The best thing about Hoi An is that the town has nailed the perfect formula to attract tourists:
1) Private boat rides on the river, slowly floating past the gentle glow of tea lights, under bridges which gleam yellow in the dark, a photographer’s delight.
2) Cheap alcohol, killer happy hours, well-priced and appealing street food that will see even the fussiest of eaters spoilt for choice.
3) Quaint temples, museums and old family houses offering an insight into an ancient Vietnamese civilization.
All these within walking distance of each other. And the beach. The ideal town in which to take a night time stroll while whispering sweet nothings into your beloved’s ear before stopping for a $4 foot massage and a coconut pancake at the night market.
The worst thing about Hoi An is that it has nailed the perfect formula to attract tourists:
1) Tens of lovey-dovey couples drifting up the river on their private canoes, close enough to each other to hear the sweet-nothings being whispered on each vessel. Tens more on the footpath being harassed, every two meters, on their evening stroll to buy a boat ride from local operators.
2) Hordes of sweaty, impatient travelers all rushing to be the first to enter the beautiful temples, museums and houses can make you feel like you’re in line for a train in India.
And if you dare to stop to get your bearings or take a picture while walking through the old town at peak hour, the hot breath of an impatient tour guide, eager to lead his horde of rowdy Chinese delegates into the nearest attraction, hits the back of your neck, reminding you that this is no place to relax.
A saleswoman, guarding the shop outside which you’ve stopped, starts bombarding you with information about the many sizes and colours of shirts she can offer you if only you’d just come inside. She starts begging you to buy something from her, to be her lucky first customer of the day. You smile politely and walk on, frazzled, but glad you avoided any awkward exchanges. But you haven’t looked both left and right when moving off along the footpath of this pedestrian street that is closed to bikes and vehicles.
Out of nowhere comes a cycloped, very nearly clipping your ear as he pushes a dismayed looking tourist past. Then a motorbike, beeping its banshee horn every two seconds, whizzes by. In all the hullabaloo you’ve gone and blocked the way for the tourists who are walking behind you. They start to crowd around you, from both sides and then from all sides, as they slowly swallow you up. You’re now trapped. You have no choice but to move with the swell.
A local lady in a bamboo hat, who also seems to be stuck in the swell, offers you something from her bamboo tree. You can’t hear. The swarm of tourists is too loud. Your legs are starting to feel heavy, your head dizzy. Too many people.
Suddenly, the banshee screech of another scooter breaks the crowd open wide and you dash out. At last. You take shelter in the nearest cafe, even if it is the most expensive in town. Anything to avoid the masses.
There is no doubt that Hoi An is an exquisitely beautiful town. An exceptionally well-preserved example of Vietnam’s heritage. It lights up after dusk and becomes a magical land of tea lights and street food vendors. But the atmosphere has long since been ruined by bulk crowds, the mass buy-up of old buildings that have now become indistinguishable cafes, restaurants and tailor shops and an aggressive style of trade that makes browsing impossible.
We love Hoi An and think it would make a fantastic spots for tourists in Vietnam… If it weren’t for all the bloody tourists.
How To Get to Hoi An:
Train: There is currently no train station in Hoi An. The nearest station is to the north in Da Nang.
Bus: You can reach Hoi An from Da Nang by bus. The bus departs every 20 minutes and takes about an hour. The price is 25,000 Dong – just over $1. There are also open buses running from Hue to Hoi An. The price is 120,000. Don’t expect to enjoy the view if you take this mode of transport.
Car: Hoi An is a 40-minute drive from Da Nang. The service is readily available and can be ordered through your hotel or via the GrabApp. We prefer travelling by car because you can stop off at any destination you like along the way.
Where To Stay:
We chose to spend our time in Hoi An at Kiman Old Town Hotel. We wanted to be able to escape the hustle and bustle of the old center each night. The location here was perfect; about 10 minutes’ walk to the old center, many cafes close by and a sister hotel with a free pool that is available to you. We were also able to leave our bags in the hotel and take a shower there before starting the next leg of our journey after we had checked out.
Where To Next:
Nha Trang: You can take a car to Da Nang and from there catch a train to Nha Trang in the south. The journey is about 10 hours and trains run several times a day. Tickets can easily be booked through 12GoAsia or the official Vietnam Railways site. First class sleepers cost about $31.
Da Nang: Hoi An is a 40-minute drive from Da Nang. Car services are readily available and can be ordered through your hotel or via the GrabApp. We prefer travelling by car because you can stop off at any destination you like along the way.
Hue: From Hoi An to Hue (through Da Nang) it takes about 3 hours by car if you don’t make any stops at all. However, the Hai van Pass that you will be travelling along is considered one of the most picturesque roads in Vietnam and you will probably want to stop at least a couple of times for photos.