Hoi An, is one of the most beautiful in the country, with stunningly well preserved architecture from its centuries as an important trading port. Wandering the bustling, winding streets is like stepping back in time: there are no modern developments, and almost all the original homes, temples and bridges have been conserved. At night, the riverside is alive with floating lanterns, which happy old ladies sell to tourists for wishes before inviting them into their rickety boats for a water release. Aside from all this, it’s also a great place to shop and eat! Here are some of our must-dos.
Hoi An isn’t huge; a grid of six or seven streets make up its centre, all of them lined with restaurants, bars, galleries … and tailors. Oh-so-many tailors. This is one of the main reasons why many people visit this Vietnam town: to return to their own more-expensive shores armed with dozens of made-to-measure outfits that have been whipped up for small change!
• Follow a recommendation – there are hundreds of tailors
• Make time for a fitting and alterations a few hours before you collect
• Feel free to ignore the terrible 1990s catalogues in all the stores!
• Ask to see the full range of material – there’s often more out the back
• The more visuals you can show, the better – these talented ladies can sew anything
• All prices are negotiable, but it’s more about agreeing on deals than haggling hard; we suggest asking for three items for the price of two, or for a 30 percent discount
Top five stores
• Viet Town Silk, 127 Phan Chau Trinh Street
• A Dong Silk, 62 Tran Hung Dao Street
• BeBe, 13 Hoang Dieu Street
• Yaly Couture (high end), 358 Nguyen Duy Hieu Street
• Minh Khang (shoes), 732 Hai Ba Trung Street
Top 5 eating Spots
Mango Room, 111 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street
A modern, tropical shophouse on the river that serves up innovative Asian fusion dishes and mean cocktails. Despite it being one of the posher joints in town, each incredible course is no more than about six bucks.
Seedlings, 41 Nguyen Phuc Chu Street
This shophouse has lovely river views and the friendliest staff in town – its upliftment programme trains up young people for the hospitality industry.
Morning Glory, 106 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street
This popular, airy shophouse serves up local grub for Western palates – and you won’t believe the cheap prices.
Trip Nguyen, 736 Hai Ba Trung Street
Look out for this quaint, open-fronted spot along a busy shopping street for the cheapest beers in town and a mean bar snack.
Miss Ly Cafeteria, 22 Nguyen Hue Street
You’ll need to book a table at this famous, arty Vietnamese restaurant before filling up on hearty and inexpensive local dishes.
Cao lau is a Hoi An specialty consisting of fresh rice noodles, barbecued pork, pork crackling, bean sprouts and greens.
While there are plenty of interesting temples to explore in and around Hoi An’s old town, two other culturally significant sites are a short drive away.
Head west through the paddy fields and you’ll reach the fascinating site of My Son in under an hour. It’s home to 70 Hindu temples and tombs, which were built by Cham kings between the 4th and 14th centuries. Incredibly, they were abandoned when the realm fell apart in the 1600s and remained undiscovered until the French stumbled across them in 1898.
The Americans bombed My Son in 1969, during the Vietnam War, obliterating some of the temples. Others, though, are amazingly preserved, with startlingly clear Sanskrit detail and depictions of Shiva.
Tip: Get in and out before busloads of tourists roll up at 9am.
Take an hour to explore this, the largest of the cluster of limestone and marble hills on the outskirts of Da Nang. The views from the top are worth the sweaty clamber, plus there are a number of interesting Buddhist temples inside the caves.
Tip: Check the lift is working unless you fancy a steep hike, and steer clear of the marble salesmen.
Hoi An is easily accessible from Singapore – you can fly direct to Da Nang in just over two-and a-half hours (Singapore Airlines or Jetstar) and then it’s a 30-minute drive to the south. Many people opt to stay at one of Da Nang’s large, modern beach resorts and drive into Hoi An for the day, but overnighting in the town allows you to soak up its oldie-worldy charm.