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.
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.
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