Hoi An, Famous for its Grand Architecture is one of the very few cities in Vietnam that still has that Indochina Feel in its Old Town. It’s earliest human history dates back about 2200 years, belonging to the late Iron Age of the Age Sa Huynh Civilization. A busy seaport during the Kingdom of Champa, it was also the site of many Towers, and Trade for 800 years starting in the 2nd Century AD. In the 15th Century , is when Hoi An, then known as Fai Foo to Western Traders , really put its mark in South East Asia. Japanese, Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, French, British, ( The List goes on) traders made Hoi An a hot spot for trading silk, fabric, porcelain, pepper, elephant tusks, mother of Pearl, and lacquer . Although, numerous International traders frequently docked in Hoi An, it is the Chinese and Japanese that really made its mark on the town. They would stay months at a time, and in doing so, built numerous homes, warehouses, and little clusters of living quarters, giving the town a very unique look and feel. In the Year 1637, per orders of the current Shogunate, Japan closed it’s doors to the outside world, and subsequently recalled their permanent delegates and merchants to return to Japan, but the Chinese lingered. Hoi An was also one of the first places in Vietnam to be exposed to Christianity in the 17th Century.
Hoi An was almost completely destroyed during the Tay Son Rebellion. During the French Rule, it was and important Administrative Center. It was also almost completely untouched during the American War ( Vietnam War) and received a UNESCO World Heritage distinction in 1999.
Today , Hoi An is somewhat like Disneyland for purveyors of Old. The Famous Old Town, still exists with all its quintessential old warehouses, buildings, and even a famous beautiful Japanese Bridge. Merchants still sell silks, lacquer, and porcelain, and you can get a few outfits made in record-breaking time. But all of this fame now comes at a price. A very expensive price reflected on their merchandise for sale, accommodations , and food. But the biggest price paid, is the lost of Peace and Tranquility one would associate with a mercantile setting of antiquities , by the thousands of visitors per day that get dropped off by the river banks to pay the Bridge Troll a pretty stipend to set foot in the Historical OLD Town. But more of that later.
After our visit to Hue: To the Imperial Citadel and Beyond we arranged through our Hotel ( The Scarlet Boutique Hotel) a private driver for our 4 hour plus drive from Hue to Hoi An. I was sad to say good-bye as I really enjoyed the beauty of Hue and the people but adventures calls and we answered.
Our driver was really sweet, and the car procured was decent , cold ( a necessity in April) and comfortable. Upon leaving Hue, we passed through many towns and villages all boasting at least a minimum of 5 beautifully ordained Pagodas. After about a good hour and a half or so, we made a gorgeous stop in Lang Co Beach, and gorgeous island like stretch off sand, with gorgeous bays. Of course the stop was so that we could “look” at fresh and salt water pearls , as some of the most gorgeous pearls grow in the brackish waters in one of the bays. I must admit though, that the pearls were absolutely gorgeous, and of course we bought a few strands . It was also a very beautiful and scenic stop and a good place to stretch your legs and have an iced Café Sua Dah ( Iced Coffee).
After a good 40 minute break and shop, we continued our Journey to Hoi An via the Hai Van ( Sea Cloud ) Pass. This stretch of winding hill top road that passes some of the most scenic and beautiful parts of Vietnam. To one side is the crystal blue South China Sea, the to the other is lush green foliage, caressing the sides of rolling mountain tops. It was spectacular, albeit very dangerous if you are not aware of what you are doing and how you are driving. We saw all sorts on this pass journey. A family of 4 on a motor scooter carrying a flat screen tv. White haired tourists crammed into their less than luxurious Coach Buses like Hens in a coup, boyfriend and girlfriends taking in the sites in dressed in black leather, and the occasional side road tourist glaring ever so vigilantly at their stretched out map. At the top of the pass is an old bunker / fort which is the only place you really can stop or rather should stop to stretch your legs and take in the amazing sights.
As we made our way down the winding pass we came across Danang Proper . Danang, that famous city during the American ( Vietnam ) war, was just a stroll through for us. The city itself is huge and by the looks of it, is ever growing . There is an International Airport ( which we used ) luxury resorts and a clean modern look to it. Unfortunately we just passed right on through , anxious to get to Hoi An and to our hotel. If I ever return to Vietnam, I surely will be visiting Danang for at least 4 days.
At about nearly 4 hours to the dot, we started to arrive in Hoi An. At first I was looking forward to driving through the Old Town, but I noticed barriers and check points at various locations indicating that it is the Old Town, and that No Cars are allowed. Wow I missed that one, but I love pedestrian only cities.
Finally we arrived at our hotel in Hoi An, and pulled up to our hotel, The Lantana Boutique Hotel and Spa along the Hoi An River. AT first glance, it has a somewhat Colonial feel to it with lovely lanterns adorning the building . We were met outside by busy ushers and bell men, who were quick to welcome us and grab our bags. The air was thick , moist, and extremely hot as it was high noon and about the hottest time of day in the area. Being so low and close to the ocean, there was no reprieve from the heat of the day. No cooling winds like there was up in HUE. We arrived in the less than attractive lobby to the cooling effects of ceiling fans. CEILING FANS! With it being extremely hot outside, I was shocked to find that the lobby was not frigid cold like it was in the past two hotels we’ve stayed at. Already a negative. We sat down and began the check in process. The general manager checked us in and I noticed that I didn’t have my bag of recently purchased pearls with me. OMG!!!! A quick phone call to my driver, and our pearls were quickly recovered. Phew!
Our room was on the 3rd floor of the 4 floor hotel. It had the feel of old time apartment with concrete tiled floors, drab curtains, old style bathtub without the charm, and off colored green and white furniture. It was NOT what I was expecting from the pictures on the internet. Without going into full negative mode, I was not at all happy with our Hotel choice except for the balcony that over looked the river and the OLD Town ( sort of) . You can read my full review of the hotel here: Lantana Boutique Hotel and Spa Hoi An
After Unpacking a bit, we were in desperate need to do Laundry. I looked up some laundry sites called Mr Clean, that do it for you , procured a bike from the hotel for about $1 for 2 hours, and biked my way into the old town to drop my close off . Before I could enter the City I had to pay the Bridge Troll . I can’t for the life of me remember how much it cost, but I bought two 3 days tickets that can be used 24hrs a day to go in and out of the Old Town. You can try your best not to pay the Toll Troll, but be for warned , they will scream and chase you down till you pay.
At first glance , the Old Town is lovely. So many Old historical buildings that have not changed in centuries . I biked past food and produce markets, the occasional pointed bamboo hat wearing lady, and beautiful women in traditional Dao Dresses. If it wasn’t for the heat, I would be super duper happy. After dropping off my clothes, I was told that it would be ready tomorrow. Knowing my mother, and how she would not be enjoying this heat, I decided to check out the Tailors in the city to get some clothes made while she rested. I found that BEBE had the best ratings, so I stopped there on my bike and came in armed with pictures and cut outs from my favorite fashion magazines , to replicate them for a fraction of the cost. The whole process is very draining. Unlike walking into a boutique and trying on clothes, you have to meet with a representative who goes over styles , fabrics, cuts, and measurements. Then comes the price, the down payment, and your fittings. I had a scheduled fitting the following day on the books. They are that fast. The fabrics were not that great, and I was so shocked and surprised that they weren’t because of the famous history of silk and fabric trade in Hoi An. I decided upon a few decent types of fabric, and off I went.
When I got back to the hotel, I caught my mother outside enjoying a cigaret in the heat along with a nice ICE cold beer. We decided to wait till sundown to go and check out the Old Town, as it would be way too hot.
Once evening came, we walked the River promenade by our hotel until we came across the official entrance to the Old Town. The promenade has some beautiful lighted sculptures, and in the evenings there are also all sorts of entertainment for free going on. Showed our tickets, and inched our way past thousands of tourists, who were just stopped dead center of the bridge to take photos. Of course in true Vietnamese fashion, we also had to compete with Motorcycles and scooters who ALSO were trying to get in to the City. I thought it was Pedestrian ONLy!!!!!
We walked past numerous shops, bars, and restaurants. Popping into anywhere that had AC. I bought a few silk and cotton pieces at ridiculous prices, but the quality and craftsmanship was superb. There are a lot of Western Foreigners who have an investment in stores and shops here but I tried to avoid them like the plague. It was too late to visit the 800 something UNESCO homes, warehouse and pagodas so we just walked around. Trying to secure a dinner reservation was futile as all the top dining spots were packed , with long waiting lines and who demanded reservations. Lesson learned.
The Old Town at night is really beautiful. The red lanterns that dot most homes and establishments give off a beautiful Heartfelt glow. There are also numerous colored lanterns hanging off almost anything and everything, giving this city its second name as Lantern City. The glow of the lanterns off the dark grey wooden Homes really gives and eerie look back at to what life was like centuries ago. With this in mind, is where Hoi An definitely earns its charm and place as a must city to visit.
After soaking our clothes in our own sweat, my mother who was not amused at all with being in this city demanded that we eat. So we walked back across the bridge and stopped at a sports bar selling grilled seafood , sat, had a few beers, ate, and headed home for a long nights rest.
Day 2 found us up at the crack of dawn. We had a nice Vietnamese style buffet at the hotel, that was included in our rate. Full and eager to explore, we headed back into the Old Town . This time, things were much calmer and a bit different. The merchants were setting up their shops , dusting off their wooden walls, and sipping their morning tea. We stopped to gaze at the wonderment of the Japanese Bridge, and took in our first of many Temple Pagodas in the city.
Hoi Quan Assembly Hal of the Cantonese Chinese Congregation was built and founded in the year 1786. It is a beautiful assembly hall and temple that has an Enormous stone Sea dragon in its center court, and a hidden entrance to its back garden where numerous beautiful structures await amongst a small moat and covered bridge. It was stunning
One can easily get lost in the Old Town. There are back streets and side streets off the main roads that lead to delightful surprises like the Ba La Well which is said to date back to the Cham Kingdom.
Pop a visit into the ancient souvenir shops where the local dowager waits patiently as she brushes her long white hair .
Next stop was the Museum of Ceramics. A look into antique living and historical arts and craft making. Deep wood and the smell of incense , both new and centuries old , really add to the charm of the small tightly spaced building.
After a lot of walking and popping in and out of temples, and museums, we stopped for lunch at the UBER famous Morning Glory Restaurant . Mom had some concoction of Yellow curry and chicken in a coconut. Very tasty food.
After lunch we walked over to BEBE for my first fitting . It was dismal. I liked absolutely nothing. In fact I despised one of the dresses they made me , so much so, that they offered to make me something else. Maybe I chose bad fabrics, but it looked like I was wearing a dinner napkin for a dress. The craftsmanship was also poorly executed, and I got into many arguments about my outfits and the fit all with a smile as I didn’t want to be super rude. They questioned my knowledge of clothes and was surprised to find out that I work as a Costumer on a TV show so I know fit and I know fabric. And this was unacceptable. Upset, we left and headed back to the hotel. It was already 99 degrees and 100% humidity at 11: 30 am. We flagged a taxi down and ran to our rooms for some cooling off .
About 2 hours later, I rented the bike again and went to go and pick up our clothes , which was done beautifully and is actually the only thing up until this point that I actually liked from this Town. At this point of our trip, my mother and I was bickering like crazy. She couldn’t stand this city and didn’t understand why I booked 3 nights here .I told here that I read on TripAdvisor how amazing this place is, and is why I booked it for so long so that we could soak it all up. She wasn’t buying it at all, and neither was I actually. Depressed, and upset, I took a xanax and slept the day and night away, which made my mother even more angry as she was hungry. I took to trip advisor to write my woes away. 99% of the people couldn’t believe how horrible of a time I was having as they loved it so much. I thought it more like Disneyland for history buffs on a budget .I was slowly going down hill, not happy at all to be there, not happy at all to be in Vietnam. Later I get a message from my cousin who spent months in Vietnam, who told me that she didn’t care for Hoi An or Vietnam that much either and made frequent trips to Thailand to cheer herself up. Ok thank goodness I’m not the only one.
Day 3 We made the best of this day by slowly, and I mean very slowly walking around and visiting some of the sights we missed. Even though they all started to blend together. We dropped a pretty penny in the stores because we felt there was nothing else for us to do. We are not beach people so the free shuttle to the private beach didn’t appeal to us ( We are from Hawaii mind you ) , The spa in our hotel looked shady, the heat of the day , and of the night, was unbearable, and we just didn’t know what to do with ourselves. We did procure some excellent clothing and a very high price though.
I returned to my 3rd fitting, only to find that it was still not up to par. I came back again later in the day for a 4th , and later that evening after dinner for a 5th. They just sucked. I accepted defeat , paid for the remainder of it, and just chucked it all up lot Experience. hahahaha.
This evening , I decided to treat us to something great , since nothing else had been. I booked my mother and I reservations Aubergine49 where the chef used to work in a Michelin Starred restaurant. OMG the food was amazing and the highlight of our trip there. You can read all about it here: Aubergine 49
Day 4. It’s finally our last morning here and we packed so swiftly as if we were going to miss our train or something. We arranged for the same car service company from Hue to pick us up and take us to Danang Airport where we left with HUGE smiles on our faces. We couldn’t wait to get out of there and to Hanoi.
Unlike most of my blogs, I was so sad to write this one. It wasn’t filled with intriguing and descriptive ventures, nor was it filled with happy and positive times. Hoi An in my opinion should be done in no more than 2 days. Had we come during the cooler months, and spent only 2 nights here, I’m sure I would’ve enjoyed it immensely .
The Old Town is very unique and special. Their ancient buildings and homes are a sight to see. The people are very nice and the food can be really delicious.
The negatives: Re-Read.
Will I ever return? Probably not. Did I regret it? Absolutely Not. All part of the Journey.
Next stop Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.