Hoi An lies on the coast of the South China Sea, in the centre of Vietnam. The entire old town is UNESCO Heritage Listed due to the fact that it is a very well preserved example of a South East Asian trading port, with architecture and street layouts that date as far back as the 15th century. Influences in Hoi An come from it’s time as a major town of the Hindu Cham people, as well as subsequent Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Dutch influences.
Because it was such a busy trading port for so long, the architecture in Hoi An is a unique mixture of many different styles.
My wife and I only had half a day to spend in Hoi An. We didn’t have much of a plan, other than to sample some of the great food that everyone talks about and to walk around and check out the architecture and vibe of the town.
Hoi An was basically left to rot by the French, when its status as a major port was taken over by nearby Da Nang. Today tourism keeps the city alive, and it’s very obvious. Heading towards the market, walking along the main strip next to the major river on the banks of the old town, everything is geared up for tourists. Steakhouse playing American country music, check. Pubs full of westerners downing cheap lager, check. Tourists wearing conical hats, purchasing trinkets and carrying around SLRs that they never take out of auto mode, check.
There were a lot of touts in Hoi An trying to sell all kinds of junk, and a few individuals that did not quit even when it was obvious that we were not interested in what they were selling. Nonetheless, my wife and I had several encounters with people that just wanted to have a chat.
Vendors like this can be found throughout Hoi An. Banh Bao are delicious steamed buns that come with a variety of fillings including pork, chicken, vegetables and shrimp. The vendors also often sell “White Rose” which is a translucent, rose-shaped shrimp dumping – a local speciality.
To the right of the photo below is Hoi An’s Central Market. This is the market that all of the tourist guides tell you that you must visit. It’s interesting to walk through, with vendors selling all kinds of things but, as you’d expect, it’s overpriced and there’s not really much of value here.
One thing that Hoi An is very famous for is its dressmakers and tailors. In the space of a day you can get suits, dresses and shoes made very cheaply. My wife and I had no need for any of these things, however if you are interested I’d recommend doing your research before hand. There are a lot of touts here that will vie for your custom and by all accounts, many of the ones in the centre are either overpriced or of poor quality. Find out who is reputable before you arrive and don’t be swayed by others when you arrive. Be warned – the touts can be very persistent.
Despite what I just said before about the Central Market, the food hall there is very much worth checking out. My wife and I had two great meals here – they key was avoiding places that didn’t have locals eating at the tables and avoiding anybody who tried to come up to us to get us to eat at their stall.
The lady below made a great bowl of noodle soup. this soup was similar to Pho crossed with chicken soup. The broth was a chicken broth and the noodles were very thin. We went for beef brisket on the meat side of things, and the usual set of condiments were available.
After eating our noodles my wife and I spotted a few locals eating at the stall below. The food looked good so we decided to order a plate of what everyone else was eating.
If any of my readers can tell me the name of the below dish I’d be really grateful as my research has drawn nothing but blanks. It was steamed rice topped with a bit of everything that was cooking above really. A fried pancake, shrimp, sprouts, an almost curry like pumpkin concoction and some unidentifiable pork bits. It was very delicious, and there were all sorts of flavours going on.
The colours and architecture of the shop houses in the old town is very charming. Once you head away from the crowds, Hoi An is a very pleasant town to walk through. It’s very peaceful and laid back.
As to be expected in Vietnam, there are people eating and relaxing down alleyways and unassuming areas. My wife and I stumbled across a place further down this alleyway which was in a residential area and had a few tables full of old men playing cards. We got a few odd looks when we took a seat but soon enough they went back to their card game and we were left to enjoy our Vietnamese coffees, sitting under a roof fan watching something with very bad reception on a television that must have been at least 30 years old. The atmosphere was perfect, and I didn’t want to be anywhere else.
Overall I think that Hoi An is a city that is worth visiting. You can find some great food, the architecture is very interesting and the laid back vibe of the place is refreshing, especially if you’ve just arrived from one of Vietnam’s larger cities.
Yes it’s touristy and the touts can get annoying at times, but wander only a few minutes away from the centre and things really change. The tourists and touts disappear, and peace and quiet is yours to enjoy. The immediate surrounds of Hoi An looked very interesting and if I’d had a full day there I would have loved to have hired a bike and spent a few hours exploring. It’s an area that certainly lends itself to such an activity.
Food wise, Hoi An has a reputation as being a hotspot and from what I could see this was certainly the case. My wife and I ate as much as we could in half a day, which only allowed us to scratch the surface of what was on offer.