Is it okay to fall in love with a tourist trap like Hoi An? That’s the question I was asking myself all the time when I headed to Hoi An. After traveling through the North of Vietnam, enjoying a cruise through Halong Bay, staying a few days in busy Hanoi and the calmer Hue, Hoi An gave me a totally different experience.
At the first glance, Hoi An is rather a mixture of a historical landmark and an overcrowded tourist attraction – but I had the most unwinding days there!
This brings me to the most important reason why you should put Hoi An on top of your bucket list anyway (whether it is a tourist trap or not) when you plan a trip to Vietnam:
No matter where you’ve been before on your journey, Hoi An is the place to relax from an exhausting trip. You will probably travel through Vietnam from North to South or vice-versa and Hoi An is located almost exactly in the middle of this route.
So take some time off your busy traveller routine and enjoy the quiet Old Town of Hoi An: As you might have noticed by this point of your journey, Vietnamese traffic is noisy, stressful and loud. After a few days or weeks the constant honking of dozens of motorbikes around you may start to annoy you.
This is one of the things you will appreciate during your stay in Hoi An: In the Old Town only bikes and rikshas are allowed and the whole area is a large pedestrian zone!
Wander through the small streets without worrying about being run over by motorbikes and take some time to explore the village by foot. All sights can be reached within walking distance. And at every corner you will find a place to rest and simply enjoy your time in Hoi An – this may be at one of the numerous cafés, restaurants and shops or in one of the open houses: You will always find some benches in the courtyards inviting you to stay a while and seize the day.
Hoi An is so quiet and relaxing – a place like a giant spa!
Hoi An was founded by the Cham a long time ago in the 4th century. Due to its location it became one of the most important trade harbors in the South China Sea during the 16th to 19th century until it was replaced by the nearby Da Nang. Nevertheless, the old buildings stayed and Hoi An remained practically untouched during the Vietnam War as it has lost its strategic importance – and now Hoi An is this magical place full of history. Like a history amusement park! :)
Although the old wooden houses in Hoi An were flooded many times in the past, they still are in a pretty good shape and owned by the same families for generations. Some houses can even be visited! Please note that the families still live in there while they open their doors for visitors, so you probably wouldn’t want to enter the living room with your hottest bikini top on – remember to cover up :)
Make sure you get an entrance ticket at one of the ticket offices all around town. One ticket costs 120.000 Dong and will give you a one-time access to all sights in the Old Town for the next 72 hours. It’s really worth it as you will learn a lot about Hoi An’s interesting history and at the same time you are contributing to the preservation of the Old Town (at least that’s the justification for the fee ;) ).
Hoi An is a culinary hotspot!
You will find so many delicious dishes here – for every budget. No matter if you try the snacks from the street vendors at night or if you have dinner at one of the fancier restaurants – you will be surprised about the variety and the freshness.
My best recommendations for restaurants are:
…but there are a lot more – see for yourself and try!
(By the way, if you want to get behind the cooking secrets of your favorite restaurants, ask for a cooking course! Most of the fancier locations offer a day course, often including a visit to the local market. Lots of fun and a great way to meet new people.)
And if you don’t feel like eating out in a restaurant – just try some street food!
As much as I loved to, I couldn’t spend the whole day eating. But with temperatures over 35 degrees and beyond during the day I developed a big craving for Cà phê sữa đá, the Vietnamese iced coffee. Wherever I spotted a nice café – and there are a lot! – I stopped for either an iced coffee or some fresh juice.
Try the coffee at one of my favourites:
Hoi An is famous for its tailors, you will find dozens of shops where you can order custom-made suits, dresses and even bags. I didn’t buy anything there, but for the avid shoppers among you this might be a good opportunity. But be aware, from what I’ve heard you will pay a bit more at a tailor in Hoi An than usual in Vietnam. Also, I had a closer look at the fabrics and they didn’t meet my expectations concerning the quality.
I limited myself to some tea – on the road I’m not the biggest shopper, because it bothers me to carry the weight around while traveling – and enjoyed a tea tasting with an original tea ceremony!
6. ENJOY THE NIGHT!
The real charme of Hoi An is revealed at night! Okay, there’s not much of a ‘real’ nightlife for clubbing people, but when all lanterns are lit in the streets, the Old Town gets busier and everybody seems to be on the street. Enjoy a fresh cocktail, have dinner or stroll over the night market, where you can buy your very own set of paper lanterns to take some memories of this beautiful town to your home.
7. GET TANNED!
Enough of the Old Town? A twenty minute ride by bike away is An Bang Beach and it’s as relaxing as the Old Town! Enjoy the large beach and warm water! And don’t bring food – as downtown, there are so many vendors selling delicious snacks and iced water:
In Hoi An, you won’t stay hungry!
8. OFF TO THE COUNTRYSIDE!
From Hoi An, you can book a lot of day tours to the countryside – see how the locals live and visit their workshops, where the famous paper lanterns are built. Or just get in contact with nature and pet some cute cows :)
Have you ever been to Hoi An? Did you like it?
What’s your favorite spot?
For more detailed information on Vietnamese culture I recommend this blog: Vietmok – Vietnam mit offenen Karten (German)