Hoi An is a town that is packed with picturesque historical homes, pagodas and street-side cafes. Perfect to spend time by the river, watch the sunset, stroll through the old town, and drink some inexpensive beers. It's a perfect place for shopping custom tailored outfits and craftsmanship items. But even if you don’t want to shop, Hoi An can be a relaxing destination too. After all, a day at the beach is only a 15-minute bicycle-ride out of town.
Hoi An is a small town in the central coast of Vietnam, situated roughly half way between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city. This little city was once considered the best port city for trade by Chinese and Japanese merchants. The influnce from the Chinese and the Japanese can be seen throughout the ancient city from architecture to food. The city would light up at night with lanterns while people from everywhere gathers and mingle along the river. It is a photogenic and laid back place where we stayed for the last 6 weeks.
The Old Town, UNESCO World Heritage
Two great things about Hoi An’s Old Town are that it is small enough to get around in on foot and the traffic is nowhere near as heavy as in bigger cities. Some of the streets only allow bike and motorbike traffic and some are pedestrian only. These factors made Hoi An even more inviting for us, especially after we have passed through the crazy traffic and streets of Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon).
Many buildings in the Old Town were constructed over a century ago and feature strong Chinese influences. Some of the wooden signboards bearing the company names are carved and gilded in Chinese characters, reflecting the strong presence of the Chinese in Hoi An ever since its prosperous times. The yellow painted houses pop up beautifully and made us wanna shoot more and more pictures.
While walking around the old town, you'll notice many locals try to hustle some money. Especially as a tourist, it's a challenge to deal with all these street vendors. There are literally everywhere. "Hallo?!! Look Look", "You like banana bread?" or event comment you to "You buy Tiger Balm!". It took us a few days to find the right way to deal with that. Friendly telling them you don't need it wasn't helping, so we had to be a bit more rigorous while saying no. In the end, everybody it trying to make money, which we had to respect off course.
We mostly loved to stroll around town and enjoy the local vibes. We often drank a coffee on a terrace and watched everybody doing their thing. We saw many people wearing this super nice Vietnams hats, we saw fully packed motorbikes passing by (5 person families on 1 motorbike didn't seem to be too much of a problem) and saw many people just relaxing on the side of the road while smoking a cigarette.
The Temples and Ancient Houses
When entering the Old Town of Hoi An, tourist needs to pay an entrance fee of 120.000 VND which is around €7. This ticket allows you to visit the many historical sites. It covers you your whole stay, so you only need to pay it ones. We visited several temples and ancient houses, which were interesting and beautifully decorated. In most places, there were some guides who showed us around and could tell us more about the place.
We especially liked the Hoi Quan Quang Trieu temple. This City Hall is built in Cantonese style. When you walk into the open courtyard you'll see a magnificent dragon statue. Many people offer incense there. But if you are not interested you can go further into the inner courtyard to a serene garden.
An Bang Beach, Hoi An
Besides the charm of the ancient town, Hoi An is also a perfect beach destination. Although the water is not as blue and the sand is not as soft as you'll see in other Asian destinations. It's a nice beach to relax and have a swim. To get to An Bang from Hoi An town center, rent a bicycle and head north on Hai Ba Trung Street. It’s around four kilometers to the coast. Upon arrival you’ll come to an area with various parking lots; expect to pay up to 10,000 VND, which is around €0.41 per bicycle. Extra Tip: Some of the restaurants offer you 'free' parking when buying something from them. So we mostly bought a bottle of water and left the bike with them.)
Most times we were at the beach, the water was quite rough. You can go in, but don't expect it to be a calm swim. The waves were strong and grabbed us easily. Many people had fun, just standing there and walk into the water till there waistline. The true heroes took their surfboards and beat the waves.
Hoi An by Night
Evenings are a special time in Hoi An, when the town really comes to life. Everyone seems to come out to play once the sun goes down and the lanterns are lit, with lots of activities to be had.
We checked out the local performances and get-togethers and enjoyed some street food. If you like you can buy a floating lantern for luck (to send down the river). We sat down with a beer in one of the boats and listened to some great live acoustic guitar performances.
Stay in a Homestay
Hoi An does have some hotels, which are more into the middle-class/high-end segment. The way we liked it better was to stay way in one of the many Homestays Hoi An has to offer. This saves you up a lot of money compared with a hotel and it's one of the best ways to integrate and get to know the locals. Most families rented out a room in their home. You can use the common living area and kitchen together with the other guests and the family. What we did is booked a few nights via Booking.com, then biked around town and asked for monthly rents. Homestays are easy to find and like that you are able to have a look yourself first and make a good deal.
We found a super nice place named Green Coco Homestay. A beautiful light and spacious home, located walking distance of the Old Town. We found it while biking around town and immediately liked it a lot. It has several rooms for rent, some with balcony and even 1 with a great roof terrace/patio. We liked this room with patio a lot and were able to make a great deal for the monthly rent. We got a discount of around 40% a night. We payed 8,5 million VND which is around €350 for 30 nights. This was including electricity, water, internet and daily cleaning.
So our stay of 6 weeks in Hoi An came to an end. And though we liked Hoi An way better than Ho Chi Minh City, it still didn't make us much more enthusiastic about traveling in Vietnam. We think it's just not our kind of thing. We totally understand the need of people to make money. And tourism is a great way of making money for the locals, it's just that we didn't like the way it was done. We felt getting ripped off many times. When paying, accidentally not getting back the right change or handling double prices in the supermarkets. It didn't make us feel welcome. We were doubting to travel more up north, but decided to leave Vietnam. Our next destination is Indonesia, Bali!