27 Mar Happy in Hoi An?
Hoi An is a beautiful place, full of old yellow buildings with wooden shutters, elaborate red-gold temples and decorative assembly halls filled with statues of dragons and birds. The ancient colonial port is preserved as a UNESCO world heritage site and has plenty of rustic buildings to explore. Trees line its wide streets, which feel curiously empty in the daytime due to a motor vehicle ban; all you have to worry about is dodging bicycles and rickshaws as you wander through the city centre. In the evenings the roads and riverside restaurants are lit up with colourful lanterns strung between lampposts and Vietnamese women sell candles to float down the river past the ancient Japanese bridge and creaky cargo boats which sit atop the black water.
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Despite Hoi An’s beauty and its historical credentials, we just didn’t connect with the city in the way we’d expected to, which was strange considering how we’d fallen in love with Luang Prabang in Laos, a city that looks remarkably similar on paper. To us, Hoi An felt somehow like a giant tourist attraction and we were the walking dollar signs; our guard was always up and we couldn’t quite relax. We found the city was stuffed full of shops, tailors and restaurants and we daren’t linger too long in one spot in case we were nabbed by persistent vendors, shop assistants or waiters. Despite the uncomfortable vibe, we made the most of our stay Hoi An and spent a day taking in the city’s main sights.
Things to do in Hoi An Vietnam
Hoi An is a small, compact city, comprised of a warren of interconnecting streets bisected by a river. You’re free to wander around, perusing the shops and cafes but if you want to explore any of the temples, assembly halls or traditional houses you need to buy a ticket which costs £3.50 and allows you to see five different attractions.
We decided to pick whichever sights looked most interesting as we strolled around. Our first stop was a wooden Cantonese assembly hall; built in the 19th Century it was used as both a place to meet and worship. We were impressed by the elaborate, coloured statues of dragons and the pretty surrounding gardens but somewhat perplexed by all the Choco-Pies that were left as religious offerings.
Next up was the 17th Century Ong Pagoda again made from wood painted in red and gold and decorated with bonsai trees and stone water features. Our visit to the city museum was pretty disappointing; amongst the dry, dusty displays of ceramics and maps were dull posters detailing Hoi An’s history as a port and trade-centre during colonial times. The museum was certainly no match for the incredibly modern and informative ones we’d visited back in Hanoi.
We also stopped in at a traditional Vietnamese family home, which we felt slightly awkward walking around once we realised people still live there today. On the top floor of the wooden building we were offered the chance to sit down for tea, which we declined when we saw all the piles of souvenirs and deduced it was merely a sales ploy. After only a couple of hours we hit our last stop, another assembly hall, this time Chinese.
Our sightseeing over much quicker than expected, Andrew and I debated what to do next. We’d planned to spend around five days in the city and thought about taking a trip to one of the nearby beaches but in the end we decided to move on down the coast and booked a 16-hour bus ride to the beach resort of Mui Ne in search of sun and sand dunes.