If Vietnam stole my heart, it was definitely left pumping in Hoi An (which translates as “peaceful meeting place”). This was by far my favourite of all of the places that we stayed in Vietnam. I experienced a magic there that is unrivaled to anything I’ve ever experienced before.
Left untouched by the ‘American War’, Hoi An is one of the few places that still retains its original architecture. It has quaint streets and lanes nestled against it’s river and are crammed with tailors working all hours of the day and night to meet the tourist demands. With over 300 tailors packed into such a small area, I defy you to go there and not walked away with a new outfit. Or wardrobe. Whatevs.
Hoi An is famous for its hand-made lanterns, which adorn all the main streets in the Old Town. Coming in all sizes and colours, they transfer the town at night when they’re all lit up. Spend $1 and get a floating candle to send down the river whilst making a wish – it’s cheesy but has to be done.
We decided to stay at the Sunrise Resort which was another 5* hotel and beautiful. The food wasn’t as good as some of the other hotels that we’d been to, but it was lovely none the less. It was really reasonably priced (we didn’t spend more than £70 per night on a double room) and was comfortable and really modern as well as having a gorgeous location – nestled right on the beach overlooking the ocean. It’s 7km from the centre of the Old Quarter, but is easily reachable by bike… plus it’s kind of nice to hang out and make new backpacker friends and then wave them off and head back to your little piece of luxury!
The only thing that I’d warn is that you tend to find a lot of Australians go to this resort and don’t leave for a whole fortnight. Obviously it’s a massive sweeping generalisation, but we came across quite a few brash tourists who refused to go beyond the hotel lobby and even took cookery lessons in the hotel. With so much to do on your doorstep, don’t be temped to do the same – the magic happens outside!
Having been in and out of quite a few of the tailors, I’d definitely say that it’s worth paying a bit more as the quality of the garments is vastly different. We chose Yaly Couture and have recommended them to others since who have all been happy with the clothes that they’ve received. You’ll pay a bit more, but they have a vast choice of fabrics (all great quality) including leather. Having shown them a picture that I’d taken in New York of the Burberry trench that I’d fallen in love with, they managed to create an identical replica within just 48 hours including real leather…. When told it was going to be really expensive, you can imagine how hard I had to try and hide my grin when it came in at £75 compared to the £2k the original would have cost. Not bad.
Yaly Couture – 358 Nguyen Duy Hieu St, Hoi An – Tel +84 510.3914995
It’s well worth taking a look at the day market with each of the villagers selling their produce. You can choose to take a guided food tour where they’ll show you around, but I think you can experience enough from wandering around yourself…
I’d probably avoid recommending tours of the traditional houses, other than Tan Ky House. You’ll find the houses filled with local teams of people, trying to sell you their goods once you get in and you’ll spend 30 minutes trying to get back out – which is valuable time when you’re in such a gorgeous place.
The Japanese Covered Bridge is definitely worth visiting. Built in the 1590s by the Japanese their quarter to the old quarter, over the water – it’s picture perfect, although you’ll only need 5 minutes there. It’s a bridge. It’s a pretty bridge. But, it’s a bridge.
The Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation is well worth taking a look at. We were lucky that it was quite quiet when we went and so were able to take a proper look around. Remember, however, to take off your shoes when you enter the chapel!
At night, be sure to head over the bridge to the An Hoi peninsula where you’ll find a bustling night market. It’s also perfect to take a moment to look back across to the old town where you’ll see the streets lit up and buzzing.
For lunch, you can’t go wrong with Vinh Hung Restaurant which sits on the corner opposite the Assembly Hall. It’s really reasonably priced and there’s a decent selection of food and beers.
If a fancy meal is what you’re after, then you have to go to Morning Glory which is notorious for its local and high quality cuisine. As a vegetarian, they also had loads of options for me… this should be a good thing but meant that I spent forever deciding! You’ll also get a really good glass of wine here, although I chose to opt for the local brew – would be rude not to. They also do the best cookery course in town! We didn’t have enough to participate… plus I wanted a reason to have to go back!
The second evening, we chose to have 3 courses, served by 3 different street food vendors. The rule of thumb is the lower the seat that you’re sitting on, the more local you’re getting. Most of the street vendors just make one dish, which is what they make incredibly well (for that very reason) and so I just chose to go for the ones that were busies with the locals. I can genuinely say that it’s some of the tastiest food that I’ve ever had – but get there early evening as once the food is gone, it’s gone… so your options become more limited later in the evening.
Towards the end of the lunar month, dog is believed to rid locals of bad luck when consumed, therefore it’s not unusual to find this being cooked in some restaurants and street vendors. Keep an eye out for the phrase “Thit Cho”.
On our first day in Hoi An, we decided to cycle into town and it didn’t take too long – but I would avoid doing this in the mid-day sun… probably worth stopping in one of the little bars along the way unless you want to look like a drowned rat by the time that you get there. It’s really easy to cycle around the town and you’ll find it to be a popular mode of transport for most tourists. Always worth being careful when you’re out and about though as those pesky little mopeds are everywhere!
If you decide to go to one of the late night backpacker bars in Hoi An, be warned that taxis tend to stop at around 11pm. Therefore if you don’t have your own transport sorted, you’re likely to going to have to take one of the moped taxis. Now, I’m not sure exactly how safe they are – there definitely wasn’t a helmet – but it was a lasting memory that I’ll never forget. I was smiling from ear to ear and was buzzing with adrenalin as we wizzed through the streets. I think it’s safe to say if anything happened to you, you wouldn’t be covered by your travel insurance!
The next day, a bit braver, we decided to hire those pesky little mopeds for ourselves. Whilst informed that we’d need a license, they were quite happy for us to take them simply by telling them that we’d ridden before. It must have become apparent that this wasn’t the case for me when I asked them how to go! We managed to hire 2 bikes for 24 hours for just $20, so you really can’t go wrong and it did prove to be a lot of fun. A word of advice – horns aren’t used as a sign of aggression in Vietnam, they are there to let other traffic know that you’re nearby, particularly when you’re passing another moped or bike. Fair to say, I didn’t stop tooting mine throughout – I think they were pleased to see the back of me.
The Secret Garden Restaurant and Bar is actually not so secret, as you’ll soon find out, but does provide a nice little vista, hidden away from the main street and over looking the water, which is very sweet.
There is a little museum, which faces on to the port called Gemstone Art Museum (GAM). It’s a bit of a hidden gem as it actually serves as a bar/bistro too. Therefore for a couple of dollars, you can sit uninterrupted in the middle of town, champagne inhand (one of the few places that serves it) and watch the world go by – munching on the awesome free appetisers that they give you too.
Maybe it’s because I never did a gap yah! but I really loved a backpackers bar hidden away on the opposite side of the river. I didn’t manage to take down the name, but it was at the very end of the pennisula at Đường Nguyễn Phúc Chu. Packed with a mixture of all nationalities and ages, you’re bound to walk away with new friends (and a hangover), it’s great for a late night and lots of fun with beerpong thrown into the mix.
We really enjoyed Dive Bar (not named that was because it’s a dive, which is what I was expecting but because it’s run by a Dive Master). Walk through the bar which is decked out with comfy sofas where travellers are strewn, checking Facebook and communicating with their loved ones back home and keep walking to the hidden terrace at the back of the bar. Here you’ll experience cheap drinks, awesome shisha, a super friendly owner and lots of friendly faces.
THE NEXT CHAPTER
I genuinely feel as though I left a little piece of my heart in Hoi An. It isn’t until you’ve visited that people get so excited when they’ve been there too. It’s as though you share a magical secret that the rest of the world is yet to uncover. I worry that it won’t be long until this is no longer the case and so I can’t urge you to go strongly enough.
Next up, Pho Quoc, so be sure to check back! If you’ve been to Hoi An, I’d love to hear which your favourite parts were!