Hoi An is as photogenic as it gets. To help you make the most of Hoi An's picture-perfect charms, here are some tips on getting an album full of great shots. Get those memory cards ready.
The historic town is normally crawling with tourists and it’s hard to take a photo without someone else’s selfie stick in the way. But the town is blissfully quiet early in the morning, before 07:00. It’s the calm before the storm: tour groups have yet to arrive, streets are empty and shops are slowly awakening from their slumber. This is when you can take a picture of that canary yellow building blanketed in pink bougainvillea and bathed in gentle light. Get into those narrow side lanes, get out of the tourist centre and you’ll discover that working Hoi An has been going full throttle since dawn. Locals will be slurping up bowls of noodle soup, sipping Vietnamese coffee and delivering kids to school. Head out there and you'll capture some great street food and street scenes.
Markets always make for interesting sights, be it a colourful fruit and vegetable still life or a shot of bustling activity – don’t get in the way of the deliveries! Hoi An's main market is packed with seven-pigs-on-a-motorbike photo opportunities.
Taking photos of people takes some delicacy – how would you like it if you were going about your business and someone stuck a lens in your face? Or photographed your child? Developing a rapport with someone is important, not only so you know it’s okay to take a photograph, but also for the subject to warm up to you. The same applies to water buffalo -- sure, they are cute but they frighten easily. Leave the poor beasts alone unless the owner (whom they trust) is with them.
Hoi An is surrounded by rice paddies, and there’s a good chance that your visit will coincide with some photogenic stage of the process: ploughing, planting, growing or harvest. It’ll be hard to get to An Bang or Cua Dai beaches without stopping to gawk at the sea of vibrant green stalks laden with grains swaying in the breeze. Some enterprising locals have figured this out and along the road to An Bang, farmers and their water buffalo wait for photographers. This is your chance to get that close up of a buffalo or a portrait of a local who happily hams it up for the camera for around 20,000 dong. It may not be authentic but it’s a win-win on both sides of the lens.
Not to be outshone are the town’s waterways. At sunset, get out on to the river on a sampan (a traditional flat-bottomed wooden canoe), rent a kayak or take a guided boat trip to glide past forests of coconut palms, nets and fishermen. Have a GoPro or any other waterproof action camera? During the summer months catch a spectacular sunrise with an early morning SUP paddle with SUP Monkey.
Getting away from the tourist crowds has become easier with several new bridges being built. Up until 2016 you had to take a ferry to Cam Kim Island – now there’s a bridge from town via An Hoi Islet. If you’re interested in photographing handicrafts, here you can visit the carpentry village, a home making fresh rice paper and families weaving mats made of dried reeds by hand. Visit the Thanh Ha pottery village west of town to capture women making pots on foot powered wheels.
Fishing remains an integral part of life in Hoi An, and the new Cua Dai bridge makes it easy to reach Duy Hai fishing port. Take the large bridge south across where the Thu Bon River meets the ocean. To catch all the fishy activity, avoid the sleepy slot from 11:00 to 14:00. Outside this time, there’s a good chance you’ll see (and smell) the fruits of labour being unloaded, packed and sorted.
Hoi An is decorated with their iconic lanterns every night but on nights of the full moon lantern festival, the town is especially glowing and gorgeous. On the 14th day of every lunar month, altars laden with fruits, flowers and incense are set up outside homes and businesses, monks hold candlelit ceremonies in temples and assembly halls and the Vietnamese tourists flock to send lanterns down the river. It's not a bad time to perfect your night-time shooting skills.
Need some guidance? Hoi An Photo Tour has been running workshops since 2009. They take participants to photogenic locales and provide helpful tips for improving your shots. Choose from sunrise with fishermen to sunset by the river. Cost is 790,000 dong. Private photo workshops are also available. (42 Phan Boi Chau St, T: (0905) 671 898; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.hoianphototour.com).
By Cindy Fan
Last updated on 10th August, 2016.