The Saturday City: Hoi An

city of hoi an vietnamHoi An is located in central Vietnam, and is the center of Vietnam’s clothing industry – at least for tourists.

Hoi An was a major international port in the 16th and 17th centuries, and a major center for Chinese and Japanese immigration. Many of these ancient structures are preserved, and the heart of the city is still the Old Town, full of winding lanes and Chinese-styled shop houses. A river flows through the town, splitting the old section from the main residential area.

The city has managed to preserve most of its historic buildings, and the rapid development you see in other parts of Vietnam has seemingly skipped this area. The city’s economy relies heavily on tourism and clothing. In fact, tourists (including me) come to this city for three reasons: food, clothing, and the Old Town.

Hoi An Vietnam Fisherman

Hoi An is known for its food. I’m probably the only person who went to Vietnam and did not like the food. Throughout the country, I was just not impressed with what I ate. However, Hoi An was different. I loved the food here. I loved the Cau Lau, a dish similar to Pho but not as slippery. There’s pork, noodles, spices, and fresh herbs and veggies, but the taste and texture was much better. Real Cau Lau is only found in Hoi An, as it isn’t considered authentic if the water isn’t from a well in town. The White Rose, a shrimp dish, is also good, as are the fried wontons. Here’s a tip though: Eat across the river! Most of the tourists stick to the restaurants in the Old Town or close by, but if you cross the river into the more residential area, the owners practically chase you down for your business. Prices are half of what they are in the Old Town, and you avoid the mass of tourists squawking away during dinner.

Clothing is probably the biggest draw in Hoi An. In a country known for cheap clothing, Hoi An is in a league of its own. Everything can be made here, and made cheap. Stores all over the city sell t-shirts and jeans for a few dollars, and the town’s central warehouse will make anything you want. Flip through magazines and just point to something, and the next day it is yours, tailored to fit you. Want a new pair of Nikes? You can get those here, too.

the beachside walk in hoi an, vietnam

The quality is also really good. Most international clothing makers have their stuff made in Vietnam so the craftsmanship and quality is the same. Half the material is probably lifted from the Versace or Nike factory anyway! Suits can cost as little as $30, and a whole wardrobe can be purchased for less than $100. It’s such big business here that the Vietnamese postal service has a special office dedicated solely to shipping packages overseas.

Finally, there is the beautiful Old Town. This section of Hoi An has been preserved by strict zoning laws, something I found very unusual in a country that seemed ready to develop anything. The Old Town is a collection of historic Chinese and Japanese residential buildings and temples. You can visit all the temples and a number of houses. I showed up at one house and the old owner showed me around and gave me tea. He didn’t charge me anything, either. I still don’t think he fully understood why I was there. I enjoyed the Japanese temple and the Japanese bridge the most out of all the temples. However, the best part of the day is ending it with a 12-cent beer while watching the sunset over the river. Many cafes line the river and, during sunset, they fill up as people enjoy the last remnants of the day.

hoi an at night

Overall, there isn’t a lot to do in Hoi An. Without a good book or a desire to shop, you’ll find yourself itching for some excitement elsewhere, but the beauty of Hoi An is that it’s an oasis of calm in a country that can sometimes be overwhelming.

I liked some parts of Vietnam, but Hoi An is the only part I really loved.

  1. I totally agree with you about the food…we are in Vietnam right now and I am disappointed. Although my husband is happy because at the prices he can keep trying different things….
    Great photos!!

  2. Cristina

    A lot of people tell me that Vietnam is beautiful… as not being so far from NZ, it’s on the top of my list of countries to visit after coming back. :)

  3. A Hoi An with colorful lanterned nights, a Hoi An with cristinely old plain houses and special mysterious cultural elements, and a HoiAn with the Etiquette & culturally hospitable and friendly people are warmly welcoming you!

  4. Vietnam was an incredibly hectic country when I traveled there 10 years ago so I can just imagine what its become today–your little oasis of calm sounds like a gem. I´ll definitely visit Hoi An when we bike Asia.

  5. Princh

    We will be visiting Hoi An soon! Thanks to your post it got us all excited. We’re on a budget trip though, we don’t know if it will be cheaper to arrive in Ho Chi MInh and just take a bus to Hoi An? We’ll appreciate you advice =)

    • Hi Princh. I did this trip this week. I would highly recommend taking the sleeper train. Maybe 10% more than the bus but a whole lot cheaper! Another way to consider is an internal flight, again probably more again but about 20x quicker! That’s what I’m doing from Hoi An to Hanoi.

  6. My personal experience in Hoi An:

    Very attractive especially the night market. I like to colourful lights.

    Shopping here is still pleasant if you know how to pick the honest stores. Remember this: you won’t need to bargain if you choose the right seller.

    In Oct, the beach is quiet dangerous with high waves. So be careful not to swim a lone. I once nearly got taken away and was very scared.

    The bar here also very interesting, having a nice at the riverside. Me and my spouse had a very romantic time here.


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