Hoi An was a lovely stop on my Vietnam trip, and while I did debate whether Central Vietnam was too far from Hanoi for a week-long trip, I’m glad I made it to Hoi An. It’s a lovely place to just kick back, and I wish I had more time to chill out overall.
When to visit Hoi An
Central Vietnam usually encounters heavy rains and flooding at the year end. I was pretty lucky to get sunny weather and bright blue skies, and very fortunate to arrive just 2 days after a crazy downpour with waist-high flooding. The river banks were still flooding a little at high tide, and debris was piled up in spots along the roads and kerbs.
I stayed at the An Hoi hotel, it cost me US$22/night and was a pretty decent if basic hotel. It was located on the An Hoi peninsular, so away from the main downtown action and a little quieter. The hotel also has a pool, great for hot days and if you have a bit more time.
Getting to Hoi An
I only stayed in Hue for a day, before heading off to Hoi An the next morning. I caught the Sinh Tourist Bus from outside its office at 8am, and it was a 3.5 hour bus ride to Hoi An. Seats were assigned and I ended up seated next to an old Spanish guy who had been in my tour group the day before, and we had pleasant chats throughout our journey.
The weather was pretty dreary on the way there – there’s a quick rest stop at Lang Lo beach about 2 hours into the trip. It’s an odd place, seemingly in the mountains but there’s a beach right around the corner. I kept wondering why these hillside/mountainous hotels were calling themselves ‘resorts’.
The bus detours to the Sinh Tourist office in Danang before heading to Hoi An, which is about an hour’s journey from Danang. Along that stretch of road to Hoi An is a whole line of developing beach resorts, but there’s still a small stretch of public beach that you can access.
Finally we reach the Sinh Tourist office in Hoi An, and while I consider walking to the hotel, I call the An Hoi hotel and they sent a cab out to get me. At least it finally stopped raining! The weather is cloudy but it’s looking a lot less miserable than Hue.
You can also take the train (more about that here), the nearest station being Danang, where it’s about an hour by car/taxi to Hoi An.
Cycling around Hoi An
As I only had half a day left in town, the hotel provides me with a bicycle at US$1 per day and with a map in hand, I head into town to explore the place. Cycling is the Vietnamese way of getting around – after motorcycles, bicycles are the next most common mode of transport; but I would never consider cycling in Hanoi! Hoi An is nice and quiet and has much less crazy traffic.
My hotel was quite conveniently located – even though I wasn’t in the main old quarter, An Hoi peninsular is just across the bridge from there, so it’s about 5-10 mins walk, and even shorter by bicycle. If you lived in the old quarter itself, you could probably walk around to most places, but I still think that the bicycle makes life so much easier.
Town of Tailors
Hoi An is renowned for it’s quick turn around in tailoring clothes and shoes, and the main streets are fillllllled with various tailors and shoemakers. You could probably walk into a few shops to get quotes and look around, but I was a bit pressed for time so I went with the hotel recommendations. Not sure if the hotels get a cut from it!
For tailoring I headed to Kimmy Tailor, recommended by the hotel as well as the Lithuanian/Irish couple from my Halong Bay trip. It’s a pretty professional looking set-up – a 2 story building at the junction of . A guy takes my order and I go a little crazy ordering stuff, ending up with a chiffon long sleeve shirt, a tailored white shirt and a grey jacket/pants suit. You can show them a picture of your desired design, or they’ll give you a laptop where you can browse designs. They’ll also break out the fabric books for you to pick out colours and materials and take your measurements for you. After all that, it’s time to talk price, and I end up spending US$140 there! Not the cheapest, but considering it’s tailored and I’m on holiday…
I need a quick turnaround, so I head back at night for a fitting – my tailor is a young girl called Thao, who seemed a little sullen at first but actually turns out to be quite witty and sweet. The clothes are mostly done by that time, but it’s a good thing I had at least one fitting because that jacket was way too small and had to be altered. While they can turn things around in 24 hours, it’s advisable to have 1-2 fittings to get it just right, because the guy taking your measurements is usually not the same one sewing your clothes.
By the next morning, everything is fitting fine and it’s just some minor adjustments which Thao makes for me before I head off… it’s amazing really, tailored clothing in 24 hours, but from what I can tell, the orders are sent to a central factory to be sewed, with the final touch-ups done at the shopfront by some seamstresses.
After that I head across the street to Happy Soles to get shoes made. I brought along an original pair of white shoes that I had but I had to describe the other pair of shoes I had in mind for them. It’s a little bit difficult, especially if you’re looking to recreate an existing look, so bring along a picture or an actual sample if you can! I made two pairs of leather shoes, a pair of flats and a pair of heels also for US$140.
The shoe making process is a little rustic, and I’m not sure if that’s how they normally do it, but they basically just take an outline of the shape of your feet on a piece of paper with a pen, and make some measurements of your foot with a measuring tape. You pick out the colours and materials from the samples. I come back later at night for a first fitting – the white shoes are done and fine, but as for the other pair of heels… somehow the colour of the grey doesn’t look the same as what I picked out, but given the time constraint, I decide not to push it and just go with it.
One thing to note also is not to pay the full sum all at once, but to pay a deposit first, and then pay the full amount later. While I did that at Kimmy’s, I paid the full sum upfront at Happy Soles so I wasn’t in much position to argue about the colour and material.
If you’re planning to go down to Hoi An to get stuff made, just remember that you’re getting what you pay for, and that while they can do things quickly, quality work usually only happens when you give enough time for it to be done! Don’t go in with high expectations of perfection and you should be fine. Go in knowing exactly what you want and don’t get distracted by the prospects of remaking your entire wardrobe! Also, do a little bit of research – the Kimmy’s feedback online seems pretty ok, but Happy Soles had quite mixed reviews.
If you’re wondering how my buys are doing so far since the trip in Nov, generally seems ok, though the inside lining of my jacket sleeve seems to have ripped a little. The leather on my shoes seems a bit wrinkly though the fit is generally ok.
Where to eat in Hoi An
Kim Nhung Restaurant
Lunch on the first day there was at a place called Kim Nhung Restaurant, down the road from Kimmy’s and Happy Soles at 109 Tran Hung Dao street. Frankly, it caught my eye mostly because of the sign advertising beer for just 3,000 VND (about S$0.20?!) I eat a local delicacy called Cao Lau, which is noodle with meat topped with croutons and a LOT of veggies. The veggies were all mixed in with the noodles, which made it really hard to pick out, but the noodle was pretty alright overall.
I run into my Australian friend from the Halong Bay tour while walking the streets of the old quarter, and we agree to meet up for dinner. We check out Hai Cafe, recommended by her Frommers guide book, which was so-so but serving food at tourist price. She has grilled beef and I have chicken, and share a plate of White Rose, a prawn dumpling of sorts which was so-so. The ambience is pretty nice, but there are lots of people who come in to sell souvenirs, so its a bit tough trying to have a peaceful meal.
11 La Hoi, An Hoi
The next morning before I leave, I decide not to have the hotel breakfast (rather oily looking baguette and western style), and head out to look for some Vietnamese food. There’s none along the street that the hotel is on, but in the lane behind, I find a really traditional joint run by a couple of old ladies who don’t speak a word of english. I only knew it served food because I recognize the words ‘Mi Quang‘ on a banner hanging outside the shop, and with some hand actions and miming, the ladies serve me a lovely bowl of flat rice noodles with chicken and a large cracker, just for 17,000 VND (that’s S$0.80!)
If you’re into cooking, there are several places offering cooking lessons as part of the dinner fare, so look out for those.
Things to see in Hoi An
Within Hoi An itself there are a bunch of old houses and temples that you can visit, and there’s a pretty complicated ticketing structure, but I didn’t bother going into any of these places, mostly choosing to cycle by and take pictures of the exterior.
Red Japanese Bridge
I did visit the famous Red Japanese bridge, which is actually smaller than one might imagine. You can walk across the bridge.
Cua Dai Beach
I took a leisurely bike ride out to Cua Dai Beach, east of Hoi An and about 25 minutes away from the main city centre past padi fields and empty plains. Quite often I wasn’t sure if I was going to reach the end and was tempted to turn back, but I’m glad I persevered as the beach was pretty nice! It was fairly quiet when I reached in the late afternoon, not many people are around. There are deckchairs on one end and little huts on the other, but even at 5pm it’s starting to get dark already, so I head back into the town centre before it got too dark.
There’s a Central Market by the river where you can buy food, I bought some coffee from a persistent lady, though the quality of the packaging looked pretty dodgy. It was here that you could see the evidence of flooding from the past few days, with debris piled up in the middle of the streets.
Right next to Central Market is the Hoi An Cloth Market where you can buy cloth in bulk and you can find some tailors too.
You can also cycle over to Cam Nam Island, another little peninsula off the main Hoi An area, I cycled a little there, but didn’t have time to explore it fully. It’s accessible over a bridge near the central market.
Hoi An is also famous for its full moon parties, where it closes off the old quarter roads to traffic and they release paper lotus lanterns down the river. While I was there after the full moon, the downpour previously had postponed these activities so they had people selling paper lanterns along the river, and a few of them were set off downstream. This is probably an idea that’s more romantic when viewed from further away, or when a lot more lanterns are released though, it’s a bit sad seeing some of these lanterns flip over or get stuck in anchor chains.
My overall thoughts about Hoi An? Lovely little place to go visit in Vietnam but it does get pretty touristy – don’t go there expecting it to be super quaint and quiet.