Graceful, historic Hoi An is Vietnam’s most atmospheric and delightful town. Once a major port, it boasts the grand architecture and beguiling riverside setting that that befits its heritage, but the 21st-century curses of traffic and pollution are almost entirely absent.
Hoi An owes its easygoing provincial demeanour and remarkably harmonious old-town character more to luck than planning. Had the Thu Bon River not silted up in the late 19th century- so ships could no longer access the town’s docks - Hoi An would doubtless be very different today. For a century, the city’s allure and importance dwindled until an abrupt rise in fortunes in the 1990s, when a tourism boom transpormed the local ecenomy. Today Hoi An is once again a cosmopolitan melting pot, one of the nation’s most wealthy towns, a culinary mecca and one of Vietnam’s most important tourism centres.
This revival of fortunes has preserved the face of the Old Town and its increadible legacy of tottering Japanese merchant houses, Chinese temples - though, of course, residents and rice fields have been gradually replaced by tourist business. Lounge bars, boutique hotels, travel agents and a glut of tailor shops are very much part of the scene here. And yet, down by the market and over on Cam Nam Island, you’ll find life has changed little. Travel a few kilometres further - you’ll find some superb bicycle, motorbike and boat trips - and some of central Vietnam’s most enticingly laid-back scenery and beaches are within reach.
The earliest evidence of human habitation here dates back 2200 years; excavated cermic fragment are thought to belong to the late Iron Age Sa Huynh civillisation, which is related to the Dong Son culture of northern Vietnam. From the 2nd to the 10th centuries, this was a busy seaport of the Champa kingdom, and archaelologists have found the foundations of numerous Cham towers around Hoi An.
In 1307 the Cham king presentd Quang Nam province as a gift when he married a Vietnamese princess. When his successor refused to recognise the deal, fighting broke out and chaos reigned for the next century. Bu the 15th century, peace was restored, allowing commerce to resume. During the next four centuries Hoi An-known as Faifoo to Western traders - was one of Southest Asia’s major ports. Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Indian, Filipino, Indonesian, Thai, French, British and American ships came to call, and the town’s warehouse teemed with treasures: high-grade silk, fabrics, paper, porcelain, areca nuts, pepper, Chinese medicines, elephant tusks, beeswax, mother-of-pearl and lacquer.
Chinese and Japanese traders left their mark on Hoi An. Both groups came in the spring, driven south by monsoon winds. They would stay in Hoi An untill the summer, when southerly winds would blow them home. During their four-month sojourn in Hoi An, they rented waterfront houses for use as warehouses and living quarters. Some began leaving full-time agents in Hoi An to take care of their off-season business affairs.
The Japanese ceased coming to Hoi An after 1637 (when the Japanese goverment forbade contact with the outside world), but the Chinese lingered. The town’s Chinese assembly halls still play a spacial role for southern Vietnam’s ethnic Chinese, some of whom come from all over the region to participate in congegation-wide calebrations.
This was also the first place in Vietnam to be exposed to Christianity. Among the 17th-century missionary visitors was Alexandre de Rhodes, who divised the Latinbased quoc ngu script for the Vietnamese language.
Although Hoi An was almost completely destroyed during the Tay Son Rebellion, it was rebuilt and continued to be an important port until the late 19th century, when the Thu Bon River silted up. Danang (Tourane) took over as the region’s main port.
Under French rule, Hoi An served as an administrative centre. It was virtually untouched in the Amerian War, thanks to the cooperation of both sides. The town was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1999 and there are now very strict rules in place to safeguard the Old Town’s unique heritage.
Today Hoi An’s economy is booming, and at times the Old Town can struggle to contain the sheer number of visitors. Many accommodation options have opened around the town’s periphery, as Hoi An expands to fulfil the ever-hungry tourism sector.
By Unesco decree, more than 800 historic building in Hoi An have been preserved, so much of the Old Town (www.hoianworldheritage.org.vn; tickets 120,000d) looks as it did serveral centuries ago.
The Chinese who settled in Hoi An identified themselves according to their province of origin. Each community built its own assembly hall, known as hoi quan in Vietnamese, for social gatherings, meetings and celebrations.
All the old houses, except Diep Dong Nguyen and Quang Thang, offer short guided tours. They are efficient, if a tad perfunetory. You;ll be whisked to a heavy wooden chair while your guide recites a scripted introduction to the house, and gives a souvenir soft sell. You’re free to wander around the house after the tour.
One downside to putting these old houses on show is what were once living spaces now seem dead and museum-like, the family having sequestered itself away from visitors’ eyes. Huge tour groups can completely spoil the intimacy of the experience too, as they jostle for photo oppotunities.
All four museums are small. Displays are pretty basic and the information provided minimal.
Eighteen of these buildings are open to visitors and require an Old Town ticket for admission; the fee goes towards funding conservation work. Buying a ticket at any of the Old Town booths is easy enough; planning your visit around the byzantine admission options is another matter. Each ticket allows you to visit five different heritage attractions: museum, assembly halls, ancient houses and a traditional music show at the Handicraff Workshop. Tickets are valid for access into the Old Town itself, but you won’t normally be checked if you’re just dining or shopping in the area. Keep your ticket with you just in case.
Despite the number of tourists who flood into Hoi An, it is still a convervative town, Visitors should dress modestly, especially since some of the old houses are still private homes.
Japanese Covered Bridge.
(Cau Nhat Ban) This beautiful little brisge is emblematic of Hoi An. A bridge was first constructed here in the 1590s by the Japanese community to link them with the Chinese quarters. Over the centuries the onamentation has remained relatively faithful to original Japanese design. The French flattened out the roadway for cars, but the original arched shape was restord in 1986.
The structure is very solidly construted because of the threat of earthquakes. The entrances to the bridge are guarded by weathered statues: a pair of monkeys on one side, a pair of dogs on the other. According to one story, many of Japan’s emperors were born in the years of the dog and monkey. Another tale says that construction of the bridge started in the year of the monkey and was finished in the year of the dog. The stelae, listing all Vietnamese and Chinese contributors to a subsequent restoration of the bridge, are written in chu nho (Chinese characters) - the nom script had not yet become popular. While access to the Japanese Bridge is free, you have to surrender a ticket to see a small, unimpressive temple built into the bridge’s northern side.
(Phuc Kien Hoi Quan; opposite 35 Tran Phu Street; admission by Old Town ticket; 7am-5:30pm) Originally a traditional assembly hall, this structure was later transformed into a temple for the worship of Thien Hau, a deity from Fujian province. The green-tiled triple gateway dates from 1975. The mural on the right-hand wall depicts Thien Hau, her way lit by lantern light as she srosses a stormy sea to rescue a foundering ship. Opposite is a mural of the heads of the six Fujian families who fled from China to Hoi An in the 17th century.
The pelnultimate chamber contains a statue of Thien Hau. To either side of the entrance stand red-skinned Thuan Phong Nhi and green-skinned Thien Ly Nhan, deities who alert Thien Hau when sailors are in distress.
In the last chamber, the central altar contains seated figures of the heads of the six Fujian families. The smaller figures below them represent their successors as clan leaders. Behind the altar on the right are three fairies and smaller figures representing the 12 ba mu (midwives), each of whom teaches newborns a different skill necessary for the first yearr of life: smiling, sucking and the forth. Childless couples come here to pray for offspring and leave fresh fruit as offerings.
Tan Ky House
(101 Nguyen Thai Hoc; admission by Old Town ticket; 8am-noon & 2-4.30pm) Built two centuries ago by an ethnically Vietnamese family, this gem of a house has been lovingly preserved through seven gererations. Look out for signs of Japanese and Chinese influences on the architecture. Japanese elements include the ceiling (in the sitting area), which is supported by three progressively shorter beams, one on top of the other. Under the crab-shell ceiling are carvings of crossed sabres wrapped in the silk ribbon. The sabres symbolise force, the silk represents flexibility.
The interior is brightened by a beautiful detail: Chinese peams written in inlaid mother-of-pearl hand from some of the columns that hold up the roof. The Chinese characters on these 150-year-old panels are formed entiredly of birds gracefully portrayed in various position of flight.
The couryard has several functions: to let in light, provide ventilation, bring a glimpse of nature into the home, and collect rainwater and provide drainage. The carved wooden balcony supports around the couryard are decorated with grape leaves, which are in European import and futher evidence unique blendings of cultures in Hoi An.
The back of the house faces the river and was rented out to foreign merchant. Marks on one wall record recent flood heights, in cluding the 1964 record when the water covered almost the entire ground level. There are two pulleys attached to a beam in the loft- in the past they were used for moving goods into storage, and today for raising furtinure for safekeeping from the floods.
The exterior of the roof is made of tiles; inside, the ceiling consists of wood. This design keeps the house cool in summer and warm in winter.
Tran Family Chapel
(21 Le Loi street; admission by Old Town ticket; 7.30am-noon & 2-5.30pm) Built for worshipping family ancestors, this chapel dates back to 1802. It was commissioned by Tran Tu, one of the clan who ascended to the rank of mandarin and served as an ambassador to China. His picture is to right of the chapel. The architecture of the buiding reflects the influence of Chinese (the ‘turtle’ style roof), Japanese (triple beam) and vernacular (look out for the bow-and-arrow detailing) styles.
The central door is reserved for the dead-its opened at Tet and on 11 November, the death anniversary of the main ancestor. Traditionally, women entered from the lest and men from the right, although these distinctions are no longer observed.
The woodenn boxes on the altar contain the Tran ancestors’ stone tablets, with chiselled Chinese characters setting out the dates of birth and death, along with some small personal effects. On the anniversary of each family member’s death, their box is opened, incense is burned and food is offered.
After a short tour, you’ll be shown to the ‘antique’ room, where there are lots of coins for sale, and a side room full of souvenirs.
Quan Cong Temple.
(Chua Ong; 24 Tran Phu; admission by Old Town ticket) Founded in 1653, this small temple is dedicated to Quan Cong, an essteemed Chinese general who is worshipped as a symbol of loyalty, sincerity, integrity and justice. His partially gilded statue, made of papier-mache on a wooden frame, is on the central alter at the back of the sanstuary. When someone makes an offering to the portly looking Quan Cong, the caretaker solemnly strikes a bronze bowl that makes a bell-like sound.
On the left of Quan Cong is a statue of Genearl Chau Xuong, one of his guardians, striking a tough-guy pose. One the right is the rather plump administrative mandarin Quan Binh. THe life-sized white horse recalls a mount ridden by Quan Cong.
Check out the carp-shaped rain spouts on the roof surrounding the couryard. The carp is a symbol of patience in Chinese mythology and is popular in Hoi An.
Shoes should be removed when mouting the platform in front of the statue of Quan Cong.
Phuoc Lam Pagoda.
(Thon 2a, Cam Ha; 8am-5pm) This pagoda (founded in the mid-17th century) is associated with An Thiem, a Vietnamese prodigy and mink from the age of eight. When he was 18, he volunteered for the army so his brother could escape the draft; he eventually rose to the rank of general. Later he returned to the monkhood, but to atone for his sins of war he volunteered to clean the Hoi An market for 20 years, then joined this pagoda as its head monk.
To reach the pagoda , continue past Chuc Thanh Pagoda for 500m. The path passes an obelisk that was erected over the tomb of 13 ethnic Chinese who were decapitated by the Japanese during WWII for resistance activities.
Museum of Trading Ceramics
(80 Tran Phu Street; admission by Old Town ticket; 7am-5.30pm) Occupies a restored wooden house and contains artefacts from all over Asia, with oddities from as far afield as Egypt. While this reveals that Hoi An had some rather impressive trading links, it takes an expert’s eye to appreciate the display. The exhinition on the restoration of Hoi An’s old house provides a useful crash course in Old Town architecture.
Chinese All-Community Assembly Hall
(Chua Ba; Tran Phu Street; 8am-5pm) Founded in 1773, this assembly hall was used by Fujian, Cantonese, Hainan, Chaozhou and Hakka congregations in Hoi An. To the right of the entrance are portraits of Chinese resistance heroes in Viet Nam who died during WWII. The well-retored main temple is a total assault on the senses, with smoking incense spirals, demonic-looking deities, dragons and lashing of red lacquer - it’s dedicated to Thien Hau.
Assembly Hall of the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation
(Trieu Chau Hoi Quan; opposite 157 Nguyen Duc Hieu ; admission by Old Town ticket; 8am-5pm) Built in 1752, the highlight in this congregational hall is the gleaming woodcarvings on the beams, walls and altar - absolutely stunning in their intricacy. You could stand here for hours to unravel the stories, but if you’re just popping by quickly, look for the carvings in front of the altar of two Chinese women wearing their hair in an unexpectedly Japanese style.
Chuc Thanh Pagoda
(7 Tan An; 8am-6pm) Founded in 1454 by a Buddhist monk from China, this iis the oldest pagoda in Hoi An. Among the antique ritual objects still in use are several bells, a stone gong that is two centuries old and a carp-shaped wooden gong said to be even venerable. To get to Chuc Thanh pagoda, go north all the way to the end of Nguyen Truong To and turn left. Follow the lane for 500m.
(9 Nguyen Thai Hoc; admission by Old Town ticket) Housed in a 200-year-old Chinese trading house, the Handicraft Worshop has artisans making silk lanterns and practising traditional embroiderey in the back. In the front is your typical tourist-oriented cutural show with traditional singers, dancers and musicians. It makes a sufficiently diverting break from sightseeing.
Tran Duong House
(25 Phan Boi Chau; admission 20,000d; 9am-7pm) There’s a whole block of cononnaded French colonial buiding on Phan Boi Chau between Nos 22 and 73, among them the 19th-century Tran Duong House. It’s still a private home, so a family member will show you around. There’s some antique French and Chinese furniture, including a sideboard buffet abd a sitting room set with elaborate mother-of-pearl inlay. By constrast, the large, plain wooden table in the front room is the family bed.
Hoi An Museum of History & Culture
(7 Nguyen Hue; admission by Old Town ticket; 7am-5.30pm) House in the Quan Am pagoda, this museum provides a sampling of pre-Cham, Cham and port-era artefacts, with some huge bells, historics photos, old scales and weights alongside plenty of ceramics.
Quan Thang House
( 77 Tran Phu; admission by Old Town ticket; 7am-5pm) This house is three centuries old and was built by a Chinese captain. As usual, the architecture includes Japanese and Chinese elements. There are some especially fine carvings of peacocks and flowers on the teak of the rooms around the couryard, on the roof beams and under the crab-shell roof (in the salon beside the couryard).
Assembly Hall of the Cantonese Chinese Congregation
(Quang Hieu Hoi Quan; 176 Tran Phu; admission by Old Town ticket; 8am-5pm) Founded in 1786, this assembly hall has a tall, airy entrance that opens onto a splendidly over-the-top mosaic statue of a dragon and a carp. The main altar is dedicated to Quan Cong. The garden behind has an even more incredible dragon statue.
Assembly Hall of the Hainan Chinese Congregation
(Hai Nam Hoi Quan; 10 Tran Phu; 8am-5pm) Built in 1851, this assembly hall is a memorial to 108 merchants from Hainan Island who were mistaken for pirates and killed in Quang Nam province in 1851. The elaborate dais contains plaques to their memory. In front of the central altar is a fine gilded woodcarving of Chinese court life.
Phung Hung Old House
94 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai; admission by Old Town ticket; 8am-7pm). Just a few steps down from the Japanese Covered Bridge, this old house has a wide, welcoming entrance hall decorated with exquisite lanterns, wall hangings and embroidery. There’s also an impressive suspended altar.
Diep Dong Nguyen House
(58 Nguyen Thai Hoc; 8am-noon & 2-4.30pm) Built for a wwealthy Chinese merchant in the late 19th century, this old house looks like a apothecary from another area. The front room was once a dispensary for thuoc bac (Chinese medicine); the medicine were stored in the glass-enclosed cases lining the walls.
Museum of Folklore in Hoi An
(33 Nguyen Thai Hoc/ 62 Bach Dang; admission by Old Town ticket; 7am-5.30pm)Located in a 150-year-old Chinese, trading house. The exhibits give some isea of local customs and culture, though it’s awfully dusty and decontextualised for a folk-history museum. The view of the river from upstairs is very picturesque.
Phat Hat Pagoda
(637 Hai Ba Trung) Phat Hat Pagoda has a colourful facade of ceramics and murals and an elaborate roof with snake-like dragons. There’s a huge central coutyard containing hundreds of potted plants and bonsai trees.
Museum of Sa Huynh Culture & Museum of the Revolution
(149 Tran Phu; admission by Old Town ticket; 7am- 5.30pm). On the lower floor you’ll find stone, bronze, gold, glass and agate jewellery, assorted ceramic fragments and burial jars dating from the early Dong Son civilisation of Sa Huynh. The upper floow’s revolution museum was closed at the time of research.
Ba Le Well
This square well’s claim to fame is that it’s the soursse of water for making authentic cao lau, a Hoi An spaciality. The well is said to date from Cham times and elderly people make their daily pilgrimage to fill pails here. To find it, kturn down the alley opposite 35 Phan Chu Trinh and take the second lane way to the right.
Diving & Snoekelling
A trip to the Cham Island is a superb excursion, and Hoi An’s two dive schools offer packages including overnight camping and diving trips. The diving is not world class, but can be intriguing.
A PADI Discover Scuba dive costs US$70, two fun dives are US$8-0, while Open Water courses start at around US$350. Snorkelling costs around US$42, including gear, with an overnight beach camping option adding an other US$40.
It’s usually only possible to dive or snorkel between February and September; the best consitions and visibility are from June to August.
Cham Island Diving Center
(www.vietnamscubadiving.com; 88 Nguyen Thai Hoc) Run by a friendly, experienced team, this dive shop’s mantra is no troubles, make bubbles. They’ve a large boat and also a speedboat for zippy transfers. Also runs one-day and overnight trips to the Cham Island.
Blue Coral Diving
(www.divehoian.com; 77 Nguyen Thai Hoc) A friendly, professional outfit with an 18m dive boat and additional speedboat.
Massage & Spa
There are many massage and treatment centres in Hoi An. Most are average, run by locals with minimal experience or training. A basic massage costs around US$12 an hour- there’s a strip along Ba Trieu. At the other and of the scale are indulgent places that offer a wonderful spa experience (with prices to match); thse are mostly based in the luxury hotels.
(www.palmarosaspa.cn; 90 Ba Trieu; massage & treatment from 220,000d; 10am-9pm) This highly professional s[pa offers massages (including Thai And Swedish), scrubs, facials, and hand and foot care.
(Duyen Que; http://spahoian.vn; 512 Cua Dai Street; 1hr massage from US$20; 8am-11pm) On the beach road, this treatment centre has functional premises, but staff are well trained. It also arranges complimentary pick-up from Hoi An.
Ba Le Beauty
(www.balewellbeautysalon.com; 45-11 Tran Hung Dao; 9am-7pm) Ba Le is run by a fluent English speaker, who has trained in the UK, and offers inexpensive threading, waxing, facials, manicure and pedicures.
Hoi an has become a mecca for Vietnamese cooking courses, with many restaurants offring classes, These range from a simple set-up in someone’s backyard to purposebuilt schools.
The town does make an ideal place for budding chefs. There are many local specialities unique to the Hoi An region, but most are frienddishly tricky to prepare.
Courses often start with a visit to the market to learn more about key Vietnames ingredients.
(www.greenbamboo-hoian.com; 21 Truong Minh Hung, Cam An; per person US$40) Directed by Van, a charming local chef and English speaker, these courses are more personalised than most. Groups are limited to a maximum of 10, and take place in Van’s spacious kitchen. Choose what to cook from a diverse menu including vegetarian choices. It’s 5km east of the centre, near Cu Dai beach, and transport from Hoi An is included.
Herbs and Spicies
(www.herbsandspiciesvn.com; 2/6 Le Loi Street; per person US$35-59; 10.30am, ,4.30pm & 8pm) Excellent classes with three different menu options, and smaller more hands-on groups than some other cookery classes.
(www.msvy-tastevietnam.com; 106 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street; half-day course US$25-32) This is the cooking course that launched Hoi An cooking courses. It’s directed by Trinh Diem Vy, owner of several restaurants in town, or one of her proteges. Classes concentrate on local recipes including cao lau and “white rose’; kthey can have up to 30 people and some people feel the whole experience is a lilttle too organised.
(www.visithoian.com/redbridge; Thon 4, Cam Thanh; per person US$32-52) At this school, going to class involvs a relaxing 4km cruise down the river. There ar half-day and full-days courses, both of which include market visits.
The half-day class focuses on local specialities, with rice-paper in for good measure. The full-day class instructs participants in the fine art of pho (beef noodle soup).
As an added sweetener, there’s a 20m swimming pool at the school. It’s 4km east of the centre on the banks of the Thu Bon River.
Full Moon Festivel
(5-11pm) Hoi An is a delightful place to be on the 14th day of each lunar month, when the town celebrates a Full Moon Festivel. Motorised vehicles are banned from the Old Town, street market selling handicrafts, souvenirs and food open up, and all the lanterns come out! Traditional plays and musical events are also performed.
Central Vietnamese cuisine is arguably the nation’s most complex and flavoursome, combining fresh herbs (which are sourced from organic gardens close by) with culinary influence from centuries of links with China, Japan and Europe.
The beauty of Hoi An is that you can snag a spectacular cheap meal at the central merket and in casual eateries - or you can splash out on a fine-dining experience.
Hoi An is also blessed with many international dining choices.
(www.restaurant-hoian.com; 2 Tran Phu street; 10.30am-10pm) For local specialities, you can’t beat this modest little restaurant, owned by local legend Vy, who chose the location because it was close to the market, ensuring the freshest produce was directly at hand. Hoi An’s holy culinary trinity (cao lau, white rose and banh xeo) are all superb, as are the special fried wontons).
(www.cocoboxvietnam.com; 94 Le Loi; 9am-9pm Mon-Sat) Refreshing sold-prss juices are the standout at this compact combo of cafe and deli. Our favorite is the Watermelon Man juice combining watermelon, passion fruit, lime and mint. Coffee, salads and snacks are also good-try the chicken pesto sandwich. The attached ‘farm shop’ sells Vietnamese artisan produce, including local honey and cider from Saigon.
(45-51 Tran Van Cao; 11.30am-10pm) Down a little alley near the famous well, this local place is renowned for onw dish: barbecued pork, served up satay-style, which you then combine with fresh greens and herbs to crate your own fresh spring roll. A global reputation mans it can get busy.
(www.msvy-tastevietnam.com/the-market/ 8am-11pm) Offering a (santised ) street-food-style experience for those slightly wary, this huge place has food stations cranking out Vietnamese favorites from all around the country. You sit on benches in a courtyardlike space and the menu is available on electronic tablets. Drinks include beer, lasis, smoothies and juices, and don’t leave without trying the cinnamon or lomongrass ice cream.
(www.facebook/cafezoomhoian; 134 Tran Cao Van; 7am-11pm) Look for the retro Vespas outside this cool cafe and bar that also doubles as the Hoi An location for the friendly Vespa Adventures crew, Cold beer is well-priced, comfort eats include burgers and tacos, and there’s a good mix of classic songs you can hum along to while you’re deciding which Vespa trip to sign up for.
(www.thelittlemenu.com; 12 Le Loi Street; 9.30am-11pm) English-speaking owner Son is fantastic host at this great little restaurant with an open kitchen and short menu - try the fish in banana left or duck spring rolls.
Enjoy Ice Cream
(www.enjoy-hoian.com) 13 Nguyen Phuc Chu, 8am-11pm) More than 50 flavours and Old Town views combine across the river in An Hoi. We’re still thinking about the salted caramel flavour.
(www.facebook.com/nueateryhoian; 10q Nguyen Thi Minh Khai; noon-9pm Mon-Sat) Don’t be deveived by the humble decorat this compact eatery tucket away near the Japanese Bridge. There’s a real wow factor to the seasonal small plates at our new facourite Hoi An restaurant. Combine the pork belly steamed buns with a salad of grilled pineapple, coconut and pomelo, and don’t miss the homemade lemongrass, ginger or chilli ice cream.
A well-chosen wine list-by the glass or the bottle-showcases Australian, French and South American varietals.
(www.msvy-tastevietnam.com/cargo-club; 107 Nguyen Thai Hoc; 8am-11pm) Remarkable cafe-restaurant, serving Vietnamese and Western food, with a terrific riverside location (the upper terrace has stunning views). A relaxing day here munching your way around the menu would be a day well spent. The breakfast are legendary (try the eggs Benedict), the patisserie and cakes are superb, and fine-dining dishes and good cocktails also diliver.
(www.msvy-tastevietnam.com/morning-glory; 106 Nguyen Thai Hoc; 8am-11pm) An out-standing restaurant in historic premises that concentrates on street food and traditionally prepared dishes (primarily from central Vietnam). Highlights include the pork-stuffed squid, and shrimp mousse on sugarcane skewers. There’s an excellent vegetarian selection (try the smoked eggplant), including many wonderful salads. Prices are reasonable given the surrounds, ambience and flavours.
(www.facebook.com/aubergine49; 49a Ly Thai Tho; 11am-3pm & 6-9.30pm) Three-course menus for 250,000d per person are fine reason to taxi around five minutes north of central Hoi An to this stylish restaurant crafting interesting fusion comnbinations of Asian and Western cuisine. There are also a la carte options and a decent wine list; menu standouts include stuffed squid and roast quail.
(41 Nguyen Phuc Chu; 10am-10pm) River views and Western and Vietnamese cuisine combine with good deeds at this laid-back restaurant and bar that provides training and career opportunities for disadvantaged youth from the Hoi An area. There’s a real verve to the wait staff here, and a more sophisticated ambience compared to other nearby bars.
Ganesh Indian Reastaurant
(www.ganesh.vn; 24 Tran Hung Dao; 11am-10pm) A highly authntic, fine-value North Indian restaurant where the tandoor oven pumps out perfect naan bread and the chefs’ fiery curries don’t pull any punches. Unlike many curry houses, this one has atmosphere, and also plenty of vegetarian choices. Slurp a lassi or slug on a beer and you’r set.
(www.themangomango.com; 45 Nguyen Thi; 7am-10pm) Casual and laid-black eatery owned by well-known Vietnamese-North American chef Duc Tran, which focuses on authentic and tasty version of homestyle Vietnamese food. It’s in a quite location a short walk from the Japanesee Bridge. The red snapper is a standout dish.
Miss Ly cafeteria 22
(22 Nguyen Hue; 9am-9pm) A refined little restaurant run by a Vietnamese- North American team with mellow music and antique wall prints. Dishes include tasty cao lau, and other Vietnamese favourites are well presented.
(www.themangomango.com; 45 Nguyen Phuc Chu; 7am-10pm) Celebrity chef Duc Tran’s most beautiful Hoi An restaurant enjoys a prime riverside plot and puts a global spin on Vietnamese cuisine, with fresh, unexpected combinations to the max. Perhaps at times the flavour matches are just a little too out there, but the cocktails are some of the best in town.
(www.greenmango.vn; 54 Nguyen Thai Hoc; 11.30am-9.30pm) The setting, inside one of Hoi An’s most impressive traditional wooden houses, is beautiful, and the accomplished cooking (both Western and Estern) matches the surrounds. There’s also one of the only air-conditioned dining rooms in the Old Town upstairs.
Hoi an is not a huge party town as the local authorities keep a fairy strict lid on late-night revelry. The Old Town is a great place to treat yourself to a cocktail or glass of wine.
More raucous action is across the river in Hoi An. Happy hours keep costs down considerably, and most places close arround Lam. The most popular spots in An Hoi change on a regular basis. Turn right after crossing the bridge from Hoi An, and you’ll soon see (and hear) where the backpacker action is currently happening along Nguyen Phuc Chu Street.
Mia Coffee House
(www.facebook.com/miacoffeehouse; 20 Phan Boi Chau; 8am-5pm) Our favorite spot for an espresso, latte or cappucino features a shaded corner location and good food, inclu7ding grilled panini sandwiches and hearty baguettes. Its own coffee blend sourced from Dalat arabica beans is the standout brew, and be sure to try the coffee affogato, a delicious blend of dessert and hot beverage.
Hoi An Roastery
(www.hoianroastery; 135 Tran Phu; 8am-10pm) With single origin brew, excellent cakes, juices and smoothies, this cool little spot wouldn’t be out of place in the hipster precincts of Portland or Melbourne. Recharge with one of 200 different caffein-fuelled variatations, and watch the passing promenade on busy Tran Phu.
(88 Nguyen Thai Hoc; 8am-midnight) The best bar in town, with a great vibe thanks to the welcoming service, contemporary electronic tunes and sofas for lounging. There’s also a cocktail garden and bar at the rear, a pool table and pub grub.
(www.visithoian.com; 99 Le Loi; 11am-11pm) Wine-bar-cum-restaurant in historic premises with an unmatched selection of wines (many are avaiable by the glass, from US$4) and refined ambience. Lunch and dinner set meals cost 230,000.
(94 Nguyen Thai Hoc; noon-midnight) Q Bar offers stunning lighting, lounge musci and electronia, and the best (if pricey at around 120,000d) cocktail and mocktails in town. Draws a cool crowd.
(51 Phan Boi Chau; 7.30am-midnight) Half sports bar (where you can watch everything from Aussie Rules to Indian cricket). Half restaurant (burgers, steaks and local food).
Hoi An has a history of flogging goods to international visitors, and today’s residents haven’t lost their commercial edge.
Clothes are the biggest lure. Hoi An has long been known for fabric production, and tourist demand has swiftly shoehorned many tailor shops into the tiny Old Town. Shoes, also copied from
Western designs, are also popular but quality is variable. Pick up the Live Hoi An map for more shopping listings.
Hoi An has over a dozen art galleries too; check out the streets near the Japanese covered Bridge, along Nguyen Thi Minh KHai Street. Woodcarving ar a local speciality : Cam Nam village and Cam Kim Island are the places to head for.
Couleurs D’Asie Galley
(www.facebook.com/couleur.asie; 7 Nguyen Hue; 9am-9pm) Superb imagines for sale of Vietnam and Asia by Hoi An-based photographer Rehahn. His portraits are particularly stunning, and the best of his imagines are colected in books also for sale.
(www.metiseko.com; 86 Nguyen Thai Hoc; 9am-9.30pm) Winners of a Sustainable Development award, this eco-minded store stocks gorgeous clothing (including kids’ wear), accessories, and homewares such as cushion using natural silk and organic cotton. It is certified to use the Organic Contents Standards label).
(www.facebook.com/villagecraftplanet; 37 Phan Boi Chau; 10am-6pm) Shop here for interesting homewars and fashion, often using natural hemp and indigo, and crafted incorporating Fairtrade practices by the Hmong, Blck Thai and Lolo ethnic minority people in the norht of Vietnam.
(www.reachingoutvietnam.com; 103 Nguyen Thai Hoc; 8.30am-9pm Mon-Fri, 9.30am-8pm Sat-Sun) Excellent Fairtrade gift shop that stocks good-quality silk scarves, clothes, jewellery, hand-painted Vietnamese hats, handmade toys and teddy bears. The shop employs and supports artisans with disabilities, and staff are happy to show visitors through the worshop.
(www.lotusjewellery-hoian.com; 82 Tran Phu; 8am-10pm) Very affordable and attractive hand-crafted pieces loosely modelled on butterflies, drafonflies, Vietnamese sampans, conical hats and Chinese symbols.
(www.mosaiquedecoration.com; 6 Ly Quoc; 7.30am-8pm) Offers stylish modern lighting, silk, linen and hemp clothing, bamboo matting, hand-embroidered cushion covers, gifts and furniture.
(www.hoiandesign.com; 57 Le Loi; 8am-8pm) Stylish boutique run by a European fashion designer that stocks fab off-the-peg dresses, blouses, shoes and accessories (including great and bags)
(103 Tran Phu; 7am-8pm) This familyowned business has been making Chinesestyle lantrns for generations.
Randy’s Book Xchange
(http://bookshoian.com; To 5 Thon Xuyen Trung; 8am-7pm) Head to Cam Nam Island and take the first right to get to this bookshop. Set up like a personal library, it has more than 500 used books for sale or exchange and offers digital downloads too.
Dangers & Annoyances
Hoi an is one of Vietnam’s safer town, but there are infrequent stories of late-night bag-snatching, pickpockets; and (very occasionally) assaults on women. If you are a lone female, walk home with somebody. There have also been reports of drinks being soiked in some bars, so keep a closse eye on your glass.
Many small-time hustlers peddle tours, boat trips, motorbikes and souvenirs, and using a xe om will always be more expensive than a motered taxi.
Hoi An Police Station (0510-386 1204; 84 Hoang Dieu Street)
Dr Ho Huu Phuoc Practice (0510-386 1419; 74 Le Loi; 11am-12.30pm & 5-9.30pm) English speaking.
Hoi An Hospital (0510-386 1364; 4 Tran Hung Dao; 6am-10pm) For serious problems, go to Danang.
Agribank (Cua Dai; 8am-4.30pm Mon-Fri, 8.30am-1pm Sat) Changes cash and has ATMs.
Vietin Bank (0510-386 1340; 4 Hoang Dieu; 8am-5pm Mon-Fri, 8.30am-1.30pm Sat) Changes cash and has an ATM.
Main Post Office (6 Tran Hung Dao; 7am-5pm) On the edge of the Old Town.
Hoi An Old Town Booths (7am-5pm) HoiAn Old Town Booths sell Old Town tickets and have limited information and maps. Located at 30 Tran Phu; 10 Nguyen Hue, 5 Hoang Dieu and 78 Le Loi.
Live Hoi An (www.livehoianmagazine.com) Handy free map that is also avaiable to view online.
Tourist Information Office (0510-366 633; www.quangnamtourism.com.vn; 47 Phan Chau Trinh; 8am-5pm) Helpful office with good English spoken.
Competition is strong, so check out your options and negotiate.
Rose Travel Service (0510-391 7567; www.rosetravelservice; 37-39 Ly Thai To; Vietnam, plus car rental and buses.
Sinh Tourist (0510-386 3948; www.thesinhtourist.vn; 587 Hai Ba Trung; 6am-10pm) Books reputable open-tour buses.
The closet airport is 45 minutes away in Danang.
Most norht-south bus services do not stop at HoiAn, as Hwy 1 passes 10km west of the town. But you can head for the town of Vinh Dien and flag down a bus there.
More convenient open-tour buses offer regular connections for Hue (US$12, four hours) and Nha Trang (regular/ speeper US$14/ 19, 11 to 12 hours). Most accommodation owners can book tickets.
Buses to Da Nang (18,000d, one hour) leave from the northern bus station just off Le Hong Phong, and a 15-minute walk from central Hoi An. Bus drivers for Danang sometimes try to charge foreigners more, but the correct fare is posted by the door. Look for the yellow bus. Note the last bus back from Danang leaves around 6pm.
Car & Motorcycle
To get to Danang (30km), head north out of town and join up with Hwy 1, or head east to Cua Dai Beach and follow the China Beach coastal road. Motorbikes charge about 150,000 for the trip to Danang. Taxis cost approximately 400,000 are cheaper if you don’t use the meter. Negotiate a price first.
A trip in a car to Hue starts from US$100 (depending on how many stops you plan to make along the way). While a half-day trip around the surround area, including My Son, is around US$60.
A popular way to transfer between Hoi An and Hue is on a motorcyle. A bike with driver is around US$45, and around US$25 if you’re driving.
Hoi An is best explored on foot; the Old Town is compact and highly walkable. To go further afield, rent a bicycle (25,000 per day). The route east to Cua Dai is quite scenic, passing rice paddies and a river estuary, but is definitely becoming more developed with hostels and guesthouses.
A motorbike without/ with a driver will cost around US$6/12 per day. Reckom on about 70,000 for a taxi to An Bang beach.
Boat trips on the Thu Bon River can be fascinating. A simple rowboat (with rower) should cost about 90,000d per hour, and one hour is probably long enough. Some My Son tour include a return journey by boat back to central Hoi An.
Motorboats can be hired to visit handicraft and fishing villages for around 200,000d per hour. Boatmen wait between the Cam Nam and An Hoi bridges in central Hoi An.
Metered taxis are usually cheaper than xe om.
Hoi An Taxi (0510-391-9919) Good local operators.
Mai Linh (0510-392 5925) Local partners to Vietnam-wide company.
Around Hoi An
This small village has long been known for its pottery industry. Most villagers have switched from making bricks and tiles to making pots and souvenirs for tourist trades. The artisans employed in this paintaking work are happy just to show off their work, but prefer it if visitors buy something. There’s a 25,000d admission fee to the village. Thanh Ha is 3km west of HoiAn and can be easily reached on bicycle.
Thanh Ha Terracotta Park
(www.thanhhaterracotta.com; Thanh Ha village; 8.30am-5.30pm) This new museum presents an over view of the history of terracotta in different countries and cultures around the world. Often there are local craftspeople in residence in the museum’s workshop.
Cam Kim Island
The master woodcarvers who crafted the intricate detail adorning Hoi An’s Public buildings and the historical homes of the town’s merchants came from KimBong village on Cam Kim Island. Most of the wood-carvings on sale in Hoi An are produced here.
Noats to the island leave from the boat landing at Bach Dang Street in Hoi An (30,000d, 30minutes). The village and island, quite rural in character, are fun to explore by bicycle.
Cua Dai Beach
Heading east of Hoi An, new housing and hostels mix with older rice paddies, and the riverbank meanders for around 5km to sandy beaches. This palm-fringed coastline extends north to DAnang, and despite the development, there are still a few quiter stretches; it;s a good area to explore indepently on two wheels.
Nearest to Hoi An, Cua Dai Beach has a few big resorts, and an onggoing and escalating problem with beach erosion exacerbated by the past buiding of hostels. If you’re staying here, your daily swim will need to be in the hotel’s pool, because the sandy beach has largely disappered.
K’Tu Marjet & Coffee
(An Bang; 8am-6pm) Set back from the beach, this new opening is a relaxed mix of culinary cultures from the Australian-Vietnamese couple who own it. There’s excellent coffee, a handy deli section with Europe goddies like sundried tomatoes, pasta sauce and tasty homemade sausages. The funky outdoor tables are a top spot to enjoy K’Tu’s barbecues and even the occasional roasted suckling pig.
(www.soulkitchen.sitew.com; 10am-10pm Tue-Sun, 10am-6pm Mon) Oceanfront restaurant with a grassy garden and thatched dining area where the daily menu could include tuna carpaccio, seafood salad or caramari. There are good wines and cocktails too, and on Sunday afternoons from around 4pm, it’s the place for gigs from a crew of talented locals and expats. There’s also live music from 5.30pm from Thursday to Saturday.
( noon-2.30pm & 5.30pm-10pm) In a whitewashed villa with a lovely garden, Sea Shell’s food is a mix of Vietnamese and European influences. The charming owner used to live in France, and her touch shines through in Parisian bistro dishes like pate de maison and quiche. The roast chicken is classic comfort food, and Vietnamese flavours include pork-stuffed squid and fish with tamarind.
Restaurant & Bar
(www.anbangbeachhideaway.com/white-sails-restaurant) Relocated from Hoi An to the up-and-coming dining scene at An Bang Beach, White Sail offers a good menu of Vietnamese classics, but the real atraction are the regular seafood barbecues. Cocktails are mixed with robust pours; cold beer and ocean and island views come as mandatory side dishes. There’s a very laid-back vibe.
(www.laplagebeachbar.wordpress.com; 8am-10pm). This beachfront place offers delicious snacks, Gallic-style salads and other French-accented main dishes. Seafood options-usually with a Vietnamese slantare always strong, and breakfast at La Plage is a great way to start the day. Weekends are very popular with An Bang’s growing band of expats.
(ww.lunadautunno.vn; 11am-10pm) Fine beachside Italian restaurant with an authentic menu of antipasti, salads, pasta, meat dishes and the best pizza, from a wood-fired oven, in central Vietnam.
A breathtaking cluster of granite islands, set in a quamarine seas, around 15km directly offshore from Hoi An, the Cham Islands make a wonderful exursion. Once closed to visitors and under close military supervision, day trips, diving or snorkelling the reefs, or overnight stays are now possible.
The serenity of the island has been compromised - especially on weekends and Vietnamese holidays - by boatloads of tourists from the mainland, so plan your visit accordingly. It’ll have to be between March and September, as the oceaan is usually too rough at other times. There are also plans afoot to develop the islands more like a central Vietnam version of Phu Quoc, and coastal land has been confirmed for resort development.
Only the main island, Hon Lao, is in habited - the other seven Chams are rocky forested specks. A rich underwater environment features 135 species of soft and hard coral and varied macrolife. The island are offically protected as a marine park. Fishing and the collection of birds’ nests (for soup) are the two key industries here.
Bai Lang, Hon Lao’s little port, is the main village (aside from two remote hamlets). A relaxed place with speepy lanes, its leeward location has long offered protection for mariners from the rough waters of the South China Sea.
Tiny Bai Huong, a fishing village 5km southeast of bai Lang, is an idyllic but isolated spot where an excellent homestay initiative has been established.
At the time of writing, The Vietnamese militarity had just approved opening up roads that were formerly off limits to tourists. It’s now possible to take a bicycle on the publisc ferry, and ride up to terraced tea plantations and explore other areas of Hon Lao.
Sights & Activities
Unsurprisingly, divers and snorkellers are some of the main visitors to the Cham Islands. While the diving isn’t world class (visitbility can be poor and overfishing is a problem), it is intriguing; five species of lobster, 84 species of mollusc and some 202 species of fish are endemic to the Chams. Dive trips and overnight stays can be arranged through dive centres inHoi An, such as Cham Island Diving Cent5er; a full-day trip that inclused snorkelling, a short hike, lunch and beach time costs US$44. An overnight option incorporating beach camping is US$82.
Bai Lang’s only real sight is a modest temple dedicated to the whales (and whale sharks) once abudant around the Chams. Locals worshipped whales as oceanic deties who would offer them protection at sea. When a carcass washed ashore, they’d clean the bones and perform an elaborate ceremony at the temple before giving the bones a burial. Sadly, shales ar very seldom seen around the Chams today.
A reccently bulit concrete path heads southest from Bai Lang for 2km past coves to a fine, sheltered beach, where there’s great swimming, powdery sand, and hammocks and thatched parasols beside seafood restaurants. During holiday times the beach is packed with boats coming and going. Trails lead into forested hills behind Bai Lang.
Getting There & Around
Tour agencies charge US$25 to US$40 for island tours, but most day trips are very rushed and give you little time to enjoy the Chams. Speedboats are often crowded, time for snorkelling limited, and the coral and marine life on display only average.
If possiblt, we recommend a few nights at the Bai Huong homestay program to experience the best of the islands. For the best one-day experience, book with one of the specialised dive operators in Hoi An. They can also arrange overnight camping stays.
Public boats to Cham Island dock at Bai Lang village. There’s a scheduled daily connection from a jetty on Nguyen Hoang Street in HoiAn (two hours, 7am). Foreigners are routinely charged and visa as the boat captain needs to prepare a permit. Note that boats do not sail during heavy seas. From Bai Lang, a return ferry back to Hoi An leaves around 11am.
Local boatmen and xe om offer connection between Bai Lang and Bai Huong; the rate is about 30,000 for a boat and 100,000 for a xe om.