Hoi An was everything I imagined Vietnam to be. Charming little streets, traditional fishing boats and rows of softly lit silk lanterns. I spent almost a week there, soaking up the atmosphere buying tailor-made clothes, eating delicious food and partying until the early hours.
Surprisingly, for a relatively small town, there is tons to do. So here is a list of my favourites.
Buy some tailor-made clothes
Its likely that the first thing you will think upon arriving in Hoi An will be “Whoa…there are tailor shops everywhere!” Yep, there are. That’s because Hoi An is the place to be if you’re wanting to get something tailor-made.
This isn’t like some of the other Southeast Asian cities where getting something tailor-made translates to being over-charged and ending up with something completely different to what you asked for. Here the tailors are of exceptional quality and the prices are more than reasonable.
So you’ve decided that you want to get something tailor-made? Now for the hard part. Where to go?
As you would do anywhere, make sure you choose wisely to avoid being disappointed. Hoi An may be full of talented tailors but there are always going to be a few not-so-good ones thrown in there. And don’t be surprised if you are inundated with suggestions from hostels, tour guides and even restaurants. They all receive a commission for sending you to a particular tailor. Instead, make your decision based on the recommendation of friends or fellow travellers.
That’s exactly what we did – we chose Maya Design after hearing of them from a friend and I couldn’t recommend them highly enough. Maya is run solely by women and, believe me, those women are talented.
I spent hours choosing the exact cut and material I wanted, getting measured, having first fittings, second fittings and so on. I admit I got a little carried away, but the result was three perfectly fittings dresses and the only well-fitting pair of shorts I have ever owned. Worth every penny.
Try the Local Cuisine
I had fallen head over heels in love with Vietnamese food. After three and a half months of eating my way around Asia I was grateful for the light, healthy food and a break from all the greasy noodles and curries (regardless of how delicious they might be).
And of all Vietnamese cuisine I tried, Hoi An definitely topped the bill. Hoi An has its own distinctive cuisine with dishes not found elsewhere in Vietnam. My favourite was White Rose – small steamed dumplings filled with ground pork and shrimp (and I don’t even like shrimp!). It also has its own wonton soup and tasty fresh spring rolls. To get a taste of all of them, try one of the tasting menus offered in many of the riverside restaurants.
And then there is Cơm Gà, which translates simply as ‘Chicken Rice’. We were coming to the end of our time in Vietnam and were desperate to try this dish before we left. Our tailors at Maya recommended Cơm Gà Bà Buội, a favourite restaurant amongst the locals, so we headed straight there.
Within minutes of sitting down we were presented with steaming plates of delicious-looking Cơm Gà. However, on closer inspection it became apparent that most of the meat was actually chicken entrails – and I am more than a little squeamish when it comes to my meat.
I ate as much as I could manage without actually touching the entrails but couldn’t finish the rest. At one point the Vietnamese lady opposite me thought that the reason I wasn’t eating it was because I couldn’t use chopsticks. So she very kindly slid a spoon across the table for me to use. I wanted the ground to swallow me up. A few more tentative mouthfuls later and I had to leave the rest.
The bits that I did eat were absolutely delicious so if you are not squeamish about your meat I would definitely recommend a visit. But if, like me, the idea of entrails knocks you a bit sick then perhaps try this delicacy in one of the waterfront restaurants which serve up more tourist-friendly versions (Cham Cham restaurant is high up on my recommendation list).
Take a Cooking Class
Hoi An, with its beautiful tasty cuisine, is the perfect place to try out a cooking class if you’re looking to gain some Vietnamese cooking skills. There are numerous classes to choose from but we opted for OM (One Moment) Restaurant because they allowed us to customize our own menu and took us on a pre-class trip to buy the food from the local food market.
Upon arrival we were all presented with traditional Vietnamese hats and paraded around the market. We looked ridiculous, but we had fun nonetheless, learning about the different exotic fruits and vegetables (although admittedly we perhaps didn’t need to be taught about what a carrot was).
After purchasing the fresh produce for our dishes we returned to OM to start the class. We were taught directly by the Head Chef, who was an absolute whizz in the kitchen, teaching us how to prepare and cook our favourite dishes including both fresh and fried spring rolls (the fried spring rolls were phenomenal), papaya salad and my personal favourite, lemongrass chicken. After which, we had an even better time enjoying the finished product sat on a beautiful terrace overlooking the river.
Hire a bike
I don’t think there has ever been a more perfect town for cycling around than Hoi An. A maze of charming little streets full of colourful buildings and quirky little shops, you can spend days discovering new corners of the town you have never seen before, stopping every now and then for a cold beer or to sample some beautiful Vietnamese cuisine.
Or, if you want to venture further afield, you can spend a day exploring quiet little fishing villages and rice paddies on the outskirts of the town.
Relax on An Bang Beach
I wouldn’t say that Hoi An is a particularly well-known beach destination. And yet, only about 4km from the centre is the beautiful An Bang Beach. Quiet and tranquil, this beach doesn’t have the hoards of tourists that Nha Trang attracts, and that’s all part of its charm.
Instead the seafront is scattered with traditional fishing boats and a few small beachside restaurants lining the promenade. A relaxing way to spend an afternoon away from the hustle and bustle of the town.
Watch the Sunset whilst Sipping the World’s Cheapest Beer
Vietnam is home to the World’s cheapest beer, Bia Hoi. And there is no better time to sample it than during the ‘Magic Hour’, when Hoi An is at is absolute finest. All of the restaurants along the riverfront offer happy hours, selling their local fresh beer at even lower rock bottom prices.
Relax and watch as the sunset paints the river a brilliant orange and the lanterns from the restaurants and markets begin to flicker on before taking a stroll around the spectacular night market, admiring the rows of market stalls filled with the brightly lit lanterns that Hoi An is famous for.
The perfect end to a perfect few days.