South of the 17th Parallel- Wonderful Hoi An

15 Nov

Oh Hoi An, beautiful Hoi An. A town which captured my heart with its wonderful charm and vibrant colours. The town itself has had the influence of many different forces from the Vietnamese to Chinese and Japanese and the Old Town is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The UNESCO rating does wonders for the place with strict rules on development and no cars or buses allowed in the town centre making it easy to walk around in peace (except the odd motorbike) and the town centre is closed entirely to traffic on some nights. IMG_1421 It was in Hoi An that I realised how much I loved my SLR camera with hundreds of different coloured lanterns and old colonial shopfronts. Another thing to do is get a pass which allows you into some of the old houses, museums and meeting halls as well as the Japanese bridge. I think the pass only cost about $5 all up and provided an interesting insight into the history of the place.

Realistically though the best thing to do in Hoi An is shop. There are hundreds of tailors in town all of whom will make clothes to order for you in a few days.IMG_1492 I found a great one (we were tipped off by a waitress at our hotel- a bit dodgy I know) at 39 Tran Phu (I think) and had a 3 piece cashmere, silk lined suit, 4 business shirts and a pair of leather heels made for a grand total of $250. It’s a high quality suit and has served me well since I got back. I also had a light summer dress made for only $20 which I’ve worn a number of times as well as buying a lot of silk and cashmere scarfs (and a silk sleeping bag liner for only $5!) I have never been a fan of shopping at all but Hoi An was great fun to shop in and all the staff at the shops were really friendly. Can’t go wrong with good customer service! There is also many art galleries with photos and artworks for a reasonable price.IMG_1506

The food in Hoi An like Vietnam generally is amazing. I spent many a night having a drink and dinner down beside the river and tucking into a delicious local dumpling called White Rose as well as awesome minced pork on lemongrass sticks. There are cafes throughout the old town which combined with the lack of traffic makes people watching enjoyable as well as a number of cooking skills which unfortunately I didn’t get to try out. IMG_1501 I would however recommend a walk through the markets where you can see all kinds of produce and unusual fruits and vegetables and experience an assault on all of your senses from the noise, scent and sights.

When I was there I stayed at one of the big beach resorts at Cu Dai beach about 5 km from the old town. The beach runs all the way from Danang and as much as it would have been nice to stay in the old town you can’t really complain about getting to wake up each morning to a view of the South China Sea and Cham Islands. IMG_1573 The beach is full of massive resorts and there is more and more development occurring thankfully nowhere near the town itself. From the resort we were also able to hire bikes and ride through the farming areas for a few hours to see some of the local industry and as the area is completely flat riding was a breeze despite the heat. The beach had a number of water sports such as jet skis but I didn’t have time to partake in any water activities preferring to spend time exploring town.IMG_1520

One thing that is a must in Hoi An is to have a trip out to My Son. Comparing it to Angkor Wat and Borobudur (as the onsite museum does) is probably a bit much but the temple complex is incredible and you can spend many hours exploring. The tragedy is that a great deal of the area and many of the temples were destroyed during the war which has also left a great deal of unexploded ordinance in the area. As one of our guides told me in Vietnam the man should always walk in front of the women in case of landmines. IMG_1522 All jokes aside however (it’s not something that should be joked about really) if you stay on the path you should be fine. It also provides an insight into a different side of Vietnamese history and was a good introduction to the Champa empire who played a pretty large role in Southeast Asian history many centuries ago. It takes about an hour to get out there but you get to see rice paddies and agriculture on your way out so it is a nice drive.

Driving to the airport in Da Nang you get to see the Marble Mountains. If I had of had enough time I would have definitely paid them a visit as they looked incredible, particularly as you fly in, jutting up out of the flat landscape. Hue is also a few hours away which is another place I missed out on seeing.IMG_1550

Hoi An in my opinion has pretty much everything you could want in a town if you want to chill out for a few days. Interesting sights, walking and cycling friendly, plenty of restaurants and cafes and a beach (not necessary in my opinion but I understand the attraction of it). I was only there for four days but I can safely say I fell in love with the place and can’t wait to head back there and do nothing some time in the future.

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