Our top tips for Hoi An, Vietnam
05 April 2018
Vietnam has so much to offer, from stunning white sandy beaches to busy urban landscapes and spectacular countryside filled with rice fields. But for me, one of the highlights from my trip to Vietnam was a 3-night stay in the delightful town of Hoi An.
Located on Vietnam’s central coast, Hoi An is a cultural melting pot, with influences from the Chinese, Japanese and French. It is well known for its ancient old town, cut through with canals, and it is an example of an exceptionally well-preserved South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century.
After spending the previous few nights in the bustling capital city of Hanoi, a couple of days in Hoi An came as a welcome relief. Don’t get me wrong, the traffic in Hoi An is still busy, but even with the buzz of mopeds and a chorus of car horns, there is a sense of calm that comes with being near the sea.
Here are my top 5 tips for things to do in Hoi An:
1. Explore the old town by foot
The ancient town of Hoi An is quite small, which makes it ideal to explore by foot. The Old Town has a pedestrianised area which is closed to motorbikes and cars during certain times of the day (between 9am-11am, 2pm-4pm and 6.30pm-9pm). This makes it very pleasant to wander around and get your bearings! Explore the colourful streets, stroll alongside the river, admire the historic houses and walk over the famous Japanese Covered Bridge, considered by many to be the symbol of Hoi An.
2. Cycle to the beach
What better way is there to get a feel for a place than pedalling a bicycle alongside the locals? I stayed at the Lotus Hoi An Boutique Hotel & Spa which offered free bicycle rental to all guests. From my hotel, it was 2kms to the Ancient Old Town or 5kms in the opposite direction to the beach at An Bang. The roads can be quite daunting for a cyclist at first, but nowhere near as intimidating as major cities like Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. Once you take your time and get comfortable with your new surroundings, it is easily the most fun way to get around! I opted for a visit to the beach, and the sea was the perfect way to cool off after the 5km cycle.
3. Barter at the central market
Getting up at the crack of dawn may not seem like your first choice when you have a free day, but let me tell you that this is the best time to visit the colourful, central market in the old town. The early bird does indeed catch the worm – you will get a unique glimpse into the life of the locals as they set up their stalls. Many can be seen eating their breakfast (usually some type of noodle dish with pork) on small stools in anticipation of the busy day ahead. With so many bargains to be found in the market, don’t be afraid to barter for the best price. You can pick everything and anything up in the busy stalls, from local street food to fragrant spices, from a wide array of tropical fruits to small souvenirs and even clothing. As a rule of thumb, half whatever price you initially get from the street traders and haggle from there.
4. Visit a tailor
If thrashing it out for the best price in the midst of all the hustle and bustle is not your style, fear not - Hoi An has other retail options. Famous for its tailor shops, you can get custom-made clothes for a fraction of the price you would pay at home. There are many shops to choose from, but Yaly Couture is one of the city’s most well-known bespoke tailors, where you can get fitted for a made to measure garment with the promise of a 24 hour turnaround time. I stumbled across a gem of a tailor shop right next to my hotel. Thuy Ngoc Speciality Clothing Shop is run by a hard-working local lady, who also manages a homestay, the Red Dragon restaurant and organises traditional cooking classes. I brought in a picture of my favourite dress to her, got measured up, and she replicated the dress for me in a material of my choice, in less than 18 hours. Now that is what you call an amazing bespoke service!
5. Experience the atmosphere at night
The atmosphere at night in Hoi An is simply stunning. In the evening, the streets are illuminated by lively lanterns strewn between buildings, creating a magical array of colour as far as the eye can see. Once a month, the Full Moon is celebrated in Hoi An, and I was lucky enough to be in town for the festivities. The highlight of my visit to Hoi An was making a wish by floating a candle down the river on this very special night. If there doesn’t happen to be a Full Moon Festival during your visit, there is plenty to keep you entertained in Hoi An at night time. The beautiful lanterns are a permanent feature, and there are plenty of riverfront bars where you can enjoy a local beer (I recommend LaRue!) and watch the world go by.
Fancy riding a bike to the beach, enjoying a walking tour around the local markets, or checking out the stunning illuminated lanterns at night in the Ancient Old Town? You can experience all of this and more on our guided group tour to Vietnam.
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