Hoi An

hoi an by CC user garycycles8 on Flickr

Introduction

An important port for well over a millennia on the central coast of Vietnam, Hoi An remains a significant city to this day, with its focus turned to attracting tourists by the busload instead of spices by the boatload, as it did in days of yore, when the Cham kingdom served as middlemen in the Indonesian spice trade for many years.  With a UNESCO World Heritage designation being assigned to this charming Vietnamese city in the past decade, more travelers have been discovering this hidden Southeast Asian gem of late, as it boasts a cuisine all its own, stylish Chinese shop houses, and countless tailors willing to fix up a brand new wardrobe for you at a steep discount to what you would expect to pay in the West.

What’s more, most visitors don’t realize that arguably the best diving in Vietnam is located just off the quiet but relaxing Cua Dai beach, only a mere five kilometre bike ride from the centre of town. So, for those in a rush to get to the north after experiencing Saigon and partying in Nha Trang: slow down and get to know the charms of this ancient port town, accentuated by multi-coloured lanterns and friendly, hospitable locals.

Chinese Assembly Hall, Hoi An by CC user aschaf on Flickr

Cultural Experiences

After paying the entry fee to the Old Town of Hoi An, make your way to the first major attraction of Hoi An, the Quan Cong Temple.  Named after a well-liked Chinese general, this temple reveres the principles that he stood for in the course of his career, loyalty and integrity figuring among them.  While it may not seem that a person could be worshiped like a God, Quan Cong is worshiped as such among his many adherents, so be sure to show the proper respect and remove your shoes before entering his temple to take a closer look.

Of the four museums that your Old Town pass gives you access to, we feel that the Hoi An Museum of History and Culture stands out the best out of all of them.  The collections that this building houses displays black and white photography that opens a window into life in Hoi An during the early 20th century, while the most impressive artifacts in the place are an ancient yet miraculously intact set of pottery dating back 2,000 years to the Sa Huynh period.

Next, see one of three available old houses; of those, check out Tan Ky House, an 18th century house that has housed eight generations of a family known for their prowess as merchants.  Incorporating Chinese and Japanese influences, be sure to note the unique crab shaped ceiling inspired by the latter, while the former is represented by the presence of poems inscribed on the support pillars holding up the ceiling.

Finally, there are quite a few congregation halls, where Chinese residents in Hoi An gathered as a community over the years, scattered across the Old Town.  Once again, you are only permitted to pick one as part of your admission, so we suggest that you drop in on the Cantonese Assembly Hall, which will likely prove to be an oasis of calm from the cluttered streets of the Old Town.  The dragon fountain contained within the garden will prove to be one of the highlights among the numerous statues that are also quite remarkable in their own right.

Cao lầu by CC user fungleo on Flickr

Other Attractions

As for attractions apart from the stuff you can only see with the Old Town admission, there is plenty more to keep you busy over several days of action packed fun.  Start by sampling some regional delicacies, most notably Cao Lau and White Rose.  Cao Lau is a noodle dish that feels like pasta, and comes with roast pork, chunks of fried dough, along with plenty of herbs and vegetables. White Rose does not involve eating the petals of a flower, but instead, a savoury shrimp dumpling, wrapped in a thin white pastry shell shaped to look like a rose.

For those who like to get wet, the beach at Cua Dai offers primo lounging opportunities, which come with copious amounts of pineapple, nutella-infused baguettes, and grilled seafood, all provided by roaming beach vendors.  If you’re worried about finding a spot to call your own, don’t worry – this gargantuan stretch of sand runs 30 kilometres all the way to the city of Da Nang, so if privacy is what you seek, you’ll surely find it here!

Divers in your travel party will enjoy a day combing overt the reefs at nearby Cham Island, which features a diversity of aquatic life so vibrant that is has earned a UN Biosphere Reserve Designation.  If you wish to pursue more advanced diving certifications, there are very affordable courses available through many of the companies based here.  Combined with the very low cost of living in Hoi An, it is a very attractive proposition worth considering.

Finally, take advantage of the many tailor shops lying about the downtown area of Hoi An and consider having a new wardrobe spun up for you at a cut rate price compared to the West.  This isn’t the place to get threads if you’re looking to get a high paying post with some Wall Street firm, but if you’re looking to get some decent looking formal clothes for the occasional classy evening out, you can’t go wrong getting some custom tailored shirts, blazers, and sport coats here.

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