Hoi An is one of our favourite places and it did not disappoint when we went to stay there for the 4th time. To describe Hoi An is difficult as there are so many words and expressions that could be used, but hopefully we do it justice in this short piece.
Hoi An is beautiful, atmospheric, enchanting and beguiling as you are drawn in by the quaintness and charm of the Old Town which is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Hoi An translates into ‘peaceful meeting place’ which is very fitting.
The buildings in the old town were formerly Japanese Merchant houses, ancient tea houses and Chinese temples and a lot of the historic buildings have been preserved and you can visit them for a small fee (£3 gets you access to 5 heritage sites) – this fee is used to help maintain these buildings. Most of the other buildings have been preserved in as much as that the buildings exterior and facade all look the same (think old colonial style’) but a lot of them are now shops (tailors, crafts, jewellers, etc.), bars, and restaurants and this makes it a fantastic and interesting experience walking through the streets of the Old Town both during the day and when they are all beautifully lit up at night.
There are so many things to do in Hoi An but one of the best things to see is at the time of a full moon as this is when they have their full moon lantern festival (not to be confused with the full moon parties in Thailand – trust me!!!). Along the riverbank the shops and restaurants turn the lights off and candle lanterns on. The locals sell their water lanterns which you can then put in the river and watch them float away. The river quickly lights up with all these lanterns making their way down the river and the locals have some song and dance displays near the waterfront. It is also the night that the Vietnamese put out offerings to their ancestors and as such in front of the shops and houses you see items such as fruit, flowers, drink etc on little shrines – they also burn a lot of paper and incense sticks so the air is filled with a wonderful and strong heady aroma as you walk past them.
Cooking is a big thing in Hoi An and there are various places offering cooking classes – we did one (Yellow River Restaurant – through the Japanese Bridge) and picked our menu the day before and then were taught how to prepare and cook them the next afternoon, then we got to eat it all – fab experience although we are not sure if they got us to wear the big chef hats and aprons just for their entertainment. The food is so tasty in Hoi An and one of the reasons is that a lot of people get some of their vegetables and herbs from a local herb village called Tra Que where they use algae from a local lagoon rather than chemicals or fertilisers and we took a cycle trip past it and it was great to see and smell.
Hoi An is quite flat and as such very easy to cycle round. In previous years we have gone on some cycle tours which took us round lots of different sites and were really informative (Heaven & Earth Cycle Tours and Joy of Life Cycle Tours). This year we were a lot more comfortable taking the hotels bicycles out and touring round ourselves – although most days we found ourselves cycling towards the beach for some sun, sand and big waves!
At night time – we found the best thing to do was to wander into town (stopping for a few La Rue beers on the way – well they are only 50p a bottle!!) and find a little restaurant for some great food at really good prices and watch the world go by in this charming little town. The best places that we found were Tam Tams bar, The Cargo Club, Morning Glory, Good Morning Vietnam, The Bees Knees and The Cam Restaurant. In fairness, most of the restaurants / bars are good so you’ll be certain of a nice time.