Bucket List Travel: Hoi An, Vietnam

Traveling in Asia conjures up images of one or two things for a traveler – the bright lights and fast pace of a city, or historical sites blended in with sweeping natural surroundings. In Vietnam, the city of Hoi An fits into the latter, as it preserves centuries old heritage as a coastal port village – one of the most influential in the 17th and 18th Centuries (and designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999) – and presents an authentic slice of life for new and returning visitors alike.

For a little more nature on your trip, consider heading over the Marble Mountains in nearby Da Nang, or just bask in the glorious view.

The high season for tourism is from May to the end of August. With its mild weather and calm seas, this is the best time to enjoy the city’s numerous charms, especially nearby destinations like the islands of Cù lao Chàm. From September to April, the weather becomes a little unpredictable, with cold and rainy periods interchanging with warmer pockets.

Getting In. Located on the central coast of Vietnam, Hoi An is closest to the Da Nang Airport, which is easily accessible through the country’s airports in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Hue with Vietnam Airlines and VietJet Air. If you’re intending to fly in from somewhere else in Asia, there are also international flights from Bangkok, Singapore Siem Reap, Hong Kong and Cambodia (for Angkor Wat).

There are no trains that stop in Hoi An – you’ll have to take an airport shuttle, which offers a fixed price, or if you feel confident, haggle with a taxi driver for a fixed price. The area still has a reputation for its improvisational pricing practices, so you will need to stay sharp and not be intimidated into paying more than you’re required.

First Impressions. It’s hard not to notice how much more serene, how much more civilized it feels in Hoi An. Without the usual hustle and bustle of a contemporary city, this is truly a place where you can take in the atmosphere at your own pace. But as a former port city, the architecture is grand and marvelous, and perhaps you’ll feel a bit like you’re in your own movie, on a movie set built just for you.

Night time in Hoi An is truly breathtaking – the lights, sounds, and smells of a bustling city are in full swing.

A History of Influences. The main fixture of Hoi An is its Old Town. Because of its trading history, there are still remnants of 19th Century Japanese merchant buildings, Chinese temples, and many more landmark structures that are still in use today (albeit for different purposes). Head to the Japanese Covered Bridge’s Pagoda, which was built in the 1600’s (renovated in 1986), or visit the Quan Cong Temple. And don’t forget to take a boat ride on the Thu Bon River, to get a sense of how goods were shipped for hundreds of years.

A word of caution – make sure to research fully about tickets to Old Town. Some places do require an entry fee, but you do not have to pay just to wander the streets and cross the Japanese Bridge, for example.

One of a Kind Experiences. By one of a kind, we certainly do mean activities like going to the Central Market for a variety of food and souvenirs, kayaking along the river, or exploring Old Town at night, when the city is beautifully illuminated with lanterns and romantic lighting. There is also a burgeoning nightlife scene. But one-of-a-kind also applies to Hoi An’s custom clothing industry, where you can purchase tailored suits, shirts, and shoes to your liking. Make sure to do a little research before going into a shop, and then also compare and contrast before buying – you will save money, unless you don’t choose wisely.

Don’t Forget to Eat. No trip to Hoi An would be complete without a dish of Cao lau – rice noodles that are topped with roast pork, fritters, and many vegetables and herbs. If you like pho, you may even prefer this dish by the time you’ve eaten every last drop. But the city is also known for its white shrimp, and variety of Vietnamese, Chinese, and even Japanese cuisine that will delight any palate.

Local dishes are not just delicious, but also beautifully composed.
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