Probably our most anticipated destination in the Vietnam journey, we spent 5 days in Hoi An in early September. Hoi An is a gorgeous, romantic town with incredible history. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and deservedly so with its charming old buildings dating back many centuries and even some hints of colonial French style. The name Hoi An means “peaceful meeting place” in Vietnamese and reflects the town’s history as an important trading port in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The Vietnamese people are a strong-willed bunch, having fought off an incredible number of invaders and colonizers throughout history. Hoi An is no different, however, the many people who landed here to take advantage of the trading port – Dutch, Portugese, Indian, Japanese, Chinese and more – left the city with an incredibly unique vibe and culture. In all our travels, I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it.
Our first prerogative in Hoi An was to check into our hotel, the Essence Hoi An. I highly recommend this place! Excellent pool, views and most importantly, excellent staff. And all for only $60 USD per night! They were extremely helpful in acquainting us with Hoi An, offering refreshments, and even insisted on taking a photo of us with the flower petals and towel swans they made up in our room. When we go back, I can’t imagine staying anywhere else.
Wandering into town, we caught glimpses of a slower-paced life in Vietnam compared to Ho Chi Minh City. We checked out the old “Japanese” covered bridge, built in the 16th century to link the Chinese and Japanese settlers in the area. If you are interested in seeing this and other historical sites around Hoi An, there is a little shop right across from the bridge that sells “ticket” books. It costs somewhere around $10 USD for a set of tickets which is really just Hoi An’s way of getting tourists to contribute to the preservation of these charming old landmarks. It is important to support this cause, so it is money well spent, but I found the concept confusing at first.
In any case, there are many beautiful sites to explore around town, including just stopping in one of the many restaurants with a view of the river. It was nice to get a delicious lunch and just watch locals wander by on their way to wherever. With a gorgeous view, no less.
Near the top of our list of activities in Hoi An was to visit one of the many tailor shops in town. As our guide book says, “Let’s face it. The tailor scene in Hoi An is out of control.” It really is. There are more than 300 tailor shops compared to about 100,000 residents of the area. It’s hard to choose a place to walk in! We got some recommendations from friends who had recently visited, so we checked out Yaly, a “company” with three locations in Hoi An. Though they were a bit pricey compared to most other shops in the area, we still decided to have a few things made.
I got this fabulous trench coat (not quite finished below), and J-Mar had a button-up shirt made. They also duplicated two shirts from my closet! On further advice from our friends, I brought in two of my favorite shirts and chose new material for a replica to be made. They did a fantastic job. One of the most fun parts is you get a personal assistant that helps you through the whole process, from selecting styles right down to the buttons, literally. My helper, Eryn, and I had a long discussion about buttons.
For our other purchases, we went with a local lady whose shop name was Bao Bao. Her prices were much more competitive than Yaly, though the fabrics she had to choose from were not as great of quality. Still, we couldn’t resist a $100 3-piece suit or $40 for a nice winter coat! All made to fit our exact measurements and adjusted in one to two fittings. Now we just can’t ever grow! Or lose weight! 😛
J-Mar got a three piece suit and some shirts, and I got a few other wardrobe staples including a blazer, and perhaps my favorite: a beautiful navy blue “Olivia Pope” coat! They even made me a shirt from a photo on Pinterest! Their talents are ceaseless. To top it off, our new friend had the cutest little puppy running around the shop. Sadly, I did read that many places buy small puppies/dogs to lure in tourists only to get rid of them after high season is over. However, the pup seemed to be well taken care of by the owner’s husband and small (grand?)daughter.
All that shopping can be exhausting, so we took our hunger to the many delicious dining options in Hoi An. We could have stayed another week and barely made a dent in the food scene, but that post is coming soon!
I have never eaten so much and subsequently not felt uncomfortably full as in Vietnam. Their food has this mysterious effect on you that way! The appetizers, entrees and desserts are all to die for! It’s funny to be saying that because I hadn’t ever tasted these dishes before in my life. Well, at least not the authentic versions.
Restaurant recommendations include: Morning Glory, Green Mango, White Marble Wine Bar, the Cargo Club (for dessert only), and the Mango Room
One of my favorite places we visited was White Marble wine bar. Not because of the food (though it was very good!), but the wine selection was good and I’ve been missing wine bars here in Korea. We also got to share the evening with some friends we had met on our food tour in Ho Chi Minh City, Monica and Srinu. We hung out with them a few times in Hoi An as they ended up staying at our hotel as well! They are a really fun couple (even though they both went to *the school up north!*) and we are planning a rendezvous in the U.S. as soon as we get a chance!
During our evening meals, we heard lots of kids running in the streets, parading around with these dragon ‘costumes’ in celebration of the full moon, which is done on/around the 14th day of each lunar month. There is a lot of drum-banging and children shrieking. It’s all fun and exciting at first but then annoying as the wait staff has to shoo kids away from the patio areas of their dining establishments, as the kids often try to tease ‘donations’ out of tourists.
While out and about, we also stopped in a tea shop called Reaching Out, where they serve and sell tea to support people with disabilities. The tea servers are all hearing impaired, so they use a wooden block system to communicate with patrons of the shop. The organization also owns a souvenir shop in the area that sells fair trade handicrafts made by other differently-abled individuals, in effort to offer them the opportunity to earn a living wage and support themselves. It was a really cool enterprise to witness.
I’ve written way too much already, but here’s the highlight of my post, and really the highlight of the Hoi An experience. Everywhere you go in town has lanterns strung up, and when night falls, the place is swathed in romantic luminescence. It is indescribable; like walking through a scene in a movie.
There are also plenty of older women trying to pin you down to get you to buy a luminary to float in the river. We found a less pushy luminary vendor, a gentle elderly woman who kindly sold us a couple of paper luminaries. We then used a special tool to drop the luminary into the river. Thanks to Srinu for the great shots of us below.
There were more than a few times on this particular leg of the journey where I had to breathe deeply and appreciate the good life, because we certainly found a piece of it in Hoi An.