I would like to call Hoi An as the lantern capital of Vietnam. It is one of the most gorgeous cities in the world with colorful lanterns hanging from the top, retro-themed shops and cafes adorning the streets, and free WiFi across the entire city! It is also a melting-pot of Chinese, French, and Vietnamese cultures, reflected in the architecture of its buildings.
When I had been to Vietnam, I had planned for a 3-day trip to Hoi An to soak in the artistic culture of the city. Hoi An is declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is often fluttered with tourists. Surprisingly, the extreme tourist culture here, adds to the beauty of Hoi An and makes it look even more beautiful. Imagine, a bunch of travelers, cycling their way through the yellow streets of Hoi An, with an inquisitive mindset, ready to absorb all the enchantment offered by this lantern capital of Vietnam. They truly add to the beauty of the city!
1. Explore Hoi An’s Old Town
Begin your exploration in Hoi An by taking a stroll through the vibrant streets of the city’s old town, and exploring the Communal Houses, Museums, Old Houses, and the Assembly Halls. One of the famous old houses in Hoi An is the Tan Ky house which has a display of artifacts portraying the Vietnamese culture. Likewise, each of these houses and museums have something to offer w.r.t the history and culture of Vietnam (Do note that the entry to these ancient buildings is not free of cost and requires you to buy a ticket).
Once you explore these rustic buildings, head to the Japanese Covered Bridge which has a small temple dedicated to the Taoist God of weather, Tran Vo Bac De. Locals believe that by praying here, they can stave off any impending earthquakes.
2. Ladies, Buy an Ao Dai Dress
The Ao Dai dress is the traditional outfit of Vietnam and a very elegant piece of fashion in the world. Getting a tailor-made dress in Hoi An is quite popular and recommended in almost every blog. You can walk in to any of the hundred stores in Hoi An, choose an outfit that you like (western, traditional or even something you find on the internet), give your measurements, choose your fabric and get your outfit made in just two days. However, I would ask you to avoid this unless you find it cheaper here than in your home country. While the quality of stitching is top notch, it doesn’t really make sense if it is horrendously expensive and you can get the same kind of stitching back home, at a lesser price. Most people get western outfits stitched here and it makes sense for the Westerners to buy here because they can afford it but for people from third world and developing countries, affording one can be difficult.
I wanted to get a tailor-made Ao Dai dress and the price quoted was around 60 USD! So, I ditched the plan of getting a tailor-made outfit and instead bought a ready-made one from a store, for 13 USD. I would recommend the same to all my women readers. If you are interested in buying the traditional outfit of Vietnam (which I strongly recommend; and you’ll get many eyebrow raises btw 😉 ), go for a ready-made one. And men, well I’m not sure how much they charge for tailor-made shirts but you can enquire at the stores and see if the cost works out for you.
3. Visit the An Bang Beach
Wow, this, my friends, is the beach where I got sun burnt! I’m literally not kidding but along with wonderful memories, and souvenirs from Vietnam, I also brought back home, a 4x times darker shade of my skin tone, all sun tanned and sun burnt 🙁 (I looked like a zebra). But nonetheless, the An Bang beach is one of the most lovely beaches that I have ever been to. The waves are quite commanding and have a personality of their own. You can either jump over the waves or chill on the beach chair but I’m sure you’ll have a great time. One thing to note here is that the beach chairs are owned by the beach resorts and you will have to pay them if you want to use one. An alternative thing to do is carry a sarong or a piece of cloth and use it as a mat.
4. Eat Banh Mi at Banh Mi Phuong
Now, you cannot visit Vietnam and not eat their Banh Mi. Banh Mi is a type of bread (or baguette) that is quite the local delicacy in Vietnam. It is split lengthwise and filled with savoury ingredients. The bread is so crispy and light that you can go on munching them one after the other! Now, Hoi An has a very famous restaurant called Banh Mi Phuong which sells different variants of Banh Mi. The Banh Mi here is so famous that Anthony Bourdain once ate it and titled it as “the best Banh Mi in Vietnam”. Now, is it the best? I don’t know. But it is tasty for sure!
I tried the vegan Banh Mi on their menu and quite liked it (Don’t forget to say ‘An Chay‘ while ordering, which means ‘vegan’ in Vietnamese). They filled my Banh Mi with tofu, avocado, veggies and their special sauces, and I enjoyed my dish. You will also find several street food vendors selling Banh Mi and in case you missed eating here, grab a bite at any of the local vendors.
5. Explore the Hoi An Night Market
Visiting the night markets is my favourite thing to do in South-East Asia. They are so vibrant, and filled with locals and tourists, that it all seems like a mini carnival in itself. The Night Market in Hoi An comes alive at night and you can shop here for lanterns, souvenirs, clothes, etc. and even eat your way through it. Since, lanterns are quite famous in Hoi An, you might want to take one home.
Also, the Night Market has a line of restaurants and pubs, offering cheap cocktails, beers, 1+1 offers; basically everything you need to feel the vibe of the city at night. And I must say, the streets here look really pretty with all the lanterns hanging around, colorful boats on the water underneath the bridge, and local vendors selling some incredibly delicious vegan street food.