Unwinding in tranquil Hoi An
A stark contrast to Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An is located just 30km south of Da Nang on Vietnam’s coast. I would a week in this peaceful town, with many locals laughing prior to my visit at how bored I would become within a matter of days. Clearly they did not explore the same Hoi An, for I instantly fell for this historic place. It’s medley of architecture from Japanese and French colonialism is preserved beautifully, with large sections of Ancient Town only accessible by foot or pushbike.
Staying at Green Heaven Resort and Spa, I found the hotel perfectly located on An Hoi island next to the main bridge into town. Well catered, with open, spacious rooms, a pool and with incredbly polite staff, for under £50 a night it was the perfect place to unwind after a busy day’s sightseeing. Granted, cheaper hotels are definitely available, but not many could match Green Heaven’s location and quality.
After spending a week exploring Hoi An has to offer, here’s my list of key Do’s and Don’ts for anyone who chooses to visit:
Do – Explore every side-street of Ancient Town
Forget the map. Ancient Town can be explored in it’s entirety within a few hours, but it’s greatest secrets lay off the beaten path. Venture past the various restaurants that line the Thu Bồn River and down the many side streets, here you will find the quaintest shops, cafes and local treats. Be sure to pay a visit the Hoi An market to the East, take in the history of the various dynasties that have occupied the Town in the historical residencies, before finishing the day with a stroll along the riverbank lit by the famous handmade lanterns.
Don’t – Spend all your money in the first tailors you see
With over 300 tailors, Hoi An is world famous for it’s tailored garments. People flock from across the globe to pick up exquisite items at a fraction of the cost. Unfortunately as with any good thing, locals have caught onto this which has resulted in two distinct issues 1) increased prices or 2) lower quality. Thankfully with so many on offer, you have the ability to pick and choose as you wish.
Don’t forget, the power is in your hands. If the store doesn’t have the pattern you desire, then you can walk away, don’t feel pressured into purchasing something similar to what you wanted because they state how nice it would look, this will only leave you feeling regret once you are home.
Take your time, and visit as many different tailors as you can before picking your favourite – don’t rush to the chain tailors either, it doesn’t necessarily mean a higher quality end product.
The fitting itself can be a very interesting experience if you have never had anything tailored before. Expect to pay a premium for silk over cashmere, but it you can afford it, the difference in price is more than worth it. With any style you can imagine available, it helps if you take an idea of what you are after with you to help them present you with your dream garments. Most tailors will turn around a full three-piece suit in 24 hours, so there’s no need to allow lots of time for this even if you are only in Hoi An a couple of days.
Do – Visit My Son Sanctuary
Unfortunately I am yet to visit the spectacle that is Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, many who have say that My Son Sanctuary is disappointing in comparison. Don’t let this put you off though, most half-day tours will take you for 700,000VND (around £20), for that price it is more than worth the journey. A collection of Hindu temples built between the 4th and 14th century, the sanctuary is situated in a valley offering a stunning background for anyone with a keen photographic eye. Combine the trip with a sunset boat ride to make the most of the experience and enjoy a relaxing journey back to Hoi An.
Don’t – Forget your entry ticket!
Like many attractions, you need an entry ticket in order to enter, it just so happens that in Hoi An, the entire Ancient Town is the attraction. Purchasable at numerous kiosks around the outskirts of the pedestrian area, an entry ticket costs 120,000VND per person (roughly £5) and grants you access into Ancient Town along with five historical points of interest – including crossing the covered Japanese bridge. Not a disaster if you lose it, but a quick way to waste money if you forget it.
Do – Visit An Bang Beach
A 10-minute taxi ride from Hoi An, An Bang beach is by far the better of the two beaches nearby. With numerous restaurants, watersports, bars and a shopping area to keep you busy, you can easily spend a day at An Bang. To avoid the crowds that amass by midday, head to the beach before 8am to take in the beauty of the coastline and stroll towards Da Nang as the sun continues to rise.
Don’t – Venture further south to Cu Dai beach
I had heard that Cu Dai beach was disappointing, but it did not put me off one afternoon making the 4km walk to watch the sunset. As it transpired I would get more from the journey itself than the beach. Although the walk traversed rice fields and beautiful rivers, the beach that greeted me was a desperate sight. Erosion has struck Cu Dai beach hard, with row upon row of sandbags attempting to hold back the Pacific tide to no avail.
Do – Sample the local cuisine
With so many local delicacies on offer, a trip to Hoi An is not complete without sampling even one. Whether it’s Banh Mi, White Rose, Cao Lau or even making your own treats at one of Hoi An’s many food masterclasses, the food here is so memorable it will leave you trying to explain it to your friends and family months after you return.
Don’t – Lose your cool with locals constantly peddling souvenirs
While you savour the treats that Hoi An has to offer, you will often be interrupted by locals trying to sell you pop-up cards, snacks or sunglasses. After the tenth time of being asked during a single meal it can be all to tempting to rudely usher them away, but they are simply trying to make a living. By simply saying no thank you – Không Cảm ơn (prounounced Kaumg Cam unn) they will happily move on and leave you to enjoy the rest of your meal.
I could not recommend Hoi An enough to anyone thinking of visiting Vietnam, ideal for those who enjoy a more leisurely pace but still want the ability to enjoy the nightlife, it offers something for everyone.
Miss out on part 1 of my Vietnam adventure? Click here to learn about my experience in Ho Chi Minh City.