Hoi An First Impressions

Bicycle - Hoi An, Vietnam
Classic street scene in Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An is considered the architectural and culinary gem of Central Vietnam, receiving the stamp of approval from UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. We arrived there on a tourist bus from Danang and were dragged through the typical Vietnamese tour routine.

The bus conveniently stopped at one hotel where we got a hard sell. Those tourists who returned to the bus were taken to a second hotel, with guesthouse touts literally following the bus until its final destination. We had expected Hoi An to be over-touristed, but we weren’t expecting this intense welcome. Once we broke free from the bus and the touts, we felt the laid-back (as much as is possible in Vietnam) feel of Hoi An’s old town.

Hoi An served as a major trading port in the 16th and 17th century, making it home to many Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, and French traders. You can still see the Chinese influence today – in the architecture and families descended from the original Chinese traders. Merchant houses line the streets and are usually outfitted with a storefront on the ground floor and living quarters in the back or on the second floor. Today, the storefronts are mostly full of souvenir shops, tailor shops, or restaurants catering to tourists.

Fishing on the Thu Bon River - Hoi An, Vietnam
Fishing on the Thu Bon River – Hoi An, Vietnam

We filled our days in Hoi An easily, spending time at tailor shops, taking a market tour and cooking course, eating Hoi An specialties like cao lau and wantons, and just wandering around the windy streets. We found people friendly and not as jaded by tourism as we would have expected given the number of tourists coursing through the town. It makes for a pleasant break from the intensity of Vietnam’s big cities.

Photo Essay: Hoi An, Vietnam

 

Video: Ear Cleaning and Odd Street Scenes in Hoi An, Vietnam

 

Hoi An Travel Tips: Recommended Restaurants and Accommodation in Hoi An

  • How to get there: Flight or train to Danang from Hanoi or Saigon. Hoi An is about 40 km away, an easy transfer by taxi or bus.
  • Where to stay: Minh A – Ancient Lodging House, 02 Nguyen Thai Hoc (0510 861 368). Located in the heart of Hoi An’s old town next to the main market, Minh A is a three-room guesthouse in a historical Chinese merchant house. The appeal is in its location and historical feel, but ear plugs are recommended if you want to sleep past the 5:30 AM bustle at the market.
  • Where to eat: Hoi An is known for its culinary specialties, and you don’t need to go far to find a good meal. Café des Amis has a great 6-course seafood menu that is enough for two people. Mango Rooms has tasty fusion food, all with mango, of course. Wantons and cao lau are highly recommended at Miss Ly Cafeteria near the market. Cargo Club has flaky melt-in-your-mouth croissants and pain au chocolats.
  • What to do: Get a custom made wardrobe at one of Hoi An’s many tailors. Cooking course and market tour at Red Bridge. Sign up for the class at Hai’s Scout Café (which also has free wifi in the garden).
  • Where to shop: For handicrafts, shop at Reaching Out, a Fair Trade shop that promotes handicrafts made by local disabled craftspeople. You can visit the workshop in the back during the week. Address: 103 Nguyen Thai Hoc

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Comments

  1. brown9 says

    If you find yourself in Hoi An, which is overall a wonderful place to visit, avoid Minh A Ancient Lodging House. It’s a small place, so advance booking is necessary — but having booked to weeks ahead and then having called two days in advance to confirm my booking, I showed up to discover they’d given my room away and told me to go find another place to stay. They were unprofessional and rude. If you value even the most basic customer service, I’d stay away from Minh A.

  2. says

    Sorry to hear about your experience with Minh A Guest House. We were lucky in that they had availability the same day we arrived (without prior booking), but unfortunately Vietnamese guest houses have a bad habit of taking reservations and not honoring them. The same thing happened to us when we arrived in Hanoi.

  3. Hung Thai says

    Hi y’all, here is a native from Hoi An. I have a suggestion for you. If you can visit Hoi An once again, you can use HoiAnfreetour(fb: https://www.facebook.com/HoiAnFreeTour/info or website: http://www.hoianfreetour.com/). It’s a non-profit organization run by a community of university students in Hoi An. The very main purpose of this organization is to help these students improve their English speaking. What do you guys get from it?. It’s a tour around some historical sites in Hoi An, such as Kim Bong village to learn about how to build a ship or Tra Que vegetable which is the best-known “fresh” vegetable village in Hoi An. I used to work as a volunteer for this organization in 2 months, so I totally know that it is developing bigger and bigger everyday. Hope this information partly helps you guys have another striking aspect towards Hoi An.

  4. says

    @Hung: Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment about the free tours run by University students. Sounds like it would be a great opportunity to see the city from a local’s eyes.

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