I heard a lot of good things about a small town located in the center of Vietnam, Hoi An (not to be confused with Hpa An!). I didn’t know this city but all the travelers I met kept telling me I really had to go “Hoi An, I loved it! You absolutely have to stop by and spend a few days there! You’ll see by yourself, you won’t regret it! It’s not too big, not too small, and it’s a charming city! Oh, and you’ll see all the lanterns there, sooo beautiful! Daytime it’s pretty but the lanterns nighttime? Wonderful! Really man, you have to go to Hoi An!”
I already said it before, but I’m always a bit skeptical when many people praise a place. Another city packed with tourists (including me of course!), inflated prices and locals trying to scam the rich tourists. But this time… I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised! If you ever go to Vietnam, I need to let you know there’s one city you can’t miss, and you get it, I’m talking about Hoi An, and the thousands of lanterns there! Hoi An deserves its name of the city of lanterns!
Hoi An, the Vietnam city of lanterns
Hoi An, formerly known as Faifo, is a city with 120000 inhabitants located in the center of Vietnam, and noted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999. This town is quiet and indeed Hoi An is not too big, nor too small, and it’s a charming place. The atmosphere is relaxed, it makes a nice change from the noise, the bustle and all the scooters in Hanoi. Hoi An is also known as the yellow city because of its numerous yellow buildings!
Although this is a touristic city, Hoi An managed to keep its charm. The architecture of the buildings is a beautiful mix between Chinese, Japonese and French style. Indeed, Hoi An is one of the very few Vietnamese cities that was not damaged during the Vietnam War. The Thu Bon river crosses the city and it’s enjoyable to wander around the narrow streets. All over Hoi An, you’ll see lanterns. They sell those in small shops but it also serves as decoration in the streets. How come?
When the moon is full, the city turns off all its lights. In fact, Hoi An lights up thanks to all its lanterns. Splendid! That night, you have to buy a lit lantern, put it on the river of the city, and make a wish. That’s the tradition. I stayed for a few days in Hoi An and unfortunately, it wasn’t during a full moon night so I didn’t get a chance to see how it goes. But from what I heard, this is something you can’t miss!
As I said, Hoi An is a quiet and relaxing city. There are many bars and terraces, and many Asian tourists (Chinese, Japanese…). Having a walk in Hoi An is enjoyable, and for your information, there are no cars in the old town, they cannot get there. I saw many Westerner couples taking a walk in the city, and yeah I understand, seeing the beauty of the place and the good atmosphere. Another thing. There are hundreds of tailor-made suits shops (Hoi An is known for this!), but also custom-made shoes there. And of course, if you’re looking for lanterns in Vietnam, just go to Hoi An!
Food in Hoi An
Regarding food, Hoi An’s signature dish is called Cao Lau. It’s made with thick noodles with green salad, herbs sliced, roast pork and crispy rice pancakes. This emblematic dish has been eaten in the city since the 17th century! Otherwise, you have to try a Banh Mi. It’s just a sandwich in a French baguette with crudités, salad, meat and sauce. You got it, banh mi was introduced to Vietnam during the Indochina era, when Vietnam was occupied by the French. The best place to eat a good banh mi? “Banh Mi Phuong” stall, there’s always a long line to get one! And I can tell, it’s delicious!
What to do in Hoi An?
The Japanese bridge
Hoi An doesn’t have a big, popular tourist attraction. It’s mostly a place to admire the beauty of the area. However, if you go there, the most emblematic spot of the city is the Japanese bridge, built in 1590. At the time, they built this bridge to connect the Japanese and Chinese neighborhoods of Hoi An. There’s also a lantern market. As the name suggests it, you can buy lanterns there. And yes, as I said, you have take most of the city daytime, but you also have to walk along the river in the evening. Hoi An by night is just magic, with all its lights!
Hoi An beach
Daytime, you can stop by the market, where they sell all you can think about, but especially fruits and vegetables. And just a few kilometers away, you can go to the beach! I went there, it’s not far and surprisingly, it was quiet empty. People stay in town. It’s funny, as soon as I left the city center to go to the beach, people started staring at me, a lot of locals started greeting me (especially kids), invited me to have a drink, to have lunch together… Just 15 minutes away by foot!
I have to say it one last time, Hoi An is a small, relaxing, enjoyable town. I recommend you to spend a few days there, you’ll be delighted!
Hoi An travel tips
- Wanna go to Vietnam? Check the visa policy here. You will probably have to apply online for a 30-days visa here. Or go to an embassy (there’s one in Laos, one in Cambodia, another one in Thailand, etc…).
- Do not go to Vietnam without a travel insurance! Scooter accidents are frequent in the country!
- Here’s the best time to visit Vietnam!
- How to get there? By plane, the nearest airport is Da Nang, 30 kilometers north of Hoi An (flights are cheap from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City). From the airport, a shuttle bus goes to Hoi An every hour. It’s more or less 120000 dong (4.50€). You can also take a bus from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. It’s a 20-hours ride from Ho Chi Minh city, 17-hours ride from Hanoi.
- I stayed at Hoa Binh Hostel, and I loved it! Friendly staff, good breakfast, good atmosphere, swimming pool in the hostel… You can go!
- It’s not a big town, getting around by foot is the best option. Otherwise you can rent a bicycle or a scooter if you wanna go further (for instance to go to the beach), but in the center it’s not necessary. Having a bicycle or a scooter will encumber you more than anything else with all the people walking in the street. Renting a bicycle costs 20000 dong (0.75€) per day, a scooter 100000 dong (3.70€) per day.
- I didn’t talk about it in the article but in Hoi An, it’s possible to buy a pass allowing you to visit several museums, old houses of storekeepers, temples… Among others Duc An House, Tan Ky House, Tran Family chapel… The pass costs 120000 dong (4.50€). I wasn’t alone and nobody wanted to buy the pass for the visits, so I didn’t take it, and we just passed by all the different buildings.
- Check the various activities in Hoi An.
- If needed, get a Vietnam travel guide.
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