another dimension.
I see the flowery balconies, the mustard-colored facades, and the garlands of lanterns that wait at dusk to illuminate the streets. Also, the ideal monuments to visit early in the day: from the Cantonese Assembly Hall to the Quan Cong Temple, run by the Han dynasty 2,000 years ago; passing by a local market of fruits and dying fish and, especially, the Japanese Bridge. Symbol of Hoi An, the most earthly say that this bridge was built to integrate the Japanese who lived on the other side of the river into the Vietnamese trade, while the most mystical allude to Chua Cau.
It is said that this sea monster supported its head in India, its tail in Japan, and its body in Hoi An, which is why these last two places suffered constant earthquakes and floods. The presence of the massive wooden posts under the bridge would have been the final spear driven into the heart of the beast. Protected by two statues of dog gods and two monkeys, this habitable bridge (it contains a small temple inside) is the best link between all the cultures of Hoi An. Between fantasy and reality. But especially, between day and night.
THE MAGIC OF ‘LANTERNING’
At 5:30 pm, dusk begins in Hoi An. By then, the army of selfie sticks is already prepared at the entrance of the Japanese Bridge, and in a street, the Four Seasons of Vivaldi are ringing. Of course, nothing is accidental. Two Instagrammers wear typical silk fitted suits along the river, while the riverboats full of lights invite you to a magical walk. Suddenly, a lantern flashes. The show starts. Brought by the Chinese and Japanese in the 16th century, lanterns are Hoi An’s main hallmark.
Their importance against evil spirits and the decorative charm promoted by ancient Chinese merchants today unfurls a map of lights that encompasses virtually any corner of the world. the old City. A moment of ecstasy in which Hoi An becomes the closest thing to a living tale. You can be an accessory to their artifice or not. But only here we all feel strange insects attracted to light. Walk across a lighted bridge to the night market and eat a delicious Thai-style ice roll. Buy a candle and launch it into the river in search of a wish. Have a coconut coffee in its bohemian places or watch the folkloric shows in a park. Even buy you a colorful headband with which to camouflage yourself among the rest of the visitors.