Romance and Old Charm in Hoi An

We are now in our 6th week of our great SE Asia adventure, and whilst we are missing home a little I have found that nowhere has felt more like home to us than Hoi An. This statement may seem a little strange without context so let me explain.

This city and its old quarter has a magical charm about it that we have not found elsewhere. Whilst still busy, as any major SE Asian city would be, it still has enough going on to help you forget that and to immerse you in wonderful experiences. Maria and I have found it so easy to relax and enjoy ourselves here – just going from moment to moment and not having to plan too far in advance but still having enough time to get everything done. We actually loved it so much here that what was initially meant to be a 4 day trip turned into a week!

Whether you are a backpacker, luxury traveller or adventure seeker, stay in the old town. Most hotels/hostels provide a transfer service to the further away attractions (i.e. the beach). This is one city where you really have no excuse not to walk because everything is so closely packed together and accessible that there really is no need for a taxi – unless you are just arriving and have brought lots of bags! Just be sure that you don’t get ripped off – a taxi from the airport to the old town shouldn’t cost you more than 70-80k Dong. If you are worried about having to haggle, download the Grab Taxi app. It’s like Uber but offers the option to pay by cash, and is relatively cheap.

 

Stand-out Accommodation – Lantana Riverside Hoi An Boutique Hotel & Spa

This was by far and away the best accommodation we’ve had whilst in SEA. Thanks to Maria’s wonderful mum, we enjoyed 2 nights of luxurious bliss at this amazing hotel. They have a wonderful spa where we had an incredible 45 minute full-body massage.

2-for-1 drinks from 3-7pm also added a good deal of fun to our evenings, whilst the included buffet breakfast made our recovery the next mornings much easier!

Check this place out if you have a larger budget and fancy a bit of luxury after weeks spent in dorm rooms.

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The view from the riverside entrance to Lantana.

Things to do and see

  1. My Son Sanctuary

This collection of 71 mostly ruined Hindu temples is a must see for anyone in Hoi An. Located an hours drive from the old town, this site was mostly destroyed by American bombs during the conflict and very little is left standing. There have been many UNESCO renovation projects, joining forces with the Vietnamese Government as well as the likes of the Italy and India however, most of the sanctuary is far too badly damaged to ever consider rebuilding. Still, it is a really beautiful spot, and worth visiting.

The temples were built by the Champa Kings between the 4th and 14th centuries, each one commemorating a king’s rule and erected in honour of a particular Hindu god. Unlike the rest of the Vietnam which was Buddhist, the Champa were Hindus and were related to people form the Indian subcontinent, apparently sharing similar features. They were later forced to leave after warring with the Vietnamese people’s, leaving these temples unused and undiscovered until the French came across them in the 19th century.

We chose the early tour of the sanctuary as we knew this would be the quieter and cooler (24/25 degrees Celsius as opposed to 31) time to visit. This meant that we needed to wake up at around 4am to get a 4.30am bus, but it was worth it for the sunrise and the more comfortable temperatures as even in the relative coolness, I sweated profusely!

  1. Old Town

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Here you will find an endless choice of wonderful cafes, restaurants and bars, all of will which I will delve into when giving recommendations. However, the city has more than it’s hugely varied and excellent cuisine going for it.

There are shops selling all manner of trinkets and accessories, tailors and then there are the lanterns. They are everywhere, hanging low across most of the streets, lighting the way in an array of many colours. If you walk back late at night, you will hear harpsichord music playing over the loudspeakers which seem to be attached to every telephone pole in the old town. It really does have a magical and extremely romantic atmosphere, so take it in.

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One of many lantern covered shop fronts in Hoi An.
  1. Night Market

Located on La Hoi Island, the night market is bustle of activity that will keep you coming back. There is food, clothes, accessories, bars and more food. Do visit if you get a chance!

  1. Lantern Festival

Hoi An’s Old Town in famous for it’s Lantern Festivals and for the streets lined with them. Every night, the river surface is illuminated with hundreds of paper ‘wish lanterns’, another contributing factor to the mystical feel of the city. As such, you really needn’t wait for the monthly lantern festivals to enjoy the spectacle.

  1. Tailors

Hoi An is famous for its affordable tailors. Getting a tailored shirt back in England could set you back between £50-£300 depending on where you choose to empty your bank account. However, here in Hoi An, I bought a tailored linen shirt for just over £10. You do the maths. You get far more bang for your bucks here and what many travellers choose to do is to buy many items then post them home.

Venture down to Hoang Dieu Street in Hoi An and you will probably be overwhelmed with the choice available to you as we were. However, after about an hour of fittings and price enquiries, we decided on Chan Troi Skyline (33 Hoang Dieu St.). Mrs Su Dung (pronounced Yung) was so friendly, helpful and did everything she could to make our clothes fit as well as possible. Her English was also impeccable which meant we could coherently express exactly what we wanted to her without the fear of her making mistakes.

The end result of our visit was a pair of shorts and a shirt which fitted me perfectly and a playsuit, dress and bikini of even better quality for Maria. All of this for under £90. Make sure you visit her – she is amazing!

Contact her on:

Whatsapp – +84905053398

Email – dungtuyet1229@gmail.com

  1. Beaches

The two famous beaches near Hoi An are called Cua Dai and An Bang. They aren’t the nicest or cleanest, but it if you love getting battered by aggressive waves, (like me) you’ll have a great time. There are plenty of good restaurants nearby so you won’t go hungry!

  1. SuperFit Gym

Maria and I really enjoy keeping fit, so it was very important for us to find a good gym here, given how long we were staying. Superfit has everything you could want; squat racks, lots of dumbbells, plenty of weights/cardio machines and also a room for fitness classes.

 

Best Eats

The highlight of our visit here has to be the food and coffee! Yes we are in Asia and yes we are surrounded by any exciting attractions, but Maria and I are two incredibly food-orientated people who will plan things around our meals. Honestly, either of us hangry is no joke so finding a good place to eat is usually a priority for us.

I would recommend downloading offline Google Maps, because Maps.me isn’t up to date with a lot of the places worth visiting here.

 

  1. Rosie’s Cafe

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Inspired by the story ‘Love, Rosie’, this amazing cafe is testament to the owners belief that continual hard work can bring dreams to fruition. The menu is is varied and contains vegan and vegetarian options, as well as having one of the best English Breakfasts I have ever had. Its is slightly pricier than other cafes but it is worth it, and still very cheap when you compare it to prices back home.

  1. Cafe 43

This hidden gem lies a short walk from the Old Town. It doesn’t look like much but don’t judge a book by it’s cover – the food is amazing! It is also obscenely cheap! You will find a variety of options on the menu, ranging from Vietnamese dishes, to Western specialties and also vegetarian food.

  1. Hoi An Smoothie

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Another great little breakfast place if you’re looking for a healthy burst of energy. The smoothie bowls here are amazing and so are the coffees and smoothies. Located near the centre of the Old Town, you will find this spotlessly clean cafe full of healthy insta food bloggers, but don’t be put off as it is worth it.

  1. Salt Pub

This is a great pub located near An Bang beach. I was lured in the fish & chips and I wasn’t disappointed at all. In fact, I was amazed by how good it was. It is averagely priced, and the beer is cheaper than coffee so grab yourself a cold down to relax after a heavy day of laying of the beach and burning.

  1. Bao Han

Another restaurant located near the beach (Cua Dai). The prices are really low and the food is amazing, especially the seafood and tofu. It’s also a great place to meet other backpackers as they do seem to congregate hear for good food at around 7pm. Go and get yourself some cheap grub and a good beer.

  1. Minh Hien

A great vegan and vegetarian restaurant in the centre of the Old Town, this place has a huge menu with amazing food and a extensive outdoor seating area. All tables are equipped with fans to keep you cool on warm nights and the staff are really friendly. If you struggle to find vegan places to eat, be sure to visit.

  1. Mot Noodles

This place does the best (and some of the cheapest) pho in Hoi An. They also have amazing iced lemon and ginger tea for 10k VND which they sell from their shop window. Be sure to visit this great little restaurant/cafe if you are in the Old Town.

  1. Night Market

Not great in terms of choices for food, but there are great Banh Mi stalls and Rolled Ice Cream stalls. Eat here if you are on a tighter budget and are curious about the weird and often not-so-wonderful meats of Vietnam. There are also bars lining the streets that are great for a little pit-stop.

 

Best Drinks (i.e. coffee)

  1. Espresso Station

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This was our first coffee stop upon our arrival into Hoi An, and boy did we need it. After over 17 hours on the bus from Ninh Binh, we needed a great coffee and some gingery biscuits to perk us up and this place more than sated that need. We both had great coffees – not surprising when you consider that this is the No. 1 most recommended place on TripAdvisor. The choice available was also incredible. Flat Whites, Lattes, Cappuccinos and Frappes were all on the menu but, so were a variety of novel coffees, such as the Pink Latte and the Matcha Coffees.

This place is great! Fulfill your Insta story or caffeine motivated desires here.

  1. Cocobox & Hoi An Roastery

There are something like 15 of these shops in Hoi An Old Town combined. They are stores that are partnered to each other so the menus are very similar, but the coffee is unbelievable. I definitely recommend the Iced Vanilla Coffee if you are in need of a cooldown from the humidity outdoors.

  1. Uy Thien

Compared to other places on the list, this coffee shop was very cheap. However, the coffee was not a significant step down and was actually even more satisfying given that we were paying less than half the price of other shops. Would definitely recommend to backpackers on a budget!

  1. The Deck, Royal Hotel (Sofitel Group)

This is the only place we didn’t go to for coffee. It is an amazing cocktail bar overlooking the Old Town and is consequently waaaay more expensive than your usual prices for SEA. However, it’s worth a visit for the novelty factor!

  1. Mia Coffee

Mimi was desperate to go for coffee here as it was “named after her” and thankfully it was just as good as anywhere else we’d been in Hoi An.

 

In Summary…

… Hoi An has to be our favourite place in SEA so far. The food was amazing but so was the old city and the activities available. Some travellers we have spoken to have skipped Hoi An in order to spend more time in Danang which we feel would be a massive mistake. Danang doesn’t have anywhere near as much character, or indeed as much to do within the city. We felt the complete opposite about Hoi An and would love to go back someday. Yes, it is a massive tourist trap and yes, it is really commercialised but, it has somehow managed to retain its colonial Old Town charm and still feels as authentic as it looks in the postcards and photo shoots.

Get yourself down to Hoi An and be sure to be flexible on the time you spend there. I can guarantee you’ll be sad to leave so make sure you have time to extend your stay!

 

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