Four nights in Hoi An
Updated: Nov 14, 2018
26 Apr 2009
New day, new city. Lynn has us booked on flights to Danang this morning, which is the closest airport to Hoi An, our next port of call. The little I know if Danang has been gleaned from various war movies and Robin Williams’ one liners from "Good Morning Vietnam". Needless to say I was going in with an open mind.
We only passed through Danang on the way to Hoi An, but first impressions were of a rebuilt city. Danang was heavily bombed during the American War (as they call it over here) and as a result there’s not many building older than 30 years. They’ve done a good job with the rebuild though – the streets are broad, well paved and bordered by wide planted pavements (lots of room for motorcycle parking and shopkeeper sprawl when things really take off). When originally built a good chunk of change was obviously invested in the road to Hoi An, but it’s now looking a little sad and crumbly. Like a lot of infrastructure projects we’ve seen in Vietnam, it appears to the casual observer that there’s good money to be had for the original investment, but none for the upkeep.
The road runs parallel to the ocean, separated by a wide swathe of rather windswept and grassy beach. Rather surprisingly, its construction mania over there; huge hotels and resorts are springing up all the down the 20 odd kilometres to Hoi An, complete with Greg Norman designed golf courses. The vast majority seem to be a work in progress and you have to wonder who’s going to fill all those rooms. I would imagine that the builders and financiers are currently in a multimillion dollar game of turkey, seeing who’s going to blink first and drop out; there’s clearly way too many to serve the current need.
Our home from home for the next few nights will be the Phuoc An River Hotel, right on the river and a short moped run to the centre of town. Our room is basic but serviceable (and even better after a very equitable upgrade to a suite on day two). After dumping our stuff we stroll across the road for a coffee at one of the restaurant / bars sitting on the river bank. Vietnamese coffee is a tricky affair; they serve it in a little aluminium filter device that sits on top of your cup and slowly drips coffee through. Slowly usually being the operative word – depending on whether you get lucky with your filter, the coffee can sometimes take a long long time in coming. But when it works it delivers a very strong, pungent and stimulating cuppa – worth the wait.
While waiting and sipping, we also get our first sighting of foot rowing. The Vietnamese seem to go in for wierd and wonderful ways of rowing a boat. I thought that the forward rowing seen up in Halong Bay was interesting, but this is frankly quite bizarre. I guess it first came about when someone was tired of waiting for his coffee to finish dripping, so needed both hands free while rowing the boat?
We originally only intended to spend a couple of nights in Hoi An but ended up spending four here. I won’t bore you with a day-by-day recital, but let me share the highlights…
Hoi An is a restored village, and they’ve done a wonderful job of making all the old shops and dwellings clean, beautiful but still authentic. It really is a Vietnamese wonderland. Other than the general eye candy to be had wondering the streets, the main tourist attractions are food, buildings and clothes.
It’s a foodie heaven – there are an abundance of great places to eat and they’re all in inviting settings. As Lynn will attest, there’s also a good selection of bakeries and coffee shops to peruse.
Attraction number two, and the one that most folks go home talking about, are the tailor-made clothes. There are countless places where you can get any manner of clothes and shoes made to measure in just one day, ranging from a simple shirt to a suit and all the trimmings. The craftsmanship looks pretty good, but you really need know exactly what you want (cut, style, cloth, etc.) before signing up. The prices are spectacularly cheap as well.
The delights are rounded out by a good selection of temples, assembly halls, historic family houses and the like. They have an interesting ticketing system here, where one ticket gets you into one attraction from each category, but that’s usually more than enough to get a good feel for the town. Somewhat amusingly, many of tours of the historic family homes end up in the back room with a brazen and extensive selection of trinkets, carvings and other miscellaneous bric-a-brac that’s up for sale. One place we visited even claimed to have dug up hoards of old Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese coins that have now loving cleaned, polished, dated and mounted (“yours for the low low price of…”). It’s all rather harmless and innocent though.
Central Hoi An is allegedly motorbike free, which we discover the hard way after riding our newly rented wheels into town and being on the receiving end of lots of glares and arm waving. It seems that it’s only bike free on certain times and days, but we could never figure out what the system was. We therefore took the approach that most of the locals used, which was to get a good run up at it and then coast with the engine off through the bike-free bits.
I’m not going to list all the sights and destinations here (go buy a guild book if you’re looking for that), but what I will give you is the perfect 24 hours in Hoi An:
Take in Robert Reid’s walking tour, but buy an entrance ticket to the Hoi An World Cultural Heritage Organisation attractions so that you can take in some of the main attractions as well. Our personal favourites were the Japanese Covered Bridge; Phuc Kien Assembly Hall, Museum of Trade Ceramics, the Old House of Quan Thang and last but not least the Handicraft Workshop (time your visit to take in one of the music festival sessions at 10:15am or 3:15pm – the game of musical bingo has to be seen and heard to be believed).
Take a mid morning coffee and croissant break at Cargo (117 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street) – great coffee, wonderful pain au chocolate.
When you’re ready for it, lunch is waiting for you at Thanh Hien (113 Bach Dang Street). Sit out front and look out over river while you enjoy the Chicken 5 Spices and a nice cold glass of Tiger beer– Mmmmm!
Gird yourself up and take in some sights on the walking tour in the afternoon, or if you’re feeling lazy, jump on a moped and head for the beach about 5 km to the east.
Dinner has to be at Song Hoai – The Saigon Times Club (119 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street). It’s simply the best in town (after extensive research). Be sure to head upstairs and grab a table on the open air veranda. If you order nothing else, be sure to order –
Fried Sakura Spring Roll
Sautéed Chicken and Onion with Satay
Stewed Chicken with Pepper in Clay Pot
Sautéed assorted vegetables with mushrooms
Relax in a wicker chair across the road with after dinner Mojitos at the Tam Tam Café (110 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street). Happy hour is from 8:30 to 10, so your partner’s drinks are free. If you’ve still got some energy, head upstairs for a game of pool in the funky billiards room.
Needless to say, Hoi An was one of the favourites of our trip and it’s not to be missed by even the most cursory tour of this amazing country.