After 2 days in Ho Chi Minh City, we headed north to Hoi An.
Hoi An Ancient Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a well-preserved example of what used to be a major trading port. Buildings date back to the 15th century. We flew from Saigon to Da Nang and took a cab from Da Nang to Hoi An for roughly $15 for a 40-minute drive.
Upon arrival, we checked in to our hotel, Thanh Van 1 — a decent hotel located only a five-minute walk from the Ancient Town. As soon as we dropped our bags, we were off to explore!
Hoi An is a wonderfully beautiful setting that is, unfortunately, tainted by tourism.
The Ancient Town is lovely — old buildings line the river and everything is illuminated by lanterns. When the sun goes down each night, all of the lanterns light up and it is gorgeous and romantic. The river lights up with floating paper lanterns with candles inside. It’s breathtaking! However, the scene is hard to enjoy because of the endless harassment from street vendors.
You can’t make it more than a few steps without a vendor approaching and asking you to buy something or visit his/her shop. Often, they do not like it when you say “no, thank you” and they begin following you asking, “why?” or complaining about how it is a slow day and business has not been well and they really need your help. I understand everyone is out to make a living as best as they can, but after the 50th encounter, patience wears thin. Even if you score a nice patio seat along the river for dinner or drinks, the vendors are not afraid to walk right up to your table. I don’t mean to sound bitter, it’s just disappointing that such an incredibly lovely setting can’t be enjoyed without constant harassment.
Aside from the vendors, we really enjoyed Hoi An. The restaurants are a little pricier than what we encountered in HCMC, but still cheap by U.S./European standards. Dinner and drinks typically cost us less than $20.
Something to note: you are asked to pay an entrance fee of about $5 to get into the Ancient Town, but the ticket is good for your entire stay. This was pretty inconsistent — sometimes tickets were checked, sometimes they weren’t; some entry roads had a ticket booth while others did not. If you want to avoid the $5 fee, it’s doable. However, they say the proceeds go toward the preservation of the Ancient Town and its attractions, so we had no issue with the small fee.
On our first day in Hoi An we enjoyed lunch at Morning Glory restaurant, which I had seen recommended by a few different blogs. It was great, so I wanted to give it a shout-out as well!
After lunch, we walked along the canal taking in the beautiful sights to include the old Japanese Bridge.
That night we stumbled upon a lovely hidden gem (pun intended) — The Gem Art Museum (GAM) and wine bar. This place had a perfect balcony overlooking the streets and lantern displays, and it was completely empty! We enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine, great music and an awesome view.
One of the main must-do’s in Hoi An is to visit a tailor and design some clothes. There is no shortage of tailor shops throughout this little town. Just be wise with which one you choose, as some are certainly of better quality than others. We were very happy with the one we chose (MAYA).
The ladies at MAYA were so friendly, the prices were excellent and the finished products are fantastic! Ben had a suit, two dress shirts and a blazer made; I had a floor-length dress made. All together we paid less than $200.
Do not wait until your last day to do this, as the tailors need time to work and get everything perfect. We went to our initial appointment on our second morning in Hoi An, then came back for our fitting on the morning of our third day. During the fitting, be sure to point out anything that you want corrected. For example, I decided I wanted thinner straps, shorter sleeves and a higher slit. Make it perfect! We came back for the second fitting later that day and everything was perfect.
In between tailor appointments, we snuck away from Hoi An for a few hours each day to visit surrounding attractions.
An Bang Beach
We rented bikes from a lady outside of our hotel and rode for 20 minutes to An Bang Beach. Maybe on a hot sunny day it’s popping, but it was overcast and only around 70° F the day we went, so the beach was practically empty. We sat at one of the several restaurants/bars along the beach and enjoyed a beer, but were harassed by vendors every couple of minutes.
Though the beach was a bit of a bust, we were okay with that. We were only a couple days away from the beautiful white sand beaches in Phu Quoc, and the bike ride through the rice paddies was lovely!
The next day we visited Marble Mountain in Da Nang.
We only paid about $6 per person for a private guide from Barri Ann Travel and it was so worth it! Marble Mountain is incredible. Hindu and Buddhist statues are carved into marble in the caves and 14th century pagodas are scattered throughout the mountain. We hiked (and in some parts, climbed!) to the top and were rewarded with a beautiful view of Da Nang.
Also deserving of a mention in Hoi An is Phi Báhn Mì! We read on TripAdvisor that this is the BEST báhn mì, and we definitely were not disappointed! We ate lunch here twice. The owners are super friendly and the food is so inexpensive (less than $1 per sandwich). We were never the only Westerners there, so clearly word has traveled about this awesome spot. Check it out!
We spent the rest of our time in Hoi An enjoying the things we knew we loved — another meal at Morning Glory restaurant and another evening at the GAM! Sitting on that balcony overlooking the water, the lanterns and all of the people below… it really doesn’t get much better than that in Hoi An.
Hoi An was lovely and it was very interesting to get a glimpse at “ancient” Vietnam, but we were so anxious and excited to hit the road for our next destination: 6 Days in Phu Quoc, Vietnam.