Hoi An Calling
- article by Lily Guy-Vogel
Explore this vibrant yet relaxing city nestled on Vietnam's central coast.
Hoi An is a quaint little town in central Vietnam that is a well-established stopping spot on the route from northern to southern Vietnam (and vice versa).
Despite being heralded for its shopping, crafts and food it still retains its quiet and relaxed charms; it does not feel over-run by tourists as other places in Vietnam sometimes do. This is largely thanks to the town's pedestrianised centre, no vehicles are allowed in the centre during the day, which makes it a perfect place to explore on foot.
If you're in Vietnam you must make sure to allow at least a couple of days for this town; go shopping, eat delicious foods, or go and explore the beaches and natural attractions that are within easy reach of the town centre. Plus the nightlife is not bad either - there is something for everyone here so come for a few days and you may find yourself staying for weeks. To give you a bit of a taste of Hoi An we've explored some of the city's top attractions below.
Hoi An is the ideal place to get your gift shopping done at any time of the year. The town is full of pretty things, souvenirs, toys, trinkets, pottery pieces, artwork and above all else clothes. Its streets are filled with little craft and artisan workshops selling intricately decorated pottery pieces, hand-woven quilts, brilliant fabrics and vibrantly coloured lanterns. As you wander around you are immersed in a rainbow of colours and a buzz of people selling their wares, displaying little flying toys in the air, bubbles tumbling down the street. It is quite intoxicating and despite being quite busy Hoi An still feels relaxed thanks to its pedestrianised centre.
Although it is great for buying all kinds of beautiful things, Hoi An is a real haven for clothes and accessories. Within Vietnam it has gained the name 'tailor town' and it is very easy to see why: there are tailors not just on every corner but literally streets full of tailor shops sitting side by side. This is the place to come if you want to get a suit, a dress or a shirt or anything else tailor made for a decent price but still at a high quality.
Walk into any of these shops and they have catalogues of designs and styles for you to choose from; then choose your fabric from the hundreds of rolls that line the walls and after measurements are taken you leave them to it. Twenty-four hours later you can come back and have a fitting, any final alterations will then be made and the next day your bespoke outfit is ready to go. It is quite astounding how quickly things get done here and yet how good the quality is. Alternatively they will also copy items of clothing so if you have a shirt the shape of which you really like they can recreate it in a variety of colours and/or patterns for you.
All that shopping can be exhausting so you're sure to want a pit stop to refuel and you're in luck – Hoi An has seriously great food with lots of delicious things to try and places to eat. There is something for everyone here; there are some really good Western places if you're looking for some familiar comfort food like a pizza, burger or spectacular brunch. There are also lots of really nice cafes overlooking the river serving famously good Vietnamese coffee and pastries, it almost feels Parisian in ambience. However, there is nothing quite like the local delicacies. Firstly you could stop at almost any street food stall and you're sure to come across a tasty snack to keep you going but there are also lots of top quality Vietnamese restaurants in Hoi An, here are a couple of our top choices.
Broadly speaking, the bánh mì is the Vietnamese sandwich, which is made up of a baguette filled with various meats, salad bits and chilli sauces. However, it varies massively from stall to stall let alone from North to South Vietnam and therefore you never quite know what to expect when you order one. However, Hoi An is famous for its banh mi - you've got to go and have one, it is a taste sensation. Madam Khanh is known as the banh mi queen and can be found at 115 Tran Cao Van, Son Phong, TP. Hoi An, Quang Nam, Vietnam. For less than 1 USD (20,000 VND) you can enjoy the delights of a tasty and authentic banh mi and you'll want to come back time and again.
Minh Hien Vegetarian Restaurant is a cute little vegetarian place that serves up great food in a quaint setting. The walls are adorned with Vietnamese novels and comics, almost like sitting in a library; the glass topped tables have bus tickets and traveller's passport photos pushed beneath them. The food is very fresh, traditional and tasty. We recommend the Hoi An noodles which are like a pho but with thick rice noodles, fresh mushrooms and crispy tofu - truly delicious. It can be found at 50 Tran Cao Van, Son Phong, Tp. Hoi An, Quang Nam, Vietnam.
Hoi An is a key stopping point on a trip from one end of the country to the other sitting between Da Nang and Hue on the backpacker's trail. It enjoys an almost beachfront location and its surroundings have plenty to offer visitors. Hire a bike (motorised or pedal) and you can be at the beach in minutes. Hoi An Beach is a stretch of pristine white sand that allows for views right over to Da Nang and beyond and is peppered with restaurants, cafes and bars to allow for a fun day (and night) out. In fact there are plenty of day trips around Hoi An; for the sun-worshippers and beach lovers it is only half an hour's drive to Da Nang – another coastal Vietnamese town with large quiet beaches and an old French colonial port. You can also take a boat to Cam Nam Island, a small serene island that has stunning views and no motorised vehicles, or Cham Island, a cluster of eight islands that form part of the UNESCO recognised Cu Lao Cham Marine Park.
For those who are more into culture and interested in history there are several travel agencies that offer half day tours to the nearby My Son Sanctuary, a collection of ancient abandoned Hindu temples that were built between the 4th and 13th centuries that are now a UNESCO recognised heritage site. Another day trip can be taken to the Marble Mountains, a collection of five mountains that have tons of hidden tunnels and caves, the peaks offering panoramic views covering miles of Vietnamese coastline, flat lands and mountains. Don't forget the several local fishing villages with their round bottomed boats and authentic restaurants. Hoi An's location gives visitors a wide range of opportunities to explore a range of local attractions.
A few extra suggestions
Now we're sure that the above article will have you ready to book your tickets to Hoi An right now but in case you need any further persuasion of the delights that Hoi An has to offer below we've compiled a few extra suggestions of things you won't want to miss out on in this city.
- Hoi An's Old Town is always supremely beautiful but its crowning glory comes each evening at dusk when the lanterns are lit in the centre of town. Each evening hundreds of multi-coloured lanterns are lit and glimmering candles floated down the river, the sight is breathtaking.
- If you are planning on getting something tailor-made go to Tina Design; these sassy and funny ladies have a keen skill and a comprehensive customer service. No matter what you're looking for they can do it and you will leave (probably with more than you intended to) feeling very well dressed. Find them at 39 Tran Hung Dao Street, Hoi An 0510, Vietnam.
- If you're looking for a bit of night life then there are nightly bar crawls that draw in backpackers from the town's many many hostels. These can be fun although a bit crowded. If you're not keen on following the group there is one bar that is truly unique and worth checking out. Mr Bean bar is a bar like any other except it is themed around the English comedy character Mr Bean. The walls are adorned with his image and funny clips play silently on a large screen, it proudly claims to be the world's only Mr Bean themed bar - it is a truly unique experience.