Slowing Down in Hoi An Without Ever Missing a Beat
My trip to Cambodia and Vietnam was planned down to the minute (as always), but derailed the moment I decided to forego Hanoi and head straight to Ho Chi Minh City. A couple of friends of mine were traveling through Vietnam, and after a few incredible days in Siem Reap I knew I needed to slow down – or so I thought. We spent two nights in HCMC: one in a luxury hotel on an executive floor, and the other in one of the filthiest hostels I’ve ever booked. I didn’t have that many days left away from work, and HCMC tired us out in just a couple of days. My friend was lovesick and her travel romance was chiding her to head away from the city to a UNESCO World Heritage Site: Hoi An.
First Da Nang, then Hoi An
We flew into Da Nang then took a GrabCar for 45 minutes into Hội An, a city on Vietnam’s central coast. It’s famous for its surf culture and great beaches. The city itself is known as a shopping mecca. Hoi An is where you go in Vietnam to get glorious, tailored trends at bargain-bin prices. It’s best known for its Ancient Town, which is pedestrian-friendly, full of life and colour, and has a canal running through on the parallel. Colourful French colonial buildings, Vietnamese houses, and wooden Chinese influences are everywhere you look as you explore the architecture in Hoi An. In the Ancient Town you’ll find a Japanese Covered Bridge with pagoda which feels like the key to unlock this charming escape.
Tailor Your Experience
If you’re planning on getting custom clothing made, I would suggest going right at the beginning of your trip. My dress was made same day and only cost about $35 Canadian, but if you’re looking to get something more complicated or something for which they don’t already have a pattern, you’ll need to give them about 48 hours. There are tailors ALL OVER town. I met tons of people who went to different tailors and everyone was thrilled with their purchases. I popped into one randomly on my walk to the Ancient Town where every second store is a tailor.
Hoi An Ancient Town
Bridge of Lights
Day or night, the Bridge of Lights of lights is well worth a visit. I stumbled upon it on a warm and sunny November day when the canal was hardly occupied. The area along the canal was just coming alive. The scents of fresh French bread and Vietnamese coffee wafted through the air on my leisurely walk. Fast forward to 8:30 PM – the sun had gone to bed and all the lanterns were aglow. During the day the city wakes up slowly. At night, Hoi An Ancient Town comes alive. Hundreds of boats lined with lanterns fill the canal every night with tourists casting off wishes in the form of small candles in paper boxes sent along the river.
Japanese Covered Bridge
Not far from the Bridge of Lights you’ll find a Japanese Covered Bridge. You’ll have to buy a ticket to cross. I opted not to. It’s a bridge best admired from the outside. I’m sure you can get a lovely view of the canal from the bridge, but there’s more to explore.
Hoi An Market
The Hoi An Market was the first stop on the Eco Cooking Class and Basket Boat tour, which I would highly recommend. We wandered through the market stopping at different stalls for herbs, vegetables, beef, pork, and chicken. We smelled all the individual ingredients and learned about their importance in Vietnamese cuisine through our charming tour guide and chef extraordinaire, Qui Nguyen.
Hoi An Night Market
I was wondering where all the delicious street found was to be found. Turns out the day is for groceries and the night is for tasty bites. Most of the stalls in the night market offer meat or seafood on a stick, Banh Mi (Vietnamese grilled sandwiches), or rolled ice cream. The night market also offers lanterns for sale, trinkets for kids, and plenty of leather goods (including some impressive knock-offs). The night market is one of the smaller I’ve seen in Asia, but it’s absolutely worth it to wander around, have a snack, and watch the brightly-coloured lanterns glide across the glistening waters against a pitch black sky.
An Bang Beach
On my last day in Vietnam I had 3 flights to look forward to (Da Nang – Ho Chi Minh City – Shanghai- Toronto) meaning a whole lot of time in a cramped seat way up in the air. I could have visited more culturally important attractions and sites, but I had already crushed 4 flights in less than a week. I was ready for some R&R. An Bang Beach is an absolutely stunning white sand beach with plenty of loungers and thatched umbrellas. It costs VND 50 – 100 per lounger depending on where you decide to lay out. If you buy food and drinks from the vendor, however, they tend to waive the charge. Over the course of the day I treated myself to cold-pressed watermelon and ginger juice, a virgin pina colada, and the jewel of the Hoi An culinary scene Cau Lau noodles.
Eat Cau Lao Noodles
Cao lầu is a traditional food from Hội An. The dish typically contains pork and greens on a bed of rice noodles made from rice which has been soaked in lye water. Just like how champagne comes from the region in France, Cao lầu comes from the Champa built well – Ba Le. The well is found off an alleyway between Tran Hung Dao and Phan Chau Trinh streets on the edge of the old town. I didn’t visit the well, but I did have a chance to taste these heartier rice noodles. This soft water gives the noodles their characteristic texture differentiating them from other Vietnamese noodle dishes. Before Hoi An had access to clean water, the water from any of old wells was the cleanest available. The lye water doesn’t have any mystical powers. It’s was just the cleanest available up until the 1990’s when Hoi An got treated water.
Tribee Hostel and CocoCha Hostel Pool Party
Tribee Hostel has a number of locations in Hoi An. This is your typical hostel in Asia with lots of daily events designed for you to meet other travelers. I know a number of solo travelers met people with whom to continue along the journey through Tribee. One such location, CocoCha, has a pool party with contests and prizes throughout the afternoon. Drinks are flowing, the music is loud, and if you’re looking to meet someone new this is probably your best bet.
Style Yourself Silly
In Hoi An you’ll see clothing for sale with all sorts of fun patterns – most of them being fruit! I opted to go bananas on my last full day in Hoi An for my tour and cooking class.
Serendipity Hostel is another great place to meet people. Their nightly fiesta is full of travelers dancing to loud top-40 and inhaling balloons of laughing gas. Avoid the balloons, stay for the light show.
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These photographs are part of the Yellow City of Hoi An series that has been featured on the BBC, Business Insider and Travelive magazines among others. Hoi An is a heaven for photographers and lovers of architecture because of the diverse variations of painted facades that are the signature of the city. For centuries this colorful, seaside town has charmed visitors with its joyful yellow tones. Find all these photos in my books Vietnam, Mosaic of Contrasts. . . #hoian #vietnam #hoianancienttown #rehahn #rehahn_photography #bbctravel #remotexpeditions #people_infinity #yourshotphotographer #natgeotravel #passionpassport #culturetrip
Precious Heritage Art Gallery Museum
“The Precious Heritage Museum and Art Gallery is home to the permanent exhibition of Réhahn’s Precious Heritage Collection. The collection will unveil the rich cultural tapestry of the ethnic tribes.
Discover striking portraits, stories, and heirlooms that can’t be found anywhere else. The museum is both a celebration and a call for conservation. This free museum stands as a testament to the connection, appreciation and importance Réhahn feels for these remarkable tribes.
Five rooms spanning over 500 sqm in a 19th century French house, present hundreds of portraits, over 60 costumes, tribal songs and a sense of wonderment. As you visit each room, you can follow Réhahn on his 8 year journey to document 51 of the 54 ethnic tribes left in the country.
In the museum, Réhahn can be found sharing his adventures with visitors, signing books and promoting the beauty and enchanting diversity of Vietnam. He hopes to bring attention to the changing path of ethnic tradition by sharing the essence of the people who have revolutionized his career.” – Réhahn, Photographer
Museum of Folk Culture
“There are more than 600 artifacts within this distinctive museum and about 90 percent of those are original and for that reason deserving extra care. Only around 500 artifacts are on display for particular several reasons. The displays in the museum following categories. Such as folklore, traditional clothing, traditional occupation, folklore games, etc. The most relics are historical tools and clothes. All of 500 objects on the display are original and more than one hundred years of age.” – For more information, click here.
Quan Cong Temple/ Assembly Hall of Fujian Chinese
Small, 17th-century Chinese pagoda temple decorated with elaborate statues & artwork.
Before flying into Da Nang, I checked out my friend Milette’s guide. She lived in Vietnam after teaching in Korea, and as a big foodie and ultra-adventurer, I trust her judgment! Check out her guide to Hoi An here. Heading to Hoi An with kidlets in tow? Check out Hallie’s 3 day Hoi An itinerary on The Soul of Seoul. I’m sure I missed plenty – so let me know in the comments!