Ah Hoi An, how can I describe the small city in central Vietnam that I so quickly fell in love with? Well this city is quickly becoming ever more popular with tourists and backpackers alike, due to its beautiful scenery, tour opportunities and vast numbers or tailors. What started off as just a stopover for backpackers on their long journey across the country has now become a bustling town filled with cheap restaurants and cafés and hundreds of tailor shops. I am pretty sure there are more tailors than restaurants! People now come here from all over the world to fill their suitcases with custom made dresses, shirts, office wear, coats and full piece suits for a fraction of the prices back home.
Hoi An is very small and so you can see most of the town in one day if you have a bike or motorbike. It is best explored by bicycle, and almost every hostel and hotel will have bikes available for free or to rent for the day. So it is very easy to just cycle around, avoiding the traffic (it is Vietnam after all, but it is no way near the scale of Hanoi!), and stop off at anywhere you would like to see. Hoi An houses a few temples and pagodas, but its main attraction is considered to be the Japanese Covered bridge.
This bridge was built as a link between the Japanese and the Chinese quarters across the Thu Bon River for easier trading. The bridge is found in the ancient town which is a walking and cycling street town (and motorbikes) lined with tourist souvenir shops selling lanterns, straw hats, etc. There are also some tailors and restaurants here but the main stretch of restaurants is along the river itself. Prepare to find lines of restaurants either side of the river adorned with lanterns of all shapes, sizes and colours. I think that the lantern should be the symbol of Hoi An as there are so many of these beautiful lights strung down the streets.
As a word of warning, you are supposed to buy a ticket to gain entry to the ancient town. It costs 120,000 Dong (about £5), gives you entry to some sights (including the temple at the Japanese bridge) and lasts the entirety of your trip. I was not aware of this ticket and had actually been going in and out of the town by bike for 5 whole days before I heard about this. It was only when I tried walking in that I got stopped and asked for a ticket. They have ticket desks located at all entrances to the walking town, and on the bridge (this is to see a small temple at one side, not the bridge itself). If you do not want to pay then the best way is to travel by bike in the day as they do not tend to try and stop cyclists. You can get into the ancient town at night quite easily by walking if you weave into the middle of a large group of tourists. This is what I did for my 7 days in Hoi An and it worked fine for me! Some people may call me cheap but I prefer the term ‘thrifty’!
At night is when the ancient town really comes alive. With crowds of people taking to the river to find a good meal, enjoy the lanterns or catch a boat trip, if you are wanting to cycle to see the town then think again. You will end up just pushing your bike as it is impossible to get around everyone. Locals also take to the river in the hope of making some quick cash. Many local people offer a short boat trip down the river for a small fee on their own bamboo boats. This is a very popular scene for young couples doing wedding photo shoots, so you can see some beautiful traditional Vietnamese wedding outfits here. You can also buy floating lanterns to set on the river, which create an amazing sight of the tiny lit lanterns bobbing downstream.
I never expected this small town, which was intended as a couple days stopover on my way south, to capture my heart such a way. Hoi An you beautiful place, I’ll be back for more one day!
Have you visited Hoi An? If you have, what was your favourite part? If you haven’t, then what other places were unexpected surprises for you?