Hoi An is a place that can put your senses on overload. We found this city to be intensely charming and full of life. The city is brimming with lavish hotels accompanying pools, intoxicating aromas from restaurants serving every type of cuisine imaginable, and prowling shopkeepers looking for their next sale. You better get used to the phrase, “you buy!” The shopkeepers show no mercy when they see foreigners walking through town, they even follow you with motorbikes and beg you to come to their stores!
Things To Do in Hoi An
If shopping is your passion, then Hoi An may be the place for you. You can bargain your way to happiness. If your desire is to sample foods from every continent, Hoi An will not disappoint foodies. We tasted some exceptional cuisine while visiting this energetic city. A favorite of ours was the little Italian Restaurant, Don Tien. In addition to the fish, pasta and dessert dishes that transported us back to Italy, we also learned that the owner hires only young Vietnamese who come from a disadvantaged background, including orphans, and this good deed gave the Don Tien restaurant another plus in our book. We dined on mouth watering Seabass with Tomato Coulis for just $4.50 US and finished it off with savory deep fried ice cream.
Another highlight of Hoi An is the river at sunset. You can hire either a motor boat or paddle boat with driver to take you wherever your heart desires for only $5 US. This was a much cheaper option to the $70 US sunset cruise we had considered booking previously. We had our own private boat and the close-mouthed driver slowed down every time he noticed us taking pictures. On this particular night the sky was covered in a rich, crimson-orange afterglow from the setting sun. At one point, we stopped for our driver to say hello to a friend of his who was fishing. The fisherman swung his net around and around in the air and finally cast it into the river. He could tell we were in awe at the beauty and technique at which he launched his fishing net and he offered to do it again so we could take pictures. After he caught a couple of fish in his net, he paddled over to our boat and asked for $1. That is when we became aware that taking pictures in Vietnam is not always free!
My Son Temples Near Hoi An
Many people who stay in Hoi An also visit the My Son Temples (pronounced Mi Sun) located near the village of Duy Phu. The My Son Temples are a 45-60 minute ride from the town of Hoi An. You can book a tour for $4 per person. Some compare the temples to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Borobodur of Java in Indonesia and Ayutthaya of Thailand. The cluster of about 70 temples date back to a period between the 4th century and the 14th century A.D. It is astonishing how these temples are still standing after numerous centuries. A few of the temples were damaged during the Vietnam war and you can still see large craters from the bombs. Temperatures at My Son can reach upwards of 110 degrees Fahrenheit and it is extremely humid, so come prepared with sunblock, hats and maybe even a change of clothes.
An Phu Hotel
We also found Hoi An to be the perfect place to relax. There are a plethora of extravagant hotels where you can let yourself be pampered or just cool off and enjoy poolside massages. After 4 weeks of boiling temperatures while backpacking through South East Asia and staying in less than par hostels with no A/C, we splurged in Hoi An and stayed at the An Phu Hotel for $18/night. In the United States a place such as An Phu would probably cost around $500/night. They have a pool, like many of their competitors, and a spa right by the pool that offered pedicures, facials, and massages starting at $6. We were not entirely impressed with the quality of the massages that we experienced at An Phu. I felt as if they were just spreading lotion and not using any pressure. Some may like this type of massage, it’s just not for me.
Hoi An Street Market
While visiting Hoi An, you cannot miss the street market where local vendors set up booths under the shade of tarps from early morning till dusk. The vendors sell trinkets, table runners, scarves, hand made lamps, hats, and food. It’s a great place to buy South East Asian fruit, such as our personal favorite, the mangosteen.
At first glance, mangosteen looks similar to a beet. Actually, the first time we bought this fruit we ended up throwing it away because we thought it WAS a beet and had no way to cook it. The second time around we were a little wiser, thanks to some fellow travelers we met, and we realized what we had been missing. By pressing down on top of the fruit’s hard outer shell, you can loosen the skin and begin to peel away the outer layer. What you are left with is a small white colored fruit that looks a bit like an orange and is sectioned in the same way. The flavor of this round, purple fruit does not compare to any fruit we have available in the United States. The divine flavor ranges from strawberry, peach and vanilla ice cream with a very slight sourness. I wish we had discovered this fruit earlier in our trip so that we could have been enjoying it the entire time!
One of our purchases from this outdoor market included two traditional Asian straw hats. We got tired of the scorching sun and decided this hat was the best thing to keep our faces and shoulders from getting fried. As we were trying on these hats, a few elderly Vietnamese woman made it known how ridiculous they felt we looked in them. It was very amusing and I absolutely have to agree with them that we looked silly in our hats, but that didn’t stop us from wearing them all over town.
It was tough to have to say goodbye to this alluring town and I wish we could have stayed longer. Unfortunately, our time in Vietnam was coming to an end, but not before visiting the windsurfing and kiteboarding mecca of Southeast Asia, Mui Ne.