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Visiting Hoi An Ancient Town Jan 18-21, 2015

Visiting Hoi An Ancient Town

GPS waypoint: 15°52'37.9"N 108°19'33.5"E
Location: Hoi An, Vietnam

Present Day Hoi An Ancient Town
Hoi An Ancient Town is one of the 3 tourist destinations clustered along the coastline of Vietnam's Central, together with Hue and Da Nang. Ancient Town is definitely one of the most charming cities I've ever visited. If you have been to Luang Prabang (Laos), you get the idea. It's a riverside port town where the structure has been preserved impeccably from its 15th - 19th century architecture. The narrow streets are lined up with quaint boutiques, shops, galleries, cafes and restaurants which are all painted yellow orange for a unique and consistent look. Some even grew a mossy patina effect adding more to its atmosphere. Although very touristy, it wasn't always like that for Hoi An. At one point in its history, it was the biggest harbour in Southeast Asia and the commercial capital of the once powerful Champa Empire.

Brief History

  • 1st century - Hoi An was already the biggest harbour in Southeast Asia
  • 7th - 10th century - the Cham people controlled Hoi An and the spice trade generated prosperity. Hoi An was the commercial capital of the Champa Empire
  • 15th century - the Chams lost to the Viet people and lost control of Hoi An. The Nguyen lords took control and Hoi An regained its prominence.
  • 16th - 17th century - Chinese, Japanese, Indians and Dutch merchants traded and settled in Hoi An - their architectural and cultural influence remain to this day
  • 1535 - the Portuguese established a major trading center in Hoi An
  • 1595 - Hoi An became a flourishing trading port under the rule of the Nguyen lords
  • 1900 - the Chinese and Japanese merchants considered Hoi An as the best trading port in Southeast Asia
  • end of 1900 - Hoi An's prosperity waned as a result of the Nguyen lords' defeat in the Tay Son Rebellion
  • Emperor Gia Long (who founded the Nguyen Dynasty) crushed the rebellion with his French allies. He repaid the French by giving them exclusive trade rights of the Da Nang port, a nearby city to the north
  • Da Nang became the new center of trade reducing Hoi An to a backwater port where it stayed untouched for the next 200 years. This is what you now see in Hoi An.

What They Say about Hoi An

  • "top 50 cities to see in your lifetime" - Huffington Post July 2014
  • "top 10 world famous canals" - TourOpia Travel Blog Sept 2014
  • "one of the world's most romantic cities" - India Times May 2014
  • "20 best beaches in Vietnam" - Rough Guides Mar 2014
  • "top 10 destinations for couples in Asia" - Luxeinacity Travel Magazine Dec 2014
  • "top 30 Asian cities by price: Backer index for 2014" - Price of Travel Feb 2014
  • "top hotel destination" - Agoda Nov 2014

International Port
During its heyday, Hoi An was an international port and the center of commerce. Nationals from all over Asia specially the Chinese and the Japanese took up half-year residency here to conduct their trade. They spawned their own communities which make up this cultural melting pot. They got along well living side by side of each other - even though the Japanese Bridge was the demarcation line between the Chinese and the Japanese.

Hoi An HotelLodging
We stayed at An Hoi Hotel, a charming family-run hotel that is right across the bridge from Ancient Town. It is also along the river which gave us a river-view breakfast from their 2nd floor alfresco restaurant. It was a comfortable hotel that made Hoi An a much better experience for us.

Cua Dai Beach
The beach is a good 8 kms from Ancient Town but easily reached by bicycle. It was too cold to take a swim and the waves were crashing down like crazy - ideal for surfing! The beachfront is wide and sand is powder-fine with beige/white color. Already, access to the beach is blocked by 5-star multi-national resort and hotel chains who are adjacently lined-up along the beach. They also fenced-in their property lines from their neighbors effectively cutting off their guests within their grounds. Long walks on the beach? It's not gonna happen here.

No Cars
Ancient Town is off limits to cars - only bicycles and motorbikes are allowed. This frees up the town's narrow streets to the throng of tourists who flock to the shops, restos, cafes and galleries lined up with their patina-infused orange/yellow structures.

Hoi An is one place where you can have a professionally tailored suit and pants done in 24 hours at less than half the retail price of Europe or N. America. Price ranges from $70-$300 depending on fabric, Kashmere wool commanding the hefty price tag. Shirts go from $15 to $20.

The recent years were unforgiving to Hoi An. Flood waters reached record levels specially in 2010 when water reached above 6 feet inside the houses transforming their streets into canals. Hoi An became Venice as boats became the mode of commute.

Ending Thoughts
What strikes me about the flourishing multiculturalism of Hoi An is the level of racial tolerance their Vietnamese hosts exercised. These traders, refugees, migrants were accepted by the Vietnamese and allowed to practice their own religion and continue their ethnic tradition and culture. A story goes that Chinese from the Ming Dynasty took refuge in Hoi An after the Qings defeated the Mings in China (I could not verify this, even through Google searches). Two thumbs up to the people of Hoi An for being a benefactor to these people who chose to call Hoi An their new home.

TuyenGoodbye Tuyen
It felt heavy parting with Tuyen at the airport in Da Nang. For nearly 4 months, we were traveling together 24/7, looking after each other, complemented each others' blind spots, and worked together in everything that needed to be done. Our friendship deepened as we faced the challenges of the open road together. I miss her and I know it won't be soon before I meet another traveler I can get along with as I did with her. Godspeed, Tuyen. Know that you will always be special to me.

--- TheLoneRider

Next stop: Kuala Lumpur via Da Nang Airport

location markers
Tuyen and I over breakfast overlooking the river from the 2/fl resto of An Hoi Hotel enjoy Hoi An taho (soy bean curd sweet VND 10k) SuBi3  pampered us with soothing massage ticket centers are everywhere. YOU DONT NEED THEM TO GO TO ANCIENT TOWN. You can still go to the restos, shops and cafes. You only need them if you want to go to the museums or designated attractions
the Pagoda Bridge or Japanese Bridge...the only covered bridge with a pagoda inside Hoi An is flanked by water. The yellow net is the traditional way of catching fish and has been the signature of Hoi An fishermen charming ice cream nook Tuyen and I enjoying market 'che' or Vietnamese sweets
different types of noodles sun dried...a Hoi An specialty the weathered patina look of Hoi An structures this place is known for its chicken rice. But at VND 40,000, it was pricey compared to VND 25,000 you can get from the other eating places. It was good but not blow-your-doors-off there are many wells in Hoi An. There is even a well-man who has been delivering well-water to establishments for decades and he is now in his 80s
horseless carriage with Tuyen at the flower market the architecture of Hoi An is from a bygone era this is found in the heart of a very old tree stump. It's not always there. It's rare and commands a very high price. The Chinese will pay dearly for it.
a Buddha carved out of a block of wood in some of the museum spot (where a ticket is required), you may get a tour and served tea old wooden houses...Hoi An Tuyen coming down from a rickety flight of one person at a time is allowed
a painting from one of the galleries at first I wasn't sure if it was an illustration or a photograph. I'm not telling you :) outside an art shop the flood water levels over the years...some years Hoi An is submerged and boat is the mode of transport
an embroidery shop. It looks like a painting but it's really fine embroidery...almost microscopic fried crab on batter with $1 for the both, life gets good vine-covered wall with my dear Tuyen lazy afternoon beer at a cafe/bar
flower vendors more quaint shops a cultural show the big resorts and hotels are damming the beach. What's wrong with keeping a beach natural?
stretching on a small patch of beach that hasn't been touched yet by the big resorts the whole of Hoi An lights up at night night market kids selling floating lanterns
floating lanterns on the river a fisherman casting a net lots of leatherwork in Hoi An bright and sunny day by the river, traditional net in the background
An Hoi Hotel...our comfortable shire in Hoi An Tuyen playing, Tarzan? ha-ha very cool looking backpacker chill zone New Town...being developed for big hotels...Hoi An is shifting into high tourism gear
the 2 beasts guarding most respected establishments are not really identical. One is female with a young art gallery, Hoi An style shop for vintage propaganda posters clothing Banana Republic here
lantern shop...these are all handmade entrance to the Japanese bridge this is a sweet Hoi An delicacy at the market, the eating vendors advertise themselves as the cooks/chef
more afternoon che merienda for Tuyen and me entrance to a Chinese shrine restoration is always done to preserve whatever is left an altar for the ancestors
Hoi An hell's angels view from the bridge banana trees accentuating a fine dining resto...hmmmm an afternoon promenade
the bus that took us from Hue to Hoi An the 3D greeting card sundown and the restos light up modern dress on ancient wall
the Japanese Bridge is spellbinding at night a quartz fat Buddha. Is he the Chinese version of Gautama? or a different guy altogether? the Dragon fountain...intricately crafted for realism last but not the least, extreme pampering at SuBi3 Spa and Massage

Hoi An Cost Index, backpacker places (US$1 = VND 2,1350 = Php 44.14 as of Jan 24, 2015)

  • VND 5,000 one mug draft beer
  • VND 12,000 1.5 liter drinking water
  • VND 10,000 sugar cane juice, soya curd drink
  • VND 30,000 noodle soup with meat
  • VND 20,000/day bicycle rental
  • VND 20,000/kilo laundry
  • VND 55,000 DYI transport from Hoi An to Da Nang Airport (cab to Xe Buyt bus station, bus to Da Nang, XeOm motorbike to airport VND 30,000 for 2 pax)
  • VND 160,000 dorm bed (per Agoda, $8)
  • VND 3,000 internet cafe
  • VND 120,000/foreigner/5 spots or VND 75,000/Vietnamese/3 spots entrance to Ancient Town's designated tourist spots
  • VND 30,000 cab ride from bus station to Ancient Town
  • VND 110,000 tour bus ride from Hoi An (hotel pick-up) to Da Nang Airport
  • VND 15,000 coffee
  • VND 100,000 motorbike rental for one day

Hoi An FYI / Tips

  • WARNING: there is a hard-sell on the selling of tickets for Ancient Town, making tourists believe it is mandatory to enter the town. Ticket outlets are virtually on every entrance way, staff even stop you to check your tickets and the loud speaker system incessantly remind people (in 4 or 5 languages) to buy tickets. IT IS NOT MANDATORY TO BUY TICKETS! You can enter Ancient Town and go to the shops and restaurants without tickets. You only need to buy the tickets if you visit the specific museums or houses that are designated for the purpose.
  • if you already know the honest price, don't ask the vendor, "how much?". Just offer the exact amount. Asking will invariably bring a tourist price, sometimes more than double. What I do is buy something from a local food vendor and then ask prices for unrelated items. eg. ask the coconut vendor how much to pay for a boat ride
  • instead of hiring transport to the beach, just rent a bike. It's a pleasant 8km bike ride to the beach.

How to Get to Da Nang Airport from Hoi An

  • Tour Bus - ask your hotel to make the arrangement or any tour agency. They arrange for hotel pick-up and airport drop-off. No hassle. VND 110,000
  • DYI (do it yourself) - take a cab from Ancient Town to the XeBuyt (local bus) bus station (there are 3 bus stations in Hoi An, but the XeBuyt is only on one station). Take the XeBuyt for Da Nang. Tell the driver to drop you off the roundabout in Dien Bien Phu (bus stop nearest the airport). From there, take a XeOm (motorbike for hire) for VND 30,000 - includes 2 pax already plus luggage. Total, VND 55,000

Vietnam FYI / Tips / Dos and Don'ts

  • Vietnamese smokers used to smoke in air-conditioned establishments, air-conditioned buses packed with people including women, children and babies. But this habit seems to be changing now.
  • Vietnam ranks almost the same as Thailand and Cambodia for cheap price. Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia cost more
  • internet speed is generally fast and reliable but during important events like Tet holiday, election, etc., it slows down
  • Vietnamese generally do not speak or understand much English. It will be a challenge.
  • only Vietnamese Dong is accepted as legal tender (change your dollars into Dong)
  • best to dress appropriately, not revealing too much skin (Saigon is an exception - the ladies there set the trend in very short shorts)
  • remove your shoes when entering a home or place of worship
  • ask first before taking someone's picture. If they say no, don't persist or offer money
  • best to carry your hotel's business card with you when going out. You can just show it to the cab driver or XeOm driver if they don't understand English
  • leave your valuables, passport, travel tickets, etc. with the hotel's safety deposit box
  • when lying down, don't point your feet or the soles of your shoes to anyone or to a family altar
  • carry only enough cash for your needs that day
  • don't lose your temper in public - Vietnamese people are warm, generous and polite. They look down on people who lose their composure
  • don't take pictures of military installations
  • refrain from taking videos of minority people until permitted to do so
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Reader Comments:

Tuyen NguyenTuyen Vietnam
(Jan 25, 2014) I love this story, full of interesting information. I love Hoi An, I love you too!

Jan 18-21, 2015

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