French photographer Réhahn’s latest collection of works titled Hoi An, the Yellow City of Vietnam, is a celebration of beauty and a homage to Hoi An, the ancient city he now calls home.
The fusion of cultures and architectural styles are not the only remarkable elements here; what really takes one’s breath away is the fact that this town is drenched in a mesmerizing and uplifting golden hue. Hoi An is located in Vietnam’s central province of Quang Nam, on the north bank near the mouth of the Thu Bon River.
This place has had many restorative qualities for all who enter with physical and mental fulfillment providing inspiration for the soul.
Hoi An is an extraordinary well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating back from the 15th to 19th century. The building and street designs reflect the influences of both foreign and indigenous cultures. The result of this unique blend is an enchanting heritage site. Some even go so far as to say that the strong French colonial influence of the buildings that were left behind is the making of a small and ancient Paris.
The city is remarkable in that its buildings were left entirely unscathed after the country’s wars. Today, Hoi An’s Ancient Town, or Old Town as it’s also known, is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site because when it comes to tourist attractions, this one is where it feels like time has indeed stood still. The ancient town is like a cultural oasis surrounded by small suburbs and is only about 3km from the nearest pristine beaches.
Hoi An has nearly 1000 ancient buildings of which 844 are on the UNESCO list for their historical value. Many of the ancient houses have been turned into museums or artist workshops. You will marvel at the mixed architectural styles which range from colonial European to Chinese and even old Japanese. The houses are arranged side by side in tight, unbroken rows and run along very narrow streets. The streets are too narrow for cars and motorbikes are only allowed in the ancient city during certain hours, allowing travellers to meander in wonder undisturbed.
Being a tourist attraction has its benefits but there is a life that happens behind the scenes that can easily be missed if you miss the dawning of the day. Sunrise in Hoi An brings its own charms, sights and sounds. One of the therapeutic sounds you’ll hear is the sweeping of brooms as people clean their homes and sidewalks in preparation for the new day. The morning light that bounces off the walls gives the impression that the city is always bathed in sunshine, naturally lifting your mood. With so many unexpected sights and local treasures, it’s easy to wander around for hours. Getting lost has never been more relaxing. Most local people here speak a fair amount of English and are very warm to visitors so it’s easy to find your way.
Before business opening hours, you can see locals eating breakfast around the Japanese bridge, in Nguyen Thai Hoc and Tran Phu streets. Vietnamese virtually never have breakfast at home. Get up early enough and you’ll get to see locals and students enjoying breakfast on their way to school. Secondary schoolgirls in Vietnam always wear the white traditional dress, the Ao Dai to school.
Vietnamese are by nature early risers so a lot gets done in preparation for the hundreds of tourists that will line the streets of this ancient town. Even though some things have changed, others have stood the test of time; like vendors setting off to the market, carrying fruit and vegetables in baskets as they make their way back to their stalls.
These vendors add to the town’s character. Bearing witness to the waking of this town gives one a refreshing look into daily life here. The city is full of craftsmen, artists and shoemakers. It’s also considered the tailoring mecca of Vietnam so there’s always beautiful fabric adorning shop windows and expert tailors that are able to suit you up in a day.
Every twist and turn in the road leads to a new and unexpected place. You can spend years living here and still discover new alleys every day. Locals here are proud of their sidewalks so the alleys are always pristinely kept. The golden hues that lead one by day or by night give the feeling of being led into Alice in Wonderland’s magical rabbit hole, with restaurants, and quirky coffee shops popping up around every corner.
In the evening, the whole of the old town is lit up with hundreds of lanterns, giving it a marvelous glow, with golden light bouncing off the walls and the river. Sitting and sipping on your Vietnamese coffee in the morning or glass of wine in the evening, is an enchanting experience that never gets old. And when you realize that this ancient town hasn’t changed in hundreds of years, you feel like you’re at home in another era, taking a step into a rich cultural heritage that’s been preserved with time.
The buildings are uniquely designed in that their entrances are from the street side, making it convenient for customers, while the back of the buildings open to the river for loading and off-loading goods that are transported by boat.
There are a number of theories as to why yellow is the chosen colour for buildings here. Yellow is known to symbolize royalty and superiority in Korea, China and Vietnam. Some believe it’s for practical reasons because it absorbs less heart. There is no doubt that the yellow has an uplifting energy that inspires creativity.
Whatever the case, this shade is highly revered in Vietnamese culture. Vietnamese homes have an altar dedicated to departed ancestors, which is decorated in yellow ornaments and flowers. And during the Lunar Year celebrations, bright yellow daisy flower pots and lanterns adorn the front of every local’s home.
Hoi An’s ancient town has retained its original form and cultural features, demonstrating the town’s universal value and appeal. It’s one of the few places in Vietnam that is protected from development, making this an attractive tourist destination.
In these ever changing times, it’s refreshing to come across a place which no one is in a hurry to change. It has retained its traditional wooden architecture and townscape in terms of plot size, materials, and façade. Its original roofing, street plans and the infrastructure of the canals and bridges still remain intact. The landscape is still well-preserved with very strict building regulations in place, preserving the city’s architectural authenticity and integrity.
Hoi An’s Yellow City represents a time where culture and heritage is seriously appreciated and revered. It’s definitely a must-see on any traveller or photographer’s itinerary because this is where you can see history in all its glory, and where you can truly feel the ‘mellow in the yellow’.
Guest Blog: Photos by Réhahn Photography | Written by Rene Leen
To find out more, visit http://www.rehahnphotographer.com/