Hoi An is certainly a contender for the most irritating UNESCO World Heritage City. We arrived here planning to spend maybe five days relaxing after a trip through the Central Highlands but the constant sales patter from the tailors shops, the bar and restaurant workers and anybody who had any relationship with an item of transport really destroyed our time in what is without doubt a charming old city.
Our guidebook had referred to the excessive touting on their previous visits but said that this had been clamped down on by the authorities during their last visit. Unfortunately, it had returned with a venom when we arrived.
Hoi An is included in practically all Vietnam tour itineraries lying just a few kilometres inland on the main north south route. All open tour bus services stop here in both directions. Alternatively you can transfer here from Danang where there is an airport and a railway station serving the Hanoi-Saigon line.
Where to Stay
Accommodation is plentiful, good quality and cheap. We arrived here after our Central Highlands trip from Dalat and were immediately struck by the number of western faces we saw after spending 5 days off the beaten track. Hoi An is certainly a popular tourist stop with good tourism facilities.
We were dropped off at the Thuy Duong 3 Hotel on D Nhi Trung St where there is a whole row of nice looking hotels and it’s only a 5 minute walk to the tiny streets of the historical centre. This hotel was very modern and quite luxurious with rooms for $25-$45US including buffet breakfast and use of the indoor swimming pool that several room looked over. Plenty more options were available in this small area including cheaper options for budget travellers.
Eating and Drinking in Hoi An
There’s no shortage of places to eat and drink in this town which is well geared to supplying its many visitors. Along the waterfront there’s a whole row of restaurants on Bach Dang St competing heavily for your business. Some of these have upstairs terraces overlooking the river which is a great place to dine in the evening when all the lights reflect in the water. On the opposite side of the river across the little bridge there’s a row of bar/restaurants where it always seems to be ‘happy hour’ (Saigon Export for 7,000 VN = 50 cents). We particularly liked Thanh Phuong (56, Cong Dong St), a family run place where the waitress’s mother cooks a marvellous fish steamed in banana leaf. The terrace looks back over the river at the illuminated old city.
On Tran Phu St, the main road through the centre there are plenty more options including Omar Khayyam’s Indian restaurant which is a nice change if you’re looking for something a little different. Throughout the small streets of the centre there are countless Vietnamese restaurants serving traditional dishes including a local specialities such as Cao Lau (noodles with bean sprouts, greens and pork slices), fried Won Ton and White Rose (steamed shrimp in rice paper).
A great idea is to get transport to the coast to escape the food touts and enjoy a fabulous seafood lunch overlooking Cua Dai Beach where you’ll find delicious fresh crabs and lobster at a fraction of what we’d pay in the west.
Hoi An Attractions and Excursions
Within Hoi An you can see the main sights on foot as it’s only a small place where nothing is far away. The best way is to take a walking tour of the city which is only a half day stroll. To visit the main historical buildings of the old centre you need to buy a ticket which, in theory, gives you access to five attractions. In practice few places bother to stamp your ticket so you’ll get into all that you want to see without having to buy a 2nd ticket. For a look at Hoi An’s main attractions take a look at the Hoi An World Heritage Website.
The one major excursion from Hoi An is to My Son, an ancient Champa Kingdom. We took one of the numerous tour bus excursions here for a mere $5 US plus 60,000 VN (= $4 US) entrance fee. Unfortunately, in this case you only get what you pay for. We collected people from several hotels starting at 8am until there were 50 people on board before proceeding to the car park at My Son where several other large buses had already arrived. We then walked 2km to the ruins, many of which were completely destroyed during the American War and others which were badly damaged. To make the most of this excursion it would be a good idea to hire a private driver who will get you to My Son before the herds of tourists. This way you get to fully appreciate the true atmosphere of this historic place in the early morning mist.
On the bus tours you return directly to Hoi An after My Son or take the optional boat ride back on which a woman at the back miraculously produces a beef stir fry with steamed rice and spring rolls on the most basic of cooking equipment.
Shopping in Hoi An
There are hundreds of tailor’s shops in Hoi An and most people who are planning on getting a dress or suit made tend to wait until they arrive here.