There is something about Hoi An

Let’s just say that Vietnamese cities are usually not exactly beautiful. There is no such thing as taking a leisurely walk in Hanoi or Saigon, absorbing the sights, because your auditory system will constantly be overwhelmed by the incessant noise of traffic. Now the thing is, I do love cities. I seek them out whenever I travel, but Vietnam tested my love for urban environments. I truly wanted to explored, but I always found myself hardly managing a couple of hours on the pavement before turning cranky and restless.

This is why my fondest memories of any city in Vietnam are those I have of Hoi An. It’s not that places like Hanoi and Saigon are not beautiful places. Like everywhere else, they do have their charm. But it’s just that when the sound volume is turned up to full blast, it’s kind of difficult for your body to absorb sights, smells and tactile stimulus. So when I finally made it to Hoi An and the volume was practically turned off (the old town of Hoi An is closed to cars, and few motorbikes venture there), something happened, and all my senses had space to breathe and absorb it all up.

  

Hoi An is something of a miracle in Vietnamese history. Having survived the Vietnamese war practically intact, its old town is now one of the most visited places in the country with its traditional houses, car-free centre and lantern-lit streets by night. Even more amazing is the fact that year after year during the rainy season, the river swells up and floods the buildings, which somehow deal with the water and keep standing. Some of these homes are open to the public, and you can see the marks of the last flood on their living room walls.

Some travellers call Hoi An tourist disney land, and to some extent, I can see what they mean. The old town is filled with travellers exploring the sites and hanging around in slightly overpriced (when compared to the rest of Vietnam) restaurants and cafes. Houses which used be homes to local people have now been turned into museums. I don’t find this a bad thing though. Local people still live just outside of this area and their businesses thrive because of the constant influx of tourists. At the same time, the money brought in by travellers who pay to visit the historic sites of the old town goes into restoring the buildings themselves. The truth is that without tourist money, the houses in this area which make the place so delicately charming would have crumbled years ago and been abandoned by the locals.

  

Instead, Vietnam and the world has been left with tens of heritage buildings and sites which have been lovingly restored and keep being cared for.

It is, of course, absolutely free to walk around and admire the beautiful buildings, but if you want to take a peek inside and contribute needed money to fund further restoration, all you need to do is pop over to one of the kiosks around town and purchase a pack of 5 tickets for 90,000 dong. You can use the tickets to access any of the attractions on the map and information leaflet, which you’ll also be given. The tickets will allow you access into some small but aesthetically and historically interesting temples, old houses and congregation halls around the old town. Some places are free to visit, and will have a large sign advertising them as being so, with the only catch being that there’ll be some kind of souvenir shop inside which you can explore or ignore.

  

Though one, maximum two days are enough in the old town itself, Hoi An is a good base from which to explore some of the surrounding area, or to take some tours or do some activities. Take time to explore the Hoi An market and sign yourself up for a cooking course, hire a boat and driver and explore the river channels, head over to nearby Danang for the day and check out the Marble mountains, Danang beach and the Monkey mountain, or book a tour to the My Son ruins. There are also boat and snorkelling trips available to nearby Cham island.

The nights in Hoi An are made magical by the light of hundreds of Vietnamese lanterns, which can also be purchased for a very reasonable price in many of the city’s shops (I am the proud owner of 3-remember to haggle!), and at specific times and locations, there are free performances of Vietnamese dance, theatre and music.

  

Yes, Hoi An is a wonderful (even if touristy) Vietnamese gem.

-Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @ www.theartofslowtravel.com. All rights reserved.

28 thoughts on “There is something about Hoi An”

  1. We spent five days in Hoi An and agree it is fabulously relaxed and has wonderful eating options. We arrived there from Ninh Binh which was awful by comparison. Yes it is touristy but it does not destroy the ambience. I read that both sides in the Vietnam/American war agreed not to bomb it. Well done I say! By the way your photos are beautiful.

    1. Hi Jan,

      Thank you for the kind words. Yes, it’s amazing that this place was left intact. May I ask what you did in Hoi An for 5 days? I ran out of things to do after 2!

      1. Hi – Probably the same as you but over and over! No – my husband was not feeling well so we had some down-time. But we did a wonderful bicycle tour in the surrounding countryside, went to My Son, got some clothes made, enjoyed the full moon festival, ate the best sushi ever, and the best seafood pasta overlooking the river, sat in atmospheric bar/restaurants and watched how the rain transformed the town, walked in the rain. It was a break from the rest of Vietnam. Ah, I am dreaming now!

        1. Ok then it’s clear. I didn’t visit My Son nor did I do a bycicle tour (I wish I had!). I did do a really cool cooking tour and class though!

          1. I think it was with Red Bridge cooking school. It included a tour of the market and a boat ride to the school. I highly recommend it.

    1. we have pet horses and food horses, pet bunnies and food bunnies, pet goats and food goats, pet kangaroos and food kangaroos etc, pet fish and food fish…

  2. Who the heck has pet goats and kangaroos??? I was talking more about household pets (as in the can FIT in the house). The bunny one is feasible, but then again I don’t think whoever owned a pet bunny would eat bunnies in general, so I hope whoever owns dogs in Vietnam doesn’t also eat them!

  3. I love the old buildings and the colors of the faded paint after being flooded year after year. And I can certainly appreciate needed to step away from the noise and really let the rest of your senses take over so you can absorb a new space.

  4. I agree completely about the auditory overload. It was enough to turn me off the cities though as you say they do have their charms. We did bike fr over a week in Vietnam – the craziest biking I’ve ever done – but it allowed us to see a quieter side of he country.

  5. What a beautiful place and from what I’ve read about traffic in Vietnam, I think I would appreciate a pedestrian-only area to explore! I love the photos of the lanterns – they are so lovely!

  6. Such beautiful photos! I’m sure there are many people who have visited this place without noticing all the lovely details. Sometimes forced downtime can be a blessing.

  7. What a lovely post! We are hoping to get to Vietnam in the next year or so and this definitely looks like a place I would like. . . I’ll be checking into this some more. Your words and photos make it sound delightful.

  8. Wonderful photos – a nice counterpoint to the recent Hoi An article in AFAR. Looks like our 6-year-old would have a good time there too.

  9. Hello everyone,
    wow, Hoi An seems to be a candidate for my favorite city in Vietnam. The pictures look beautiful and I am really looking forward to it. I was wondering, if any of you can recommend a nice traditional place to stay in Hoi An? I know, there are no places in the Old Town, but I am also having trouble finding something “authentic” outside of the Old Town. I would really appreciate some advise!
    Hanka

    1. Hi Hanka,

      Unfortunately the place I stayed at in Hoi An was really bad (hence why I didn’t write a review about it), so I can’t personally recommend anywhere. And yes, Hoi An is probably my favourite city in Vietnam as well, because of how peaceful it can be.

      Denise

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