The True Colours of

Hoi An

Unexpected and enlightening travel moments await in Vietnam’s Hoi An on a Scenic 5-star exploration of South East Asia.

By Natasha Dragun.

Dusk in Hoi An is a bit like a fireworks display, but without the noise. As soon as the day begins to disappear, the Old Quarter of this beguiling port town begins to light up. Shopkeepers set aglow paper lanterns coloured in electric hues. Candles float down the Thu Bon River, released (with accompanied prayers) by those gliding along in canoes. Some even let go of enormous, radiating balloon-like baubles that float in giddy twirls into the stratosphere, like ethereal effervescent gems drifting toward the heavens.

When morning comes, cobbled streets are just as colourful: canary-yellow Chinese shophouses draped with purple bougainvillea. Red-lacquered temples shrouded in seductive incense. Fishing boats painted in a rainbow of hues, bobbing beside the harbour.

LEFT: Lanterns, Hoi An markets

The Colours of Hoi An

Guests who add a land journey before or after their 5-star luxury Scenic Mekong River cruise, can explore this vibrant destination, once the principal port of the Cham Kingdom, which controlled the strategic spice trade with Indonesia from the 7th to the 10th century. Today, Hoi An’s World Heritage-listed Old Quarter is a maze of atmospheric streets to get lost in.

Think film-set-ready nooks, where tailor shops, leather stores and artisans selling glossy bamboo bowls reside. And then there’s the Japanese Covered Bridge, an 18th-century arch over the water adorned with intricate sculptures of monkeys, dogs and celestial beings. This is Vietnam in a snapshot.

RIGHT: Japanese Covered Bridge, Hoi An

Getting Hands On

At the Old Quarter’s heart is the Central Market, where stalls sell everything from dragonfruit to betel leaves and mounds of fresh tofu. A number also make cau lau, this handmade noodle pork dish is Hoi An’s culinary claim to fame. You can try it at hole-in-the wall restaurants, or perhaps learn how to make it yourself during a Scenic Freechoice activity: the Red Bridge Cooking Class.

Once you’ve scoured the market for ingredients, jump aboard a boat and cruise along the river to see where your food comes from, your journey taking you past lush fields before you land at your classroom wielding all the utensils you need to prepare your meal: think hand-cut noodles laced with sliced pork, crunchy rice crackers, spices and fragrant herbs.

Cau lau is one of those dishes that only costs a handful of coins to make, but that you’d gladly pay a king’s ransom for.

LEFT: Scenic Freechoice activity, Red Bridge Cooking Class

Back to Basics

Arguably the best way to learn where your food comes from is not in a market, but in a field. Strap on your helmet during a Scenic Freechoice cycling experience and cycle to discover the wild and wondrous produce grown at local farm in Tra Que Village. Take a spin around the vegetable garden before joining farmers preparing the land, fertilising it with nourishing seaweed.

You can be as active or passive as you wish – rake, sow, water greens, pick produce… After farming, discover how to prepare dishes that unite Vietnamese and French traditions, like bánh xèo, a specialty savoury pancake wrapped in rice paper.

RIGHT: Local farm in Tra Que Village, Hoi An

History in the Making

On the outskirts of Hoi An is My Son, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that reveals the magic and majesty of the Champa Kingdom – its temples and pavilions were built between the 4th and 13th centuries. This is the Angkor or Vietnam, a place where history humbles and where nature is writ large.

The ruins are impressive, but even more so are the handicrafts in nearby Phuoc Kieu Village, a 500-year-old town sustained by bronze artisans for centuries. During a half-day Scenic Freechoice excursion visit to My Son, drop in here to witness creatives making bells, gongs, incense burners, lamp holders and elaborate vases, normally used in festivals and ceremonies.

This may well be the ultimate Vietnamese travel souvenir. With Scenic you’ll find the heart of your journey is a truly all-inclusive luxury river cruise on Scenic Spirit which seamlessly couples with luxury land journeys through the treasures of Vietnam (including Hoi An) Cambodia and Laos.

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