Hoi An is known for being one of the most romantic destinations in Southeast Asia. Full of honeymooning couples, Hoi An (also known as Lantern Town) is a beautiful town full of winding streets and old French architecture, and is actually a UNESCO world heritage side- which has its pros and cons.
By night, the streets are aglow with lanterns and the bridges over the main river are lit with dragons and flowers and all manner of other excitement. If you haven’t shopped enough in the day time, the night market goes on late into the evening and in all honestly most shops seem to be open for as long as you’re awake each day!
Famous for its cheap tailor-made clothes, it would be easy to spend plenty of time and money in the centre of Hoi An, but exploring the surrounding areas by bike is definitely worthwhile. Bike rental starts at 30,000 dong per day (if you shop around) though is more commonly 80-100,000. For this, you can have your very own fixed-gear road bike to take off into dirt-tracks and sandy lanes- and as I said in Mai Chau, if someone who can hardly ride a bike (like me) can do it, I’m sure anyone with a bit of determination can!
There are a variety of day tours you can do if you don’t fancy going it alone (once you’ve looked at the covered Japanese Bridge and Quan Cong temple, obviously) and they come with a bunch of different options from crab fishing to visiting eco-villages.
We split up our hours of cycling with a basket boat race and a paddle around in a nearby river. I would highly recommend playing around in a basket boat if you can. There are different packages available depending on what combination of activities you want to do- as with anything, staff at your hotel or hostel will be happy to help you book.
One thing to watch out for in Hoi An (other than being ripped off by a dodgy tailor) are the ticket fees people will try and charge you just for walking around. When I was exploring with only one or two other people, we were left happily alone. Nobody tried to charge us for walking down the street.
When, at one point, we formed a guided group of eleven, we were too obviously an easy profit and were accosted by four uniformed officials with ID badges who shouted in Vietnamese until money had been handed over – for tickets to attractions we had no intention of seeing.
For those of you into cooking, you’ll be pleased to hear that one of Gordon Ramsey’s pals runs great Vietnamese cooking classes at Green Mango restaurant in the centre of the town. With my group (after we’d spent half an hour listening to a bunch of arseholes doing their best to intimidate our guide on the way there) he worked through a five-course menu and was even able to accommodate my awkward vegetarian needs.
If you’re in Hoi An for its world-famous tailoring then allow a few days for fittings and adjustments- and don’t spend more than you need to going to places who pay commission to your hotel.
Otherwise, you can explore in a couple of days like we did and see plenty- or stay a little longer and take boat rides on the river, visit one of many low-cost spas and eat your way through more of the local cuisine than we did! If you look in the right places, eating out here is dirt cheap (even for Vietnam) and all-in-all I’d say Hoi An is well worth a visit.