Hoi An was only 4 hours south of Hue, so we thankfully dodged the sleeper bus for this one. After hours of winding through mountains and rice paddies we finally arrived in a little town, with sun beaming upon us. We were only a couple kilometres further south and already the change in climate was noticeable.
We chose to stay outside the main town area and it was only a 10 minute walk into the town. The overall town is about 30 minutes walking distance on one end, and even less on the other side of the river where most of the locals live and is completely underdeveloped.
Hoi An is a town that is listed on the UNESCO site list due to its buildings which have survived since the times of traders and merchants when it was a port town. Many of the tailors of those heydays have been left behind creating a huge tailoring industry where loads of tourists mainly come to this town to get personalized clothing made for cheap. Yet this town has so much more than just that.
Being a pedestrian town gives it a very easy going feel. The locals are extremely friendly and not trying to take your money (at least outside the main town area). We stayed here for 5 days and it felt like we almost lived here due to all the people we got to know in that tine.
If walking isn’t your thing it’s cheap to rent a bicycle and bike around as well, since there is virtually no traffic on the small streets. The buildings house cafes, restaurants and shops – there is never a dull moment! The streets which are lined with yellow washed buildings create so much character and an old world feel. It felt like I stepped out of the current time period. Life just went by at such a slow pace, and for once I wasn’t on the beach to be feeling this way!
Most of the shops are also homes of the owners, so it was interesting to step into a store to browse, yet see the entire family huddled over a TV in the back room, eating their pho for breakfast.
The only negative component of so many shops is being attacked by vendors almost every minute. The most popular thing you hear is ‘You wanna buy?’
After 2 days it becomes unbearable and you learn to heed past most of them. But the Asian guilt trip (where vendors tell you their life story – children and family to take care of) did work a few times. If they weren’t ALL selling the same souvenirs they might have better luck with the tourists.
Aside from the souvenirs Hoi An is a shoppers mecca due to the personalized clothes, jackets, and shoes that can be made at an affordable price. We were told that it’s cheap, but unless you are a serious bargainer (who actually enjoys it) then you end up paying what you would pay at home BUT for clothes that are custom made to fit. I had to buy an extra suitcase to bring my stuff back! It’s quite easy to lose track of all that you are ordering and each day you see a new design and convince yourself it’s not that expensive.
If you are a shopaholic, steer clear of Hoi An or only spend a few days where you can limit your spending.
In the middle of the town runs the river with beautifully lit lights and cafes lines along the river. It’s absolutely beautiful to hang out at night and luckily for us we arrived in time for the full moon festival, when they send lanterns into the river. The river fills up with paper lanterns and the banks are filled with lantern vendors and tourists.
art galleries fill the streets
Cui Dai beach is a 20 minute bike ride east and is a small quaint beach with small resorts and loads of old women, once again selling the same souvenirs. It’s a cute town to bike around and a pleasant ride through the countryside, along side tractors and scooters.
Since we stayed outside the main town we stumbled across the Hoi An orphanage, home to 73 orphans. We walked in curious to see what an orphanage in Vietnam would be like. We left quite saddened due to all the disabled children we saw who just wanted to be held. Unfortunately no one spoke English and we were left alone with the children. I did find out later that most of the children in Vietnam are abandoned due to disabilities; some are left at the orphanage while some are found around the town stranded. This orphanage is lucky to be in a tourist town since we saw a few tourists come into make donations. There are heaps more around the country that wouldn’t get as much financial support since these are government run orphanages, which is why the staff seemed very non-chalant and uninterested.
Hoi An seems to thrive through tourism; it must be strange living here as a local. The town is safe even at night and is very peaceful. This was my favourite place in all of Vietnam. Even if it was touristy, there are still ways to escape it and mingle with the local. There isn’t much to see exactly- it’s a place to hang out, shop and browse. The town feels historic and is home to the nicest people I have met in this country.