Some people think that all Asian cities are the same, but it is not so at all. Many places is Asia have a unique and surprising atmosphere. Hoi An in the central part of Vietnam is a great example: it is a beautiful city Vietnamese, Chinese and European vibes. Sometimes it feels like you’re on Burano, an island in Venice — but the feeling disappears when you enter the local market with strong coffee and durian smells.
Hoi An was an important port for many centuries. It was a part of the Hindu Champa kingdom until 7th century, after that the city became a part of Vietnam. The city was shaped by the merchants from all around the world, especially Arab and Chinese, that built their temples and houses.
The center of the city with the traditional architecture was well preserved: there are 844 buildings with recognized historical significance. There are temples, shops, public buildings and residential houses among them. You can enter many of them after buying a ticket that lets you enter 5 places of interest.
It was interesting to visit these places, although Andrei thinks that you don’t necessarily need to buy the tickets, especially because they are kind of expensive by Vietnamese standards — it costs around 5 USD. You can visit some temples for free — check the signs near the entrances.
The are a lot of incense spirals at the ceilings of the temples — they look very beautiful. People write their wishes on a piece of paper and attach them to these spirals.
There are also incense sticks. The temples are not closed within four walls and there is fresh air, so the smell is pleasant and isn’t very strong.
You can also visit ancient residential houses or houses that belonged to the Chinese community and served for some public needs. Wooden trim is well preserved in these houses.
Hoi An is a very touristy place. There are shops that sell custom made shoes and clothes, souvenir shops and hotels. We haven’t yet seen more tourists in any place in Asia than in Hoi An. But maybe tourists are simply concentrated in one place — the historical center of the city is not very big. Because of that the city seems a little artificial. On the other hand, you can understand why so many people come to Hoi An: this place is very picturesque.
The beauty lies even in the small details.
There is a wide river in Hoi An that adds a special charm to the city.
Overall, Hoi An has a great atmosphere — you just have to be ready that it’s not really authentic Asia. It’s like you won’t understand the whole Italy if you only visit Venice — but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go to Venice. Moreover, you can see the Vietnamese life even on the streets of the old city, and especially as you get further from the center: people are constantly cooking something, going somewhere, fixing something.
Most of the tourists spend all the time in the old city, but Hoi An is actually quite big. We found an amazing vegetarian restaurant there — be sure to visit it if you’re in Hoi An!
There are several islands on the river connected with the land by bridges. We lived on one of these islands, in a quiet guesthouse at the riverfront. This neighbourhood is very calm compared to the old city, and we were happy to spend a few days there. In the mornings we could see the river, the fields and the peaceful cows. It was quite far to the old city, but we had a motorbike, so that wasn’t a problem.
There is a beautiful beach near Hoi An (a much better than the one in Mui Ne), although it was rainy season in November, and the sea is rough. But Andrei went swimming anyway, because he is a walrus, as Natasha calls him.
Hoi An is surrounded by beautiful rice fields.
About 40 km from Hoi An there are ruins of an anciant Hindu complex called My Son. We read that it is a very interesting place that can be compared to Angkor. By we weren’t very impressed by the ruins — they are is bad condition. And also we were caught in the rain, and when we returned to Hoi An we recovered only after visiting our favourite veggie restaurant.
All travellers who come to the central Vietnam visit Hoi An, and it really is an interesting and beautiful place. We visited to Hoi An during our motorbike trip — if you haven’t read our post about this great adventure, check it out!