Hoi An, Vietnam: Tourism & Shopping, but also stuff that doesn’t suck.
The Story -- Hoi An, Vietnam
I have to admit, the first time I was in Hoi An I didn’t like it. The main reason: The tourists. I didn’t come to Vietnam to see westerners. The whole town is centered around tourism. Locals are aggressive when it comes to getting your business. The beautiful buildings are all shops selling — well, it doesn’t matter what they’re selling — I’m not here to shop. Truth be told, Sara and I were in and out of Hoi An in only a few hours. The heat and the harassing was just too much for your favourite budget travel couple. This time around though, I would be stationed in the city for 3 days. I’d have to do things differently if I wanted to keep my cool, so I brought my mom… She thinks I’m cool.
Sample Budget (for 2)
Transportation from Da Nang: 40,000 VND (bus #1)
Accommodations: 1,070,000 VND ($47.67) -- 3 nights
Food: 600,000 (3 dinners) + 90,000 (2 lunches) = 180,000 (3 breakfasts) = 870,000 VND ($38.71)
Booze and snacks: 60,000 VND ($2.67)
Bicycle Rental: 60,000 VND (for 2 bikes)
Transportation to Quy Nhon: 40,000 VND (bus to train station) + 180,000 VND (train to Dieu Tri [for Quy Nhon]) = 220,000 VND ($12.46)
Total: 2,320,000 VND ($103.23 USD or $17.20 each per day)
After conquering the Hai Van Pass, we arrived in Hoi An at around 2:00 and checked-in to the Green Heaven Hoi An Resort and Spa, which is certainly a sweet place to stay, but it will cost you about $50/night. There are cheaper options (see below).
So, what is there to do in Hoi An? Walking around is probably number one on my list. At 8:30 AM the streets in the historical area are shut down to any vehicles with a motor. This makes it much easier to walk, but you still have to watch out for bikes and cyclos. At 11:00 AM until 3:00 PM you’ll get another rush of motorbikes, but nothing too serious as most of the Vietnamese are sleeping at that time. Then from 3:00 PM to 9:30 PM the streets are motor-free again. It’s possible to walk all of the old town in about an hour and a half, but avid shoppers (like my mom) will take 3 or 4 years.
There is now a fee to go into the ancient town of Hoi An. For a foreigner, the cost is 120,000 dong. It’s valid for 10 days, and it will get you into 6 attractions. Before you go changing your plans to visit the city, I’ll admit that I didn’t get a ticket. I entered the ancient town about 10 times and was never stopped as I walked by the many ticket booths that cover off most of the entrances. I actually didn’t even realize that the tickets were for getting into the ancient quarters. I thought that if you didn’t want to go into the attractions (temples, traditional houses, the Japanese bridge, etc) then you didn’t need a ticket. Whoops. My bad. IOU.
Even though I didn’t do any shopping, I still enjoyed strolling the streets of Hoi An. If you’re a photographer, you’ll be snapping like Macho Man at the Slim Jim factory. If you prefer video, just check out my video below… don’t try and out-do it.
When the sun sets, Hoi An’s wow-factor shoots up. The streets are dotted with colorful lanterns, a litter of little boats are literally lit on fire and littered into the river, alliteration runs rampant — as does the people. Trying to cross the Hoi An Bridge (Cầu An Hội) at this time a mess.
The food in Hoi An consists of local dishes that you won’t get anywhere else, like cau lau, and dishes that have Vietnamese roots, but are westernized. For someone who lives in Vietnam (me) this is a welcome change. I love Vietnamese food, but it’s great to try a Vietnamese dish that’s been experimented with, especially because this often involves adding more expensive ingredients. The traditional versions of a lot of Vietnamese dishes were created in a time when people didn’t have much money, so they had to be inexpensive to make. Nowadays, vegetables that are out of season are being used, American beef is available, and banh mi sandwiches are being filled fuller. Speaking of banh mi, you have to try one of these delicious sandwiches in Hoi An. Their bread outdoes the bread in the rest of the country. Go to Banh Mi Phuong on Phan Chau Trinh close to Hoang Dieu (see map below). She’s the best. A sandwich that you’ll never forget will cost you 15-20 thousand dong.
A popular outing from Hoi An is a tour to the Cham Islands. For about $25 each (purchased from one of the many travel agents around town -- see map below for my recommendation) you get a hotel pickup, boat to the island, a tour around the main town, some uneventful snorkeling, a decent lunch, some beach time, a ride home, and all the frustrations that come along with being taken to people-filled places with a bunch of people. If I had to do it all again, I might spend that day at one of the beaches close by — maybe China beach in Da Nang, or Cua Dai beach just outside of Hoi An. Or, you can adventure to the island by yourself and leave the flockers behind.
The Facts -- Hoi An, Vietnam
Getting In and Out of Hoi An, Vietnam
Getting In and Out of Hoi An, Vietnam
The closest airport is in Da Nang. The best option for getting to and from the airport is by hiring a private driver. This cost us 280,000 dong (see Jungle Travel on the map below). The Da Nang airport has flights all over Vietnam, plus some international locations (Tokyo, Seoul, Singapore, Bangkok, etc).
If you want to take the train to Hoi An, you have to get off in Da Nang and take a taxi or bus from there. A taxi will cost you about $15 (negotiate!), but if you walk a block south of the station there’s a bus stop (by the Pizza Hut at 299 Le Duan) where the yellow #1 bus will pick you up and, for 20,000 VND, will take you to Hoi An. The bus runs until 6PM, every 20 minutes. For train details.
Buses come from almost everywhere to drop people off in one of Vietnam’s most popular tourist cities. Hanh Cafe is a good option for cheap prices and decent buses. You can see their buses leaving Hoi An here (in Vietnamese -- the English version of the site isn’t complete). If you’re trying to get from Nha Trang to Hoi An, an overnight bus with Hanh Cafe is 200,000 dong for a 7:30PM to 7:00AM ride. Hue to Hoi An is much easier and quicker. I recommend the scenic route over the Hai Van Pass.
The Best Budget Hotel in Hoi An, Vietnam
Riverlife Homestay Hoi An is an excellent choice for the budget traveler (about $15/night). It’s a 10 minute walk to the ancient town, but is located by the river and away from the frenzy. For the best prices on Agoda, book this one well in advance.
The Best Budget Restaurant in Hoi An, Vietnam
For food and atmosphere, your best bet is a little place down an alley called Nu Eatery. Have a look at the map below for its exact location. Most of the food there is based on local dishes, but have been jazzed up with some subtle, well-balanced changes. Their menu is small, but that just means they have more practice making each dish. For about $5 you can eat a great meal here, but of course, you should also try the great street food that’s around Hoi An. Most of the local specialties can be found in the market, but it might be cheaper to go just outside of the tourist area where the prices can drop considerably.
The Video -- Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An, Vietnam | Hội An, Việt Nam
The Map -- Hoi An, Vietnam
Next Stop Recommendation -- Da Nang, Vietnam
Consider a stop at the Cham Islands, but eventually you’ll want to make your way from Hoi An to Da Nang. Sadly, a lot of people skip Da Nang even though it is one of the largest cities in Vietnam, and has a stretch of beach with not only soft sand and gorgeous waters, but a bit of history as well (and a tv show named after it). The cheapest way to get to Da Nang is by local bus. They run every half hour and take about 45 minutes. You can catch it at the bus station (about a 10 minute walk from the tourist area) in Hoi An (yellow bus #1). The cost is suppose to be 20,000 VND, but tourists will often be asked for 30,000 VND or more. If you have a large bag that takes up a seat, you can expect to pay extra for it. At any rate, it’s much cheaper than a taxi. You can get dropped off at various points in Da Nang, so if you can score a map or have your smart phone ready to follow along, you can probably get off pretty close to your hotel. Google Maps has the route marked off, so check to see what the closest station is before you leave.