Hoi AnCopyright: Tang Trung Kien/Shutterstock.com
Hoi AnHoi An, located on Vietnam's central coast, is a charming and unique destination. With its ideal blend of history, culture, shopping, dining, and leisure, the town continues to be a highly sought-after tourist spot year after year. Its UNESCO-listed Ancient Town is photogenic to a fault, with its collection of distinctive mustard-coloured colonial homes, intriguing food and quaint streets that remain traffic-free for much of the day drawing in cruise excursionists and backpackers alike.
The TownThe former trading port of Hoi An has risen to prominence as one of Vietnam's foremost travel destinations over the last few years, lagging only slightly behind the iconic Ha Long Bay – for now, that is. The compact city of just over 100,000 inhabitants continues to transform rapidly, with service businesses scurrying to meet the ever-increasing demand for Hoi An's atmospheric, UNESCO-listed Ancient Town, all this despite the introduction of a tourist entry fee a few years back. This rising popularity has miraculously not been too detrimental to the unspoiled old-time atmosphere so many visitors are after: Hoi An remains traffic-free for most of the day, and much of the heritage left by Chinese and Japanese communities once inhabiting the city is well looked after and kept in excellent condition (the Japanese Covered Bridge built to connect the two enclaves remains one of the most popular sights, although the number of visitors is limited to 20 at a time).
RestaurantsVietnam is known for staggering variations in cuisine, each region and major settlement boasting its own unique specialities that are hard to come by elsewhere in the country. Hoi An is especially known for its varied, scrumptious street food, which is beautifully showcased along roadsides during Night Market hours (every day from 6 to 10pm). Some of the eats not to be missed are 'bahn mi' (baguette sandwiches with various ingredients), 'cao lau' pork noodles (say "cow low"), the local variety of chicken rice 'com ga', white rose dumplings 'bánh bao bánh vac', and the obligatory hit 'bahn xeo': a crispy pancake packed with a selection of proteins and vegetables, to be dipped into fermented peanut sauce.
Do & See
Apart from old merchant homes and assembly halls of various Chinese congregations that are some of the Ancient Town's highlights, Hoi An enjoys a fortunate location within a short distance from the beach, and even has a small island archipelago to its name: the laid-back Cham Islands are only a short ferry ride away, and are a great place for a relaxed getaway from the tourist masses. Cycling tours of the surrounding rice fields and Vietnamese cooking classes are some of the most popular activities in Hoi An, and the former French colonial port of Da Nang is an easy day trip from here (so are the Ba Na Hills with their stunning Golden Bridge held up by two enormous sculpted hands).
The cafe scene of Hoi An is incredibly robust, and with Vietnam famously being one of the world's largest coffee producers, each coffee shop in Hoi An enjoys the freedom to brew its own unique blend. Coffee is often served iced, so do mention if you would rather have it hot. The typical local brew is made using a small metal drip filter that's placed directly on top of the cup, and then receives a generous splash of condensed milk to help conceal the bitter notes that sometimes come through (especially in cheaper beans). If you're feeling adventurous, order a "cà phê sữa chua" (yogurt coffee) or "cà phê trứng", which is a caffeinated drink with a heavy base of whipped egg yolks, sweetened with condensed milk.
Bars & Nightlife
A typical evening meet up location for local residents is, interestingly, a coffee shop, since coffee is seen as a perfectly suitable drink to be had in the p.m. If you're looking to truly embrace local ways, try one of the spots listed in this guide under "Cafes". Even though Hoi An isn't exactly the place for rowdy parties, below is a shortlist of the town's prime locations for drinks and live music.
Hoi An packs a treasure trove of exquisite boutiques that sell a wide array of locally-made products, which range from silver jewellery to ornamental paper lanterns, silk pieces, artwork, and more (some even have a workshop open to visitors on site); a large number of local tailor shops offer to-order clothing, bags, and even shoes of excellent quality and at unbeatable prices. Every night (from roughly 18 to 21-22) sees a market set up along Nguyen Hoang Street, where all manner of souvenirs and street foods are on sale. There is also a remarkable number of businesses in Hoi An which work for a good cause, employing and selling wares of disadvantaged or physically impaired artists and creators.