Hoi An, our favourite city in Vietnam

Did you know that Hoi An is one of the most visited cities in Vietnam? Almost no tourist passes by! With its relaxed atmosphere, its old town without motorcycles or cars, its hundreds of boutiques, cafes and its extraordinary colorful lanterns, Hoi An is a very special place. And after several weeks traveling around Asia during our round-the-world trip, we did not want to lose this city for the world! Are you coming to discover Hoi An with us?

How to get to Hoi An

We arrived from Hue by bus. The connections between Hue, Da Nang and Hoi An are very frequent (by bus, since the train does not reach Hoi An), and not very expensive! We chose a sleeper bus with The Sinh Tourist company (Vietnam’s tourist reference company) and paid 119000 dongs (€4 per person). Of course, the 120 kilometers that separate the two cities are covered in more than 4 hours!

If you arrive from Da Nang, a taxi will get you to Hoi An for something less than 300000 dongs and many hotels propose free transfers to Hoi An!

Where to sleep in Hoi An

We chose the Golden Horse Villa Hotel for € 12 a night, a bit away from the historic center. The rooms are large, there is air conditioning and a good shower, but breakfast is not included. However, they have bikes that we could use every day! A big plus as there are several interesting things to visit around Hoi An. Also the hotel staff was super friendly at all times (one rainy day they went to the market to bring us a couple of banana and pineapple smoothies, and the receptionist got up at 5 in the morning to say goodbye the day we left!). Yes, we recognize that the location is not the best but with the bikes you should be downtown in no time!

Visiting Hoi An in 3 days

The city itself is quite small, and one day may be enough to visit the main tourist attractions. However, we loved the atmosphere and did not regret to have stayed two more days! Hoi An has a very long history as a merchant city, where merchant ships from all over the world passed before entering and leaving Asia. This wealth of history is reflected in the way of life of its inhabitants, the variety of its local products, the renown of its medicinal herbs, the wide diversity of its food, and the (exaggerated) amount of tailors! Getting a costume or a tailor made dress in Hoi An appears in the top 10 of the activities to do in the city! We did not do it, we have enough with what we carry in our backpacks, thank you!

Day 1 in Hoi An: seeing the old town

The center of Hoi An is made up of a lot of pedestrian streets (only open to traffic at lunch time). With its old houses painted in mustard yellow and wood, and its hundreds of colored lanterns, it is very pleasant to wander between the cafes and shops.

In the tourist offices of the city they sell tickets to visit attractions. A ticket of 120000 dongs (4 €) will allow you to visit 5 of the 22 tourist sites in the city, you choose where you want to go! Not bad! We visited the House of Tan Ky (former family of merchants), the Ceramics Museum, the local Folklore Museum, the Minh Huong common house and the famous Japanese Covered Bridge (symbol of the city, built 400 years ago to connect the Japanese neighborhood with the Chinese territory).

It is also worth visiting the city market. Inside the large old building, there is an area of mini restaurants (quite rich and cheap, we ate there for only 80000 dongs, € 4). Also in the interior there is an area where they sell rice of different kinds, and other dry products. Finally, the southernmost part of the building is dedicated to meat, but we do not advise you to stop by if you want to continue eating meat in Vietnam! Around the market there are hundreds of stalls and trinkets. And to the south of the market there is a large open area where vegetables and fruits of a thousand colors are sold! We enjoyed walking around there and discovering the products of the region! We were also surprised to see that the vendors do not hesitate to take a nap while the customers pass! You have another way of looking at marketing here, huh?

If you are looking for a cafe to rest for a while watching people go by, or just to get shelter from the rain as it happened to us, we definitely recommend the “Reaching Out Café“. And it’s not because their local Vietnamese and eco-friendly coffee is tasty, or because their prices are affordable, nor because the decor and atmosphere are great. No, the best thing about Reaching Out is that all workers are deaf-mute! There is no loud music, they will not come to ask “Hellooo, buy something!?”, and indeed throughout the cafe there are signs asking people to whisper. The objective is twofold: on the one hand, to give a job to a hundred deaf-mute workers inside and outside the cafe; and on the other, provide a quiet and respectful atmosphere to savor a moment of peace (coupled with the absence of motorcycles and cars in the city center, it’s great!). Of course, their cookies are not cookies but a kind of crushed Oreos. But otherwise all very well!

For lunch or dinner, we recommend you to escape a couple of streets north of the center and get to Café 41, a family restaurant where we ate at least 3 times! Great variety and quality in its menu, rich local dishes (special mention for its delicious Cao Lau, local specialty with noodles and crunchy pork with lemon). The downtown restaurants are much more expensive (up to 4 times more) and offer no better taste! And also, at Cafe 41 the owner will welcome you with a big smile and your best wishes. Do you want one more reason? Regular draught beer for 3000 dongs (€ 0.12) … almost a gift!

After the visits in the town center, we got on our bikes to reach Thrah Ha, known as the village of pottery. It is actually a part of the village where several artisans have their ateliers. For 20,000 dong (a little less than 1 euro), you can access the area and receive a small pottery course with a friendly lady. We liked it! A small tip: if you look in Google Maps, do not go to Thrah Ha, as it will take you to the city center. Find Pottery Tour Thrah Ha, when you arrive you will see a huge museum, continue your way and at the end of the route will be the village! When we were on our way back to the hotel a huge storm fell, so we stayed at the hotel till night!

Por la noche, la ciudad se transforma. Al caer el sol, los farolillos de la ciudad se encienden, llenando las calles de cientos de estrellas de colores. ¡Un espectáculo casi mágico! La atmósfera se relaja, la música de los bares empieza a sonar, y los visitantes sonríen disfrutando del ambiente mágico y la luz de las velas flotando en el río. Nos encantó pasear por las calles antiguas. Espectáculos de música tradicional, niños cantando en la calle, mercadillo nocturno, bares de lo más chic (como el Q Bar con sus sabrosos cócteles)… Perfecto!

Day 2 in Hoi An: cycling around

Our second day in Hoi An was dedicated to discover the surroundings by bike. In our program we had to visit the town of Tra Que in the morning, known for being a great ecological vegetable garden. As it is situated on a river island, 6km north of downtown Hoi An, we went on our bikes. However, apart from a large garden and a water mill, and lots of tourists, there was not much else! Yes, Tra Que is nice, we do not say otherwise, but we were disappointed. We expected to see something more interactive, especially knowing that it is one of the main attractions of the city. Possibly because it is not so rare for us Europeans to see orchards, we are not sure!

Either way, we got back to the center  and ate something early, because by 1 pm we had to be at the Heaven & Earth Bicycle Tours office! The day before we had booked a bike tour of the river islands south of Hoi An, crossing our fingers so that the rain would give us a break … and it did! Also we were very lucky because we had a super friendly guide just for us (advantages of traveling in low season!). Huyen (our guide) began our tour with 45 minutes by boat to reach the first island, where we visited a traditional old house and a mat workshop. Here everyone sleeps on wooden beds or on the floor, and mats are very important! This lady took 4 hours of work to make a mat … at 92 years old! Not bad, right?

We continued pedaling through different areas of the island, and passing from one island to another. The rice fields, the cows, the buffalos, the vegetation, the smiles of the local people … We spent the afternoon smiling! And all accompanied by the comments and directions of Huyen, always interesting! Next stop: a local house where they raised pigs and made rice liqueur. In addition to explaining the multiple uses of pork for families (even to take advantage of the gas from their manure to have fire), we tried a fairly bad homemade rice liqueur by the way!

Later, we discovered other crafts such as nacre carving and boat-building. And finally we learned why Vietnam ships have two eyes painted on the front: the first theory says that it is to drive away the evil spirits of the river; The second says it is to scare the crocodiles, especially in southern Vietnam; And the third and most realistic, says that Vietnamese men drink so much alcohol that painted eyes help them identify the front of the boat when they are drunk! We could also row in a “basket boat”, a round boat made of bamboo that they use there to fish! It was a funny moment, we had never done anything like that!

9 kilometers by bicycle and 5 hours later, we returned to the center of Hoi An to enjoy the illuminated night in the city.

It was our favorite day, spending time both of us with a guide just for us was great! We learned a lot about the Vietnamese and their culture, we liked the contact with local people in towns where tourists do not go. A day we will remember!

Day 3 in Hoi An: enjoy the city

For the third day, various activities are available according to your taste: cooking classes, excursion to the Marble Mountains, visit the demilitarized zone (vestiges of the Vietnam War), etc. But ze had a gray day and were tired, so we preferred to stay downtown and wander to enjoy our last day in central Vietnam. Also, Christmas was coming and we wanted to buy a couple of gifts, so we went through some stores and we took the afternoon easily to rest.

The next day we had a 15-hour train ride to get to Mui Ne in southern Vietnam!