Hội An is a city on Vietnam’s central coast known for its well-preserved Ancient Town. The former port city’s melting-pot history is reflected in its architecture, a mix of eras and styles from wooden Chinese shophouses and temples to colorful French colonial buildings, ornate Vietnamese tube houses and the iconic Japanese Covered Bridge with its pagoda.
It has a unique concentration of architectural monuments which are preserved pretty much intact. It also has a great beach and riverfront. It’s only a 2 hour flight from Chiang Mai to Da Nang and we are being picked up by car and taken to our homestay in Hoi An, 45 minutes from the airport.
The homestay is just what we wanted, slightly out of town between the old city and the beach. The family are very friendly and inviting. We have bicycles to get about and everyone speaks good English which is a bonus. We have the best room in the house overlooking the pool.
We cycled into the old town, dicing with death along the way as no one drives on the right side, they come at you from all angles, aargh. The key to staying alive is just keep going, don’t stop. Whew. We entered the old town along the riverfront passing the big open vegetable, fish and meat market and left our bikes. The loud chatter of market traders was piercing the air along with the aromas of flowers, fish and meat adding to the sensory overload. Unusual looking fish and huge prawns shimmering in big bowls of iced water ready for sale and all sorts of exotic fruit and vegetables loaded on the stalls. It was bustling and busy with people and motorbikes.
It’s very different to Thailand in many ways. In Thailand you have to find the shopkeepers to give them money, here they take no prisoners, everyone wants you to go in their shop, look at this…Madame, Madame come look. It will take some getting used to, they are very persuasive. You have to count your fingers if they give you change, they are a canny business like race….they all speak good English and not beyond trying a good sob story to get you to buy something!
The old town is pretty with an eclectic mix of buildings and architecture built on a grid pattern. The town is a fusion of indigenous and foreign cultures, principally Chinese and Japanese with later European influences and very well preserved.
It has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1999. It was a major trading port between the 15th – 19th century and sits on the mouth of the Thu Bon River where you can have boat trips from the quayside and many cafes and bars line the rivers edge great for people watching.
Many of the small old houses in town are now souvenir, leather shops and tailors, who will knock up clothes in record time. It’s well known for its swift tailoring skills. Tiny little alleys with flowers growing over walls, small coffee shops with just a few seats enticing you in with the smell of fresh coffee. It’s enchanting.
Food is a big thing in Vietnam, there are hundreds of restaurants and street food carts on every corner. There is a huge indoor food market. Lots of noodles and rice, seafood and some weird and wonderful dishes. Spices and herbs, fragrant and aromatic rising from every small counter, makes you hungry.
The town is very different at night, it comes alive. Once you cross over the bridge to the little island where the night market is, lanterns turn it into a colourful grotto. Boats with lanterns on the river carrying tourists, little floating lighted ‘wishes’ for good luck sold by traders to drop in the river, they were everywhere.
The night market was awash with colour and food. Madam, Madame come look voices trying to get you to look at their stalls or buy food. Frogs on sticks, all sorts of meat and fish, food everywhere. We found a restaurant in the heart of it all and just watched the throngs of people from all over the world looking enchanted by the spectacle.
The beach is a 15 minute cycle ride from our guesthouse, we went the longer, quieter way down dirt roads to get there. Way more interesting than all the traffic. It’s a big clean beach and you rent a sun lounger, free if you eat in the restaurant.
There is still a lot more to explore here.