Hoi An Travel GuideEmma - 21 January 2017
After the journey from hell to get there, we were really hoping Hoi An would live up to expectations! Practically everyone I know who has been to Vietnam adored Hoi An, so there must be a good reason! We've broken down our Hoi An travel guide into the bits we loved and the bits which weren't so great.
Hoi An Travel Guide - The Good Bits
Hoi An is unquestionably beautiful. Crumbling yellow walls of original timber frame shophouses form the backdrop to bursts of foliage, or beautifully coloured silk lanterns. It is irrepressibly charming.
Steeped in history
Hoi An’s very existence is the result of a lucky chain of events, as far as modern tourism is concerned. This bustling port town began to stagnate in the 19th century, meaning there was no money or impetus for new building projects, replacing the old architecture as it became outdated. This was a stroke of luck in the long term, as UNESCO now recognises it’s blend of Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese culture as as being a piece of world heritage.
This turned out to be surprisingly fun! Initially I found choosing a tailor horrible, as the amount of choice in town is overwhelming, and it is basically impossible to know if you’ve made a good choice until you get the clothes back. Once you’ve made that initial decision, however, watching made-to-measure garments take shape is fascinating. I couldn’t believe the speed at which high quality clothing could be whipped up!
You know how I mentioned that Hoi An is pretty? Hoi An is SO pretty! The lantern festival happens every month on the full moon, when many of the lights in the old town are turned off, and you can stroll around with the streets lit only by silk lanterns hung from the shops. People also set off floating lanterns (candles in card containers) along the river, which looks gorgeous. Mike pointed out that this is a recent addition brought in to appeal to tourists, which rather dampened my enthusiasm for buying one myself, but I still enjoyed watching them jostle along the river. The cherry on top is that for this one evening a month motorbikes are banned from the old city, and you can walk around feeling twinkly and tranquil without the jarring blast of a horn behind you.
I'm just going to say that I got a pedicure for a dollar, and a beer for 10 cents, which I class as winning at life.
Hoi An Travel Guide - The Bad Bits
This must be one of the most touristy towns in the world, and you have to constantly be on your guard. It feels like you can’t trust anyone who strikes up a conversation, as the friendly chatter will inevitably turn to whether you’d like to go to their friend’s tailoring shop. Practically everyone is on commission, and you’re the gravy train. Everyone is always trying to sell you something: taxi? Mango cake? Waterproof? Suit? Dinner? Doughnut? Dress? Beer? I think the worst was when the same person tried to sell me the same waterproof three times in two minutes, when I was quite clearly already wearing a waterproof!
This is perhaps unfair since we were there in the rainy season, but my god did it rain! Unrelenting, torrential, inescapable rain. Nothing we owned was dry by the end, and we definitely didn’t manage to make it to the beach! Every day it would begin torrentially at midday and not stop until you were asleep. The day we were leaving, the hotel restaurant flooded, the second road in from the river (Nguyen Thai Hoc) was knee deep in water, and boats were floating around town trying to drum up passengers. The funny thing was, several locals said to us “phew, lucky you're leaving today, there's going to be a flood tomorrow”. Soooo… This isn't a flood?!
This can be good or bad depending on the kind of traveller you are. Couples on a romantic two week holiday to Vietnam must love all the gorgeous restaurants and expensive hipster coffee shops and artisanal roasteries. But on our budget it is infuriating to spend the same on a couple of coffees as on a night’s accommodation.
Hoi An was beautiful and atmospheric, but it always felt a little like it was putting on a show. Other Vietnamese towns have an energy and a richness of culture that makes them exciting, vibrant and real. Hoi An is a bit like a vapid supermodel who looks incredible but doesn't have much depth. Although perhaps we feel like this because the rain kept us contained within the old town, and we would have found more to the town had we ventured further out.
So, is Hoi An worth visiting?
Yes! I would definitely say Hoi An is worth visiting. It’s a beautiful place, and the tailoring is a fun thing to do if you want a souvenir from your holiday that you’ll actually use. If you’re there in the wet season though, I’d suggest not staying longer than three days.
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