It was the images of Old Town Hoi An that drew me back to Vietnam. Images of boats gliding on the river against the backdrop of bright yellow Chinese assembly houses, deep pink bougainvilleas and strings of colourful lanterns. Images such as these that I kept seeing in Instagram and on TV.
My last trip to Vietnam was in 2011, after which I swore I would not return to the country again. Seriously. I don’t know why I felt this way about Vietnam. Hanoi did not impress me and Ho Chi Minh City had managed somewhat to persuade me that it wasn’t too bad.
Why? What was so uninteresting about Vietnam? I don’t know – it’s just one of those feelings that sometimes we, travellers, cannot relate emotionally with the country that we visit. No matter how hard we try, the outcome is simply…meh.
All that changed when I desperately wanted to have another escape before my Europe trip in September. I wanted to go to a destination closer to home, a place that I haven’t been to. Images of Hoi An kept popping up as if to tell me that I should change my mind…and my perspective.
And so, I took my chances, booked my flight to Da Nang and hoped that the third time’s the charm.
Getting into Hoi An
There is no airport or train station in Hoi An; the nearest airport and train station is in Da Nang located 30km north of Hoi An. The airport has domestic connections from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and international flights from major South East Asian cities while the train station receives several trains a day coming from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hue and Nha Trang.
I flew directly into Da Nang from Kuala Lumpur and quickly moved on to Hoi An, not spending time in Da Nang at all. Although Da Nang has its fair share of attractions such as My Khe Beach, museums and temples, the city seemed lacking in personality and character, judging from what I saw during my 45-minute journey from the airport to Hoi An. Initially, I had thought it was the route from the airport to Hoi An that looked rather boring but the city looked just as unappealing when I travelled to the train station in Da Nang for my onward journey to Hue.
The historical legacy of Hoi An is made up of foreign influences dating back to 2,000 years ago.
The seaside town of Hoi An was a trading port of the Hindu Champa Kingdom which controlled the strategic spice trade with Indonesia from the 7th to 10th century, after which Hoi An traded silk, porcelain and medicinal plants with the Chinese in the 16th and 17th centuries. These Chinese traders settled in the town for a number of years, thus created a strong Chinese heritage and culture in Hoi An that is still apparent until today. The third and last major influence was from the Vietnamese.
Because of these major foreign influences, the heritage buildings in Old Town Hoi An feature an interesting blend of Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and French styles. There are Chinese assembly houses and guildhalls, a Japanese-style bridge, wooden shophouses and ancient tea warehouses, French colonial houses and old canals.
Although the merchants moved their trading posts from Hoi An to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) by the end of the 18th century, Hoi An has had been successful in preserving and restoring its heritage buildings ever since, resulting in the Old Town looking rather charming and picturesque, almost timeless.
Beautiful, dreamy and magical Old Town
I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into the Old Town area but once I saw the vibrant yellow building façade, pink bougainvilleas and colourful lanterns, I was blown away by its beauty.
Majority of the heritage buildings are converted into tourist souvenir shops, tailor shops, galleries, cafes, restaurants and museums, and although everything here screams “commercialism”, the Old Town is, indeed, very pretty. Tourists can walk around inside the quiet streets of Old Town at a leisurely pace. Vehicles are not allowed except bicycles and rickshaws, and mopeds in certain sections.
I continued my walk towards the Thu Bon River where the views are of postcard-like settings especially during sundown. The atmosphere along the river was laidback and delightful – people relaxed at cafes and restaurants having a pint or two to cool down from the heat while others went on a river cruise on wooden boats.
By nightfall, food stalls closer to the Japanese bridge were opened which made a great place to dine and watch boats drifting on the river. I crossed a pedestrian bridge over to the other side of the river where I found more restaurants, cafes, food stalls and the night market.
Old Town Hoi An is beautiful during the day, dreamy at sunset but magical at night.
Tickets to Old Town
Entrance ticket to the Old Town costs 120,000 Vietnamese dong (approx. USD5) with tear-off coupons allowing entrance to five places in the area.
Although it is mentioned somewhere that the ticket is valid for 24 hours, the ticket seller assured me that the ticket is valid throughout my stay in Hoi An. I stayed in Hoi An for two nights and came back again to the Old Town a couple of days later, I was able to use my ticket again with no issues.
Just remember to keep your ticket safely in case you want to return to Old Town a couple of a days later.
Accommodation in Old Town
Accommodation is aplenty ranging from guesthouses to luxury resorts.
For the first two nights in Hoi An, I stayed at Nu Ni Homestay which is situated away from the main road in an alleyway among Vietnamese houses. The 3-storey house is modern, impeccably clean with comfortable bed, air-conditioner and fan, good water pressure and warm water in the shower, fast WIFI – all for only USD20 a night including taxes!
I didn’t choose the breakfast option. Instead I had breakfast at a chicken noodle stall on the main road and drank smooth Vietnamese coffee at a café across the road from the noodle stall 😊
Location-wise, Nu Ni Homestay is quite strategic – it’s only 10-15 minutes’ walk to the entrance of Old Town and 15 minutes’ bicycle ride to An Bang Beach.
The tourist crowds…
Here I am waxing lyrical about the beguiling charms of Hoi An, do keep in mind that the Old Town is very touristy.
The heaving and noisy crowds got a bit much for me after several hours of exploring the area, and at times the situation became chaotic especially at the pedestrian bridge where people wanted to take lots of photos of the river, boats and the heritage buildings. Also, I saw the crowd rushed to the riverbank to light floating lanterns to take photos while some struggled to keep balance while sitting in the boat, leaning down to release the lanterns on the water and taking photos.
In summary, everything is all about taking photos because the Old Town is so pretty, that almost every corner, street and shop is a IG-worthy moment which is fantastic but at the same time, insane!
To preserve your sanity so that you can enjoy and appreciate the Old Town better, do venture out to areas of the Old Town which are situated away from the river where there are less people, eateries that are less expensive and more interesting cafes and galleries.
Did I regret coming to Hoi An? Not at all.
Did I enjoy seeing Hoi An especially the Old Town area despite the massive crowds? You bet 🙂
It was a very good start to a promising trip and indeed, the third time’s the charm!
Are you planning a trip to Hoi An soon? How about booking your accommodation here?
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