Hoi An is a city just 1h ride distance from Da Nang. It is a well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999. When I was getting through the city for the first time, my first impression was that 3 days of a stay seemed too much for this city, because the beauty of this area was yet to be discovered.
After settling into a very nice hotel room, and being served a refreshing drink made of passion fruit while collecting the information about the possibilities in and around the city, the plan for the upcoming days was clear.
The Old Town of Hoi An is a beauty! Busy and loud but cosy and colourful. Buddhist shrines and French-colonial houses, art galleries, old canals and bridges. Authentic Vietnamese life can be observed in markets, where old ladies sit with their goods to sell – fresh fruits, vegetables, spices and handicraft. You can find food stalls with local street food – regional specialities like Vietnamese bread/sandwich (banh mi), Noodle soup (pho), ‘cookies’ with crabs baked into them or grilled octopus skewers.
- As it is still quite hot during the day even in September, the streets are calmer during the day and everything happens either in the morning or in the evening. When it gets darker, the streets of Old Town are becoming magical – charming lanterns of all colours are lit up through the streets.
- In the evening, the Night Market opens on Nguyen Hoang Street on the island in the middle of the Thu Bon River, offering not only traditional and modern souvenir items, but also delicious street food.
- For a more romantic atmosphere, you can rent a boat for a sunset cruise and enjoy the colourful lanterns around, as well as lit candles floating in the water all around. For a few Vietnamese dongs, you can get your own candle and let it float in the water either from the riverside, bridge or the boat, while enjoying a romantic cruise.
- Hoi An was considered the centre of the legendary Silk Road over 300 years ago. Therefore, in the Cloth and Fabric shops, you can get amazing traditional fabrics or even order to get a personalized suit made by local tailors. It might not be a cheap luxury and would take time, but it might be well-spent money, if you need a new suit and have more time staying in Hoi An.
- In Hoi An you will find also Vietnamese tapestry or pillows made of colourful ethnic textile. They are gorgeous! I didn’t need a suit, but I got some bright pillows that now are excellent decoration for the sofa in the living room. Such pillows, as a souvenir for my family members, are also a bright reminder of adventures in a far-away country.
- By the way, don’t be afraid to bargain with locals. I managed to get a traditional Vietnamese hat at half price.
Artisan Villages and the Beach
Around Hoi An area, there are several artisan villages where you can still find traditional crafts, such as woodwork products in Kim Bong Carpentry Village, pots made in traditional ways in Thanh Ha Pottery Village, see the silkworms and cocoons in the Silk Village, a lot of greens in Tra Que Vegetable and Herb Village and also see the rice fields, plantations, and trees with different fruits, such as papaya, banana, pomegranate, etc.
- I think that the most convenient and also the most exciting way to go around all the villages at your own pace is to rent a scooter. As the traffic is not that intense as in the big cities (plus – you would be going into the countryside), participation in the Vietnamese traffic is interesting, fun, and absolutely worth trying! Why? First, enjoying the wind breeze on a hot and sunny day is satisfying. Secondly, being on the local roads let you experience authenticity and the wild nature in the countryside more – I did approximately 75km around the villages. And last but not least, crossing the intersection at the red light is a normal thing – be local, do that!
- Roads are going along or through the rice fields, therefore you might encounter some buffalos walking around. When I was walking to the beach, one such I saw was Vietnamese Water buffalo (if not mistaken) casually grazing the grass near the road, not caring about the non-stop traffic and leaving big piles of excrement on the road. It was an interesting experience, indeed.
Hoi An is great also with its proximity to the ocean. Most of the sources refer to two main beaches – An Bang and Cua Dai.
- Entering the beach, you will see handmade iconic Vietnamese basket boats used by fishermen and a line with sunbeds that you can rent out from the local restaurants.
- September/October is when the rain season starts, therefore, you will not see too many tourists on the beach. However, while sitting and resting, be prepared to be interrupted by locals walking around with menus offering some drinks, snacks, ice cream, or even some food from the near-by restaurants on the beach!
My Son Sanctuary
Another destination around Hoi An area is My Son Sanctuary in the tropical jungle, located in southern Vietnam. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a great sample of the ancient Champa civilization.
I signed up for the tour through the hotel and got a spot on the bus full of other tourists. After 1h we were in a jungle and a little sightseeing bus took us to the Sanctuary. The tour was with a guide, that took us through the amazing ruins of Hindu temples. Extraordinary work of people living there from around the 2nd to the 17th century, that built all the temples using materials, found in nature. Being there, I felt like being in one of the Indiana Jones movies with adventures in jungles, temples, and secrets. This place is definitely worth visiting if you are in Hoi An area!
On the way back to Hoi An, I experienced the first Vietnamese rain that lasted for 5 minutes and disappeared as fast as it started. Nevertheless, it was like a mark for casual rains in the next following days, especially – in Can Tho.