Ancient soul, present charm – The Hoi An Old Town by night

Curated by BuffaloTripMay 17, 2016 Viewed: 710

The ancient streets of Hoi An’s old town have been reimagined by the local community. Already charming by day, yet reappearing at night, lit artistically as it was at the beginning of the 20th century.

See more Hoi An travel guide at here.

Text and photos: Quoc Hai

People of the town

On the 14th day of every lunar month, Mr. Hai Dung, dressed in a simple brown shirt, rides his bike along the five-kilometer road from his hometown, Cam Thanh, to the ancient town. Although he is 70 years old, his face always looks happy with a toothless smile. It has been 16 years since he began performing folk art on the Hoai River.  “Only after experiencing the “Ancient Town by night”, do later generations spread this form of art to future generations. “I told my children that money does not have as much meaning as my voice”, he says.

Not limited to traditional artists such as Hai Dung, hundreds of ordinary people in ancient Hoi An use their voices to make the town a different destination. Artisan Luong Dang, who is famous for his Bai Choi traditional game, cannot remember how many times he has sung Quang Nam’s folk songs in the simple stage at Bon Binh An Hoi. “It is the best thing to sing and live in the festive atmosphere of our hometown”, he shared.

At night in the ancient town, the landscape and space of the town is immediately distinct from international urban areas, with the combination of streets, houses, lights, sounds and people with an ancient feeling. Every house in the town is lit up by historic lamps and lanterns. 

At night in the ancient town, the landscape and space of the town is immediately distinct from international urban areas. Every house in the town is lit up by historical lamps and lanterns. 

The world of colorful lanterns and flower garlands in the Hoai river make the town appear to drift into distant realms. Visitors and ladies of the Hoai river dance to the traditional music, which is both lively and gentle. If it were not for the throngs of guests in the night of the ancient town, these steps be lost in the memory.

“To recreate the simple daily life of local people in ancient Hoi An, Hoi An’s current local reveal a singleness of mind through their ability of creation. “No local people, no ancient town night program”, boasts Mr. Nguyen Van Dung, deputy chairman of Hoi An People’s Committee.

Retaining the ancient soul

Organized since 1998, the artistic program of “reimagining the nights of ancient Hoi An in the beginning of the 20th century” has retained its values and created wonder in the hearts of visitors. It has become a valuable cultural product. Mr. John Gibson, an English guest, said: “I feel the program is both traditional and modern. It is exciting and lively whilst retaining its traditional elements!”.

Every month, on the occasion of the “Ancient Town by Night”, the number of visitors in hotels in Hoi increases by over 200% The program contributes to make Hoi An become a place of many festivals. The night reappears an array of traditional activities of Hoi An such as folk games, traditional music performances, classic poetry, martial arts, calligraphy writing, or chamber music and more. Local culinary values are expressed through boats selling Quang noodles, floating fern-shaped cakes or dumpling on the river.  

The program contributes to make Hoi An become a place of many festivals.

In the “Ancient Town by Night”, the wharf and the river are crowded with the market in early season and folk games of Quang Nam province. Visitors happily enjoy playing xăm hường, tứ sắc and Chinese chess, kicking a shuttle cock or beating earthen pots. The world of children’s songs also reappears in many games such as hop-scotch or learning to sing.

New vitality

Mr. Ho Tan Cuong, deputy director of Quang Nam’s Department of Culture, Sports & Tourism said: “The key element that brings success for this program is that all activities are closely connected to locals’ daily life. Some content is steadily improved to make them more interesting”.

Many cultural activities are organized and improved upon. The music band, “Old Melody”, includes artists who took part in the New Music Movement of the 1940s, as well as people skilled in calligraphy, martial arts and guitar. 

Many activities impress visitors such as making lanterns and pottery; choral classes; singing folk music; and being blindfolded and beating drums. The space of the program has also expanded to Nguyen Phuc Chu, Bach Dang and Cong Nu Ngoc Hoa streets.

As an expert of festivals in Hoi An, Mr. Phung Tan Dong revealed: “We restored the ancient values of the town with a focus on folk performances”. With many innovations in methods of organization as well as activities, “Ancient Town by Night” always attracts both domestic and international guests.

“We are making a great effort to renew ourselves after a long time running familiar activities. Particularly, artistic activities on the river are not altered by modern technology. Visitors and locals exchange and perform. This is a long-term cultural product of Hoi An”, says Mr. Vo Phung, director of Hoi An’s center of Culture and Sports.

Further information

+ “Ancient Town by Night” is successfully held with the assistance of local contributors, artisans, actors and instrumentalists. Many elderly people also join enthusiastically in the program.

+ In 2014, many organizations and international magazines listed Hoi An in lists for “most favorite cities in the world”, “landscape cities” and “top 20 exciting places to enjoy nightlife”. Recently, TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel site, placed Hoi An in the Top 25 Travellers’ Choice Asia Destinations with a comment: “Already a common stop for backpackers, it is becoming better known to tourists. On the 14th day of each lunar month, the town trades its electric lights for traditional colored lanterns.” 


See more Hoi An travel guide at here.