After frantic, full on, fantastic Hanoi, arriving in Hoi An is a distinct change in pace. Hoi An is on the Vietnamese central coast and home to 120,000 locals (compared to the 6 million inhabitants of Hanoi). The central Old town is recognised as a World Heritage site and numerous homes and temples date back to the 15th Century. Hoi An translates as “peaceful meeting place” and for good reason, located on a river setting and with parts of the old cityclosed to scooters and cars, Hoi An offers relaxed strolls exploring streets and laneways.
Shopping in the Old town is focussed on two key themes clothes and shoes. Many stores invite you to “look for free” and buy at “special happy hour” prices. “Genuine” Lacoste shirts often start at 250,000 VND though a good haggle will get them for 100,000 – 150,000VND ($5 – $7). Its the tailors that define shopping in Hoi An, they are everywhere. A fully tailored suit can start from $80, shirts from $20, skirts from $30. The sheer number of tailors is daunting, we chose Yaly Tailors on recommendation. Yaly seems to be one of, if not the biggest in Hoi An. Service is second to none, within 30 mins we had selected material, suit and shirt designs and been measured from head to toe, armpit to ankle, and wrist to waist. As we had a few days in town, we returned the next day for a fitting and adjustment, and then a final fitting and tweaks to the suits. Paid more for better quality fabric but came away with two suits, extra trousers, 3 shirts all custom made, for $500.
Food, as per the rest of Vietnam is a highlight of Hoi An. From the street vendors and market stalls, to the cheap riverside restaurants offering a bargain meal cooked in the family kitchen, to the more upmarket food experiences like the Cargo Club (ask for a table on the balcony, book for dinner, try the Crispy Pork and Noodles), Hoi An is a foodies dream.
Also dont miss the chance to cook for yourself in one of the local Cooking School. We went on the Red Bridge half day cooking school. Bookings essential through Hai Cafe in the Old town area. After a welcome morning drink, we were taken on a short tour of the local market learning more about Vietnamese fruit, vegetables, herbs, meat and seafood. Amazing sights, sounds and smells. Then a short boat trip down river to the cooking school. Our chef explained three traditional Vietnamese dishes which we then had the chance to cook ourselves including making our own rice paper rolls, the local Banh Xeo savoury pancakes, and a delicious Eggplant claypot dish (Ca Tim Kho To). The kids loved the experience as much as we did, then after eating our dishes, we sat down to more food including steamed ocean fish. Recommend this!
At night, Hoi An takes on another look as lanterns light up the river front and tourists and locals fill the restaurants, cafes and street stalls. Shops and markets stay open late. Being late September, Hoi An was gearing up for the Mid-Autumn Festival which features a lot of Lion Dancing. Groups of young boys roamed the streets of Hoi An in colorful outfits, Lion dance groups enter shops and restaurants and dance as a blessing of luck and fortune. In return, the host gives luck money to show their gratitude. A street front table can get pretty noisy as lion dance groups come past one after another, drumming up a frenzied dance routine, the lion expects a small tip so be sure to have some change ready and place a note in the lions mouth, it will be eaten very quickly! Good fun.
We stayed at Hoian Pacific Hotel located on the Cua Dai Road just out of town. Large villa rooms and a pool, a short taxi ride into town cost $3. The beautiful Cua Dai Beach was a short taxi trip in the other direction where the Pacific Ocean is warm and a beach chair and an umbrella allows perfect chillax time. The persistent beach vendors can be annoying but they get the message relatively quickly.