Hoi An, The city of a thousand lanterns!
Welcome to the UNESCO world heritage ancient city of high fashion and night lanterns in Vietnam! Hoi An is located roughly half way along the coast of Vietnam, geography and commercially, the tailoring center for trendy tourists.
Hoi An gets a bad reputation for being overpriced and too touristy, however in the off season when I arrived, I rumbled via bus into a quaint and quiet river town overflowing with character and charm. It was touristy even in late January because its simply a place worth seeing when visiting Vietnam.
Hoi An is all about high fashion.
How it works: You search online or bring photos of your favourite dress, pick materials and details and have your measurements taken. In a day to three days depending on the shop or tailor, you return to have your clothing fitted for final adjustments.
These custom made pieces look fantastic as the tailors are well practised and you select among a wide range of differently priced materials. Dresses range from $30 to $150, while a custom tailored suits can cost between $100 to $250 for a high quality three piece.
I love suits, the clothing and the show! Under regular circumstances I would be all over these deals as I’m quite thin and tall thus requiring all my suits to be tailored and fitted. At $250 USD, a good quality suit would have cost me $370 CDN with the awful current exchange rate of 1.45 to 1USD. I decided to omit the suit until my next visit to South East Asia.
Back home, a really basic suit from a chain store with tailoring can cost up to $500. Keeping this perspective in mind is key. Backpackers beware this is not the place to find the cheapest Thai Pants, the vendors are seasoned professionals and there are a LOT of all included resorts just outside the city near Cu’a Dai beach with tourists unaware of reasonable prices.
Bike Tour of the countryside
Hoi An is beautiful but it can get irritating after a day or two as the shop owners are constantly yelling to come in their store and check out their wares. So take a day as In did and head out of the city!
There are many bike tours in Hoi An, I recommend the Kim Bong bicycle tour that is organized by a local university student society and is more or less free! In return for getting a whole day to practice English with tourists, the local students will lead you by bicycle through the countryside to a small village. There, you can interact and watch local craftsmen at work, REAL craftsmen! They teach you about the rice patty fields, the culture and the area. The total costs are 20,000VND for a ferry plus the cost to rent a bike (20,000-25,000VND) and whatever you choose to spend on crafts to support the local community.
Unfortunately for me, the tour was booked and I wasn’t staying long enough to book the next one two days later. So I improvised my own tour of the countryside by bike. I rolled my way through town into the open countryside flanked by bright green rice patty fields on both sides. I spent the early morning and afternoon peddling to and from Cu’a Dai beach through local villages. Luckily, the sun emerged and turned an overcast windy beach into a comfortable environment to relax and read.
The local dish to Hoi An is called ‘Cao Loa’ which resembles dry Pho dish except a different noodle. Madam Kanh sells the best Banh Mi in town for 20,000VND, known as the Queen of Banh Mi, this was indeed the best Vietnamese sandwich I have had to date.
For supper, or post night bus when I was super hungry, I tried a set dish at Bale Well restaurant. At around 100,000 VND per person, this was by far the most reasonably priced and delicious full meal I had in Hoi An. They serve greens, spiced cabbage, friend spring rolls and grilled pork & salmon skewers that you roll in a wonton wrapper. They even include a few pancakes with bean sprouts to also throw in the wonton wrapper. Top it off with some chocolate or mango pudding for dessert. I tried the mango, just able to fit it in my full belly.
I also ate Quail Eggs and fried wontons with salsa which were really good! Being open to trying new dishes is important, I was surprised by the strange but excellent food like deep fried banana. Yum!
Night Market and Lanterns
The best part of Hoi An is the night life! The streets are lit up and filled with merchants and tourists. The night market is a short walk across the river by bridge onto the smaller nearby island. There, you can buy any souvenir you wish at a price you must be willing to fight for.
My favourite tents and boutiques were selling bright and colourful lanterns. They illuminated the sky overhead while floating candlelight paper bowls floated down the river lighting up the water below. I sat out on the patio at a local bar along the waterfront after a fun but poor game of billiards and enjoyed the magical evening atmosphere.
I am sure never to forget my time in Hoi An!