Hoian Travel Guide
Hoi An is certainly a contender for the most irritating UNESCO World Heritage City. We arrived here planning to spend maybe five days relaxing after a trip through the Central Highlands but the constant sales patter from the tailors shops, the bar and restaurant workers and anybody who had any relationship with an item of transport really destroyed our time in what is without doubt a charming old city.
Our guidebook had referred to the excessive touting on their previous visits but said that this had been clamped down on by the authorities during their last visit. Unfortunately, it had returned with a venom when we arrived.
Transport & Accommodation
Hoi An is included in practically all Vietnam tour itineraries lying just a few kilometers inland on the main north south route. All open tour bus services stop here in both directions. Alternatively you can transfer here from Danang where there is an airport and a railway station serving the Hanoi-Saigon line.
Accommodation is plentiful, good quality and cheap. We arrived here after our Central Highlands trip from Dalatand were immediately struck by the number of western faces we saw after spending 5 days off the beaten track. Hoi An is certainly a popular tourist stop with good tourism facilities.
We were dropped off at the Thuy Duong 3 Hotel on D Nhi Trung St where there is a whole row of nice looking hotels and it's only a 5 minute walk to the tiny streets of the historical centre. This hotel was very modern and quite luxurious with rooms for $25-$45US including buffet breakfast and use of the indoor swimming pool that several room looked over. Plenty more options were available in this small area including cheaper options for budget travellers.
Eating & Drinking in Hoi An
Hoian VietnamThere's no shortage of places to eat and drink in this town which is well geared to supplying its many visitors. Along the waterfront there's a whole row of restaurants on Bach Dang St competing heavily for your business. Some of these have upstairs terraces overlooking the river which is a great place to dine in the evening when all the lights reflect in the water. On the opposite side of the river across the little bridge there's a row of bar/restaurants where it always seems to be 'happy hour' (Saigon Export for 7,000 VN = 50 cents). We particularly liked Thanh Phuong (56, Cong Dong St), a family run place where waitress's mother cooks a marvellous fish steamed in banana leaf. The terrace looks back over the river at the illuminated old city.
On Tran Phu St, the main road through the centre there are plenty more options including Omar Khayyam's Indian restaurant which is a nice change if you're looking for something a little different. Throughout the small streets of the centre there are countless Vietnamese restaurants serving traditional dishes including a local specialities such as Cao Lau (noodles with bean sprouts, greens and pork slices), fried Won Ton and White Rose (steamed shrimp in rice paper).
A great idea is to get transport to the coast to escape the food touts and enjoy a fabulous seafood lunch overlooking Cua Dai Beach where you'll find delicious fresh crabs and lobster at a fraction of what we'd pay in the west.
Sightseeing & Excursions
hoian vietnamWithin Hoi An you can see the main sights on foot as it's only a small place where nothing is far away. The best way is to take a walking tour of the city which is only a half day stroll. To visit the main historical buildings of the old centre you need to buy a ticket which, in theory, gives you access to five attractions. In practice few places bother to stamp your ticket so you'll get into all that you want to see without having to buy a 2nd ticket. For a look at Hoi An's main attractions take a look at the Hoi An World Heritage Website
The one major excursion from Hoi An is to My Son, an ancient Champa Kingdom. We took one of the numerous tour bus excursions here for a mere $5 US plus 60,000 VN (= $4 US) entrance fee. Unfortunately, in this case you only get what you pay for. We collected people from several hotels starting at 8am until there were 50 people on board before proceeding to the car park at My Son where several other large buses had already arrived. We then walked 2km to the ruins, many of which were completely destroyed during the American War and others which were badly damaged. To make the most of this excursion it would be a good idea to hire a private driver who will get you to My Son before the herds of tourists. This way you get to fully appreciate the true atmosphere of this historic place in the early morning mist.
On the bus tours you return directly to Hoi An after My Son or take the optional boat ride back on which a woman at the back miraculously produces a beef stir fry with steamed rice and spring rolls on the most basic of cooking equipment.
Shopping in Hoi An
There are hundreds of tailor's shops in Hoi An and most people who are planning on getting a dress or suit made tend to wait until they arrive here.
Hoi An Health & Safety
Although Vietnam has at times been labeled as a dangerous country to visit, today this is not the case. In fact, tourism in Vietnam and cities such as Hoi An has picked up in recent years and safety has not been of concern. With this being said, there are certain precautions that should be taken in order to ensure a smooth trip through Vietnam. Like always, common sense is the most valuable tool used for staying safe.
Although it should not deter people from visiting the area, petty theft and street crime does occur in Hoi An. However, most of these potential situations can be avoided by following a few simple rules.
Avoid wearing expensive jewelry, carrying large amounts of cash, looking flashy, or causing a scene. Doing any of these is asking for trouble. Pickpockets thrive in crowded areas such as markets as well as bus and train stations. Women should keep purses or bags close to their sides and men should store wallets in front instead of rear pockets.
This is a general recommendation for any unfamiliar area, but should be followed in Hoi An as well: Avoid traveling alone at night. If staying with a group is not an option, make sure to remain in lighted areas and take safe modes of transportation, such as taxis.
There are a variety of beach activities offered in Hoi An, and with these come certain inherent dangers. Valuables should never be left unattended at the beach, as doing so is asking for trouble.
Hoi An Hoi An ancient town
Situated on the banks of the Thu Bon River 30km (19 miles) south of Danang , the little town of Hoi An (known to the Chinese as Faifo) feels caught in a time warp. Hoi An was one of the major trading centers of Southeast Asia in the 16th century, and was declared a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999.
Hoi An has a distinctive Chinese atmosphere with low, tiledroof houses and narrow streets. The houses were constructed of rare timbers and decorated with lacquer panels engraved with Chinese characters. Visitors enjoy the beautiful scenery of the romantic Thu Bon River , Cua Dai Beach, and Cham Islands .
Throughout its history, Hoi An has been a well know port town described by many names, including Faifoo, Fayfo, Hoai Pho, Kaifo, Faixfo, and in recent times Hoi An.
From 7th - 10th Century Champa's controlled the strategic Spice Trade making Hoi An one of the regions major trading ports.
Between the 16th and 19th centuries Hoi An served as an important port town, through which culture, economy, and religion flowed from throughout Asia.
Many European maritime powers, such as the French, British, Portuguese and Dutch, were competing to connect the east to the west during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Hoi An was a crucial piece in establishing power in the world trade market. The Dutch established a post in the city in 1636, which lasted until 1741. China & Japan would also play a major role in the world trade industry that was thriving in Hoi An.
When a civil war broke out in Vietnam in 1773 Hoi An suffered, as a series of battles that took place in the city, creating much destruction. During the rest of the century, the city’s inhabitants went through hard times.
Hoi An was again revived during the 20th century, and today it continues to slowly but steadily do better for its people.
Up to now, the ancient town of Hoi An intactly preserves its original architectures, including houses, temples, pogodas, streets, ports, civil buildings, religious structures and other non-religious worshipping structures. The every day lifestyle with deep-rooted customs and cultural activities is fascinating.
There are 1,360 relics and landscapes. These relics are divided into eleven kinds, including 1,068 ancient houses, 19 pagodas, 43 temples, 23 communal houses, 38 family temples, 5 assembly halls, 11 old wells, one bridge, 44 ancient tombs. In old quarter, there are more than 1000 relic sites.
Hoi An Weather & When to Go
The climate of Hoi An is considered tropical. This means that the temperatures are warm throughout the year, and the year is distinctively broken up by the wet and dry seasons.
Although the temperatures are warm throughout the year, the hottest months on average are June and July, during which time the daily high temperatures will be in the mid 90’s. The nighttime temperatures during these months will drop to the 70’s. The coldest months of the year are December and January. During these months the daily temperatures will be in the upper 70’s, and will drop to the mid 60’s during the nights.
Generally more important to visitors than temperatures is the rain. The rainy (or monsoon) season in Hoi An is from September until January. During this time, rain clouds will constantly move through the area. There are days during which sunshine is abundant, but they are not the majority. A noticeable decrease in tourism can be seen during the wet season. The dry season is from February until May. These months provide plenty of sunshine, with warm temperatures.
All around, the best time to visit Hoi An is between May and June.
Hoi An Monsoon season & flooding
All travellers should be aware that annual monsoon season is from 1 September until mid-December at least!
Great care by all visitors should be taken during extreme rains & when there are strong onshore North East winds during lunar calendar days close to 1st or 14th - this is when danger of flooding in Hoi An and surrounding areas are highest.
Be aware that atleast groung floor levels of some houses in Hoi An flooded every years.Some locations such as low lying islands of Cam Nam risk is even higher of flooding.
Some street on the river banks flood and are under water for sometimes a few weeks at a time. This is a public health issue.
Cham Islands can NOT be accessed during much of the monsoon season. There are VERY few "seaworth" boats which are capable of going to Cham Islands - most boats are wooden and of flat bottom design (no matter how large they are!).
Hoi An Getting Around
There is a regular bus service to/from Danang but most peole take on of the minibuses that run between Hoi An and Danang, Hue or Nha Trang. Most hotels will be able to arrange a ticket. Hotels in Danang will be able to organise a car and driver to take you on a day trip to Hoi An, stopping at Marble Mountains on the way.
Hoi An is quite a small place so you can walk everywhere quite easily. Hiring a rowboat with oarsperson is a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, or you can take a motorised launch.
Hoi An Arriving & Departing
Hoi An is NOT easily accessbile to the international tourist! in fact it is easier & cheaper for someone in Hanoi to fly Bangkok, Thailand than it is to fly to Danang and then by taxi or bus to Hoi An!
Because it is NOT so accessible & is somewhat hidden & takes a more determined tourist to find it is not so crowded!
There are a few options when it comes to getting to Hoi An, which depend on what type of transportation is preferred:
By air to Danang and then bus/ taxi to Hoi An. Danang airport only has VERY LIMITED international flights - most travellors are forced tofly thru Hanoi or HCMC
By train to Danang and then bus/ taxi to Hoi An
By bus direct to Hoi An
Hoi An Public Transportation
There are a few options for public transportation while in Hoi An, and include buses, trains, and taxis.
First of all, Hoi An is a relatively small town and most places that tourists go are accessible by foot. This means that the need for public transportation within the town is almost non-present.
The bus system throughout Vietnam is much like the bus system in other developing countries. If visitors plan to travel in public buses that are air conditioned, comfortable, and punctual, they will be sorely disappointed. The truth is, much of the country is accessible by bus, but it is far from a luxurious mode of transportation. It is however cheap. Expect to spend long, hot hours in close confines, be picked up late, and arrive late. This is just how it is. If this sounds bad, then choose another mode of transportation (fly or travel by train). There is a bus stop just outside of Hoi An. Route and timetable information must be obtained once in Vietnam.
Much of the country is also accessible by train. However, the nearest train station to Hoi An is located in Danang (a 45 minute drive away). Trains when compared to buses are great. They are comfortable, reliable, safe, and inexpensive.
Taxis are available in town, but are few and far between. The best way to get a taxi is to call one of the companies servicing the area. Hotels should provide these phone numbers.
Hoi An Taxis & Rental Cars
Taxis and rental cars are options for getting around while in Hoi An, but both have certain drawbacks.
First of all, Hoi An is a relatively small town (see the Map), and most places that tourists go are accessible by walking. This means that the need for a car or taxi is almost non-present. However, getting to areas outside of Hoi An does require modes of transportation other than walking.
Taxis are available, but are few and far between. The best way to get a taxi is to call one of the companies servicing in the area. Hotels should provide these numbers. Taxis are fairly inexpensive when compared to many western locations. Fares are determined by negotiating. Make sure to agree on a price before beginning a journey to avoid any problems at the end of the ride. Because most drivers speak little or no English, make sure to carry around a map with the desired destination distinctly circled. A journey from of 3km will cost only $2. There are taxis at the bus station all the time waiting.
Rental cars are an option for getting around Hoi An, but there is a catch. In order to drive in Vietnam, foreigners must hold a temporary Vietnamese driving license. For the vast majority of visitors, these licenses are more work than they are worth. See Driving in Vietnam for more information.
The better option for personal transportation is to rent a motorbike. Foreigners do not require a license to drive these, and most hotels rent them for around $5 USD per day.