In total we spent 11 days in Hoi an, four nights in a beautiful hotel which was a five minute walk from the Ancient town, and the rest in a hotel two minutes from the beach. From our experience there, these are my little pieces of knowledge that I would share with anyone planning to go themselves.
1. If you go shopping in the Ancient Town, haggle hard
The staff at the first hotel were so amazing, in general the people.of Vietnam and their customer service is above and beyond brilliance anyway, but at Cozy Hoi an Boutique Villas, they just had a little extra of something special. When we arrived they gave me a whole load of helpful advice. This included instructions to not actually buy any thing in the Old Town at all, ‘they will charge you double the price of anywhere else’. For the first few days I did very little shopping anyway, it’s not really my thing, I tend to just have a few bits that I like to get on my list, such as a magnet for me and a keyring for Stormey.I purchased a few bits from the shops outside of Hoi Ans most popular area initially, so when I did decide to brave the many shops in Ancient town, I had an idea of what the general price was for things.
When someone quoted me 250.000 dong for a pair of elephant pants (you probably know the ones I mean, the standard baggy trousers covered in a print and a few rows of elephant stencils, brought and worn by pretty much everyone who visits Vietnam, Thailand and this general area of Asia. They are a particular favourite of hipsters backpackers. I’m no exception, I got myself three new pairs to add to those already gifted to me, a couple for Stormey too. But to be fair, they are so darn comfy!), I knew I was being hugely ripped off, I’d paid 150.000 dong elsewhere. I very politely said ‘no thank you’, and began to walk away. The sales lady then called out to ask how much I’d pay. She wasn’t impressed with getting 100.000 less than she’d asked for, but I was happy to walk the extra 10 minutes to the other shop I’d originally purchased at if she wouldn’t agree, and seeing that I wasn’t budging she eventually did. I brought about 6 things from her in the end too so she made a good sale.
I would have only been paying about an extra £1.50 or so if I hadn’t of haggled the price down, which is obviously not a huge loss. But as I was buying so much I wanted the right price, I’m travelling on a budget at the end of the day so I can’t afford to overpay too often.
2. Go shopping in the day to avoid crowds
You could argue that going shopping during the day will mean you face the worst of the heat, but to be honest Hoi An barely got any cooler in the evenings. Quite simply it is extremely hot most of the time. I found out from my brother that I’d visited during the school holidays, which affects my view of things a bit, but as it’s a well known tourist sweet spot, I imagine it’s pretty busy throughout the year. I went out during the days and the evenings, and found there to be significantly fewer people during the day. This meant I could meander around easily and let Stormey do some walking too. Plus if you want to be able to window shop or get some peopleless photos, you’ve got a far better chance.
3. Choices of restaurants are plentiful
I had just one bad meal during our time in Hoi an, and it was a sudden restaurant choice made from fear of the hungry toddler (and if I’m honest myself too) losing it if we didn’t get some grub in asap. Other than that one experience, all the places we ate at were amazing. We sat down at the not so great eatery when walking up and down An Bang beach trying to find a restaurant I’d seen on Tripadvisor, called ‘The vegan fisherman restaurant’. Yer it’s a bit of an odd name isn’t, but the food, the people and the place itself, absolutely brilliant. The smoothies alone are a reason to visit. Plus being on the beachfront, with some extremely cool decor, a big screen, and at sunset, the vibe was great. Some people had a little dance, some just relaxed on their beanbag with a drink, there were a couple of other kids on occasion too, which was ideal for little S. Also if you are a vegan, it’s great to have the option of somewhere solely catering for those foody requirements sometimes, to give you a break from asking 20 questions before you order a meal.
‘Morning glory’ (another fantastic restaurant name, and the name of a great Vietnamese veggie, which is water spinach and usually stir fried with garlic, delicious) is my second recommendation. I’ve discovered I love fresh spring rolls and this place does the best ones of anywhere I tried. If you’ve got a hankering for an Indian, ‘Baba’s Kitchen’ on the outskirts of Old Town is the one, totally sorted my cravings for a good curry. I also found a little French bakery near to where I was staying by the beach, ‘La Petite Patisserie’, if you fancy a coffee and a sweet treat, go, they make everything on site fresh (you can actually see them at work through the window behind the till area) and it is total French excellence. Their lemon meringue tart is dangerously delicious.
4. Hit the sand if you want some time to relax
I intentionally booked a hotel with a private beach as I’d be warned that people selling almost everything from keyrings to suncream, would be quite prominent. As it turned out the hotel beach wasn’t really private at all and people were free to come and go, so we still got hassled a few times. Thankfully I’m a lot better at saying no than I used to be, when your choices are between being overly polite to someone trying to sell you something you don’t want, or dealing with the screaming small person who needs to be fed, you learn to say no pretty quickly. There are other hotels with more strict private beaches if that’s what you’re looking for, just make sure the complex is located literally on the beachfront and not across the main road, have a look on Google maps to be sure.
If you prefer the hustle and bustle of busy beaches, then An Bang is great. Loads of people, shops, cafes and restaurants. There’s also a taxi rank and street food vendors in the evening. If you prefer a slightly quieter Sandy spot then Cua Dai Beach is ideal.
5. There’s a tonne of different trips to do
From city walking tours, coach trips up to the marble mountains, and riding around in old American army jeeps, there’s a lot of different activities you can do to see what Hoi An has to offer. Most tours try to set off either in early morning or late afternoon, in a bid to avoid the hottest part of the day, but ultimately just take plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat. Most hotels and hostels will have plenty of leaflets for various trips and will be happy to help you book it too. If ever in doubt, have a look on Tripadvisor, people’s reviews have helped me so much when it comes to choosing what to do and what companies are best.
The one thing I was super keen to do was hiking in the national jungle. A company called Pure Paths offer two treks, The national park programme, and the Family trek. I felt it would be pushing Stormey just a bit too far to have her in the carrier for three hours, seeing as I’m already putting her well outside of her comfort zone, so I decided it wouldn’t be the best day out for us right now. But it looks great so we will definitely be coming back when she’s older and can enjoy it more.
6. When in Hoi An, have clothes made
Rather than feel a bit down about being slightly limited in what we were able to do, I decided to make the most of Hoi Ans more accessible benefits, and have a dress made. With tailors making up as much as half of the shops here, it is really hard to choose where to go. Best thing is to ask where you’re staying for a recommendation, I also advise against visiting the chains, they rush you through a conveyor belt system among many other tourists. If you go somewhere independent and local, you’re far more likely to have a nicer experience, better quality clothes and even save around $30.
I took a photo of a dress I liked on my phone in to the store, the customer service lady drew it up, and I said what I wanted changed. Then I picked from a few catalogues the material and colour I wanted it made in. The next day I went back for a first fitting, they asked me to return in two hours for a final fitting, and I took the dress home that evening. It was incredibly quick. They tend to give you a price in American dollars so be aware of the exchange rate. Stupidly I was still going on the exchange rates from ten years ago, so I thought I was getting a hand made dress for £65, not quite so. In the end, with card charges, it was £112, I rarely spend this amount of money on clothes, but it is intended for an occasion and was a memorable experience, plus I’ve paid the same for store brought dresses in the past, and then I’ve had to pay extra to have them tailored separately (being just under 5’4 comes with its shortcomings, pun fully intended). A lot of guys were having suits made too, both for work and for weddings, a great shout if you want a tailored suit to keep and use again.
7. Enjoy the beautiful lanterns
Walking around Hoi Ans Ancient town after sunset is pretty magical, lanterns illuminate the river, with tourists paying to light one and lower it onto the steady water to float amongst hundreds more. Other lights come in the form of brilliant Dragon statues and other animals, relating to the yearly celebrations. As you stroll down the little streets of yellow buildings, colourful lanterns zig zag over head too. It really does make a lovely picture. People take over the riverside pathways to sit on little red stools on which they eat their evening meals, and the open plan restaurants fill with customers too, the atmosphere is super friendly and relaxed and yet the busyness creates an exciting and happy buzz around it all. Not only did I love going out in the evenings to take all this in, but Stormey enjoyed it too. It’s definitely a part of Hoi An that you should experience.
I would absolutely go back to Hoi An, next time for between 4 days to a week, as I think that’s plenty of time to get a full and valuable experience of it. It’s a lovely place with a lot to offer, and doable with a little person too.