The ancient town
French photographer Réhahn’s latest collection of works titled Hoi An, the Yellow City of Vietnam, is a celebration of the uplifting beauty he sees in the town 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 an uplifting shade of yellow. Hoi An has had many restorative qualities for the photographer, both physical and creative, and this collection is a tribute to the town that has touched his heart and that continues to inspire him to this day.
Hoi An’s Yellow City is an extraordinary well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating 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 enchantingly beautiful 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. Hoi An is remarkable in that its buildings were left entirely unscathed after the country’s war. Today, Hoi An 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.
Hoi An’s ‘Yellow City’ is located in Vietnam’s central province of Quang Nam, on the north bank near the mouth of the Thu Bon River. It was used as an active trading port from the 15th to 19th century. With the decline in trade after the 19th century, somehow this city has preserved its architectural glory. Hoi An’s ancient town is like a cultural oasis in the town. It’s surrounded by small suburbs and is only about 3km from the nearest pristine beaches.
Having lived in Hoi An for a number of years, Rehahn has found this to be one of the most inspirational places he’s lived in. Being a photographer that’s always on the move, he’s found this place to have many restorative qualities. Rehahn’s travels often take him to remote areas, some inaccessible even by motorbike, so to have a place that’s so enchanting to come home to has been refreshing.
Hoi An is also a traveller’s dream. The natural light that falls on the yellow buildings and the tiled and terraced roofs take you to another era and naturally lifts your mood. It’s like the city is always wrapped in sunshine. With so many hidden alleys 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 friendly to visitors so it’s easy to find your way.
There are hundreds of restaurants and coffee shops in and around this ‘Yellow City’. Everything in Hoi An is quiet at sunrise but it’s also the best time to go to the old town. That’s when you’ll see the locals quietly start preparing for their day. Seeing the old town wake up in the morning gives you a look into daily life in a refreshingly different way. You will see vendors setting up their stalls, carrying fruit and vegetables in baskets. Hoi An also has many different specialty dishes which are bound to satisfy any foodie.
Around sunrise, women usually go to the market by bicycle or motorbike to choose fresh produce to be used in their street-food stalls or to be used in restaurants, while men usually fill up local coffee shops to smoke and drink coffee before opening up their workshops to the world. This city is full of craftsmen, artists and shoemakers, to name but a few talents. Hoi An is considered the tailoring mecca of Vietnam so there’s always beautiful fabric adorning the shops everywhere and expert tailors that are able to suit you up in a day. It’s a shopper’s paradise.
In the evening, the whole of the old town is lit up with hundreds of lanterns, giving this town a stunning yellow glow. The golden hues that one experiences by day or by night make this one of the most magical places on earth.
Sitting on the riverside and sipping on your Vietnamese coffee or glass of wine is an enchanting experience which 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.
Hoi An has nearly 1000 ancient buildings of which 844 are written down on the UNESCO list for their historical value. You can wander around Hoi An for hours without getting bored, especially if you love the idea of visiting remaining buildings from the past.
Many of the ancient houses have been turned into museums or artist’s workshops, which makes it an ideal place to get lost in. You will marvel at the mixed architectural style, from colonial European to Chinese and even old Japanese.
The houses are tiled with wooden, traditionally carved components. They 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.
The houses are uniquely designed in that the entrance to the houses are from the street side, making it convenient for customers, while the back of the building opens to the river, making it easy for loading and off-loading goods that are transported by boat.
There are a number of reasons why this colour is the chosen colour in Hoi An. Yellow symbolizes royalty and superiority in Korea, China and Vietnam. In ancient architecture, red and wood-like colour is preferred for some of the walls and pillars. Some Japanese temples and traditional Vietnamese shop fronts are painted in varying hues of yellow.
The collection of images perfectly reflects the mood of this city. There is an uplifting energy here that just inspires creativity. When walking through the alleyways, the light that bounces off the walls bathes the city in a golden hue that instantly lifts you up, even on a cloudy day. There are a number of theories as to why yellow is the chosen colour. Some believe it symbolizes royalty; others believe it’s for practical reasons because it absorbs less heart. Whatever the case, this shade is highly revered in Vietnamese culture. Most 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 adorn the front of every local’s home.
“Hoi An, the Yellow City is like my open air studio. The light and the yellow walls make the perfect backdrop for any subject, continually surprising and inspiring me.”– Réhahn
Yellow is also a light colour on the colour spectrum so it absorbs less heat. Because Vietnam is a tropical country, this is an ideal colour to prevent the over-heating of buildings. Also, there’s a lot of humidity in the air which results in moss growing on buildings. The yellow colour and the green moss make these colours contrast beautifully.
The collection of images perfectly reflects the mood of this city. There is an uplifting energy here that just inspires creativity. When walking through the alleyways, the light that bounces off the walls bathes the city in a golden hue that instantly lifts you up, even on a cloudy day. There are a number of theories as to why yellow is the chosen colour. Some believe it symbolizes royalty; others believe it’s for practical reasons because it absorbs less heat. Whatever the case, this shade is highly revered in Vietnamese culture. Most 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 adorn the front of every local’s home.
Hoi An’s Ancient Town has retained its traditional wooden architecture and townscape in terms of plot size, materials, façade and roof lines. Its original street plans and the infrastructure of the canals and bridges still remain intact. The historic landscape is still preserved and the amazing commitment to yellow walls makes this a very special place indeed. There are very strict building regulations in place to preserve the city’s architectural authenticity.
This town represents an ancient time, where culture and heritage is appreciated and revered. Hoi An is a definite must-see on any traveller or photographer’s agenda because this is where you can truly feel the mellow in the yellow.
Rene Leen from Rehahn’s Team