Hoi An is a small historic town about 30 km south of Da Nang. Its long history is reflected in its architecture with a mix of eras and styles – from the 15th-century port area to Chinese shophouses and temples and French colonial buildings to ornate Vietnamese tube houses.
It is every tourist’s idea of what Vietnam should look like with padi fields, colourful markets, temples, locals in conical straw hats and so on.
Of course, the reality is somewhat different but Hoi An‘s old town is remarkably well preserved.
It was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1999. Once a trading port, the town is now given over entirely to tourism.
Tourists mill around the quaint, traffic-free streets (cars are banned from the old town centre), looking for souvenirs or somewhere to eat. Shopkeepers try to lure them into tailoring shops or to sell a pair of custom-made shoes.
There are dozens of good restaurants and cafés to choose from in Hoi An. With everyone getting their travel tips from Trip Advisor, there is a tendency for tourists to flock to the same few restaurants.
It is worth trying the road less travelled and opting for the less-frequented spots. The meals are excellent here and, importantly, no tummy problems.
The Hoa Vang Yellow River Riverside Restaurant merited a visit for its sign saying “G’Day Mate, Tassie Australia, Coldest Beer in Town”.
At night the silk and paper lantern stalls add to the atmosphere and old women try to sell candles in paper boats for floating down the river. The children later fish them out of the river with nets and they are resold.
There is a night market but by 9pm most of the shops have closed their shutters and the streets start to empty. Hoi An old town is not the place for a boisterous night life.
Many of the hotels, including the Ha An Hotel, provide free bicycles to get around. There are pleasant, quiet rural lanes to explore close to town.
And those who do not wish to pedal themselves can always hire a cyclo. Another popular activity is to take a river cruise.
Hoi An has the added advantage of being close to some very fine beaches. The best one is called Hidden Beach, about a 6 km bicycle ride (each way) from the town.
Sun beds and umbrellas are provided free of charge by the restaurant owners, although of course tourists are expected to buy drinks or food from them.
Hoi An turned out to be a great place, definitely worth a second visit.
This article first appeared on Thrifty Traveller.