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Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An (Hội An) is a beautiful city in Vietnam, just south of Da Nang. It's an ancient trading port, and its old town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
[edit] Understand
Hoi An riverside, seen from Cam Nam
Hoi An riverside, seen from Cam Nam

Hoi An, once known as Faifo, was a major international port in the 16th and 17th centuries, and the foreign influences are discernible to this day. While the serious shipping business has long since moved to Danang, the heart of the city is still the Old Town, full of winding lanes and Chinese-styled shophouses, which is particularly atmospheric in the evening as the sun goes down. While most all shops now cater to the tourist trade the area has been largely preserved as is, unusual in Vietnam, and renovation has proceeded slowly and carefully - it's mercifully absent of towering concrete blocks and karaoke parlors.

The main thoroughfare in the Old Town is Tran Phu. Just south of the Old Town, across the Thu Bon River, are the islands of An Hoi and Cam Nam.
[edit] Get in
[edit] By plane

The nearest airport is in Danang, which has frequent connections to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and some flights to Bangkok, Singapore and Siem Reap, Cambodia (for Angkor Wat). A taxi from the airport to Hoi An costs about US$15 thanks to the cartel, but only about half that in the other direction.
[edit] By train

There is no railway station in Hoi An. The nearest is in Danang (see below), which receives several trains a day from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Nha Trang etc. Most travel agents and hotels can book a train ticket for you.
[edit] By bus

Traveller buses run daily up and down the coast from Da Nang, Hue and Nha Trang. Note the road to Nha Trang is awful and the trip takes all day; it is much better to take a train.
[edit] By motorbike or taxi

It's easy to take a motorbike or taxi to and from Da Nang via the Marble Mountains (see below), from where you can catch a train onwards.
[edit] Get around

The centre of Hoi An is very small and pedestrianised, so you will be walking around most of the time. Unfortunately, bikes have not been banned from the center yet, so particularly at night keep an eye out for motorized kamikazes.

To go to the beach, or reach some of the more remote hotels, it is easy and cheap to hire a bicycle. Taxis are few and far between, but can be called by phone. When busy, taxis may refuse your fare back to your hotel from town if it is too close, opting for larger fares. Arranging a shuttle from your hotel may be a better option. Motorbike taxis are always an option. You can also charter boats for about US$1/hour.

Almost all of the hotels will rent out motorbikes at about five USD a day. It's standard practice for them to rent you the bike with just enough petrol to make it to the next petrol station. If you value your money, go to a gas station, rather than the hand-operated roadside pumps -- the markup at the latter is vicious. Use the bike to visit My Son, about an hour away, or the Marble Mountains, about forty minutes north towards Da Nang.
[edit] See
[edit] Old Town
Chinese shophouses and Communist propaganda
Chinese shophouses and Communist propaganda

Entry to all historical sites in Hoi An is via a coupon system, where US$5 gets you a ticket that can be used to enter five attractions: one museum, one family house, one Chinese meeting hall, the art performance theater and either the Japanese Covered Bridge or the Quan Kong Temple. Tickets are sold at various entry points into the Old Town, including Hai Ba Trung St.

* Japanese Covered Bridge (Cau Nhat Ban or Lai Vien Kieu), on the west end of Tran Phu Street. Hoi An's best-known landmark consists of a covered bridge and pagoda. The bridge was constructed in the early 1600's by the Japanese community, roughly 40 years before they left the city to return to Japan under the strict policy of sakohu enforced by the Tokugawa Shogunate. Last renovated in 1986. Entry one coupon.

* Museum of Trade Ceramics, 80 Tran Phu St. The dusty displays of broken pottery in this house are eminently forgettable, but the house itself is nice enough. Entry one coupon.

* Phung Hung House, 4 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai St (just west of the Japanese Bridge). Traditional two-story wooden house, inhabited over 100 years by eight generations — and the current one attempts to guide you around in hope of a tip. Entry one coupon.

Chinese meeting halls. Numerous congregation halls, where Chinese expatriate residents met and socialized, are dotted about the town. They are typically named after their home region, such as Fujian and Canton. Entry into any hall one coupon.

* Cantonese Meeting Hall, 176 Tran Phu St. Calm courtyard with ornate statuery. Take a peek at the half-hidden back yard and its kitchy pastel dragon statues.
* Hokien (Fujian) Meeting Hall, straddling Tran Phu and Phan Chu Trinh Streets.
* Chinese All-Community Meeting Hall, next to the Fujian hall, also spanning the block.

[edit] Other

* The colourful waterfront Market

* The paper lanterns and candles floating down the river in the evening.

* The Hoi An Orphanage is located right next to the Roman Catholic church. A British non-profit organisation, called the Kianh Foundation,[1]works permanently at the Orphanage to improve the children’s health, education and quality of life.

[edit] Do

* Cua Dai Beach A place to unwind a few kilometers away from the town centre. A taxi from the town centre to Cua Dai Beach costs around US$3. It's also possible to cycle there, which gives you a good view of the rice farms along the way. Along the beach are a number of mini restaurants selling seafood and drinks. They also provide deck chairs and tables right on the beach. There are a number of upmarket resort hotels in the area.

[edit] Events

* Full Moon Festival

[edit] Buy
Lantern shop
Lantern shop

Made-to-measure shirts, blouses, dresses, suits etc. from the renowned tailors. When last counted in 2002, there were 140 shops in the city and the number is now well over 400. Be careful who you choose to manufacture your clothes. As a rule of thumb, give all tailors 2 days advance to prepare your garment and keep going back until you get your clothes right!!

* Cloth Market, located next to the Central Market and looks like a cloth warehouse. Inside are many small tailor stalls that are generally cheaper and more reliable than shops elsewhere. Orders usually take a day or two.

* Yaly, Tran Phu Street. They have a great and extensive range of fabrics to choose from and the staff are very attentive and extremely patient. Ignore the fixed price claim! Discounts can be given for multiple purchases.

Hoi An also has a good selection of Vietnamese art, both modern and traditional, serious and kitschy. Galleries can be found all over town but Nguyen Thi Minh Khai St, just across the Japanese Bridge, has the heaviest concentration.
[edit] Eat

Food in Hoi An is, even by high Vietnamese standards, cheap and tasty. In addition to the usual suspects, there are three dishes that Hoi An is particularly famous for:

* Cao lầu, a dish of rice noodles which are not quite as slippery as pho and a bit closer in texture to pasta. The secret is the water used to make it, and authentic cao lau uses only water from a special well in the city. The noodles are topped with slices of roast pork, dough fritters, and this being Vietnam, lots of fresh herbs and veggies.

* White rose (banh bao vac), a type of shrimp dumpling made from translucent white dough bunched up to look like a rose.

* Wantan dumplings, essentially the same as the Chinese kind, served up in soup or deep-fried.

[edit] Budget

Prices in the very center of Hoi An are generally a little inflated by the tourist trade - cross the bridge over to An Hoi island for a selection of basic but cheap eateries.

* Hoai River, 44 Nguyen Thai Hoc. Terrific food, but long waits.

* Thanh Phuong, 56 Cong Dong (An Hoi island, just across bridge). Cheap and cheerful local eats. A steaming seafood hotpot for two and a large beer will set you back US$3.

* Trung Bac, 87 Tran Phu. 100 years of cao lau and still going strong. A bowl of chewy noodles and lots of veggies will set you back all of 8000 dong.

* White Rose, 51 Hai Ba Trung. The shop that actually makes most of the "white rose" dumplings served all around town. 15,000 dong per serve, and if you ask nicely they'll let you try to make them yourself. Open from 7AM until they run out, usually in the afternoon.

* Cafe Bobo, 18 Le Loi. Popular and reasonably-priced place. The frappucino-style mocha shakes are great.

[edit] Splash out
Gỏi cuốn fresh spring rolls and cao lầu noodles at Brother's Cafe
Gỏi cuốn fresh spring rolls and cao lầu noodles at Brother's Cafe

* Brother's Cafe, 27 Phan Boi Chau, [2]. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Probably Hoi An's nicest restaurant, with a lush landscaped garden in a wonderful riverside French colonial house. The fresh spring rolls (chả giò) are excellent — and priced to match at US$4.50 a plate. The 6-course $16 set meal for two is good value though.

* Cafe des Amies, on the main street next to the river - a couple of minutes away from the chinese bridge.

Do not miss this culinary experience. The main chef and owner, Mr Kim, cooks award winning food (Vietnamese, not French as the name might suggest) - he's also an interesting guy to talk to after your meal. For something like $5/6 you get a 5 or 6 course meal. It's a set menu each night, where you chose between seafood, meat or vegetarian; but beyond that it's a nice surprise to see what turns up at your table. They will provide you with stunning food, intereting background music, and excellent service. If you think this is a little over-enthusiatic for a restaurant, ask to read the guest book they keep with comments from all the customers. If you're backpacking on a budget a $6 meal seems a little extravagant (!) but it is well worth it - an excellent evening was had, and i recall it as one of the best meals i've ever had. The meals cooked are different every day, so it's tempting simply to return every evening...


[edit] Drink

* Before & Now, 51 Le Loi St, ☎ +84-510-910599. Very popular two-level bar and restaurant.

* Tam Tam Cafe, 110 Nguyen Thai Hoc. Cafe, bakery, restaurant and bar all rolled into one. Stylish, popular and not too badly priced.

[edit] Sleep

Hotels in Hoi An are fiercely competitive, which means plenty of choice, low prices and generally high standards. Many are clustered around Hai Ba Trung St (formerly Nhi Trung St), just north of the Old Town and within easy walking distance, and also along Cua Dai St, off to the east and a bit of a hike away.
[edit] Budget

* An Phu, 30 Nguyen Duy Hieu St., ☎ +84-510-914345, [3]. One of the biggest budget hotel operations in Hoi An. South of the center, about a 5-10 minute walk away. Nice rooms and a relaxing pool in the middle. $10-15.

* Thanh Binh 3, Ba Trieu St. (off Hai Ba Trung St), ☎ +84-510-916777. Popular budget hotel done up like a Chinese temple, with a pool and pleasant rooms, all air-con equipped. The mattresses are on the hard side though and the breakfast isn't much to write about. $15-30.

* Nhi Nhi Hotel, 60 Hung Vuong St., ☎ +84-510-916718, [4]. Situated in the Old Quarter, Nhi Nhi Hotel offers affordable, nice rooms in an authentic Vietnamese neighborhood. Hoi An market and restaurants and coffee bars are nearby. $15-$20 including breakfast.

* Grassland Hotel, (Thao Nguyen Hotel), 22 Hai Ba Trung St, ☎ +84-510-921921, [5]. Provides free bicycles and 1 hour free internet per day. Room start at US$15(including breakfast) for a single room, US$ 18 for a Superior Twin & Double room.

[edit] Mid-range

* Phuong Nam Hotel Hoi An, 16-17 Ly Thai To Street, ☎ +84 510 923400/923430 (phuongnam@dng.vnn.vn), [6]. Situated in a peaceful area, just 5 mins walk to the old city and 20 mins walk to the beach. Free shuttle bus from 8AM-10PM to the old city. Internet Service.

* Hoai Thanh Hotel, 187 Ly Thuong Kiet Street, ☎ +84 510 861171 (info@hoaithanhhotel.com, fax: +84 510 861135), [7]. About 200 meters from the center of town. Rooms $24-75.

* Hoi An Indochine Hotel, Cua Dai Road, ☎ +84 510 923608 (infor@hoianindochine.com, fax: +84 510 923578), [8]. Only 5 minutes walk from the beach, by the calm and romantic river and garden. French style architecture with 61 riverview rooms. US$65/night (10 superior rooms), US$75/night (45 deluxe rooms), US$105 (6 suites).

* Ha An Hotel, 6 Phan Boi Chau Road, ☎ +84 510 863126. Located in a quiet area beyond the main markets, this hotel consists of a few buildings built in a semi-French colonial style around a central courtyard. The rooms are airy, light and pleasant with air-conditioning, bathrooms and TV. There's a collection of books in the reception area that can be borrowed by guests. The price includes a good breakfast. Rooms $30-40.

[edit] Splurge

Many of Hoi An's higher-end hotels are located not in town itself, but by the beach some 5 km away from town.

* Lotus Hotel, 330 Cua Dai Road, Hoian, ☎ +84 (510) 923 357 (hoianlotus@dng.vnn.vn), [9]. Beautifully designed resort-hotel draws from a range of styles & influences resulting in a perfect blend of Eastern culture & French architecture, while our rooms are immaculately furnished and equipped in a relaxing combination of Vietnamese , Japanese and French styles. Free ADSL / WiFi is available in the whole hotel $ 36 - $ 55.

* Life Resort Hoi An, 1 Pham Hong Thai Street, ☎ +84 (510) 914-555 (hoian@life-resorts.com), [10]. The classiest hotel near the town center, located by the river a short stroll from the market. $98-268.

* Victoria Hoi An, Cua Dai Beach, ☎ +84 510 927 040, [11].

* Dong An Beach Hotel, ☎ +84 510 927888 (info@donganbeachhotel.com), [12]. Overlooking the Thu Bon River, and < 5min walk to the Cua Dai beach. Some 5 km away from town. $79-195.

* Hoi An Pacific Hotel, 167 Cua Dai Street (halfway between beach and town), ☎ +84 510 923 777 (info@hoianpacific.com), [13]. Opened in spring 2004, it boasts 3 restaurants and bars, including the "Sky Bar", the tallest in town at seven stories. $70-120.

* Furama Beach Resort, [14]. Brand new luxury resort on fabled China Beach. Approximately 20 minutes to Hoi An by taxi (5 minutes to Da Nang)

[edit] Get out

* My Son - Cham ruins in the jungle a few hours away (lots of agents offer day trips).
* The Marble Mountains, halfway to Da Nang, are well worth a stop. The hills loom out of the surrounding coastal plain and feature a group of Buddhist temples built into caves - a popular pilgrimage site for locals. Make sure you wear walking shoes, as reaching many of the caves on the map require clambering over rocks and through crevices. An small entry fee applies and guides are available.
* Hue - Ancient imperial capital a few hours away by car or train

permalink written by  garisti on June 1, 2008 from Hoi An, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Viaje por Asia
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