Hoi An is a Unesco World Heritage city, with lot of cute Chinese-style shop houses telling the story of this once prosperous port town of the Champa empire. The old town makes a charming break from the typically Vietnamese roads, always crowded with traffic and noise. Here there are pleasant streets to walk around while enjoying the old architecture.
Typical front of an Assembly Hall.
Hoi An is an old city in Quang Nam province, with more than 2000 years of history. It was once crucial for trade during the Champa empire, the ancestor state of the ethnic group Cham. Nowadays their descendants are living between Cambodia and Vietnam.
It’s near the sea and well connected through the Thu Bon river, with a more cozy feeling than the nearby city of Danang. This is mainly due to its small pedestrian streets, very pleasant for a walk, especially in the evening, where the temperature is cooler and people lighten up many colorful Chinese lanterns – probably the main reason that contributes to the general charm from which this town is known.
During the day, renting a bicycle is a good option to explore the city and its surroundings!
To enjoy the old town you will have to pay an entrance ticket of 80.000 VND or 120.000 VND (respectively Vietnamese and foreigner prices).
It will give you access to five of the various attractions scattered on the streets of the old town. Some are old Chinese houses such as Quan Thang, Diep Dong Nguyen, Tan Ky, Phung Hung and Tran family chapel, others are beautiful (and sometimes very kitschy) assembly halls such as Quang Dong, Phuoc Kien, Trieu Chau and Hai Nam. There are also some museums, namely the museum of history and culture, the museum of folk culture, the museum of trade ceramics, and the museum of Sa Huynh culture. Check the map to see the addresses and choose the five attractions where you want to use your ticket.
Colors in the walls in the old town.
Probably the most famous feature of Hoi An is the Chinese-style shop houses’s aarchitecture, not really part of the local community anymore (which sold most of them to tourism businesses) but at least still a pretty picture of the old Chinese influence in this town. Being near the sea and having such a huge trade importance for the Champa empire, the city was exposed to many external influences. The major ones were from China, as you can notice from the typical Chinese architecture of the shops in the main roads, and people from Arabic countries, who slowly converted the Cham people from Hinduism to Islam. Nevertheless, the Muslim culture is hard to see here. Some places like Kampong Chhnang or Kampong Cham in Cambodia better to dig into their culture and lifestyle.
Nevertheless, the city has many influences. For instance in terms of spirituality which is an eclectic mix of Buddhism, worshiping of Chinese deities and animist practices. Japanese influences are also visible: don’t miss the photogenic Chua Cau, better known as Japanese Bridge.
The river that passes in Hoi An.
You can also cross the Thu Bon river and visit the islands of An Hoi and Cam Nam. Perfect for your evening strolls lighten up by the colorful lanterns spread along the river and nearby streets.
If you are interested in shopping, go beyond the somehow bland businesses of clothes or shoes and beware of people trying to advise you on where to go. They are certainly doing it for the commission they’ll receive afterwards!
Also the city is quite famous for its ability to produce clones of your clothes. Practice your bargaining skills and go to one of the countless tailors in town!
If you want to escape shopping, rent a bicycle and explore the surrounding villages. Many of them with interesting handicraft traditions and definitely more genuine products, like wood-carving, ceramic, skillful carpentry and bronze making. Check your map to find, for instance, Tra Que Vegetable village, Thanh Ha pottery village and Kim Bong carpentry village. Other places to visit are Bay Mau coconut forest, Cham island and the tombs of old Japanese traders.
Fields on the surrounding of the city (the wheat for the white roses must come from somewhere!)
And, of course, don’t forget to try some of the local delicacies! For example the Hoi An-style chicken rice (locally known as Com Ga), the quang noodles, white rose (special shrimp dumplings to dip in an unique sauce, called banh bao vac by the locals) and the Cao Lau. This is the signature dish of the city, with pork and yellow noodles, crispy croutons and vegetables. The main secret? The water used in the dish must come from one of ancient wells in town.
One last note, before going to Hoi An check the lunar calendar. Every 14th and 15th motorbikes can not enter in the old town, and they organize a full moon festival on 14th night, including many cultural activities and folk games where local people celebrate the old prosperity of the city. Try to plan your trip for that time of the month!
A random tree with small Chinese lanterns.
There are many reasons to go visit the charming old town of Hoi An. An evening strolls near the canals and the colorful Chinese lanterns are images that will always stay in your memory.
Have a look on Camboticket website for tickets to Ho Chi Minh, a great place to start your Vietnamese trip. From there you can then make your way up along the coast to Hoi An!