No matter what your interests you won’t be disappointed in Hoi An, a town full of fantastic delights just waiting for you: shopping, history and culture, relaxing at the spa, and of course food. Hoi An has it all.
Shopping in Hoi An
Let’s start with the shopping as Hoi An is a shopper’s paradise specializing in custom made everything. If you want a pair of shoes, jewelry, clothes (dresses, suits, shirts) for men or women, handbags, you name it you can get it custom made to order here. Specializing in designer copies you can get your favorite designer anything made here.
Some advice for making the most of the shopping in Hoi An:
- Bring pictures of what you want made- they will just copy it. Not sure what you want, they have tons of catalogs to look through but it can be very time consuming to find what you want.
- Know what you want it made of- spend a bit of time thinking about fabrics and colors, look at what your favorite designer uses for material. If you want wrinkle free shirts gentlemen you need to specify it!
- Check travel forums (Trip Advisor and Thorn Tree are good options) and ask other travelers for recommendations of vendors and ask about prices. You will pay what you can bargain. Don’t take their first price, it will be way to high! Negotiate. (Be wary of hotels recommending places, they often receive a commission, that’s why they recommend it.) There is a lot of competition in Hoi An if you think the price is too high, try somewhere else.
- Make sure you pay attention to workmanship. Check things like buttons- are there enough on the front of your shirt to keep it from gaping open between the buttons? If you aren’t happy don’t pay for it until you are.
- Place your order early in your visit. You will need to return for fittings and final pick-up. While they work quickly, most things will take at least a couple of days.
- Make sure you leave room in your suitcase or arrange to get your new purchases shipped home!
Hoi An is also a fantastic place to buy silks and souvenirs. Silk material is widely sold and if you are looking to make something yourself this can be an excellent option. Silk lanterns are one of the symbols of Hoi An and you can find something in every shape and color.
The History of Hoi An
In 1999, Hoi An was named a UNESCO Heritage site. It is a well preserved example of a South East Asian trading port, with many buildings built between the 15th to 19th century.
Historically Hoi An has always been an important trading hub. During the 7-10th Centuries it was controlled by the Cham people and was the center of their global spice trade enabling them to build tremendous wealth. Later in the 16-17th Centuries, Chinese, Dutch, Japanese and Indian traders all settled in this area. The Chua Cau Bridge, or Japanese Bridge is from this time period and was the gateway to the Japanese settlement.
At night all of the silk lanterns are lit, creating a magical glow. Perfect for an evening stroll.
With a population of about 120,000 Hoi An is a small relatively easy place to get around. You can ride a bike (rent one or most hotels seem to offer them free to use), take a taxi (cheap) or just walk around to explore. Riding a bike is a great way to explore the countryside and see village life outside the main historic old town. Just grab a map and hop on a bike. There is very little traffic and it is easy to get around.
One of the most amazing things out in the countryside were the gardens. It seems like every family has the most amazing garden growing herbs and produce.
Hoi An has some fantastic accommodation options, something for every budget and taste. You can stay in an historic home or hotel, family owned accommodation or in luxury. Take your pick.
Spas in Hoi An
With something for every budget, you can get a manicure, pedicure, massage or any other spa service you can think of here in Hoi An. Prices, quality and cleanliness varies widely so do some online research and ask around. Again the place your hotel recommends may not be the best option for you, just a commission for them.
The hotel spas tend to be the most expensive and also probably the closest to what you are used to by Western standard of cleanliness. There are however good and less expensive alternatives around town.
Food in Hoi An: A Food Lover’s Paradise
Last but certainly not least, Hoi An is a food lover’s paradise! Hoi An is arguably the food capital of Vietnam. We spent two weeks here and really enjoyed the food. We enjoyed it so much it was a shock to get to Hue (which is arguably the food desert of Vietnam).
A lot of the food we ate in Hoi An we only saw in Hoi An -so enjoy it while you can.
There are a number of fresh food markets scattered throughout Hoi An. This is where the locals shop- sometimes several times a day! Go and have a wander, buy some fresh fruit or snacks and just check it out. It is so interesting to see how the locals shop and what is available in the markets. Both cooking schools and the food tour that we attended started with trips to the market.
Attending Cooking School in Hoi An
There are a number of fantastic cooking schools in Hoi An and if you are at all into cooking or eating, take one! In Part 2: Cooking School and Easy Hoi An Inspired Fresh Spring Rolls of this post, we look at our cooking schools experience in more detail.
The Last Great Taste of Hoi An Food Tour
I cannot recommend he Last Great Taste of Hoi An Food Tour highly enough. If you eat, take the tour! You will enjoy your time in Hoi An more and your time in Vietnam more. (We were recommended to take this tour by a woman from the Turks and Caicos that we met while staying in a lodge at Lake Titilaka in Peru. She had the booking details in her mobile phone! Now that’s a recommendation.)
The food tour is in two parts a walking tour and a tasting session. The first part of the tour you wander through the streets and markets of Hoi An. It includes a stop at the market and several local restaurants and a sampling of street food from the local stands. The beauty of this part of the tour is you can plan all of your other food stops for the rest of your trip! Try some local specialties, meet some locals, get recommendations and learn your way around Hoi An.
The second part of the tour is at a local restaurant and is a tasting of lots of other Hoi An specialties, enabling you to decide what you must have more of! By the end of the tour you will have sampled about 75 different dishes! As part of the tour you get a map of Hoi An with food establishments marked and a list of menu items (including pronunciation) and descriptions which again sets you up for the rest of your visit.
Neville Dean, the host, is Australian and a retired advertising executive. He also is a fantastic storyteller. You will be in fits of laughter! So the whole experience is quite entertaining! Neville is also a great source for local recommendations beyond food and restaurants. Looking to have jewelry, clothes or anything else made? Ask for his recommendation.
The tour is extremely popular. Honestly it was the highlight of our entire Vietnam trip! Book well in advance before you arrive in Hoi An. You can only book by email. Try to do this tour as early as possible in your Hoi An visit as it will help you plan.
I don’t remember what the tour cost, but it seemed expensive in advance. After we completed it, I’d say it was great value. Neville is not making money out of the tour but rather helping to support the locals. He employs quite a few to help with the tour as well as provides support to some of those you meet along the way. It really is a great experience. Take the tour, you will be glad you did. Let us know what you think of it!