Hoi An is only about 45 minutes south of Da Nang, which makes it very easy to get to for either a day trip or for multiple days. We’d heard a lot of really good things about Hoi An, one of which was their tailors, and we wanted to spend a few days there to explore as well as get some clothing made. Rather then stay in Da Nang, we decided to head over and spend a few nights in Hoi An so we could see it and the surrounding area, before heading back to the Da Nang airport to fly to Ho Chi Minh city. Best decision ever.
We loved Hoi An; it was one of our favourite places in Vietnam and it was a great place in general to spend a few days. Due to flight options to Ho Chi Minh city, we ended up having almost 2 extra days then we had originally planned, and after having a hectic (but amazing) few weeks up until that point, we decided to stay put rather then try to go somewhere else. Also a good decision!
Hoi An Old Town is the area where you want to be, and luckily there is an abundance of guest houses, hotels, and hostels to choose from. We always like somewhere that is close enough to walk to the center of things, but also far enough away that we’re not going to be kept awake at night by drunk, loud people, and lights (as well as having a good price too, obviously). With this in mind, we stayed at Style Guesthouse, which had everything we wanted and was in a great location as well. Style is still relatively new (you can tell) and they do a slightly weird thing where you can go across the street to another guesthouse to use their pool (for free), or to have breakfast (not for free). At the moment, Style doesn’t provide any breakfast themselves (or a kitchen for you to prepare your own), but there are some amazing breakfast cafes around such as Rosie’s (we may have eaten there multiple times) and the Dingo Deli (great if you’ve got a motorbike as it’s slightly far out). The Old Town is dotted with little cafes and coffee shops, so there is no shortage of breakfast options, regardless of your preferences.
We had four days in total in Hoi An – which is definitely not needed, but still absolutely fine. Other then the Old Town, there isn’t a ton of stuff to do in Hoi An itself; however, it was our favourite town to just do nothing in. By that I mean we spent hours just wandering around (you seem to find something new to look at every time you go back down a street), sitting along the river eating some of the amazing local food (of course), cooling down with a local beer (always), and just taking in the sights and sounds. We made an effort to slow down, take our time, and really enjoy the atmosphere, which gave us a chance to recharge and get a bit of energy back.
As I knew I wanted to get clothing made (playsuits specifically), one of the first things we did when we arrived on Friday afternoon was to find the tailor I wanted to use. This involved googling and reading reviews (there are so many), narrowing it down to my favourite 3 based on location and reviews, and then going into each of them to speak to a tailor and get a rough quote on price. Something I didn’t realize (or rather, think about till we were in the first shop) was that every shop carries different materials and patterns, so part of my choice then had to include which fabrics from which shops I liked the best as well.
Eventually, after speaking to all of them and looking at the options for fabric, I settled on Ba Ri Tailors, and I am so glad that I did. I knew I wanted to get at least one playsuit made, as I love them but due to my height and long legs, I really struggle to find any that fit properly and are comfortable. I had two pictures with me that I really liked the style of, and as soon as I showed Trang those she immediately got what I wanted and started to sketch some ideas for me. She was super helpful in terms of picking out fabrics (silk vs cotton vs a blend), and she talked through all the options with me and took note of what I liked and didn’t like. After figuring out the styles, the fabrics, and my measurements, we agreed on a price that came to roughly $105 USD (about £70) for 2 playsuits tailor made to fit me. I was sold!
As we had a few extra days (they usually only have 24 hours as people don’t stay for long), she asked us to come back on Saturday for a fitting, and then we could pick up the finished products on Sunday. This worked really well as it gave her a chance to do the proper alterations after the first fitting, so when I did pick them up on Sunday they were perfect. As you can see from the pictures, I got a more formal playsuits (great for weddings), as well as a light, fun playsuit that will be great for summer. I am so happy with both, and luckily was able to wear one of them to a wedding last weekend which was fabulous.
Although great for clothing, Hoi An also has a rich history due to previously being a major port trading town for Asia during the 16th and 17th centuries. Although this is no longer the case, Hoi An still retains its old world feel with many original building still standing, and in 1999 was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site (I’m beginning to feel like Vietnam is just one big UNESCO World Heritage Site!). Walking down the streets of the Old Town (which are not open to cars) takes you back in time, especially as night falls and all the paper lanterns start to light up.
Although walking through the Old Town is free for anyone, there are a few sights that require an entrance fee to go in to, such as some of the old houses, bridges, and museums. Luckily, there is a combined ticket you can get rather then paying individually (although I think you can also do that as well). There is some conflicting information online as well as on signs within the old town that seems to suggest you need to have a ticket to access the walking streets; however, we did not meet anyone who could verify this, never got asked to produce one, and when we bought the combined ticket we were told it was for entrance into certain areas (rather then needed for the walking street). The above link goes into more detail about what you can use it for, but equally, there are numerous stalls within the old town that also have the same information.
Although we would have been quite happy to stick to the free stuff, we had more then enough time so we each bought a ticket so we had more options. As they’re only 120,000 VND (5 USD) per person, and they give you access to 5 buildings of your choice (there are more than 5 you can choose from, but if you want to see more then 5 you have to buy more then one ticket), but they are worth it, even if you end up going into less then 5 places.
We ended up going into 4 different places over the course of 2 days. The Japanese Friendship Bridge, or Cau Chua Pagoda, which is probably one of the most popular attractions in Hoi An (and you can tell, it’s so crowded) is small but probably worth a look due to it’s significance. Built in the 1590s in traditional Japanese style, it was originally built to connect the Chinese and Japanese districts of the city. As well as being a bridge, there is a shrine inside dedicated to Tran Bo Bac De – the god of weather – where locals, sailors, and merchants would come to worship against natural disasters and inclement weather. In my opinion, the outside is definitely more noteworthy then the inside, and it tends to be less busy early in the morning.
The Hoi An museum is worth a wander around as well, and it has multiple floors with various different artifacts from the last 2000 years. Its organised into three areas: history and culture, revolutionary history, and Hoi An’s ascent from hardship, and it’s got a great roof terrace where you can get a birds eye view of Hoi An.
One of the reasons we wanted to get the ticket in the first place was that it gives you entrance into the Hoi An Traditional Art Performance Theatre, which has performances 3 times a day, showcasing a range of traditional folk dance and music. We went to one of the afternoon performances and it was great – worth the money of the ticket even if you don’t go anywhere else. It’s a pretty small theatre, and it fills up fast so make sure you get there plenty of time before the show starts to get a seat. They did allow people to stand and sit on the steps, but the show is about 45 minutes long and it didn’t look terribly comfortable.
We also went to one of the ‘communal houses’, but I can’t tell you which one we went to, as we just walked into the first one we saw! Communal houses used to be used as administrative centres, meeting places, and for worship. They would also sometimes hold cultural activities for the community there, and the architecture has a lot of Chinese influence in it. It was cool to see the inside of a traditional house, but it was very crowded and the other people there were very pushy and aggressive trying to get around, so we ended up going in and out pretty quick.
You can wander around the Old Town in just hours, or you can make it days, especially when you start adding in the various markets, back alleys, and shops you can go to. Once (or if) you get bored of the Old Town, there’s a number of things outside town that are worth going to. Hoi An is right on the river and the ocean, so it’s not hard to find a beach to explore or relax for the day. We headed out Cua Dai Beach, although we forgot towels, and we ended up taking a walk and doing a bit of reading in the sand rather then swimming, but there were a lot of people in the water.
On the way back we headed into Cẩm Thanh village, which is famous for bamboo basket boats. The defining feature of these boats is that they are round, and they’re still used today. Apparently, when the french first arrived in Vietnam, they started imposing taxes on anything and everything that they could, which included the ownership of boats. The poor Vietnamese fisherman who couldn’t afford this but relied on boats for their livelihood instead invented a new type of boat: the thung chai. They’re round and weaved from bamboo, and the fisherman argued that they weren’t boats, but rather baskets. Somehow they got away with it, and for years these were the only boats used in many areas of Vietnam. These days they’re still used in some areas along side more modern boats for fishing, as well as being a big tourist draw.
Cẩm Thanh has a lot of options for tours, some with great reviews and others with terrible reviews. We had rented a motorbike, and as we wanted to remain flexible we just drove around the village until we found a local man who had a boat and was offering tours. It wasn’t as long as we thought it would be – about 45 minutes – but it was a great experience and we had a lot of fun. The lovely fisherman who took us spoke no English, but he was so happy and managed to get everything across to us with no issues. He showed us how he paddles the boat, showed us how they catch crabs, made us some bamboo rings, and spun us around very quickly. I can’t remember how much it was now, but it wasn’t much and worth it for the experience. After we were done we spent a while just driving around Hoi An on the motorbike, as it’s surrounded by rice fields and some great countryside.
Another thing Hoi An is known for is their Lantern Festival, which happens once a month during the full moon. It’s a tradition dating back centuries, where locals would light a candle and send it down the river in remembrance of their ancestors and for good fortunes. These days you can buy a lantern and candle every night (not just the full moon) and send it down the river, and people do. Although we didn’t partake (I’m not sure how I feel about all that waste going into the water and out to sea) but it was a sight to behold. We weren’t there on the full moon, but I imagine it gets crazy busy, so I’m not too disappointed about that.
Hoi An was an amazing few days and just what we needed at that point. I took way less pictures then I would have liked, but we ate so much good food (I would say it’s one of our favourite places for food thus far), and we both really felt like we saw everything we wanted to see. Granted, there is more to see both within the town and outside that we choose not to go to, but we’re not complaining.