Hoi An is located in central Vietnam, about a 24-hour bus ride from Ho Chi Minh City. We took the bus via Mu Ne, along the coast and were rewarded with some beautiful scenery along the way. We left HCMC about 7:15 am and arrived in Hoi An about 9 am the next morning. We had a hotel booked for the night before to be able to store our stuff and freshen up after 24+ hours on a bus. Our hotel was right along the river, which was nice. After a hot breakfast and a shower, we were ready to start exploring Hoi An, especially the area known as Hoi An Ancient Town.
Hoi An has a strategic location with easy access via sea and river, so it was an important trading post for hundreds of years. Some of the earliest people to take advantage of this location were the Cham people, who used the port for trading spices and other goods. Being a port town, Hoi An has influences from several cultures including Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, and Indian. The power of the port and the accompanying wealth grew, and by the 17th century, it was the most important trade port in the South China Sea. Hoi An and the surrounding area were part of the Champa Kingdom.
Most of the buildings date back to the 17th and 18th century and show a unique mix of these foreign influences, as well as local influences. The majority are very well preserved and are now home to shops, restaurants, and a large number of tailors. These tailors are one of the things that Hoi An is known for now. Hundreds of tailors are ready to make whatever you want: suits, shirts, dresses, pants, and even shoes. The majority are excellent, able to stitch together whatever you want in your size from the fabric you select – usually in a day. I had a shirt custom made from a nice light, bright red material. It was ready overnight and cost $15. We also ended up getting leather sandals made for another $15. We got to pick the design and the color of leather used for the sandals. These sandals are great and were also ready the next day.
There are several really interesting buildings in Hoi An Ancient Town, including the Japanese Bridge, the Fukian Assembly Hall, the Quang Trieu (Cantonese) Assembly Hall, and several private homes that are open for tours. The Japanese Bridge is a covered bridge that was built in the early 17th century by the Japanese merchants in Hoi An. The bridge separated the Japanese section of town from the other parts of town. The Fukian Assembly Hall was built by Chinese merchants in 1697 and was used for worship as well as meetings and other gatherings. The Quang Trieu Assembly Hall is a relatively new building, being completed in 1885 by Chinese merchants from Cantonese China. This building was used by Chinese traders and fishermen as a place to rest and do business. We also stopped by a home that has been in the same family for six generations.
After a morning exploring the Ancient City, we headed out on the bikes provided by our hotel to bike down to Cui Dai Beach. It was a scorching day, so an afternoon at the beach sounded perfect. The sand that was there was beautiful, but large sections of the beach had been swept into the sea and replaced with large sandbags. However, there was still plenty of space to lay on the beach and enjoy the afternoon. After a thoroughly relaxing afternoon and a dinner of beef pho from a street vendor, we headed back to town and called it an early night since we had slept on the bus the night before – not the most restful of sleep.
The next morning we got up early and head out to My Son Sanctuary. This was a great way to explore more of the area and learn about the Champa Kingdom and their history. It was another hot day, so we headed back to the beach. We headed to An Bang Beach since it was supposed to be a little nicer. We splurged for the chairs since we were ordering lunch (and coconuts of course). An Bang Beach has a ton of beach chairs – available for customers of the restaurants or bars. An Bang Beach also offered a better deal on bike parking – lots of nearby shops offered free parking if you purchased a water. It was also quieter, with fewer hawkers trying to sell stuff.
For dinner, we tried some local Hoi An specialties at a food court in the ancient town, including White Rose (banh vac), a dumpling stuffed with shrimp and spices, steamed in shrimp broth, and sprinkled with fried onions for a bit of crunch. I also had some amazing cao lau noodles. These noodles are made from sticky rice and water from an ancient Cham wells, cooked three times over firewood from the Cham Islands. These noodles are served with pork and mixed greens and served in pork broth. Both of these dishes were amazing.
The next day we picked up our new sandals and did some last minute shopping before catching the bus to Hue. Hoi An is a great town, with hundreds of years of history, beautiful beaches, and a thriving fashion industry.