Once a sleepy village trading fortunes had declined, Hoi An was resurrected with great aplomb as a tourist town in the mid 1990s and received UNESCO World Heritage status in 1999. Its pride and joy are the distinctive architecture of the Old Town, remarkably intact despite its age. Wandering through the narrow, blessedly car – free streets, you can almost imagine you’ve been transported back several centuries – until a souvenir seller hail, anyway.
More so than with other towns, the tourist economy is both a boon and a bane to little Hoi An. Without it, the alluring houses of the Old Town would have crumbled into the river years ago. With it, the face of the Old Town has been preserved but its people and purpose have changed beyond recognition. Residents and rice fields have been gradually replaced by tourist businesses, and the Hoi An Peninsula across the river has been co-opted for the newest nightlife hot spots.
The upside to Hoi An’s development is that is has the best boutique hotels in Hoi An
and restaurants in central Vietnam. The downside is that it’s so often choked with visitors that it feels more like a move set than an authentic town. But don’t despair. A short bicycle or boat ride little village where foreigners are still a novelty.
To see Hoi An at its prettiest, come during the full moon for ‘Hoi An Legendary Night’ Motorbikes are banned from the Old Town, which is transformed into a magical land of silk lanterns, traditional food, song and dance, and street games. It’s a little naff, yet very captivating.
Hoi An’s riverside location makes it particularly vulnerable to flooding during the rainy season (October and November). It’s common for the waterfront to be hit by sporadic floods if about 1m and a typhoon can bring floodwaters of 2m or more. In late 2006 and 2007 the town experienced some of the worst flooding in recent history.
What to Do?
Highlights of Hoi An are leisure walking tours along old streets bordered with ancient houses, assembly halls, its pagodas, temples, ancient wells and tombs. It also can be a day on cycling, motor biking or boating to nearby villages and Cua Dai Beach. Other activities light up your day include taking a Vietnamese cooking class, enjoy a wide selection of restaurants, cafes and bars, wander around the tailor's shops and order a new set of wardrobes or joining a day tour to My Son Holly Land.
When to go?
The best time to visit Hoi An is between February and April, when rainfall is low and temperatures are comfortable. During summer, the temperatures can get hot, during the rainy season, particularly during October and November, it can rain constantly and there is a high probability of flood and typhoons. It is lucky if you can travel to Hoi An on the 14th day of the lunar year each month when Hoi An celebrate the Full Moon Festivals and becomes the stage for traditional songs, dancing, games and food, with lanterns lining all of the streets.
Hoi An is a shoppers' heaven where you can find tailor shops everywhere on the streets. In fact, the tailors are almost similar and most of them should be fine. However, many tourists do not have good experience and end up paying for clothing that they will not wear. Please keep in mind that most recommendations that you get from hotels and restaurants are based on relationships rather than on the quality of the tailor. And the highest success rates come from playing it safe - copying clothes that you really like or customizing clothes found as a sample in the shop windows. With a new design or more expensive items, try with more reputable (and often expensive) tailors.