The picturesque town of Hoi An lies roughly half-way on the North-South backpacker route between Hanoi and Saigon. Every night, colourful lanterns light up the town, while there is plenty of opportunity for shopping and exploring the beautiful surrounding area during the day.
Getting to Hoi An:
We arrived from Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park to the North (check out my blog on Phong Nha here), but Hoi An is easily accessible from all directions. Most North-South routes stop at nearby Da Nang, rather than Hoi An. That meant we had to get a rather inconvenient and cramped local bus at dawn into Hoi An.
Where to Stay:
There is no shortage of hotels and hostels in Hoi An, with dorms starting from around $10, and rooms available for around $15. Everything in Hoi An is walkable, so finding accomodation shouldn’t be difficult.
Be aware of taxi drivers when you arrive, though. We asked to go to a specific hostel, but were instead taken to a guesthouse owned by a family member of our driver. We politely declined the guesthouse, but to avoid being pressured into a situation like this, it might be best to get dropped off at a landmark like the Japanese Covered Bridge.
What to Do:
Hoi An’s Old Town is a Unesco World Heritage site, with Japanese, Chinese and French influences. You can spend hours walking around the town’s colourful streets stopping at cafes, shops, and trinket stalls. Hoi An is famous for it’s tailoring, and there are plenty of relatively cheap tailors offering suits, shirts and shoes. For us, this was a little bit out of budget (but still much cheaper than back home), so instead I got a shirt adjusted to my measurements rather than getting a full suit made from scratch.
The countryside surrounding Hoi An is perfect for exploring on bikes or motorbikes. We rented bikes for the day, and decided to get a local ferry over to Kam Kim island and make our way back. I probably wouldn’t advise this, because although there is some beautiful scenery to be found, the island is very rural and there aren’t any maps to use. In the end, we had to cross a bridge back to the mainland and follow main roads back to Hoi An. These roads are busy and I got a puncture from one of the many potholes (saying that, it only cost 10,000VND, or 30p, to fix it!). For a more structured bike riding experience, look at one of the tours on offer in Hoi An – I wish we’d done one of these in hindsight!
Hoi An is also known for offering Scuba diving at the nearby Cham Islands. We had never dived before, but found the Cham Island Diving Centre helpful in offering dives for all abilities. For around $80, we were taught the basics, provided with all the equipment, and given two dives, plus food on a nearby beach. On the day we went, visibility was poor at only 5m, but staff assured us there is normally much more to see. We thoroughly enjoyed our first diving experience at Cham Island, but the bumpy boat journey to the dive sites was slightly less enjoyable!
At night in Hoi An, streets light up with night markets and colourful lanterns that are dropped into the river. It’s a lovely sight, and I enjoyed sitting by the river with a smoothie and taking in everything Hoi An had to offer. The town is lovely, and well worth a stay. There are plenty of tourists – like everywhere else in Vietnam – but it’s easy to see why they are attracted to a visit to Hoi An.
As Hoi An is on the backpacker trail, getting away from Hoi An is fairly easy, although most North-South routes stop at nearby Da Nang instead. We headed South, with Dalat our intended destination. However, we had to get a coach to Qui Nhon and then Nha Trang to get there. That took us a full – and very stressful – day, so be prepared for a full day travelling if heading South from Hoi An.
Check our my blog on Dalat here! Then, look at my ‘Top 5’ Highlights Blog, where I look at the best places we visited, stayed, ate and drank over the incredible seven weeks we spent exploring South East Asia.