I read that Hoi An was the finest example of a traditional Vietnamese city anywhere in Vietnam.
The 'Old Quarter' of town was first built and established as a silk trading post in the early 1600's. Traders came from Japan, China, the Netherlands and even Portugal.
The reason I came here was that so many of the buildings and streets built in the 1600's have survived today.
The rest of the country was so heavily bombed over the years that little survived.
But Hoi An has never been bombed (majorly anyway) so its buildings and streets have remained relatively intact.
The heart of the city is the 'Old Town'. They call it the 'Old Town' because they are building a new town all around it.
'New Town' is just massive buildings and construction sites galore as well as the seedier elements such as Bia-Ohm or Cafe-Ohm.
The 'Old Town' is made up of meandering narrow lanes and old buildings. None are more than a few stories high so you can see the sun set from almost anywhere in the 'Old Town'.
The Government in HoiAn prohibits the construction of high-rise buildings, Karaoke Bars or other such 'eye-sores' in the 'Old Town'.
It's a refreshing place, the air is fresh and clear and it's just such a quiet place. People also seem to carry a quiet pride about their city that is absent in any other city I've been to in Vietnam.
The main road through the 'Old Town' is called Tran Phu Street. A lot of the "things to see such as 'Quan Cong Temple' and the 'Museum of Trade Ceramics' can be found along this street. It's a road worth walking.
The 'Old Town' section of the City is pretty small and most people get around by foot. You'll still have the occasional careless motorbike driver though so keep an eye out, even on the sidewalk or in the narrow alleys.
What? No Trains or Planes into HoiAn?
For us to get in and out of Hoi An wasn't a problem because we were on motorbikes. But there is an important fact to keep in mind when planning a trip to Hoi An.
There are no planes or trains flying or rolling into Hoi An because there is no airport or train station.
Hoi An is located just South of Da Nang or about a 1.5-hour bus trip. But I love the train and I know many other people who also do.
You could take the Re-unification Express Train from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) to Danang or from Hanoi to Danang.
Once you get into Danang then you're only option to Hoi An is a bus. Open-tour buses run daily up and down the coast from Da Nang, Hue and Nha Trang.
Sinh Cafe operate the bus and you can get your bus tickets at:
18B Hai Ba Trung Street,
Ph. 0510-863-948 or 916242.
Sinh Cafe even offers transfers to Vientiane and Savannakhet, both cities in Laos.
Or get your bus tickets from just about ANY travel agent, hotel, Guesthouse, Restaurant or Bar in any city in Vietnam.
Seriously, everyone sells bus tickets and as long as you buy the tickets a few days before your intended departure, there will be no lack of seating for you. Try not to leave it until the last minute because the buses do fill up.
The nearest airport is in Danang, which has daily connections to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and some flights to Bangkok, Singapore and Siem Reap, Cambodia (for Angkor Wat).
If you did come into Hoi An by bus then don't let it hinder you. Most Hotels and Guesthouses offer Motorcycle rentals. When I say motorcycle, I mean Gentle, 125cc Honda Wave scooters. They are easy to ride and the streets of Hoi An are forgiving.
Most hotels and Guesthouses in Hoi An rent motorbikes for about $6USD/day (July 2007). They usually ask you to leave your passport with them for the duration of your bike rental.
I got out of this by telling them that my hotel was holding my passport. But I had rented my motorbike in Ho Chi Minh City from Chi's Cafe.
Instead, they accepted my ID card from home and I could keep my passport.
Once you have a motorbike, it's like having wings in this part of the world. The best places to visit are the Marble Mountains (About 45 minutes North of Hoi An) or look for a town called My Son.
My Son was the most important center of the ancient Kingdom of Champa. The monuments are set in a valley surrounded by hills and set at the foot of massive 'Cat's Tooth Mountain'. It's considered Champa's smaller counterpart to the grand cities of southeast Asia's other Indian-influenced civilizations such as Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
There is also a daily bus that runs directly to My Son from Hoi An. Ask about the bus tickets at Sinh Cafe or any travel agent.
My personal favorite is the beach, though. Head from the Hoi An city center to Cua Dai Beach. It's only a few kilometers away and the drive takes you through many rice fields and is a great ride that offers a taste of Vietnam you won't get on the buses and trains.
Please, Stop. I can't drive a motorbike.
I noticed a lot of foreigners on bicycles, also. Most of them I saw in the city center of Hoi An but I also saw a few souls who had rented bicycles and pedaled down to Cua Dai Beach.
They looked content because I assume the bicycles made it much easier and faster to get around the narrow streets of Hoi An, even if you do look like a pansy.
Sorry, no Manly bikes available. Just girlie bikes but if you can get past that you'll soon be giving that knowing eye to other fine men, beaten down by the pansy bike!
Just look for rows of bicycles parked in a neat line out the front of Hotels and Guesthouses in the Old or New City. Most places were asking $2USD a day rental fees but some uppity people were asking $3USD.
To go to the beach or reach some of the more remote hotels, you'll need some sort of transportation. If you can't or won't rent a Motorbike then there are still options open to you.
There aren't a lot of Cabs cruising the streets of Hoi An but you can hire one over the phone. Get someone at your Guesthouse or Hotel to give the cab company a call so they can come and pick you up. If not, then you always have motorbike taxis ready and willing on most every corner.
They will drive you down to Cua Dai beach for about $2USD-$3USD. It'll save you a lot of hassles if you settle on a price before agreeing to the ride though.
The Accommodation Battle Rages on in Hoi An:
The hotels are at war but its peace-time for the tourists' wallets. It seems the competition for tourist dollars is rampant. Just look at all the hotels and Guesthouses offering deals.
But there is an important decision you should make before booking your accommodation. Either you stay in the "charming" 'Old Town' or you stay in the 'New town'.
Seriously, it is something to consider. The 'New Town" offers better prices on rooms but staying in the 'Old Town' was a nice experience, especially at night when the sun is setting.
Obviously, the choice is yours (Ah, the freedom of travel).
If you are set on staying in the 'New Town' most Guesthouses are clustered around Hai Ba Trung St (formerly Nhi Trung Street), a short walk North of the Old Town and also along Cua Dai Street, a far walk to the East of the 'Old Town'.
In the 'Old Town' there isn't really a clustering of hotels and Guesthouses. They are pretty well spread apart. Just make sure to confirm with the hotel or Guesthouse you are booking to see if they are actually in the 'Old Town'. Hung Vuong street is a good road to look for budget rooms.
A few of the Guesthouses and hotels we passed are listed here.
What's Really Worth Seeing in Hoi An?
You can find 'Old World Charms' in Hoi An but don't let the tour guides get you carried away. They list a whole host of tourist spots that just aren't worth the time. I'll list everything deemed on the 'tourist trail'. I haven't been to them all but read each of their brochures and talked to a few (Ok 3) people about what they experienced.
You can do the 'Historical Site Tour'. You have to pay $5USD (70,000dong) and that gets you a booklet of 'coupons' that can be redeemed at 5 varied attractions. Tickets are sold at some booths at popular entrances to the Old Quarter but I got mine on Hai BA Trung Street.
They will be so deeply serious about your impending visit to their Museums that they put "Dress Code" warnings on the backs of the tickets. No short-sleeved shirts or skirts above the knees. Don't take it too seriously because they want your money and Vietnamese avoid all face to face confrontations.
I adhered to the dress code but my inner Bruce Lee wanted to lash out.
You will be asked to choose One Museum, One Historical House, one Assembly Hall, the Handicraft Workshop (and Traditional Music Show) or the Traditional Theater, and either the Japanese Covered Bridge or the Quan Cong Temple.
You must choose from the list below.
First, You May Choose One of the Two Landmarks of Hoi An:
- The Japanese Covered Bridge (Chua Cau or Lai Vien Kieu)
Built by Japanese in the early 1600's and then renovated in 1986. To structural engineers studying 400 year old structural Japanese design, its a gem. To the rest of us it was a bridge that was really nice to walk across and get an idea of what things may have looked like 400 years ago.
24 Tran Phu Street.
From a siteseer's point of view, it is a poorly designed, poorly maintained temple when compared to those in Thailand, Cambodia or Laos. People in the know about religious practices may be able to
Then we get thick with four choices of museums in the Old Town:
Ask them if they have any music of the Folk Culture Classification. I gave myself crap because I was being, had been, and still was critical of the whole Cultural Tour of Hoi An. The music didn't help.
33 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street.
80 Tran Phu Street
(This written by another previous visitor)
The dusty, unlabeled displays of broken pottery are eminently forgettable, but the house itself is nice enough, and it provides a better opportunity to explore the shape and layout of an old Hoi An home than you'll find at any of the Old Houses.
- Hoi An Museum of History and Culture
7 Nguyen Hue Street.
- Museum of Say Huynh Culture
149 Banc Dang Street.
O.K. Those are the Museums. Now the Old Houses
I saw just three old houses that looked to me to be in disrepair and of low standard as far as what's labeled a heritage site.
It looks like someone still lives in these homes at night and in the day they just clear out and the place becomes a money generator with little effort put into it. They looked cool from the outside at night, though.
4 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street.
A lot of people said the owner is constantly dropping hints that you should leave your money behind in appreciation of his efforts.
I didn't get all these old houses and why I signed up to see them. I saw 1 and I thought about the tour I took to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.
When I went in there I felt a reverence and sadness and respect but in these old Vietnamese houses I just saw rooms without any distinction or story.
77 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street.
101 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street.
You'll get a cup of Chinese tea here. Also a lot of stories of famous visitors to the house. They will brag about Thailand's ex-prime minister visiting. A lot of people sleep on the floor and I felt like an intruder only tolerated.
Where did the Chinese who Lived Here so Long Ago Hold Their Meetings?
- Cantonese Assembly Hall (Quang Dong).
176 Tran Phu Street.
Built in 1885.
- Hokien (Fujian) Meeting Hall (Phuc Kien)
46 Tran Phu Street.
Built in 1757.
Finally, you can choose one of the following to get some "Intangible Culture" into your day:
Bach Dang Street
Sales of many of the same things in the "Central Markets" of Hanoi or Saigon but less selection and higher prices. Had some fresh fruits that they sell and ate some Durian.
- Hoi An Handicraft Workshop.
9 Bach Dang Street.
Folk music performances are offered at 10:15am and 3:15pm every day except Monday.
75 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street.
Tran Phu Street,
Cloth or fabrics. Big selection and fine quality if you know what you're looking for.
- Thanh Ha Pottery Village.
If You Were Free, What Would You Do?
I wish I could have just stayed longer on the motorbike, touring the Table mountains and the beaches of Cau Dai. The city was worth seeing for a day but that was enough.
I think Hoi An was worth the stop but with Danang and Hue City and China Beach just a few hours up the coast, I would cut it out of my itinerary if the visit cost me the chance to see either Hue or Danang.