Hoi An, a tiny World Heritage town in Central Vietnam, is one of the most photogenic places in Asia that I have been to. The blend of Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and European style buildings are beautiful to look at, especially at sunset and at night when all of the lanterns are lit up.
Hoi An is an ancient port town that was owned by the Champa Kingdom of Central and Southern Vietnam until they moved the kingdom farther south. The native Vietnamese then used Hoi An as a major trading center in the 16th-18th centuries. Ceramics from Hoi An went as far as Egypt and merchants from all over Asia and Europe traded there. In the 18th century, Hoi An’s influence diminished significantly as the port center was moved to nearby Da Nang. In that time, Hoi An has remained remarkably well-preserved.
Pretty much all of the buildings in the Old Town are souvenir shops, galleries, coffee shops, restaurants, or tailor shops catering to tourism. This also means the streets are pretty crowded with tourists. Even so, the town is really a sight no to be missed, especially when the sun goes down.
The city does have it’s fair share of touts, that might come up to tourists to give them directions and then ask them to come into their tailor shop. They weren’t pushy after I turned them down, however. But it can be kind of annoying when vendors on the river constantly try to get you to get in their boat or buy a candle.
Hoi An has a couple of landmarks and attractions of interest, and in order to enter them I had to buy a ticket. This ticket is considered an “entrance ticket” for the Old Town, but there are no ticket checks on the town’s actual borders, or at least there weren’t when I was there. It seemed entirely possible to explore the Old Town for free, but to enter a few places, the ticket is required and costs 120,000 dong. It covers 6 places, which isn’t all of Hoi An’s historical sites but I didn’t want to pay for more than one ticket so I limited myself to a few places.
Possibly the most famous landmark in Hoi An is the Japanese covered bridge. It was built by the Japanese merchants to link with the Chinese area.
The ticket will have to be punched in order to cross the bridge, but it can also be viewed from outside.
The beautiful Fujian Assembly Hall, built in the 17th century, was a meeting place for Fujian Chinese before transforming into a temple for Goddess Thien Hau.
Quan Cong is another well-known Chinese temple in the Old Town, right across from the Old Market. I didn’t have enough spots on my ticket to go into this one, but I believe there is a museum on the inside.
A few of the Chinese style temples are free, however.
Hoi An also has a lot of backstreets around the town that are quieter than the main streets and no less picturesque.
I’d also recommend checking out some of the old houses — all of these do require punching the ticket, so perhaps choose two or three. The Tan Ky house had the best tour and a lot of informative information about the generations of the merchant family that lived there.
In addition to the old houses, there are plenty of very charming art galleries in Hoi An holding some beautiful works of art. These are totally free to enter and provide some nice views of the surrounding houses.
A good place to go shopping in Hoi An is Reaching Out Arts and Crafts. It’s a fair trade craft shop with some beautiful and unique products made by adults with physical handicaps.
Hoi An has two main markets, the Old Market and the Night Market. The Old Market is for the day, and the Night Market for night. Both are well worth visiting. The Old Market has some local dishes made inside for only about $1. Plenty of fresh fruits and other items are on sale there as well.
The Night Market has tons and tons of lanterns and other more souvenir-type stuff, such as jewelry and other trinkets.
In addition to the Old Market, pretty much every restaurant will serve Hoi An’s local dishes. Some examples are Cao Lau, a noodle dish with pork, vegetables, and croutons. Another is Com Ga, Hoi An chicken rice. White Rose is a type of shrimp dumpling shaped like a rose, and Quang noodle is a mix of pork and shrimp with yellow noodles.
Many of the restaurants in the town offer cooking classes, and hotels will also offer cooking class tours.
The town of Hoi An can only be reached by getting to Da Nang first. Da Nang is the third biggest city in Vietnam, so it has it’s own airport, train station, and bus station. To get to Hoi An, a taxi or motorbike is needed. It takes about 45 minutes from the airport. I booked a driver through my homestay in Hoi An, and it cost $15 USD.
Hoi An’s Old Town is pretty small and can be seen in a day. But there are a few more things to do outside of the Old Town center, which I will discuss in the next post.