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Graceful historic Hoi An is an incredibly atmospheric and photogenic town which between the 15th and 19th century, was a prominent Vietnamese trading port for items such as silk, porcelain, pepper, and cinnamon as it was by the Thu Bon River. As a result, the architecture style in the city reflects a lovely mix of Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, and French styles. The best attractions in Hoi An are mostly set within the popular areas of Riverside and Old (Ancient) Town, where you can easily explore on foot or cyclo.
You can wander around Hoi An for hours without getting bored, especially if you love visiting remnants from the past. However, with a multitude of picturesque spots, you may find your time spread exceptionally thin, hurrying from place to place to the find the most ‘Instagram worthy’ spots. Even worse is running around and turning up to places at the wrong time when the sun is directly in front of you making what you are trying to photograph look awful. Yes, you could and should go at sunrise and sunset for great lighting, but you can’t be everywhere at those times, and if planned right you can use the time in between to get some great shots with forward planning.
My recommendations below of some of the best Instagram spots of Hoi An will help you to plan when to go to get the best photos you can during different parts of the day, allowing you time to take shots in well-known spots and to return home with lots of keepers.
1. Tran Phu (Trần Phú) Street
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, the pedestrian-friendly streets of Hoi An Old (Ancient) Town are lined with beautifully restored houses, quaint shophouses and makeshift stalls selling handicrafts, jewellery, traditional apparel, and other tourist merchandise. Tran Phu is one of the main streets leading into the Old (Ancient) Town towards the famous Japanese Covered Bridge and is one of the best locations to explore to get amazing street photos. The main colour of the building walls in Tran Phu and the surrounding side streets (which you should explore) is a gorgeous mustard yellow, which is a favourite colour as yellow symbolises royalty and superiority and is also practical in helping to reflect the heat. These faded decaying walls also provide a great backdrop for taking colourful contrasting photos.
Walking down Tran Phu gives you a great opportunity to explore the wonderful shops and street life on Tran Phu and the surrounding side streets. Depending on the time of year you visit the best times to aim for are generally:
- before 12pm if you are walking towards the west as the sun will not be in your face and you will be able to take photos towards the west and also towards the north side of the road (see the screen shot above – please note this is an example using September so you need to check for the most ideal timing conditions for your specific date of travel)
- after 12pm up to sunset for daytime photos if you are walking towards the east
- in the evening and night for lovely illuminated photos (ideally use a tripod to make sure you get sharp photos and also to take longer exposures to either get fewer moving people in your shots or to get that blurred people motion effect)
2. Japanese Covered Bridge Entrance
The Japanese Covered Bridge (Cau Nhat Ban) is an iconic symbol of Hoi An Old Town with a beautiful arched bridge built in the 1590’s to connect the Japanese and Chinese quarters when Hoi An was a bustling international port town. It is the only covered bridge in the world to house a Buddhist temple (a symbol of goodwill between Chinese and Japanese merchant communities) and is elaborately decorated in Chinese and Vietnamese architectural styles.
The bridge has retained a distinctively Japanese character, with the entrances guarded by weathered statues of 2 monkeys on one side and 2 dogs on the other, both animals being a symbol of holiness in Japanese culture. Other reasons for the animal sculptures are thought to relate to the fact that many Japanese emperors were born in the years of the dog and monkey, and that the bridge construction was started in the year of the monkey and finished in the year of the dog. It is free to cross the bridge but you however need one ‘Hoi An Old Town’ ticket to access the temple inside the bridge. The ‘Hoi An Old Town’ ticket will give you access to five attractions in Hoi An Old Town.
Do make an effort to also explore Nguyen Thi Minh Khai (Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai ) Street when you cross the bridge from the Tran Phu side. This is a lovely tree-lined street with lots of hanging Chinese lanterns, shops and food places which tends to be a bit quieter than the more frenetic Tran Phu side with all the tourists jostling for photos of the bridge. It is a great spot for creative street shots especially in the evening and at night when the lanterns are lit and lights from the shops spill out onto the pavements.
This is one of those places that is best photographed early in the morning before 7am purely on the basis that whatever the season this is most likely going to be the quietest time for getting a clear photo. I have shown the Nguyen Thi Minh Khai entrance side of the bridge rather than the Tran Phu side as this tends to be the quieter part of the bridge – most tourists tend to stay on the Tran Phu side as they hurry to grab photos of the bridge and other parts of Old Town on that side of the bridge. Depending on the time of year you visit the best times to aim for are generally:
- early morning up to 7/8am for both sides – the Tran Phu side will be sunlit but the Nguyen Thi Minh Khai side won’t be
- between 1-3pm for the Nguyen Thi Minh Khai side – yes depending on what time of the year you go there is likely to be a lot of people inside the bridge and on the other side but try using a wider aperture to get the façade in focus with the centre and far end of the bridge slightly blurred out (see the screen shot above – please note this is an example using September so you need to check for the most ideal timing conditions for your specific date of travel)
3. Japanese Covered Bridge Front
Search for Hoi An and every website will have this gorgeous classic view of the Japanese Covered Bridge from the front with a reflection in the Thu Bon River. It is an amazing experience and personally much more enthralling at night when illuminated because of the changing colours and because with a tripod you can blur out people to get a lovely clean vibrant photo.
Depending on the time of year you visit the best times to aim for are generally:
- any time between 11am-1pm to get a daytime shot with sufficient sunlight hitting the front of the bridge (see the screen shot above – please note this is an example using September so you need to check for the most ideal timing conditions for your specific date of travel)
- from twilight onwards for those lovely changing illuminated shots when you can chase different colour combinations to see which one gives you that ‘I know I got a good one there’ feeling
4. Bridge of Lights (Cau An Hoi)
The Bridge of Lights (Cau An Hoi) connects Hoi An Old (Ancient) Town with An Hoi island which holds the Hoi An Night Market. It is an elaborately designed bridge with butterfly themed hanging lanterns that makes it a natural photo location for illuminated images of the bridge at night.
Every full moon Hoi An Old (Ancient) Town celebrates the Hoi An Lantern Full Moon Festival using silk lanterns to illuminate the houses and streets. The festival takes place in the area between the bridge and the Japanese Covered Bridge and attracts tourists and locals as it features traditional food and different events happening throughout the night. The main highlight is the floating of many colourful lanterns down the Thu Bon River as locals and tourists light the lanterns wishing for happiness and prosperity.
The panoramic views from the Bridge of Lights are unbeatable, but it can get very crowded. Don’t forget to look for other smaller details around and under the bridge for real lifestyle images of locals undertaking their normal routines. Depending on the time of year you visit the best times to aim for are generally:
- from sunrise to about 11am for shooting images of the bridge from the An Hoi island south side and from the bridge towards the west – earlier is better for softer warmer lighting (see the screen shot above – please note this is an example using September so you need to check for the most ideal timing conditions for your specific date of travel)
- at sunset for shooting towards the west side of the river and Hoi An Old (Ancient) Town – the warm orange reflections on the river and yellow-coloured buildings is unforgettable
- after 2pm till sunset for shooting towards the east side of the river and Hoi An Old (Ancient) Town – ideally in the last 2hrs before sunset to get those lovely warm front-lit images
5. Hoi An Old (Ancient) Town Riverfront – West Side of Bridge of Lights (Cau An Hoi)
One of the best views of the yellow buildings in Hoi An is from An Hoi island across the Thu Bon River looking back at the old town. Wandering around the waterfront on both the north and south side of the river, admiring the yellow buildings of cafes, restaurants and shops, and watching boats cruising by or gently floating on the river is a must do. This area became famous when Réhahn one of the best-known photographers of Hoi An’s captured an image of a girl in a white Ao Dai walking past a weathered yellow wall.
The west side of the Hoi An Old (Ancient) Town riverfront is the quieter of the two sides. One unique characteristic and photo opportunity of this side are the large yellow fishing nets that are suspended above the Thu Bon River when not in use. These provide a perfect visual foreground element with reflections in the river for photographs taken from the west side of An Hoi island (west of the Bridge of Lights), and from the Bridge of Lights as well. Depending on the time of year you visit the best times to aim for are generally:
- from sunrise to about 11am for shooting images towards the west side of the river and Hoi An Old (Ancient) Town – earlier is better for softer warmer lighting (see the opposite screen shot – please note this is an example using September so you need to check for the most ideal timing conditions for your specific date of travel)
- at sunset for shooting towards the west side of the river and Hoi An Old (Ancient) Town to capture the warm orange light hitting the river and yellow buildings
6. Hoi An Old (Ancient) Town Riverfront – East Side of Bridge of Lights (Cau An Hoi)
The east side of the Hoi An Old (Ancient) Town riverfront tends to be the busier end with tourists but is also the area with the most visually stimulating photographic elements. Over the course of the day there are numerous opportunities to get photographs of street vendors, locals, boats bobbing on the Thu Bon River, and gorgeous illuminated reflections in the river as night-time falls.
Depending on the time of year you visit the best times to aim for are generally:
- from 2pm onwards until evening when shooting eastwards from either the north or south side (see the screen shot above – please note this is an example using September so you need to check for the most ideal timing conditions for your specific date of travel)
- from sunset onwards if shooting towards the west
As you can see, Hoi An Old (Ancient) Town and the surrounding area will provide you with a wealth of Instagram worthy photo locations to keep you fully engaged during your trip. I hope the photo tips above help you to have an extraordinary holiday with amazing photos to go along with your unforgettable memories.
Need a little help finding your way in Hoi An?
I have created a custom Google map showing all of the above locations and recommended viewing spots to help you visualise and plan your trip. You can save this on your phone Google map app to have an easy way to navigate to the sights. Have a get time and do drop me a comment to let me know how it goes.
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