Looking for awesome things to do in Hoi An? Let’s take a look at Haute Culture’s Top 10 highs and lows for you to make the most of your time here.
The ancient port town of Hoi An dates back to the 15th century and is home to an artistic architectural fusion of Chinese, Japanese and French aesthetics. The pretty and peaceful town has both a traditional and cosmopolitan charm and is blessed with sun drenched streets most of the year round. Fashion lovers flock to Hoi An to take advantage of its long lineage of tailors famous for magically making made-to-measure clothes and shoes in just a few days.
With an array of beautiful beaches to bask on, romantic lantern lit streets to stroll along and arguably is Vietnam’s finest cuisine to dine on, scroll down to view my top 10.
The 8 HIGHS
1. Walk Around
Hoi An is a UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) world heritage site, many of its ancient traditional timber-framed buildings have been meticulously preserved and retained gorgeous cultural design features. You can buy a ticket from the main tourist board that lets you into 6 of the maintained sites in the town for 120.00vnd. You by no means need to buy this ticket to witness the charm of Hoi An, there is just as much to experience without the ticket. Hoi An is the only town in Vietnam to have a ban on all motorized vehicles in the old quarter, while walking you can take a pleasant break from the beeping bike horns, pollution and dances with death you may face elsewhere.
2. Take a Sampan Boat
Relax and soak up the sunshine as you slowly sail down the palm tree drenched Thu Bon River.
3. Go Cycling
Go and grab two wheels and spend the day pottering through the rice paddy fields and meeting the locals.
4. Light a Candle and Make a Wish
Every night Hoi An becomes beautifully peppered with paper lanterns. Hanging from buildings and reflecting off the river’s surface, the sparkling streets are filled with eccentric old ladies selling lotus lit wishes that float downstream. Once a month there is a full moon festival where the town fills with devotees and tourists paying their respects to Thien Hau the goddess of the sea. You can find a list of dates here.
5. Visit the Temples
Visit one of the many lavishly decorated Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese Temples, Pagodas and community assembly halls . Don’t forget to cover your shoulders and knees before you enter.
6. Shop in the Beautiful Boutiques
If you don’t want to take your chances with the tailors and feel overwhelmed trying to find something culturally fashionable in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An has recently become a mecca for artistic Asia inspired mid-market fashion labels.
Chula is a fun and eclectic luxury design house based in Vietnam. Inspired by cultures from all over the around the world the Spanish Designers Diego and Laura Cortizas design and make all of their collections in-house by employing and training Vietnamese staff from less advantaged backgrounds.
Lucy’s Dream combines simple silhouettes with abstract prints and patterns using designs from Vietnamese artists and illustrators.
Metiseko is an ultra-feminine French brand specializing in elegant eco chic ready to wear. The company prides itself on its environmental and social policies and only uses certified organic materials in the production of its ranges.
7. Bask on the Beach
Just a 20 minute cycle from Hai Ba Trung street in the centre of the town, will lead you through the countryside and over rivers to Anh Banh Beach. During the day the soft sandy beach has plenty of sun lounges, beach bars and turquoise sea to swim in. Evenings hold a laid back bohemian vibe with live music, BBQs and bonfires over the weekend.
8. Visit the Tailors
Hmmm this experience is actually half in the highs and half in the lows. Having more tailor shops than you can shake a meter stick at (600 at last count) comes at a cost behind closed doors. Tourists go weak at the wardrobe at the prospect of having their very own cheap fast fashion made to fit. But stories of sweatshop working conditions to keep prices low, shop owners sabotaging each other’s businesses and customers being completely ripped off with shoddy sewing is not just hear say.
With more tailors than tourists, Hoi An’s heinous high rents and fiercely competitive prices you have to question what you are paying for. That said with a bit of preparation (recommended below) you can avoid contributing to the next sewing scandal, have a fun experience and return home with a swelling suitcase and smile on your face.
This is my tailor Ken, I had a simple cropped jacket and dress made from Vietnamese hill tribe fabrics that I provided. He repaired my leather bag and altered 3 other garments; another jacket, a heavily beaded skirt and some trousers. The total cost was $75. I didn’t barter because I thought it was a fair price. Ken’s tailor shop can be found here on Trip Advisor.
My top 5 tips to having a great tailoring experience
- Know what you want before you go. You can do this by either taking a picture or a drawing of a design with you. Nearly all of the tailor shops have catalogues and fashion magazines for you to pick something from, but my number 1 tip for a successful experience is “know what you want BEFORE you go”. If you want them to make any changes to the design then write it down in a bullet point list.So for example, you want this dress with;1. V-neckline instead of round
2. Shorter hemlines cut above the knee. Alternatively you can also take your favourite clothes and have them directly copied in a fabric of your choice.
- Research, read recommendations and walk around. Don’t go with any tourist touts on the street or in a hotel. Everyone from the taxi driver to the lantern making grandma will try to take you to THEIR tailor shop. Trip advisor is the best place to read reviews from tourists about the cost, quality and friendliness of a shops service. On this occasion I took a chance because I noticed Ken’s shop was the only one that had hill tribe clothes hanging up. This made me feel more reassured that he had experience working with this type of textiles and costumes. He spoke fluent English and was very friendly, so I felt happy to take the opportunity and offer someone less popular the business. Before committing ask where the clothes are made? Raise the question. At all costs I do not want my clothes being made in a sweatshop situation. Ken makes the clothes himself in the shop. Although you can never be 100% sure, I did see him cutting and sewing when I walked in.
- Give yourself at least 48 hours for 2 fittings. For best results I recommend you place the order first thing in the morning of the 1st day. Go back the following morning for a fitting and later again that afternoon for a 2nd fitting and finalising the finishing details. That way you should be able to collect on the 3rd morning before you leave, allowing plenty of time for alterations and a higher quality service.
- Don’t forget the details. I have fallen foul of this mistake in the past. Make sure you select a lining fabric, pocket style, button colour and size, style of zip etc. Don’t leave it up to them, they are not designers and everyone has different tastes and standards.
- If you’re not happy then say, and if it doesn’t change then don’t pay. Check that it fits, is comfortable, easy to move around in and all the fastenings work. If you follow the tips above hopefully you can avoid this situation or at least reduce your chances of dissatisfaction through better communication.
The 2 LOWS
9. Avoid The Touts
Hoi An has an extremely annoying problem with pushy tourist touts. Sometimes acting aggressive and very desperate. If they are not shouting at you “BUY SOMETHING” from their chairs, they are pleading with people in the streets and following them around town. The only other place in Vietnam I have experienced anything like this is in Sapa, so be warned and be firm with your “NO”.
10. Beware of the Tourist Trap
In parts of the town they play this weird elevator style music in the streets giving you the feeling your walking around the Epcot centre at Disney land. For every 1 shop selling traditional hand crafted products there are probably 100 selling cheap imported tat. If you are looking for gorgeous artisan style fashion visit Chula, Lucy’s Dream, Metisko and Healing Hands who all work hard to work with local creative Vietnamese people and produce fair trade, made in Vietnam keep sakes.
Where to Stay
I stayed at the river side holiday home of fashion designers Diego and Laura from Chula. Only five minutes away from the market with a delightfully designed interior, the house is based in one of the most peaceful yet accessible locations in the old town. It accommodates up to 5 people over 2 floors and can be booked here on Airbnb.
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The nearest airport is Da Nang. You then transfer 30 mins by taxi costing around 350.000 vnd, or pre book with your hotel to get a mini bus pick up for 200.000 vnd.
Over night sleeper trains run from either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, picking up at destinations in between costing around $50 and taking 12 hours. See the train timetable here.
You can take a night bus from all major cities along the Ho Chi Minh trail from north to south of Vietnam via the reputable Sinh Tourist