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Revision as of 09:37, 18 June 2007
Chinese meeting hall in Hoi An
Hoi An (Hội An)  is a beautiful city in Vietnam, just south of Da Nang. The Old Town of Hoi An is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Hoi An riverside, seen from Cam Nam
Hoi An, once known as Faifo, was a major international port in the 16th and 17th centuries, and the foreign influences are discernible to this day. While the serious shipping business has long since moved to Danang, the heart of the city is still the Old Town, full of winding lanes and Chinese-styled shophouses, which is particularly atmospheric in the evening as the sun goes down. While most all shops now cater to the tourist trade, the area has been largely preserved as is, which is unusual in Vietnam, and renovation has proceeded slowly and carefully - it's mercifully absent of towering concrete blocks and karaoke parlors.
The main thoroughfare in the Old Town is Tran Phu. Just south of the Old Town, across the Thu Bon River, are the islands of An Hoi to the west, reachable via Hai Ba Trung, and Cam Nam to the east, reachable via Hoang Dieu.
The nearest airport is in Danang, which has frequent connections to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and some flights to Bangkok, Singapore and Siem Reap, Cambodia (for Angkor Wat). A taxi from the airport to Hoi An costs about US$15 thanks to the cartel, but only about half that in the other direction.
There is no railway station in Hoi An. The nearest is in Danang, which receives several trains a day from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Nha Trang etc. Most travel agents and hotels can book a train ticket for you.
Open-tour buses run daily up and down the coast from Da Nang, Hue (4-5 hours) and Nha Trang (9-10 hours).
- Sinh Cafe, 18B Hai Ba Trung St., Tel.0510.863948/916242. Can handle transfers to Vientiane and Savannakhet in Laos and onward.
By motorbike or taxi
It's easy to take a motorbike or taxi to and from Da Nang via the Marble Mountains (see below), from where you can catch a train onwards.
The centre of Hoi An is very small and pedestrianised, so you will be walking around most of the time. Unfortunately, bikes have not been banned from the center yet, so particularly at night keep an eye out for motorized kamikazes, even in the most narrow alleys.
To go to the beach or reach some of the more remote hotels, it is easy and cheap to hire a bicycle. Taxis are few and far between, but can be called by phone. When busy, taxis may refuse your fare back to your hotel from town if it is too close, opting for larger fares. Arranging a shuttle from your hotel may be a better option. Motorbike taxis, of course, are always an option. You can also charter boats for about US$1/hour.
Almost all of the hotels will rent out motorbikes at about US$5/day. It's standard practice for them to rent you the bike with just enough petrol to make it to the next petrol station. If you value your money, go to a gas station, rather than the hand-operated roadside pumps -- the markup at the latter is vicious. Use the bike to visit My Son, about an hour away, or the Marble Mountains, about forty minutes north towards Da Nang.
Chinese shophouses and Communist propaganda
Entry to all historical sites in Hoi An is via a coupon system, where 75,000 dong (US$5) gets you a ticket that can be used to enter five attractions: one museum, one old house, one assembly hall, the handicraft workshop (and traditional music show) or the traditional theater, and either the Japanese Covered Bridge or the Quan Cong Temple. Tickets are sold at various entry points into the Old Town, including Hai Ba Trung St., and also at some of the attractions, including the Cantonese Assembly Hall. The city requests that visitors dress "decently" while visiting sites in the Old Town, as in no sleeveless blouses or skirts above the knees, but there's nobody specifically charged with enforcing the dress code.
First, you may choose one of the two landmarks of Hoi An:
- Japanese Covered Bridge (Chua Cau or Lai Vien Kieu), on the west end of Tran Phu Street. The bridge was constructed in the early 1600's by the Japanese community, roughly 40 years before they left the city to return to Japan under the strict policy of sakohu enforced by the Tokugawa Shogunate, and renovated in 1986. Today, it's the symbol of Hoi An. Entry is one coupon, but it's possible to cross back and forth several times without meeting a ticket-checker. If your scruples are bothering you, feel free to leave tribute for the pig statue or the dog statue who stand guard at opposite ends of the bridge.
- Quan Cong Temple, 24 Tran Phu St.
The ticket allows admission to one of the four museums in the Old Town:
- Museum of Folk Culture, 33 Nguyen Thai Hoc St.
- Museum of Trade Ceramics, 80 Tran Phu St. The dusty, unlabeled displays of broken pottery are eminently forgettable, but the house itself is nice enough, and it provides a better opportunity to explore the shape and layout of an old Hoi An home than you'll find at any of the Old Houses (below).
- Hoi An Museum of History and Culture, 7 Nguyen Hue St.
- Museum of Say Huynh Culture, 149 Banc Dang St.
There are three old houses that exist in an awkward halfway state between museum show-piece and somewhat shabby residence for the family that lives there. Your ticket allows admission to one.
- Phung Hung House, 4 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai St, just west of the Japanese Bridge. Traditional two-story wooden house, inhabited over 100 years by eight generations — and the current one attempts to guide you around in hope of a tip.
- Quan Thang House, 77 Nguyen Thai Hoc St.
- Tan Ky House, 101 Nguyen Thai Hoc St. As above, a younger member of the family will provide a cup of tea and a "tour" that doesn't stray from the front room of the house, as you'd need to step over sleeping members of the older generation to go anywhere else. This family takes particular pride in visits from celebrities; look for the two photos of exiled Thai P.M. Thaksin Shinawatra near the front door.
Numerous congregation halls, where Chinese expatriate residents socialized and held meetings, are dotted about the town. They are typically named after the home region of their members, such as Fujian and Canton. Your ticket allows admission to one. Some do not have ticket-takers, so it's up to your conscience if you want to try wandering into a second.
- Cantonese Assembly Hall (Quang Dong), 176 Tran Phu St. Built in 1885, it has a calm courtyard with ornate statuary. Take a peek at the half-hidden back yard and its kitschy pastel dragon statues.
- Hokien (Fujian) Meeting Hall (Phuc Kien), 46 Tran Phu St. Built in 1757.
- Chinese All-Community Meeting Hall (Trieu Chau), 157 Nguyen Duy Hieu. Built in 1887. It's near the Fujian hall, also spanning the block.
Finally, you can choose one of the following to get some "Intangible Culture" into your heathen soul:
- Hoi An Handicraft Workshop, 9 Bach Dang St. Folk music performances are offered at 10:15am and 3:15pm every day except Monday.
- Traditional Theater, 75 Nguyen Thai Hoc St.
- The Hoi An Orphanage is located right next to the Roman Catholic church. The Kianh Foundation  works permanently at the Orphanage to improve the children’s health, education and quality of life.
- Cua Dai Beach. A place to unwind a few kilometers away from the town centre. A motorbike ride from the town centre to Cua Dai Beach should cost around US$3. It's also possible to cycle there, which gives you a nice view of the rice farms along the way. Along the beach are a number of mini restaurants selling seafood and drinks. They also provide deck chairs and tables right on the beach. Vendors usually stroll the beach offering fresh fruit. It's a relatively nice beach, but keep an eye on kids, as the tide can be deceptively strong here. There are a number of upmarket resort hotels in the area.
- Cooking lessons are offered at several restaurants around town. If you enjoyed your meal there, it can't hurt to inquire.
Festivals in Hoi An are based on the lunar calendar, so break out your lunar date planners and lunar PDAs to see if you'll be there at the right time.
- Full Moon Festival, aka Old Town's Night — Held on the 14th of every lunar month, one night before the full moon, when the Old Town becomes even more festive than usual (which is saying something). Usually starts around 6:30pm.
- Fisherman's Festival — Held on the 16th of the February lunar month to pray for a good crop.
- Mid-Autumn Festival — Held on the 14th of the August lunar month.
Made-to-measure shirts, blouses, dresses, suits etc. are on offer from the renowned tailors of Hoi An. When last counted in 2002, there were 140 shops in the city, and the number is now well over 400. It's one of the few places in Vietnam where the motorbike taxi drivers look positively sedate by comparison. Be careful who you choose to manufacture your clothes. As a rule of thumb, give all tailors 2 days advance to prepare your garment and keep going back until you get your clothes right!
- Cloth Market, located next to the Central Market and looks like a cloth warehouse. Inside are many small tailor stalls that are generally cheaper and more reliable than shops elsewhere. Orders usually take a day or two.
- Yaly, Tran Phu Street. They have a great and extensive range of fabrics to choose from and the staff are very attentive and extremely patient. Ignore the fixed price claim! Discounts can be given for multiple purchases.
Hoi An also has a good selection of Vietnamese art, both modern and traditional, serious and kitschy. Galleries can be found all over town but Nguyen Thi Minh Khai St, on the other side of the Japanese Bridge, has the heaviest concentration.
- Central Market, Bach Dang St. (just before the Cam Nam Bridge). Has all of the cheapster t-shirts and bog-standard souvenirs you've seen at every other stop in Vietnam, but it also has plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, seafood, and all of the other stuff they use in Hoi An's terrific restaurants.
- Thanh Ha Pottery Village. About 2km west of town, this traditional village has been making pottery for more than 450 years. It was on the verge of extinction until the wave of new hotel construction in Hoi An revived demand.
- Kim Bong Carpentry Village. About 3km west of town.
fresh spring rolls and cao lầu
noodles at Brother's Cafe
Food in Hoi An is, even by high Vietnamese standards, cheap and tasty. In addition to the usual suspects, there are three dishes that Hoi An is particularly famous for:
- Cao lầu, a dish of rice noodles which are not quite as slippery as pho and a bit closer in texture to pasta. The secret is the water used to make it, and authentic cao lau uses only water from a special well in the city. The noodles are topped with slices of roast pork, dough fritters, and this being Vietnam, lots of fresh herbs and veggies.
- White rose (banh bao vac), a type of shrimp dumpling made from translucent white dough bunched up to look like a rose.
- Wantan dumplings, essentially the same as the Chinese kind, served up in soup or deep-fried.
Prices in the very center of Hoi An are generally a little inflated by the tourist trade - cross the bridge over to An Hoi island for a selection of basic but cheap eateries.
- Hoai River, 44 Nguyen Thai Hoc. Terrific food, but long waits.
- Thanh Phuong, 56 Cong Dong (An Hoi island, just across bridge). Cheap and cheerful local eats. A steaming seafood hotpot for two and a large beer will set you back US$3.
- Trung Bac, 87 Tran Phu. 100 years of cao lau and still going strong. A bowl of chewy noodles and lots of veggies will set you back all of 8000 dong.
- White Rose, 51 Hai Ba Trung. The shop that actually makes most of the "white rose" dumplings served all around town. 15,000 dong per serve, and if you ask nicely they'll let you try to make them yourself. Open from 7AM until they run out, usually in the afternoon.
- Cafe Bobo, 18 Le Loi. Popular and reasonably-priced. The frappucino-style mocha shakes are great.
- Cafe des Amis, 52 Rue Bach Dang, close to the central market, ☎ 0510.861616. The signs and the Serge Gainsbourg say French, but the food comes straight out of owner Mr. Nguyen Manh Kim's well-traveled imagination. Diners choose a seafood, meat, or vegetarian set, and then wait to see what turns up at the table — usually five or six dishes, one after another. Chef Kim delegates the actual cooking to his assistants, enabling him to chat with diners and trot out his enormous guestbooks. Even if you're on a backpacking budget, a memorable, original meal (and a full stomach) makes this a worthy expense. If you're in town for a couple days, you'll find a (mostly) new set every night, so don't be shy about coming back. Dinner and a drink cost about 96,000 dong per person.
- Brother's Cafe, 27 Phan Boi Chau, . Open daily for lunch and dinner. Probably Hoi An's nicest restaurant, with a lush landscaped garden in a wonderful riverside French colonial house. The fresh spring rolls (chả giò) are excellent — and priced to match at US$4.50 a plate. The 6-course US$16 set meal for two is a good value though.
- Hoian Vinh Hung 1 Restaurant Cafe, 147B Tran Phu Str, . Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Before & Now, 51 Le Loi St, ☎ +84-510-910599. Very popular two-level bar and restaurant.
- Tam Tam Cafe, 110 Nguyen Thai Hoc. Cafe, bakery, restaurant and bar all rolled into one. Stylish, popular and not too badly priced.
Hoi An New Town
The atmosphere of the Old Town hasn't been preserved by accident — strict laws prohibit new construction within its narrow lanes. As a result, there's a building boom just outside the borders of the Old Town, most noticeably as you head north of Le Hong Phong; walk a few blocks from that old world ambiance, and suddenly you're in a construction zone. Several hotels have sprung up in this area, which is completely lacking in the charm that brings visitors to Hoi An. Not surprisingly, those are the hotels — Phuong Nam Hotel is among the worst offenders — that are most likely to pay commissions to open-tour bus companies and use internet sites to describe the dusty construction zone as a "peaceful area". They're also cheaper and easier to bargain with — but remember, the reason they're so cheap is that they're missing the whole point of a visit to Hoi An. There are plenty of options closer to the center of town. Once you've taken a night-time stroll through the Old Town, you won't mind if you had to fork over an extra dollar or two for a better location.
Hotels in Hoi An are fiercely competitive, which means plenty of choice, low prices and generally high standards. Many are clustered around Hai Ba Trung St (formerly Nhi Trung St), just north of the Old Town and within easy walking distance, and also along Cua Dai St, off to the east and a bit of a hike away.
Many of Hoi An's high-end hotels are located not in town itself, but by the beach some 5 km away from town.
- An Phu, 30 Nguyen Duy Hieu St., ☎ +84-510-914345, . One of the biggest budget hotel operations in Hoi An. South of the center, about a 5-10 minute walk away. Nice rooms and a relaxing pool in the middle. US$10-15.
- Thanh Binh 3, Ba Trieu St. (off Hai Ba Trung St), ☎ +84-510-916777. Popular budget hotel done up like a Chinese temple, with a pool and pleasant rooms, all air-con equipped. The mattresses are on the hard side though and the breakfast isn't much to write about. US$15-30.
- Nhi Nhi Hotel, 60 Hung Vuong St., ☎ +84-510-916718, . Situated in the Old Quarter, Nhi Nhi Hotel offers affordable, nice rooms in an authentic Vietnamese neighborhood. Hoi An market and restaurants and coffee bars are nearby. US$15-20 including breakfast.
- Grassland Hotel, (Thao Nguyen Hotel), 22 Hai Ba Trung St, ☎ +84-510-921921, . Provides free bicycles and 1 hour free internet per day. from US$15 (including breakfast) for a single room, US$18 for a superior twin & double room.
- Hoian Vinh Hung 3 Hotel, 96 Ba Trieu Str, . checkin: 13.00.; checkout: 12.00 noon. Hoian Vinh Hung 3 hotel offer travelers a idea place to stay with unrivalled standards of comport.Reservation for Vinh Hung 3 hotel of Hoian town, Vietnam US$25-35.
- Ha An Hotel, 6 Phan Boi Chau Road, ☎ +84 510 863126. Located in a quiet area beyond the main markets, this hotel consists of a few buildings built in a semi-French colonial style around a central courtyard. The rooms are airy, light and pleasant with air-conditioning, bathrooms and TV. There's a collection of books in the reception area that can be borrowed by guests. The price includes a good breakfast. US$30-40.
- Hoai Thanh Hotel, 187 Ly Thuong Kiet Street, ☎ +84 510 861171 ([email protected], fax: +84 510 861135), . About 200 meters from the center of town. US$24-75.
- Hoi An Indochine Hotel, Cua Dai Road, ☎ +84 510 923608 ([email protected], fax: +84 510 923578), . Only 5 minutes walk from the beach, by the calm and romantic river and garden. French style architecture with 61 riverview rooms. US$65/night (10 superior rooms), US$75/night (45 deluxe rooms), US$105 (6 suites).
- Lotus Hotel, 330 Cua Dai Road, Hoian, ☎ +84 (510) 923 357 ([email protected]), . Beautifully designed resort-hotel draws from a range of styles & influences resulting in a perfect blend of Eastern culture & French architecture, while our rooms are immaculately furnished and equipped in a relaxing combination of Vietnamese , Japanese and French styles. Free ADSL / WiFi is available in the whole hotel US$36-55.
- Dong An Beach Hotel, ☎ +84 510 927888 ([email protected]), . Overlooking the Thu Bon River, and < 5min walk to the Cua Dai beach. Some 5 km away from town. US$79-195.
- Furama Beach Resort, . Brand new luxury resort on fabled China Beach. Approximately 20 minutes to Hoi An by taxi (5 minutes to Da Nang) Internet rates starting at US$150, walk-up rates from US$200.
- Hoi An Pacific Hotel, 167 Cua Dai Street (halfway between beach and town), ☎ +84 510 923 777 ([email protected]), . Opened in spring 2004, it boasts 3 restaurants and bars, including the "Sky Bar", the tallest in town at seven stories. US$70-120.
- Life Resort Hoi An, 1 Pham Hong Thai Street, ☎ +84 (510) 914-555 ([email protected]), . The classiest hotel near the town center, located by the river a short stroll from the market. US$98-268.
- Victoria Hoi An, Cua Dai Beach, ☎ +84 510 927 040, . Internet rates from US$125, walk-up rates from US$165, honeymoon suites US$210-300.
- Hoian Vinh Hung Hotel &Resort, . Discover our luxury hotels & resorts, which are located in the most authentic places of Hoian. Book your luxury hotel online with the Vinh Hung Hotel & Resort Hoian. US$70-110.
- My Son - ruins of the ancient Cham empire, in the jungle a little over an hour from town.
- Several tour companies offer day-trips or overnight trips to Cham Island, which may include snorkeling or scuba diving (US$25-60).
- The Marble Mountains, 9km short of Da Nang, are well worth a morning or afternoon trip from Hoi An.
- Hue - the former imperial capital, a few hours away by car or train.
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