Hoi An, located in the southern part of Vietnam’s central coast is a charming and picturesque town, with lots to see and do. It is a designated world heritage site, recognised for its beauty as a well-preserved historical South East Asian trading post.
Wandering around Hoi An, you can gaze at the impressive buildings all around you, with both traditional Vietnamese and foreign influences evident in the stunning architecture. A multi-ticket is available to visit some of the historic houses, Chinese temples and the iconic Japanese covered bridge. Visitors can pay at each attraction individually, but is more economical to buy this ticket, which gives full flexibility to choose where to visit.
Hoi An Old Town is also only five kilometres away from two pretty beaches, allowing you to combine culture and fun in the sun.
It is easy to walk around Hoi An Old Town, without the traffic levels of other towns. Some areas are fully pedestrianised, whilst others only allow bicycles and motorbikes. It is a perfect place for just wandering around and soaking up some Vietnamese culture.
All buildings have been well looked after and preserved, so whatever the interior now holds, the exterior is still as it was hundreds of years ago. Restaurants, art galleries, shops and tailors can all be found behind the exquisite facades.
Hoi An is well known for its fabulous tailors, who can quickly produce decent quality made to measure clothes as a fraction of the cost back home. I didn’t buy anything when there, because I didn’t want to have to carry anything else, but a friend was delighted with three beautiful dresses that she had made.
On arriving in Hoi An Old Town by bus, our first mission was to find somewhere to sleep for the next few nights. We quickly and easily succeeded in finding the lovely Hoa Binh Hotel, right in the heart of town. After eating lunch here and relaxing for a short while with a bottle of Saigon Beer, we were ready to hit the streets.
Our first stop was at the large central market, with vendors selling fruits, vegetables and other fresh local produce, household goods, clothing and souvenirs. There was a mix of local Vietnamese and tourists all browsing in the cramped and busy passageways. This was where I had my main experience in South East Asia of truly trying to be conned.
I had seen some lovely little Vietnamese doll figurines in a different city, and was keen to buy some for friends back at home. Being afraid of breaking them on the journey down through Vietnam though, I decided to wait until I was further south to buy them. I had seen them in a shop, with a marked price, so knew roughly how much I would expect to pay for them.
I was overjoyed to see the exact same figurines in the central market. My delight quickly turned to horror when a grossly over-inflated price was quoted. We had been warned about how sellers will try to confuse visitors, knowing that they are not used to dealing with so many zeros on bank notes. The seller was trying to get me to pay over four times the amount I had previously seen these items on sale for. Now, I understand that it is common practice to barter in such places, but I really don’t want to indulge someone who thinks it is acceptable to start so blatantly high. So I declined and walked away.
Leaving the market and heading towards a small bridge over the river, I was horrified when the same souvenir seller, having chased me, grabbed me by the arm, and proceeded to try and do business with me. I still declined and walked away.
Seeing some boats zipping past, filled with fisherman all wearing the iconic conical Vietnamese hats lifted my spirits somewhat, and I was ready to explore once again.
We visited a very bright Chinese temple, where some elderly men were sat outside totally absorbed in what looked to be a game of Mahjong. Inside, I spent some time examining some intricate wooden carved panels. The level and quality of detail was simply amazing.
From there, we went to another Chinese temple before stopping at Minh Huong historical house.
We paused to snap some pictures of the river before going to the Japanese Bridge. I found this really pretty and interesting, although smaller than I had imagined. It crosses over a very small river, and has a small shrine inside, which provides a strong smell of incense wafting about. One end is guarded by two monkey sculptures, the other by two dog sculptures.
During our wanderings, we passed by many lovely yellow pastel coloured buildings, which made me feel like I could be somewhere in the Mediterranean. The only detail that went against my Med idea was the many red lanterns adorning the properties. On realising that many of these were inviting looking cafes, we decided to stop and watch the world go by from a balcony overlooking the riverside.
As dusk started to draw in, we decided to remain in our balcony spot, enjoying the lights reflecting off the river as we sampled a few different Vietnamese beers. Many of the trees were rigged up with fairy lights, and some animal figures in the water were also illuminated, giving us a much different view as darkness fell than when we had first sat down.
After a while we moved to another riverside place to eat a delicious dinner, enjoying similarly pretty views in a terrific atmosphere.
The following day, we walked to see a pastel-pink church, another temple and Phung Hung historical house, with its dark wooden polished interior, before onto another house and some more general ambling.
We said one final goodbye to beautiful Hoi An before departing on an overnight bus to take us to Ho Chi Minh City.
Hoi An can be visited at any time of the year, though September to January is the rainy season and the city is prone to serious flooding. Hoi An does not have links by rail, and can only be accessed by road.
What other pretty preserved historical towns have you visited around the world? And, do you have any top tips, such as multi-attraction tickets, to help visitors make the most of their time there?