The second leg of our trip to Vietnam took us to the central part of the country. We had heard and read a lot about this quaint little town and many called it the best part of their trip! Though we were filled with the anticipation, we were also dreading the weather – Hoi An has storms and even floods in November and the previous year was exceptionally bad (Check out our guide to the best time visit each part of Vietnam here). Our evening flight from Hanoi had to navigate through some really turbulent weather to land us in Da Nang – the largest city of the region. We took a taxi to Hoi An – a 45 min drive – and reached our home-stay.
It had stopped raining by now, but it was quite windy. After a quick check-in, we borrowed an umbrella and headed out to the night market! As we walked around looking at the stalls selling food, souvenirs and lanterns, the rain picked up, leaving the hawkers scrambling. Luckily, we had our big umbrella. The river was swelling and almost starting to overflow – we quickly crossed the bridge into the Old Town heritage area and started looking for a place to eat. The entire town was beautifully decorated with lanterns of all colours – it felt like a dream!
The memory of this place still brings a smile to our faces!
We found a small home whose hall had been opened up into a tiny restaurant where we had some amazing Mi Quang and Cau Lau (both belonging to this region). The rain continued to batter down and we sat there happily eating the hot bowls of noodles.
Things turned better for us the next day with regards to the weather. It was a pleasant day with no rain which made it ideal to walk around and explore the town!
Here are the things which, according to us, make Hoi An a magical town and an experience worth remembering.
History and Heritage
Hoi An was a trading port from the 15th to 19th century. It was a hub in South-East Asia for trade routes connecting China, Japan, India, Portugal and the Dutch. There is a strong Japanese connection and you can still spot the Japanese covered bridge with a temple inside it.
The entire Old Town of Hoi An is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can buy a ticket to visit the sites to learn more about life here in the 18th century. One ticket (costing only 120,000 VND – relax, that’s $5!) enables you to visit 5 heritage sites. You can choose from a number of historic buildings, private homes, museums, temples and assembly halls. We picked one of each to get a flavour of the traditions of this ancient port town.
You can skip the ticket if you do not want to enter these sites and just walk around the roads.
You can get a taste of the traditional music and dance of the region at the Hoi An Traditional Art Performance Theatre. You can use one of your five tickets to gain entry here and there are usually 3 shows every day.
We enjoyed the music and performances and also got to know about the traditional game of “Bai Choi”. It is very similar to bingo but is played along with some folk songs. We learnt that there would be a few rounds of it being played on the riverbank later in the evening. You can guess what we did that evening! After observing one round, we took our seats on one of the stilt house-seats and were handed one paddle each which had three words. The organizers would sing a folk song and randomly select one of the words while incorporating it into the song!
It was super fun and we ended up playing two rounds!
Hoi An is known for tailoring and you will find dozens of shops selling tailor-made suits, shirts and dresses. It costs much less than what a similar branded piece would cost you back home and it is also of very good quality. We aren’t very big on shopping during our trips, so we decided to give it a skip. But if you are, we would definitely recommend heading to one of these as soon as you arrive in Hoi An – you can avoid the stress of whether the suit will be ready in time for your departure.
The Central Market on the banks of the river is also worth a visit. Go there in the morning to see all the fresh produce. If you are just window shopping, just smile and keep moving.
You can also check out the night market which is on a small island connected to the Old Town (map here). You can get your own lanterns and souvenirs here as well as some tasty street food.
Any Vietnamese story is incomplete without the food! The specialities of Hoi An and the Quang Nam Province that you must not miss are
- Mi Quang – a noodle dish with prawns, pork, quail eggs and rice crackers
- Cau Lau – a noodle dish with pork, broth, crispy noodle squares and crackers
- Com Ga – chicken rice
- Banh Mi – this is what Hoi An is really famous for – the legendary Vietnamese baguette stuffed with a bunch of delicious stuff you can choose from
More details on where to get these are part of our extensive blog on Fantastic Vietnamese Food and Where You Can Find Them!
Other Ideas and Tips
Start the day as early as you can, to wander around the beautiful streets without having to deal with crowds. There are a lot of day-tours which come in from Da Nang and you’ll be stuck with the extra tourists if you start late.
If you have an extra day, you can rent a cycle and head to the nearest beach. If you have 3-4 extra days, spend them in Da Nang and go on excursions to nearby places like the Ba Na Hills (the Golden Bridge) and Hue.
Hoi An is indeed a magical place and one that we would definitely recommend! After spending a day and a half here, we headed to Ho Chi Minh City. Check out our guide on how to travel around Vietnam for the best options.
Have you visited Hoi An and central Vietnam? Do let us know in the comments below. Check out our latest travels on Instagram at @fridgemagnet.tales