Old Town Hoi An
Hoi An is probably one of the most picturesque places in Vietnam. Yet photos still do not give justice to the experience of seeing how Vietnam was like in its pre-colonial age. It represents a well-preserved trading port in South East Asia and it is the only town in Vietnam that remained intact after the colonization of France and the war with the United States. It’s original infrastructure before the French and American era, still stands thus earning a UNESCO World Heritage status.
It is located about 30-45 minutes away southwest of Da Nang city. It is known for its custom-made clothing that can be ordered and picked-up in 24-48 hours. One of the Irish ladies I met there had her graduation dress done in one of the shops and it was also from her that I learned that top designer Jimmy Choo trained in Hoi An before he became an institutional name in the fashion industry.
Apart from its popular tailoring industry, Hoi An is a gastronomical spot. It is one of the best places to discover Vietnamese food, and a recommended place to learn Vietnamese Cuisine. The cooking lessons do not require much, one just need to book a schedule with any of the restaurants found on any of the strips in the Old Town, or be a walk-in student. The prices vary depending on the school and package, but the prices range from 25-50 USD. Some come with a countryside bike tour where the vegetables are harvested, 2-3 dishes for you to learn, cook and eat. Some give you one on one lessons, and others give you a group cooking class with other foreigners. This was my initial plan in visiting Vietnam, but on the day I planned to join a class, my home stay family made special lunch for me, which turned out to be a personalized cooking class as well.
Food in Hoi An is considered one of the best in Vietnam. It is flavorful and has more spices which people traveling from the West really love. It is a place that knows the ins and outs of tourism and staying true to their form when it comes to food among other aspects brings out the charm in this city.
Apart from the history it carries in its infrastructure which can be enjoyed during the day, Hoi An’s beauty can also be seen at night when every establishment lights up their paper lanterns. Most of the people I met say that going to Hoi An is like stepping into a movie set of a Vietnamese period film. I think so too. I remember gasping in awe the moment I entered the Old Town for the first time. I saw brightly lit up lanterns, traditional souvenir shops, little kids in their Vietnamese costumes, traditional Vietnamese infrastructure. They even have traditional Vietnamese music playing in the background, and if I remember it keenly, the music was consistent anywhere you go in the old town! It was enchanting as is was also an excitingly surreal experience. I heard some restaurants play Lady Gaga, though music which helped me snap to reality.
One interesting point was that despite it being traditional in form, it is forward in some aspects, like the whole Old Town has free wifi for everyone to use. I even had a Facetime moment with my friend back in Manila and showed her around the restaurant I was having lunch at.
The Old Town is small and if you’re a traveler, this place is probably your main reason for visiting. There are interesting places to discover in this old town, and for a fee of 120,000 VND you already earn a pass to 5 different preserved tourist spots. The passes are good for a day, so it would take one whole day to go see them, but everything is walking distance and whatever street you pass through are all discover worthy. I would suggest that visitors rent a push bike to get to places in the Old Town faster. It is easy to park your bike anywhere, so if you feel like stopping and enjoying looking around, or cooling down with some good Vietnamese ice cream, it would not be a problem. My bike cost 2 USD for my entire 3 day stay.
Outlining an itinerary would help you maximize your trip as you have to factor in weather. I made my trip in May and the weather could get really hot. Always have a bottle of water handy. It would also be helpful to note that the sun rises early in Vietnam. In Hoi An, 6am was already very bright, like 8am in the Philippines. It could get really hot during the day and humidity is quite high. The spots inclusive of your 120,000 VND pass close at 5pm, so it would be good to jump start your tour as early as 7am.
The popular Japanese Covered bridge
Vietnamese people follow the Lunar calendar. Every 14th of the Lunar month, Hoi An celebrates this event by turning out all the city lights and leaves the city with paper lanterns on. They revived the use of paper lanterns in 1992.