Hoi An

Hoi An Old Town
Hoi An riverside
Streets of Hoi An

Hoi An (Vietnamese: Hội An) is a beautiful city in Vietnam just south of Da Nang. The Old Town of Hoi An is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hoi An is also commonly used as the base for half-day trips to the ancient Cham ruins of My Son, another UNESCO World Heritage Site in the jungle of the Central Highlands.

Understand

Hoi An, once known as Faifo, with more than 2,000 years of history, was the principal port of the Cham Kingdom, which controlled the strategic spice trade with Indonesia from the 7th-10th centuries and was a major international port in the 16th and 17th centuries. The foreign influences are discernible to this day.

The culture and heritage is mostly from the Cham people whose kingdom originally stretched from Hue south to Phan Tiet (south of Nha Trang). The Champas were most likely originally from Java. The original Cham political capital was Tra Kieu, the commercial capital was Hoi An and the spiritual capital was My Son (Hindu). The Cham people were Hindu, and by the 10th century the influence of Arab traders to Hoi An resulted in the conversion of some to Islam.

The second major influence was Chinese, first by traders, then by escaping Ming Dynasty armies, who after settling in Hoi An for some years, moved further south and created Saigon as a major trading port.

The third and last major influence of culture and heritage was from the Vietnamese and is fairly recent and only came after the Cham lost control of this area. For a tourist wanting Vietnamese culture and heritage, Hue is a much better destination than Hoi An (but the weather is much rougher too!).

While the serious shipping business has long since moved to Da Nang, the heart of the city is still the Old Town, full of winding lanes and Chinese-styled shophouses, which is particularly atmospheric in the evening as the sun goes down. While almost all shops now cater to the tourist trade, the area has been largely preserved as is, which is unusual in Vietnam, and renovation has proceeded slowly and carefully. It's mercifully absent of towering concrete blocks and karaoke parlours.

The culture and heritage that UNESCO WHS status for Hoi An Old Town was trying to preserve is long since gone. Since 1999, when UNESCO status was awarded, there has been a massive increase in mass tourism, with the result that most houses have been sold to speculators and shop owners to be used for commercial purposes. The community and with it their culture and heritage is gone and in their place are shops, restaurants, art galleries, etc. There are hundreds of tailor shops in Hoi An, all selling similar low value products to ever smaller numbers of Western tourists.

UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status also applies to Hoi An Old Town, but in reality this status, like all other UNESCO designations, has not been accompanied by enlightened site management.

The main thoroughfare in the Old Town is Tran Phu. Just south of the Old Town, across the Thu Bon River, are the islands of An Hoi to the west, reached via Hai Ba Trung, and Cam Nam to the east, reached via Hoang Dieu.

Get in

By plane

The nearest airport is in Da Nang which has domestic connections to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Nha Trang, Can Tho, and Da Lat and some international flights to Bangkok, Singapore, Siem Reap (for Angkor Wat), Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong and charter flights to China.

A taxi from Da Nang airport to Hoi An costs about US$22 using a taxi with a meter. This is one occasion where haggling to set a fixed price is cheaper than going by the meter. Air conditioned minibus taxis cost USD5 per person to the airport (there are no minibuses from the airport, you must first go to the city). The journey takes about 45 min.

A word of caution about flying Jetstar: they are frequently up to 8 hr late, many times arriving at Da Nang from Saigon at 02:00. If you arrive late, you should arrange an airport transfer in advance if you don't want the taxi haggling hassles.

By train

There is no railway station in Hoi An. The nearest is in Da Nang (tel. +84 511 3750666), which receives several trains a day from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Nha Trang, etc. Train tickets can be booked online or bought from most travel agents and hotels.

By bus

From Da Nang

There is a public bus #1 from Da Nang's bus station to Hoi An's bus station, 50,000 dong. The bus makes a loop through Da Nang and passes through downtown Da Nang as well. Your accommodation should be able to point you to the nearest stop. If you come from Da Nang airport, the closest bus stop on the route to Hoi An is at the roundabout where the streets Nguyễn Tri Phương and Điện Biên Phủ meet (a nice 10–15 minute walk; you can walk along the lake). This bus stop is clearly marked with a road sign.

On the return trip, the yellow bus passes within a block of the train station. Let the ticket collector know, and he can show you where to get off.

There are two different bus stations in Hoi An now. But the public buses to Da Nang leave from the station about 2 km northwest of the centre on Le Hong Phong. A xe om from Hoi An bus station to the old town should be around 10-15,000 dong.

Other destinations

There is no shortage of travel agencies and private buses travelling to and from Hoi An to destinations such as Hue, Hanoi, Saigon, Dalat and Nha Trang. Guesthouses can arrange tickets for a surcharge, although they may not release the ticket to you until after you formally check out.

Travellers arriving by bus not on an open ticket should be aware you may not be dropped off at the Hoi An bus station, but at a guesthouse about a 10 min walk from the station. The motorbike taxis or tuk-tuk waiting for your bus there will take you to your lodging for US$1–2.

Open-tour buses run daily up and down the coast from Da Nang, Hue (3.5–4 hr, 60,000-100,000 dong) and Nha Trang (9–10 hr).

Buses from Buon Ma Thuot or other cities in central Highlands going to Da Nang will drop you off just outside of Hoi An, at a stop along the highway if asked. From there it is a 15-minute motorbike ride to anywhere in town.

By taxi

Taxi from Da Nang taxi costs around 400,000 dong (2016), passing Marble Mountains on the way. It'll cost at least 50% more, if you're coming from Hue.

By boat

The old Champa way was to travel by the river system. The rivers of Hoi An cover hundreds of kilometres and offer an interesting and adventurous alternative to travelling by road. Get on a boat and you'll begin to see a whole lot more of Hoi An and the delta. You can charter boats for about USD1/hour.

Get around

Ferry boat approaches the city centre wharf

The centre of Hoi An is very small and pedestrian-friendly, so you will be walking around most of the time. Motorbikes are banned from the centre of town during certain times of day (08:00 to 11:00, 13:30 to 16:30), but you should keep an eye out for motorized kamikazes, even in the most narrow alleys. The city government does not allow motorbikes to enter Old Town on the 14th and 15th of each lunar month. On those evenings, a lot of activities, including traditional games such as bai choi, trong quan, and dap nieu are held in all over the town.

By taxi

Taxis can be found in the middle of Le Loi St, over the river in An Hoi or summoned by phone. When busy, taxis may refuse your fare back to your hotel from town if it is too close, opting for larger fares. Arranging a shuttle from your hotel may be a better option although prices may be higher.

Mai Linh Taxi service,  +84 83 829-8888, e-mail: . 08:30-24:00.

Motorbike taxis, of course, are always an option.

Get a car to visit My Son early in the morning, about an hour away, or the Marble Mountains, about forty minutes north towards Da Nang.

By bicycle

Pedal bicycles can be rented quickly and easily for as low as 20,000 dong per day, and is one of the best ways to get around town. If you are not staying directly in Old Town, this is an outstanding option for traveling back and forth and to the beach.

By motorbike

Traffic in Hoi An is minimal, so if you've been avoiding getting on a bike in the big cities, Hoi An and the surrounding countryside like is ideal to get used to the road rules.

There are plenty of places in Hoi An offering motorbike rentals. Take a short ride down to the beach and enjoy the water, explore the island community of Cam Thanh, or travel toward Da Nang to visit the stunning Marble Mountains.

The most common rental motorbike or scooter is a Honda Nouvo which is fully automatic, comfortable for two people and has storage space under the seat for helmets or other similarly-sized gear. It's standard practice for a rental bike to have only enough fuel to make it to the next filling station. Make sure you get a helmet for everyone on the bike.

You can get a bike for 120,000 dong without haggling (2013). Petrol costs around 22,000 dong/litre and 2-3L is enough for a good day of sightseeing, going to the beach and zipping around town. In addition to filling stations, there are also little hand-operated roadside pumps everywhere; these can be convenient, but they're more expensive (30,000 dong/litre) and the quality of the fuel is questionable.

The usual disclaimers apply to motorbikes in Vietnam: foreign driving licences are not valid. In the event of an accident, foreigners driving a motorcycle without a valid licenceare considered to be at fault and therefore liable for damages and may face a citation. Check your travel insurance exclusions, as generally you will not be covered for accidents when riding a motorcycle here. That means no reimbursement for hospital treatment or, worst case, the repatriation of your body. Drink-related motorbike collisions are a major issue in Vietnam. Traffic accident statistics for the region are frightful. As well, emergency services are not up to international standards.

See

The Japanese Covered Bridge
Hoi An riverside, seen from Cam Nam
Dragon fountain at the back of the Cantonese Assembly Hall

Old Town

The Old Town, with its historical architecture and very walkable streets filled with shops and restaurants, is arguably at its best at night, when the activity along the river front is lit by the soft light of silk lanterns.

Entry to Old Town is free, however entry to all historical sites is handled via a coupon system, where 120,000 dong gets a ticket that can be used to enter five attractions: one museum, one old house, one assembly hall, the handicraft workshop (and traditional music show) or the traditional theatre, and either the Japanese Covered Bridge or the Quan Cong Temple. Tickets are sold at various entry points into the Old Town, including Hai Ba Trung St, and also at some of the attractions, including the Cantonese Assembly Hall. The city requests that visitors dress "decently" while visiting sites in the Old Town, i.e. men need to wear a shirt, women can't wear a bikini top, sleeveless blouse or skirt above the knees.

First, you may choose one of the two landmarks of Hoi An:

The ticket allows admission to one of the four museums in the Old Town:

There are three old houses that exist in an awkward halfway state between museum showpiece and somewhat shabby residence for the family that lives there. Your ticket allows admission to one.

Fujian Meeting Hall

Numerous congregation halls, where Chinese expatriate residents socialized and held meetings, are dotted about the town. They are typically named after the home region of their members, such as Fujian and Canton. Your ticket allows admission to one. Some do not have ticket-takers, so it's up to you if you want to try wandering into a second.

Finally, you can choose one of the following:

Do

Cham islands as seen from Hoi An
Sunset cruise in Hoi An

There are boat rides on the river, local beaches, diving.

Bicycling

Buy

Hoi An's lanterns
Friendly Shop.jpg
Lantern shop

The are many ATMs around Hoi An but none seem to allow withdrawals over 2 million dong. They all charge for withdrawals. Agribank and Vietcombank maybe the cheapest with a fee of 20,000 dong, max withdrawal 2 million dong.

Bespoke clothing

Hoi An is known as the centre for very affordable custom-made clothing. There are around 400 tailor shops in the city, some better than others. Most can complete something in one day, so you may wish to make an order on arrival, so there will be time to complete the work. The principle of caveat emptor is definitely in force here. Ask at your accommodation. You will probably need to leave a deposit of about half the finished price before the work is started. If there are problems, shops may or may not be willing to make adjustments; you will not get a refund. Some strategies to minimize your risk:

  1. use recommendations from your accommodation and not from motorcycle drivers (they get a kickback, your hotel probably doesn't)
  2. order one thing at a time--if something goes wrong with one item, you lose less money;
  3. take something that fits, they work better with copies;
  4. make sure they understand any special instructions: pockets, shortening, etc., the language barrier is not your friend;
  5. price things in more than one shop--materials and prices vary;
  6. order from more than one shop, again so all your eggs are not in one basket.

Tailor shops:

Eat

Gỏi cuốn fresh spring rolls and cao lầu noodles
A bowl of cao lầu

Food in Hoi An is, even by high Vietnamese standards, cheap and tasty. In addition to the usual suspects, there are three dishes that Hoi An is particularly famous for:

Budget

Mid-range

Vegan / vegetarian

Drink

Walking along the river at night, you will find a lot of pubs. Beer is around 30,000 dong. Cocktails are 20,000-50,000 dong. There are some bar foods available, such as fried prawn crackers for around 15,000 dong a plate. Just walk into any pub and have a seat. However, Hoi An is not a real party destination and has a rather limited number of nightlife locations.

Sleep

Hoi An New Town

The atmosphere of the Old Town hasn't been preserved by accident: strict bylaws prohibit new construction within its narrow lanes. As a result, there's a building boom just outside the borders of the Old Town, most noticeably as you head north of Le Hong Phong. Walk a few blocks from that old world ambience, and suddenly you're in a construction zone. Several hotels have sprung up in this area, which is completely lacking in the charm that brings visitors to Hoi An. Not surprisingly, those are the hotels (Phuong Nam Hotel is among the worst offenders) that are most likely to pay commissions to open-tour bus companies and use Internet sites to describe the dusty construction zone as a "peaceful area". They're also cheaper and easier to bargain with, but the reason they're so cheap is that they're missing the whole point of a visit to Hoi An. There are plenty of options closer to the centre of town. Once you've taken a night-time stroll through the Old Town, you won't mind if you had to fork over an extra dollar or two for a better location.

Hotels in Hoi An are fiercely competitive, which means plenty of choice and generally high standards. Budget options are slightly pricier than many other parts of Vietnam, with USD6 being about the cheapest. Many are clustered around Hai Ba Trung St and "Ba Trieu" (formerly, Nhi Trung St), just north of the Old Town and within easy walking distance, and also along Cua Dai St, off to the east and a bit of a hike away.

Most of Hoi An's high-end hotels are located along the unbroken beach stretching from Da Nang to Hoi An. Closest is Cua Dai Beach 5 km away.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

Note on November flooding

Hoi An regularly floods during November. Visitors who plan to arrive during one of their floods would be advised to book ahead.

The city stayed open during the November 2013 floods, although there were news reports of tourist evacuations. As hotels near the river flooded, tourists started moving to hotels on higher ground. Flooding affected streets up to four blocks uphill from the river, as well as the hotel/restaurant area across the bridge on An Hoi peninsula. The water levels for this flood seem slightly below the levels of the 2011 flood; the cleanup seemed to be well handled.

Connect

Go next

Day trips

There is a nominal fee for entry; it is worth paying extra for the small map. No one will tell you how to get to the top to overlook Fire Mountain to the west, there is one trail accessible from the WC—look for the handrails going up—another is nearby, near a temple complex and next to an arch over the trail.
Accessibility: An elevator available for a small fee. It may be broken, but it only leads to platform with an overlook towards the water; you would still need to take stairways to see the temples, so there is no advantage to the elevator. If you can make it up the stairs at the entrance, there will be no problem with the rest of the stairs. Cave floors and trails may be wet but are not slippery.

Further afield

Moving north

Moving south


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, March 19, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.