The Japanese Covered Bridge was built in the 16th century to connect the Chinese and Japanese quarters of the Vietnamese city. It is now such an iconic landmark of Hoi An City and Vietnam itself that it features on the 20,000 VND note. A temple on the north side is dedicated to the Taoist God of weather, lending the bridge its Vietnamese name: Chùa Cầu, the temple bridge.
Visit early in the morning to beat the crowds and cross the bridge without paying a fee. Photos of the inside are historically interesting, with its Chinese script and its monkey and dog statue guardians. Photos of the bridge’s outside captured the delicate beauty of its architecture. During the daytime you can get good pictures of its fine details: carved dark wood trimmed with red lacquer and gold and stretched between two shorelines of sunshine-yellow walls. At night, the bridge glows with diffuse colored lighting, casting a crisp reflection into the water below.
It is possible to spend hours wandering through the bewitching butter-yellow buttresses of the city, enchanted by goldenrod and canary, sunflower and saffron-hued Hoi An. Hoi An burns itself into the memories and photographs of visitors in this hypnotizing shade of yellow. Get lost in narrow alleys between ancient buildings that wind endlessly through the converging cityscape. Blue and green doors and windows bloom open from French balconies. The wear and tear of the paint add charm and character where it reveals raw walls beneath.
There are lots of opportunities in the narrow maze between buildings to play with scale and perspective and contrast. Wear a poppy-red dress to pose brightly against the yellow. Find a pretty spot to sit where you can set up a frame. From here, wait for bicycles or women in ao dai to ride or walk across the golden gallery walls for a truly classic cultural shot.
Hoi An is rife with ornate temples built in a collage of architectural influences. All of them offer opportunities for beautiful photography. Pop in and out of garden courtyards, ducking under strings of lanterns and past gold and red Chinese calligraphy and engravings. Some temples require a ticket to enter, but many are free. Keep an eye out for Buddhist drums and gongs; for Daoist cosmological symbols and trigrams; ornate gates, engraved altars, and painted doorways; and for carved wooden statues of spirits and dragons.
Some of these buildings date back as far as the 14th and 15th centuries, before Japan, before China, and before Hoi An was even a Vietnamese city. The Hindu-influenced fingerprint of the Champa empire lingers in architectural examples like the My Son Sanctuary.
Perhaps more than anything else, strings of silk lanterns are the most iconic symbols of Hoi An. Imported by the Japanese, who inherited them from the Chinese, these traditional lanterns are now a solidly Vietnamese tradition that has been handcrafted in Hoi An for hundreds of years. During the daytime, they dangle in bright colors from doorways or stretch across in the glass windows of shopfronts, the antique city’s signature accessory.
Take a picture during the day to capture different shapes, colors, and patterns pressed against yellow walls, but the lanterns really come alive at night. Head to Old Town just before sunset to see everything softly illuminated, pedestrians padding by underway, everyone’s eyes to the sky. When true darkness falls the lanterns glow in high contrast. Early dusk is the magic hour for catching photos of faces illuminated by the lanterns without losing the background to silhouette and shadow.
Most of the best shots of Hoi An happen at the street level, but Faifo Coffee shop is a delightful exception. This cafe is one of the only buildings in Hoi An with a rooftop terrace, so the expansive view it offers across the rooftops of the city is truly unique. On a bright and sunny day, the yellow buildings with their brown roofs ripple-like sharp and triangular waves against the blue sky, all the way out to the horizon.
The coffee is thankfully as good as the views, so it’s worth waiting for the perfect shot. The rooftop can get crowded with people posing for their own selfies, so be patient and enjoy the atmosphere and the view while you wait for your own photoshoot. That’s the point, anyway, isn’t it?