Magical Hoi An – UNESCO heritage site, and now, one of the world’s most popular holiday destinations. Hoi An offers the perfect holiday package – beaches, shopping, luxurious hotels, incredible food and coffee, temples, history and architecture.
About a 40 minute drive from Danang Airport the town of Hoi An was one of Asia’s top trading ports for centuries; merchants came from all over the world to trade silk, spices, ceramics and so on. The yellow ochre shop houses that are so synonymous with Hoi An reflect its history and both Japanese and Chinese influence. Artisans from all over Vietnam have been drawn to Hoi An, and today it is widely recognised as a haven for artists, photographers, craftspeople, shoe makers, tailors and designers. It is also recognised for the beautiful colourful lanterns seen everywhere, that are so much part of the magical atmosphere.
You can choose to stay by the beach or in the old town, riverside. Wherever you stay you’ll likely be no more than 10-15 minutes away from the action. I’ve always chosen to stay beachside to get the best of all worlds. Also there’s no better start to a Hoi An morning than walking along the beach early in the morning, and watching the local fisherman return home in their traditional round bamboo boats.
Talk to anyone who has been to Hoi An and their memories will not be of the beaches but the old town, characterised by the yellowey/orange shop houses and the streets lit up by colourful lanterns at night. After sunset the streets of the old town are closed off to traffic making it the perfect place to wander, check out the shops, stop for a drink, meander down to the river to watch the ladies put their floating candle lanterns in the water, then pick one of the myriad of fantastic restaurants to sample some of the famous delicacies.
What and where to eat Hoi An
Hoi An just has so much going for it, not least the food. There are dishes that can only be found here –
Head out of the old town and you’ll come to the surrounding organic vegetable and herb farms. It’s definitely worth eating lunch at one of the restaurants set amongst the farms, my favourite is Baby Mustard in an idyllic setting, serving produce literally grown and picked in front of you.
Restaurants offering every type of imaginable cuisine can be found in Hoi An and of course plenty offering Vietnamese favourites as well as innovative dishes. In fact eating in Hoi An warrants its own separate blog post. The Morning Glory group are probably the most renowned restaurants in Hoi An. Owner Ms Ly is well known in Hoi An and has opened 8 restaurants at last count, plus one in Melbourne! Morning Glory Signature is the standout now for its riverside location, service and modern Vietnamese dishes. The cocktails are stand out too!
Whether you’re staying in the old town riverside or by the beach it’s definitely worth heading to An Bang Beach and eating at one of the several eateries along the beachside strip. Popping up in recent years are hipster style outdoor restaurant/bars Soul Kitchen, Deckhouse and Shore House, overlooking the sea, offering rest and rejuvenation from the heat, good local food and drinks or coffee to be enjoyed on a shaded daybed or large sofa. They are also live music venues in the evenings.
A trip to the Vietnam coast isn’t complete for me without eating at a live seafood restaurant by the water. If you like picking fresh seafood from tanks and having it cooked the way you choose then head to An Bang and go where it looks to be full of local Vietnamese. We dined at Tuyet and had a fabulous feast of tamarind crab, clams, scallops, crispy garlic prawns and sea snails for less that $60AUD.
Tailors and Shoe Makers
Hoi An is well known for the innumerable number of tailors, leather craftspeople and shoe makers. There is an extensive choice of tailors to be found along the laneways of the old town, and they range in budget. If trying on clothes on a typically humid Hoi An day in a non-airconditioned space doesn’t appeal then Bebeis the place for you. The price will reflect the luxurious surroundings and top notch service but you’ll still walk away with affordable made to measure one off garments ready in a matter of days, and that in itself is priceless. To give an idea my 2 linen dresses cost $100AUD each and were ready within 3 days and included 2 fittings. You can also have good personal service and quality clothes made by one of the ladies in the fabric market, or a lesser known tailor in town for much less, but the hot and sticky surroundings may not be as conducive to trying on clothes. Prepare for your Hoi An trip by collecting photos of clothes you'd like made or perhaps pop in your luggage articles of clothing you would like replicated from your wardrobe. If you don't have any ideas before you travel there are Ipads with Pinterest open, fashion magazines and catalogues on hand at the tailors with plenty of options.
If you’re in town for a few days it would almost be criminal to not take home at least one pair of handmade shoes or boots because where else in the world would it be possible to have shoes made for you in a couple of days? My tip is to take a pair of shoes/boots you want copied – perhaps some old favourites that are starting to show their age. Or bring photos of shoes you’ve seen in magazines. Over the course of a couple of visits your feet will be sized up, leather chosen and you’ll have as many fittings as required until you’re happy with the final product. Although many shoe makers line the Hoi An streets lantern streets it is Friendly Shoe Shop, owned by the young entrepreneur Thong that dominates the market here. When I first met Thong in 2016 she had one small shop where customers sat on low stools and the workshop at the back. Back then her shop was already the top rated shoe maker on Trip Advisor. Fast forward to 2019 and there are now 3 Friendly Shoe Shops in the centre of Hoi An and a fourth shop has just opened selling her leather bags. The service is a much more upmarket affair than it was only a short time ago, with blue plush velvet sofas taking centre stage in each shop. I have huge respect for Thong and her success; she is a perfect example of the strong entrepreneurial spirit so clearly evident in the women all over Vietnam. The boots I've had made at Friendly Shoe Shop are absolute favourites, long lasting quality and cost around $100AUD a pair.
It is well worth participating in a cooking school when you’re staying in Hoi An. There are several to choose from but possibly two of the most fun and memorable days of my travel life have been spent doing the Red Bridge Cooking Tour. You meet your guide in the old town, head to the local Central market where your group picks up most of the ingredients you’ll be cooking with and then board a boat down the river. When you reach the destination along the river, cross the red bridge and head up to the outdoor kitchen where you meet your chef teachers. Next to the outdoor kitchen is a pool, giving much appreciated refreshment after a hot few hours cooking. You’ll learn to cook authentic pho including bbq-ing the beef bones before they go in the stockpot, a mango salad with crispy sesame rice cracker (also bbq-d) and caramelised fish with dill. Truth be known, a lot of the work is done for you but you’ll definitely get your hands dirty doing prep, before sitting down with copious amounts of Vietnamese beer, to enjoy the dishes you’ve learned to cook.
Art and Artisans Hoi An
I’ve often wondered what it is that has attracted so many artists to Hoi An – it must be a combination of being one of the most photogenic colourful places on the planet, its history as a place where artisans congregated, and that it exudes a peaceful spirit where creative juices can flow. Hoi An stands out as a destination where the amount of art galleries showcasing local talent and crafts are disproportionate to its size and population. At Sova Gallery(111 Tran Phu St) you can watch the skilled women intricately creating their incredible hand embroidered pictures. Xu Dang Trong Arts Centre curates various arts and crafts under the one roof - from ceramics, pottery, weaving to traditional and modern art paintings.
British expat Bridget March’s gallery showcases Vietnam-based artists both local and expat and is well worth a visit. If Bridget is there she'll give a fascinating insight into the art scene and why so many artists make Hoi An their home. Or for a more typical Vietnamese art experience check out the lacquer paintings at Ngan Xua.
As aforementioned Hoi An has to be one of the most photogenic locations on the planet, so it’s no surprise that French photographer Rehann has chosen to take up residence here. An absolute must-visit stop on anyone’s Hoi An itinerary should be his Precious Heritage Museum (free to enter). On the ground floor his breathtaking photographs of Vietnamese locals from all over the country, particularly from rural communities are on display, and available to purchase. Upstairs is an exhibition of the costumes and information relating to the ethnic groups he has spent time with across Vietnam.
The captivating country of Vietnam offers so much to the traveller with innumerable areas to explore from North to South. It’s so easy to fall in love with Vietnam and want to return and return to discover more. Hoi An, although some complain it has become too much of a tourist mecca, still retains its magical charm and should absolutely be on your itinerary if you are a first time visitor to Vietnam. To soak up that hard to describe Hoi An atmosphere you'll need to stay at least 3 nights.
I've only touched on some Hoi An highlights in this article. For more tips and recommendations for all things Hoi An and up to date happenings or openings, this is an invaluable resource https://www.hellohoianvietnam.com/
Check weather in Hoi An for when it is best to visit and to avoid the flood season.
Where to stay Hoi An:
The choice of places to stay in Hoi An is growing all the time. Below are our top picks. Please comment with any other recommendations,
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