Hoi An was one of the highlights of our trip through Vietnam. It was the city Emilie and I were most excited about and had heard the most positive things about. And I think it’s safe to say that Hoi An lived up to it’s reputation.
Why call it Disneyland?
So Emilie and I began calling Hoi An Disneyland after only a few hours there. Why? Because Hoi An is beautiful and picturesque. It’s much calmer and quieter than the craziness of Ho Chi Minh City. But it’s also incredibly touristy. The whole place seems to cater to tourists. Everyone is trying to sell something. It got a little draining – how many times do we have to say no to looking at your menu? At one point, Emilie and I would place bets on how many people we thought would approach us in a given stretch. And we had figured out the script that the tailors would use when they were trying to get us into their shops – to the point where we were answering their questions before they could even ask them.
The streets of Hoi An
Our hotel in Hoi An was a little outside of the city centre and so we had to walk about 20 minutes to get to the Ancient Town. On the way, we realized that every store was either a tailor shop or a spa. And you better believe every one of those stores had someone standing outside trying to entice you with discounts. Once you get into Ancient Town, the tailors and spas disappear and get replaced by beautiful old buildings, bridges and a river. But what’s lining the river? A bunch of overpriced restaurants/bars all catered towards tourists. So the good and the bad 🙂 But we loved the look of the Old Town enough to put up with all the salespeople.
Full Moon Festival
Hoi An hosts a Full Moon Festival once a month where the Ancient Town gets flooded with tourists. We had checked out the schedule for the festival ahead of time and worked it out so we were arriving on the day of. On the night of the festival you enter Ancient Town and people carrying trays of paper lanterns begin coming up to you asking you to buy one. As soon as you turn one seller down, another one is right back in your face with their lit paper lanterns. We were used to people selling at us but it was a bit aggressive to have lit lanterns coming into our personal space. But we escaped long enough to watch from afar. Once you purchase a lantern, you can either get on a boat or use a long stick to push your lantern into the river. As you let your lantern go, you’re supposed to make a wish. The end result was really pretty; it was cool seeing all of the lanterns floating down the river. After getting a drink, Emilie and I decided to take part. We bargained our lantern price down and set them off into the water. Unfortunately, our lanterns got caught up with a bunch of others and all caught fire. I guess our wishes didn’t come true?
Getting dresses made
One of the things Hoi An is best known for is getting clothing tailor made. It was actually really impressive to see all of the different shops and things you could get made: dresses, suits, shoes, purses, and anything else under the sun. Emilie and I agreed that it would be really cool to show up in Hoi An with a bunch of money and get a whole custom wardrobe. But since we didn’t have a bunch of money, we settled on just one dress each. The whole process was pretty overwhelming. We didn’t walk into the shop with sketches or magazine tear outs of exactly what we wanted. Emilie had a bit of an idea but I was clueless. So I flipped through the books and eventually settled on a convertible dress in a dark blue. It was a really lengthy process to select a dress style, talk about what changes to make, pick a fabric and colour, get measured, etc. And of course, they don’t tell you the exact price until the very end (we had asked for a ballpark figure at the beginning but my dress ended up being more outfield than I had hoped – is that the right baseball reference?). I ended up bargaining my dress down to about $60, which is still way more than I had wanted to spend. But by that point, we had been there so long and they had already cut the price down quite a bit, so I gave in.
We ordered our dresses on our first night in Hoi An which allowed us to come back the next afternoon for a fitting and the day after that to pick up the final product. If you’re ever in Hoi An, I would suggest giving yourself at least two days so you do have time to do a fitting and make any changes. And I would suggest doing some homework ahead of time so you know what kind of dress you’re looking for. But even without that foresight, it was still a cool experience and I’m pretty happy with the finished product.
Let’s go to the beach!
So one of the reasons we were so excited for Hoi An was getting to hit the beach. And we definitely had reason to be excited. The beach was beautiful! The water was so bright blue and the sand was so soft and light. We got ourselves nice comfy chairs, an umbrella and an unbeatable view. It was one of the most relaxing moments of the trip. I used to scoff at people who would do beach-only vacations but after that morning in Hoi An, I could definitely see the appeal.
Another thing Hoi An, and Vietnam in general, is known for is really cool cooking classes. I had read about ones where they take you to the market to pick out ingredients, bring you back to the kitchen to cook some dishes and then you get to eat them. The one we ended up signing up for skipped the market part, which is probably for the best because running around a market in Vietnam heat does not sound like a fun way to spend our time.
Emilie and I did our cooking class at this awesome vegetarian restaurant Emilie found. We were the only two to sign up for the 4:00pm class that day so we had a private lesson all to ourselves. Our teacher was very nice – he even gave us pen and paper so we could write down all the recipes. And then he gave us his business card and said we should message him on Facebook if we’re cooking at home and have any questions. We made three dishes: pho (because you sort of have to when you’re in Vietnam), fried wontons with salsa, and stuffed tofu wrapped in a banana leaf. The class itself took almost two hours and it was such a cool hands on experience. I’m not a vegetarian but I loved everything we made and was really amazed with the finished products.
And those were some of the highlights of Hoi An, not including our wonderful hotel, which I wrote about in my hotel round up. I was worried that three days in Hoi An wasn’t going to be enough but I think it was just perfect. We were able to fit in everything we wanted and left before we got tired of the touristy aspects.
Next up: A Day In Hue!