Follow along with Réhahn as he gives special access to some of his favorite photo locations in and around Hoi An. From the best backgrounds to the perfect times of day to capture a shot, these insider tips are sure to please both amateur photographers looking for a creative journey as well as professionals interested in upping their Vietnam travel shots. Enjoy the ride!
Starting at birth we are attracted to activity and light, from the tiniest infant following a ray of sunlight with her eyes to being drawn to the magnetic rush of a train as it whirs past. Photographers know how to use this captivation to their advantage when taking a picture. They can use natural light to create a soft filter over a landscape or capture a person in movement to create a sense of immediacy and action.
In Hoi An, my adopted home, there are endless photographic opportunities, as the light shifts and sparkles over the city and the bustle of the morning market and daily life begin. Even after more than 8 years of living in Vietnam, whenever I go out, morning, noon or night, I find something that ignites my creativity.
This town is pure magic.
I’m excited to share some of my tips with you so that you can discover the enchantment of The Yellow City of Hoi An along with me.
Timing is Everything
Tourism in Hoi An is booming, which is great for the country but can be frustrating for photographers. There is nothing more irritating, for example, than setting up the perfect photo of the famed Japanese bridge and getting stuck with a selfie stick in your viewfinder. This is why it’s important to know the best times and places to capture real life in Hoi An without your image getting lost in a sea of travelers.
That said, don’t let the popularity of the destination deter you. Hoi An is a warm and vibrant place with excellent food and authentic culture.
It is worth the time it takes as a photographer to find the right location… and then just wait for the light and activity to inspire you.
Capturing Hoi An at Dawn
The right light can make a daily task something of beauty
There’s a saying that goes “The early bird catches the worm.” When it comes to photography, it can be said that the early riser catches the best shot.
There are many locations in and around Hoi An that are best captured just as the morning light starts to brighten the surroundings.
The Ancient Town
At 5:30 am, the Ancient Town of Hoi An starts to wake up and prepare for the day ahead. People sweep in front of their homes and shops and merchants begin to carry their wares to the market. At this hour, you will mostly have the city to yourself before tourists head into town for their daily rituals of shopping and visiting.
There is nothing better than the golden morning light in the Ancient Town when the streets are almost empty. The rainy season creates special opportunities for interesting shots because of the play of the light in the puddles from the previous evening’s rainwater.
On the Water; Thu Bon River, Cua Dai Bridge
and Cua Dai Beach
The other advantage of getting an early start is that you can witness the incredible reflections on the water as the first rays of light fall onto the river. Taking a sampan boat at dawn is an excellent and relaxing way to capture the golden sunlight as it spreads in the sky above Cham Island.
This is also the perfect time of day to watch the fishermen as they reel in their morning catch.
For a higher perspective of the water, head to the Cua Dai Bridge between 5:30 and 6:30am. You can capture some unforgettable shots of boats passing under the bridge as the first rays of daylight fall on the water.
You just need a little patience to wait for the right subject with the right light.
An overhead shot of a woman rowing in emerald green waters. Print Available
If you go to the beach in the morning around 5:30am, you will be lucky enough to see some amazing sunrises. Below is sunrise on Cua Dai Beach. The deep reds, blues and oranges reflect a purple hue on the water.
During the June, July and August months, the sunsets on the beach are exquisite.
Finding Your Background in The Yellow City
One of my favorite photographic pastimes is to hunt for an interesting wall like the one above (there are hundreds of choices in the Ancient Town) and wait for the right subject to pass by. I call this fishing photography. / Print Available
There’s an article on my website called Hoi An, the Yellow City, in which I pay homage to this city’s magical yellow walls and very distinctive architecture. There are a number of reasons why this color is the chosen color in Hoi An, the main one being that yellow symbolizes royalty.
The city planning and architecture reflect the influences of both foreign and indigenous cultures. The result of this unique blend is an enchantingly beautiful heritage site.
You can wander around Hoi An for hours without getting bored, especially if you love the idea of visiting remnants from the past.
Even if you decide to make it your mission to simply sit in front of the same background day after day taking photographs, you’ll find that you will end up with hundreds of diverse images, each one with a different spirit.
The cheerful yellow walls make amazing backdrops for all kinds of interesting people from women on their way to the morning market to cyclists riding past and everyone in between. Print Available
More Moments in the Ancient Town
I prefer to shoot the bridge from a distance. This vantage point allows you to capture the whole bridge in one shot with the iconic yellow buildings surrounding it.
Between 6:30 and 7 am start moving towards Tran Phu street where the historic Japanese bridge is located. Typically, the first wave of tourists come to the bridge around 8 am, so most landmarks are better captured in the early morning or during lunchtime when the locals have their afternoon nap.
Before 8 am, you can also see locals eating breakfast around the Japanese bridge, on Nguyen Thai Hoc and Tran Phu streets.
The Vietnamese virtually never have breakfast at home, so the streets are always filled with bustling life and delicious smells at this hour. You will be able to see school children enjoying breakfast on their way to their classes and locals heading to work.
Part of the charm of Hoi An is the way that tradition blends naturally into daily life.
Students in the town wear their national dress, the ao dai, to school every day. It consists of a long tunic over loose pants and a non la conical bamboo hat. The groups of young women dressed all in white who flood the streets every day contribute to the graceful charm of the city.
Further, into the Ancient Town around Nguyen Thai Hoc street, you’ll find many interesting walls of varying colors to use as backdrops.
I chose this blue wall to create a soft contrast to the white ao dai of this young woman from my TRADITION series of photographs. Print Available
The central market is also an excellent place for a different style of photographs. In the morning, you can revel in the action and colors as vendors unload colorful fruit, vegetables and sealife, and bargain with their suppliers.
A woman sorts through her produce at the market. It is common to see fruit, vegetables, seafood and everything else laid out on the ground in an array of colors and textures.
At night, the city transforms into what’s also known as Lantern Town.
The night market is filled with beautiful handmade arts and crafts but the real charm lies in the dancing lanterns that adorn the buildings and streets.
A cascade of hanging lanterns illuminate the Hoi An night. Print Available
A Photographic Trip into Nature
Sunset over the rice-fields—the range of colours that nature provides is better than any filter.
Located 3 km from the center of Hoi An, Tra Que village is well-known as the freshest and cleanest vegetable and herb supplier in Hoi An. You can easily get there by motorbike, bicycle or simply a light walk. Tra Que with its lush grassland, marvellous rice fields and tranquil lakes, creates the perfect backdrop of rural Vietnam.
A woman heading to work in the morning surrounded by the beauty of the countryside.
The best time for morning shots is from 6:00 to 8:00 am when you might be lucky enough to see a boat bringing seeds to the village or a farmer having a break and sitting on his buffalo.
One of the best spots for some interesting angles is between Tra Que village and the town center on Hai Ba Trung street. After crossing the rice paddies, you will find a few small tracks that head to the left and the right.
As you exit Tra Que village and turn right onto Hai Ba Trung Street, you’ll see a small bridge. The vantage point from the top of the bridge will give you a wide range of perspectives for photographers who are inspired to shoot sunrise or sunset shots.
This is the view from the top of the bridge if you look towards your left.
And this is the view from the right.
I hope you enjoyed following along with me to learn about the artistry and natural beauty than can be found in and around Hoi An if you know where to look.
It is important to remember that you may need to take hundreds of shots before you find your perfect image.
Like Monet did with his waterlilies, I return again and again to the locations listed above, always with the hope of seeing something in a different light.
My archives are filled with thousands of photographs of different subjects passing in front of the same backgrounds, but that is part of the joy of the job!
The shots over time create an ever-transforming documentation of the seasons, people and impressions that enrich my favorite locations.