I’d heard more than once that Hoi An was a really great city to visit in Vietnam, and one that shouldn’t be missed. So I certainly made it a point not to miss it! What I didn’t expect, though, was that I’d fall deeply in love with Hoi An, and eventually find it extremely hard to leave.
Here’s 5 reasons why Hoi An is the Jewel of Vietnam:
• Diversity of Landscape
With some of the most beautiful resorts in Southeast Asia, the area surrounding Hoi An including An Bang and Cua Dai is a beach destination in its own right.
But then travel just 1-2 kilometers west (towards the Ancient Town), and you’ll find the lovely riverside scenery of a sleepy fishing village:
If you are able to take a taxi about 15 minutes north to Danang, you can visit the very mystical Marble Mountains as well. With such diverse landscape, it’s a great reason alone to visit Hoi An. But it doesn’t stop there.
• Possibly the Best Food in Vietnam
Hoi An is home to what Anthony Bourdain dubbed the Best Banh Mi in all of Vietnam: a little hole-in-the-wall eatery called Banh Mi Phuong. It’s so unassuming that you could easily walk past it time and time again without realizing. The only distinguishing feature is the heavy stream of people lining up to buy their Vietnamese sandwiches in bulk. Banh Mi Phuong epitomizes the idea that if the locals are eating there, it must be good.
Alternatively on the other end of the spectrum, Morning Glory is considered the best restaurant in Hoi An, and for good reason, with modern twists on national Vietnamese specialties like Banh Mi with meatballs and Pho with Papaya Pickle. There’s also a hugely popular cooking school across the street, if you’d like to try and recreate the acclaimed dishes once you’re back at home.
Also, as with the rest of Vietnam, there are plenty of cheap but very delicious street food alternatives around every corner.
• Tailor Shops
Hoi An is known for it’s famed tailors, and basically any article of clothing can be completely customized to your individual desires at quite reasonable costs. You’ll see anything from shoes to rain jackets to purses to bathing suits – all in pretty much whatever color and style you’d like. They just take your measurements, and you return the next day for a fitting. If you like it, you take it. If not, they’ll adjust for pickup the following day thereafter. It’s all very simple.
I chose to have a leather jacket and a pair of shoes customized. The jacket had to be readjusted twice, but luckily I had extra time in Hoi An to do so, which some people don’t. I didn’t wind up being in love with the color of the jacket – it came out a weird brownish green color. But for a little over $100USD, I can’t really complain about having something that fits perfectly.
The shoes only cost $12, but unfortunately they wound up looking as such, and were made much more cheaply than the shoes that were on display and initially caught my eye. But again, for $12, if I wear them only a few times they will have been a worthwhile souvenir.
When customizing clothes in Hoi An, don’t forget to haggle on the price! And yes, it is expected, even on custom merchandise, as the first prices they quote you will be inflated. It’s always a good rule of thumb to counteroffer with a little more than half of what they first quote you, and then meet somewhere in the middle of those two numbers.
Hoi An was one of the few places spared during the Vietnam War (or the U.S. War of Aggression as the Vietnamese call it). Because of this, Hoi An has retained the old world architecture of a 15th century Southeast Asian port town.
You’ll quickly understand why Hoi An’s Ancient Town achieved UNESCO World Heritage status (1999) after an evening stroll underneath the twinkling labyrinth of lanterns while inhaling an intoxicating mixture of burning incense outside the shops and spices being cooked up by the street vendors.
Probably the most distinguishing feature of Hoi An is it’s lanterns. It’s even known as the “Lantern City”. Instead of telling you why, allow me to show you instead…
One last note: unfortunately because Hoi An is so fantastic and all-encompassing, the secret has gotten out and it’s become quite touristy in the last 10-15 years. Keep this in mind if you’re planning on visiting. I don’t want to present a depiction of Hoi An as an exotic locale off the beaten path, because it very much has prime real estate on that path.
However, if you go there expecting to see a lot of tourists and therefore aren’t surprised by it, then it’s much easier to negotiate and probably won’t bother you nearly as much. It isn’t any worse than most other popular sights in Southeast Asia. I will say this – every tourist in the world couldn’t have kept me away, nor would prevent me from possibly returning someday.