While Da Nang is the gateway to central Vietnam, Hoi An is probably the main hall where most visitors will end up staying. This UNESCO world heritage site is famous for its well preserved old town and an example of a 15th century trading port in South East Asia.

Hoi An Ancient Town

Hoi An is roughly 30 km from Da Nang and is about 45 minutes by car. This makes it quite convenient to visit Hoi An from Da Nang. But its best to stay in Hoi An if you really want to enjoy what the town has to offer. The main activities of Hoi An are centered around its historical old town with it’s rows of single and double storey houses. These look kind of similar to the pre-war shophouses that we have here in Singapore. They have a narrow frontage but are deep in depth.

While Da Nang has shed its historical roots and now looks like a modern Asian city, Hoi An still retains its local and cultural charm, which makes it popular with tourists. Although with tourism becoming the main source of business, most of the old houses have been converted into shops, cafes and restaurants.

First things first. I had to fill my stomach after travelling from Da Nang to Hoi An and checking into my hotel. I made a pilgrimage to this well known Banh Mi shop of Anthony Bourdain fame, where he declared they served the best Banh Mi in the world.
The Vietnamese way of eating street food is on low stools.
Cao Lau is the local noodle dish consisting of char siu pork and rice noodles in a savoury broth.
The day market which is open from morning until sunset. This is where the locals purchase their daily necessities.
A street vendor carrying her wares the traditional way.
By day, Hoi An can look kind of deserted as visitors try to stay indoors hiding from the hot weather. There are many trishaws where the guy will pedal you around the town and is a good way to get around in the heat.
Trishaws and bicycles are one of the main ways you can get around besides walking. Many of the hotels have bicycles for rent to their guests.
The other way to get around is by boat. The town is situated near the mouth of the Thu Bon River and as a trading port for centuries, boats are an essential form of transport.

Hoi An was an important trading port from the 15th to the 19th century. Traders from China, Japan, India and Europe lived here and you can see their influence in the architecture of the buildings.

Chinese clan halls like the Fujian Assembly Hall represent the strong influence of Chinese traders as they set up they trading base here.
There are quite a number of temples. The Fujian Assembly Hall has also been turned into a temple for worship. You will find these spiral incense sticks hanging from the ceiling. The yellow tag shows the name of the person who bought it and its supposed to burn for a month.
The details and richness of colour is quite incredible in some of the temples.
Probably the most famous bridge in Hoi An is this covered bridge, called the Japanese Bridge. Its used to connect the Japanese half of the town to the Chinese half so that the traders from both sides could cross over to do business.
The Japanese Bridge has a small shrine inside it on the side.
The very charming streets of Hoi An in the day time. It can be quite empty due to the heat of day. But once the sun sets, the town starts to come alive.
As evening falls, the boats with their lanterns start to gather along the river banks waiting to take on tourists.
I never tried getting into one of these boats. I guess its something like taking the gondolas in Venice.
By the time the sun sets, Hoi an has taken on a magical look, very different from the day.
As they say, the difference is day and night.
Even the Japanese Bridge looks very different from its daytime counterpart.
The night time view of Hoi An is quite colourful and magical.
An even more magical sight is when the Super Moon rises and lights up the night sky.
Its a hive of activity and it seems like everyone has forgot about Covid.

As you can see, night time is when Hoi An comes alive with its lanterns, and hustle and bustle of activities. Furthermore, its much cooler in the evenings compared to walking under the hot Sun during the day.

Many of the restaurants are the busiest during dinner as hungry visitors start coming in.
There’s a wide choice of food ranging from local street food to high end restaurants.
There are many tailors and leather shops in Hoi An where you can custom make clothes, shoes and bags.
Also, the usual souvenir shops where you buy lanterns like these which gives Hoi An its distinctive look.
Another souvenir shop. I like the way they display their decorative gongs.
During the night, the day market becomes the night market. Although I find that it was rather quiet as its not directly in the old town.
I bought a floating lantern from this old lady after I took her photo. Bad idea, because after that another vendor accosted me to take her photo and buy her lanterns.
They would lend you these long poles with a basket at the end to lower the floating lanterns into the river. I just wonder with the hundreds of paper lanterns floating in the river everyday, who cleans them all up?

Hoi An Memories Show

Besides just walking around the old town and visiting every shop and restaurant, you could also go watch the Hoi An Memories show. This is actually a big budget performance which is on par with Broadway theatrical shows. The show is held at the Hoi An Impressions theme park and its situated on its own small island.

The theme park opens from 5pm to 10pm. Tickets for the Hoi An Memories show includes entry to the park.

The theme park is rather small and when I was there, a lot of the shops seemed to be closed probably due to Covid, and that tourist numbers were still not back to normal yet. The park is meant to show case the history of Hoi An, so you will find that you have travelled back in time to ancient times with the park staff and performers dressed in period costumes. The main show starts at 8pm and you can watch the small performances or have dinner while waiting.

The main restaurant in the park with its design inspired by the conical straw hats that you see in Vietnam. I decided to have my dinner here.
Like Hoi An ancient town, the night time view is much nicer than the day time.

The Hoi An Memories show is held in a special stage area which is huge at more than 100m across, with elaborate props, lighting and costumes. They have 3 classes of seats – Eco, Hi and VIP.

Eco is the cheapest and nearest to the stage and the chairs are your standard plastic stadium seats with viewers seated more or less elbow to elbow. Although you are nearest to the stage, the huge scale of the stage means that you will be busy turning your head to see everything.

Hi seats are behind Eco and higher up. The seats and spacing is still the same as Eco but you have a better view of the whole show.

I got myself the VIP seats which are the most expensive and at the highest level, something like circle seats in a theatre. You get to sit in cushioned bamboo chairs with lots of personal space. There is also a welcome drink and cut fruits including cold wet towels to refresh yourself. Being at a higher level, you get to see the whole stage comfortably. Another advantage is that there were wall fans behind the VIP seats which proved to be a great comfort by blowing cool air and making the viewing experience a lot more pleasant. You can book the tickets online or buy it at the entrance of the park. The tickets aren’t cheap but I definitely feel that they are worth the money spent.

The stage is huge and this view shows only a small portion of the stage with a replica sailing boat from the 15th century. In the background are replica houses of Hoi An. The blue seats are the Eco seats and the red ones are the Hi seats.

Hoi An is not just about the old town. There are some other places and activities you can do while staying here. Hoi An even has its own beach (An Bang Beach) with resorts. So if you want to have your day at the beach, you can also do so from Hoi An.

Read on to check out the ruins of an ancient empire and a fun boat ride into a watery forest.

My Son Sanctuary

My Son Sanctuary is another UNESCO World Heritage site. And this place contains the ruins of the Champa Empire which dates back more than a thousand years to the 4th century. What’s interesting is that the Champa Empire was Hindu, and they built My Son as a religious place with temples dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.

My Son is southwest of Hoi An and is roughly an hours drive away. You can also come here from Da Nang, just that it will take a little longer.

From this entrance to My Son, you will have to take an electric buggy which will ferry you to the archaeological site.
Although you can wander through the site yourself, it would be better to follow one of the guides who can explain about the history and details of the site and various temples.
The architecture of the structures is reminiscent of similar ruins in Angkor Wat and Ayutthaya, or even Borobudur.
These faces of mythical beasts reminds me of Hindu temples in Bali.
Unfortunately, some of the buildings were damaged by American bombing during the Vietnam War so there aren’t many complete buildings around. In fact, you can see several bomb craters around some of the ruins.
One of the few complete structures. This one has been restored and you can see the lighter coloured bricks are actually new bricks used to repair the building.
A visit to My Son should take around 1-2 hours to complete. Try to go early in the morning as its much cooler. Even then the humidity was quite high and I was covered in sweat after the visit.

Coconut Forest

A fun activity that you can do while in Hoi An is to take a boat ride into the Coconut Forest. As you will see, this isn’t an ordinary boat and you won’t find any coconut trees.

The Coconut Forest is located just 10-15 minutes drive from Hoi An. It’s located near the mouth of the Thu Bon River and you will find a small village here along the banks of the river. Their main specialty seems to be to provide boat rides in the traditional basket boat.

The basket boat is a semi-hemispherical shaped boat. Traditionally it’s made from bamboo strips woven together into the shape of a basket. Resin or tar is then layered on it to make it waterproof.

Well, it might look like these floating baskets aren’t very sea worthy, but actually they are quite stable and won’t capsize easily. The only thing is you will need to learn how to steer them. Since they are just round shapes, they tend to just spin in the water.

I got into the boat with my boat captain and guide, and off we went into the Coconut Forest.
The locals call this the Coconut Forest, but the plants are actually a mangrove palm, or nipah palm. The fruits are actually edible and the Vietnamese use it to make a dessert. In Singapore we call this fruit Attap Chee and its used in local desserts too.
The basket boat proved to be very stable when the guide even had to manhandle it through narrow channels to get to the other side.
After about half an hour of paddling through the forest, we were in a wide channel leading to the open sea.
Have you seen a disco on the water before? He’s showing how stable the basket boat is and you can also get on it for a spin…
We passed by a couple of fishermen on their boats. They were happy to pose for the camera and cast their nets
Passing by a couple of friendly ladies on the way back to the starting point.

The Coconut Forest tour as they call it, takes about an hour to complete. There are several such tours in the village and you can ask your hotel to arrange it for you. The price usually includes transport to pickup and drop off at your Hoi An hotel. Some tours also include a lunch at the village. I visited early in the morning (8 am). I found that it was cooler and being one of the first few boats on the water, I got to enjoy the peace of the Coconut Forest before the tourist horde appeared, and the water disco started. If you decide to come later like in the afternoon, wear a hat to protect from the Sun and apply sun screen.

2 thoughts on “Hoi An Ancient Town

  1. I loved Hoi An, especially at night. Compared to other cities I’ve visited in Vietnam, to me Hoi An has this special character others don’t. Even it has its own color theme — or at least that’s how I perceived it. We call Attap chee kolang-kaling here in Indonesia, and strangely they’re widely available only during Ramadan when desserts are abound.

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