Last year, as part of my tour with G Adventures, one place which stood out to me was Hoi An. Honestly, Hoi An was the complete highlight of my tour around Vietnam and a place I would go back to in a heartbeat. I have so many photos to share! I think if you want a truly authentic Vietnamese experience, Hoi An and the surrounding areas, are the places to go.
Located in Central Vietnam, Hoi An is accessible by local trains and buses. I’d definitely recommend the experience of an overnight train which is how we got there. Our train pulled up to Da Nang and our bus took around 45 minutes to arrive at our hotel (called Paradise Hotel). Lucky for us, we arrived during the lantern festival and had the opportunity to grab a boat on the river, light a lantern and make a wish.
Getting in to Old Town
There is an entrance fee that you need to pay before entering the old town. This is around $5. The cost of the ticket actually goes towards maintaining the town, as it’s a UNESCO Heritage site! This ticket also gives you some access to tourist attractions, but not all (as you are given a limited amount – I believe it’s 6?). So it’s definitely worth researching what you want to visit in advance. You can grab your ticket from a booth at the front on arrival. They come with a few pull off tabs, so attraction booths can rip them off. So be careful on handling this!
We only had two days in total exploring this beautiful place. As we were part of a tour group, we did have some pre-arranged activities waiting for us on arrival (as well as paying an additional fee for more experiences!) Some of these included: making your own rice noodles, tailor made clothes recommendations, a walking tour, a bike ride through the rice and tea fields (includes: fresh tea and a banana vodka shot!?) and a ride in the Junk boats at sunset. You see why I say Hoi An is the best place to go for authentic experiences now?! Haha!
To get something tailored or not?
Hoi An is known for tailored clothing, which is what the group focused on and was looking forward to the most. I decided early on that I wouldn’t get anything made; I have far too many clothes already! So, I found myself wandering off and exploring all the alley ways and local attractions instead. This suited me at the time but I actually regret not getting a tailor made dress now! No matter which shop you went in, they all had a variety of unique fabrics. You will definitely find something for you if you decide to get anything made! Prices range around £20+
Chinese Assembly Hall (Also known as the Cantonese Assembly Hall)
My first stop (besides admiring all the beautiful houses) was to visit the Chinese Assembly Hall. A lot of people walked past the gates of this beautiful, temple like structure without even looking, so I wasn’t surprised that when I went in, there was just one family exploring. Inside are a lot of interesting statues and a calm court yard, with a river flowing through. As I was exiting, I saw a few people from my group grabbing an Iced Coconut Coffee from the local café and people watching and decided to join them.
Next up was the Japanese Bridge. Built to withstand the wind and rain, this tourist attraction was built to connect the Japanese and Chinese sections of Hoi An. It’s built in 1590 and requires one of the little tabs to cross. If I’m honest, it wasn’t worth a precious tab! It’s beautiful to look at from either side of the bridge, and there were a lot less tourists on the other side, but culturally, there was nothing different. It is literally a bridge. A crowded one.
Time to see a show!
We saw a show advertised on a black board (costing another tab!) and decided to just wing it and go and see what they had in store for us. It turned out to be a traditional Vietnamese performance, with traditional music/instruments and people dressed up as a Dragon, Turtle, Rooster and I think… A dog? In Vietnamese traditions, it is believed that some Vietnamese are descendants from either Dragons or Fairies. There was also a gentleman performing karate and 3 girls in traditional costumes performing some traditional dances. Unfortunately, I do not speak Vietnamese, but I really enjoyed the show none the less and definitely recommend it!
Despite my regret now, I did manage to grab a few cheap dresses/playsuits while in Hoi An anyway. I also grabbed a beautiful handmade elephant bracelet too. This is a really good time to practice your haggling skills. A lot of the time, they will try and charge you more. Of course, some are in an unfortunate situation and I do try and be mindful of this when haggling. However, I do not appreciate trying to be charged £35 for playsuit! I wouldn’t even pay this in the UK! I had a Vietnamese Dong > Pound converter ready to go on my phone (Cheers Google!) and used this to decide on the payment.
Do your best haggling, they will say no most times. On these occasions I just said “okay no problem, I will go elsewhere then” and leave. This is the part where they (sometimes) scream at you to stop, agree and give you a lower deal or what you asked for. Also, some shop keepers will gossip about you, you don’t need to speak to language to understand that part! Do not let it intimidate you though. It’s supposed to be a fun experience. I did not haggle for my bracelet; I thought it was a decent price already (£1.50). Please also note, there is a general “one size fits all” in most shops. They all have changing rooms inside though, so make sure you try things on!
On your bike, love.
It has been a really really long time since I rode a bike, but as part of our set activities on our tour, I decided to jump at the opportunity. They told us the round trip on the bike would be about 9 miles (!!!!) and I was starting to question my fitness levels and almost didn’t go. Almost. Thankfully I did and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was so nice riding peacefully through tea and rice fields. I never once felt out of breath, although my skill at riding one handed (trying to take videos and pictures) has definitely faltered! So I do not have much from the journey.
Along the way, we stopped off at a local’s brewery house (literally in the middle of nowhere!) and everyone tried some homemade Banana vodka and Moonshine! We also stopped off at a tea field and met a 96 year old smiling man, who owns those fields. A few miles later, we parked up our bikes at a remote village, where they had prepared traditional food dishes for us.
The Traditional Junk Boats.
After our meal, we took to the junk boats as the sun started to set in front of us. We drifted along the peaceful river, with only the noises from the paddles splashing on the water, giggles from the group and insects humming in the background. Truly a magical, unforgettable experience.
The Night Life
I am not a partier, if there is one thing that I try to get across on my blog, is that I am literally not interested. So how did I end up out on both nights?! The first night started in a local bar which had a dance floor (and later closed, so we moved on to a night club). It was so much fun! I didn’t drink and I still had a great time. Beware of the alcohol buckets though. They’re massive (bigger than your head) and be cautious about what they put inside of them! The second night, unfortunately I had to leave early as I got poorly, but I can tell you, it was a pretty intimate restaurant with local, live music.
I felt really safe in Hoi An afterhours. I made my way back alone both nights (thanks Google Maps) but just be cautious and remember your usual safety procedure. A few members of my group also made me text them when I got back to the hotel, even though it was a 15 minute walk away.
After everyone collected their clothing (amazing turnaround time!) we jumped on the bus to our next destination. Hoi An is truly a magical place and I recommend you visit if you’re doing the whole back packing thing. If not, it’s worth a trip anyway!
What do you think? Have you ever been to Hoi An? Let me know!
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