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Hoi An travel guide

Hoi An Introduction

| 18 Aug 2015
Last updated 18 Aug 2015

Most travellers will rate Hoi An close to the top of their list of places to visit in Vietnam. It’s a perfect combination of history, architecture, cuisine and beaches. And then there’s the shopping.

Hoi An travel highlights
* Walking the atmospheric old streets of a one-time major South East Asian trading centre.
* Cycling in the surrounding countryside.
* Savouring delicious local dishes like cao lau noodles, hoanh thanh wontons and com ga chicken rice.
* Taking a cooking class
* An Bang beach’s laid-back restaurants and bars.

Hoi An’s World Heritage listed old streets have been overrun with tailors, trinket vendors, galleries and restaurants all vying for the traveller dollar. And few travellers leave without obliging them. Foreign trade has been the lifeblood of this town for centuries and Hoi An’s tourism onslaught has continued the tradition.



The word is out about Hoi An. Each time I revisit, it feels busier than the previous time.

There's a good mix of accommodation from budget to deluxe. You can stay closer to town or closer to the beach depending on your interests and the season. The beach is less attractive in winter months.

If the beach is your thing, take note that Hoi An's most popular beach at Cua Dai, has fallen victim to severe erosion. While development has been limited in the old town, it's been a free-for-all everywhere else. And overdevelopment has taking its toll on the beach. It's all but gone.

Some popular resorts have found themselves suddenly beachless. Check our hotel section for more information.

There are major efforts underway to rehabilitate it. For now though, beach lovers are heading north to An Bang.

Looking back

Hoi An's days as a trading port date back a few millenia. The Cham people who controlled central and southern Vietnam for more than a millenia, established a lucrative spice trade here. But the southward thrust of the Viet people in the 15th century crushed the Cham kingdom and saw the establishment of a Vietnamese trading town - Hoi An - that flourished through to the early 19th century.

Hoi An’s heyday brought lucrative trade from China, Japan as well as Europe. And treasure for trade was not the only thing to arrive. French Jesuit missionary Alexandre de Rhodes also added Hoi An to his destination for spreading the faith.

Not content with proselytising, de Rhodes mastered the Vietnamese language and created a new Romanised script from its Chinese based characters. His Romanised system, known as quoc ngu, was later mandated by French colonial authorities as the official written form of the Vietnamese language and it is this script that is used in modern Vietnam.

The original script, "nom" while still visible at historic sites throughout the country, is now out of use and only understood by a small number of scholars.

In the late nineteenth century Hoi An’s Thu Bon River silted up making it impassable for commercial shipping. The port moved to Tourane - now Danang - and Hoi An languished. Its retreat into small town anonymity meant that its old buildings survived the joint ravages of war and development. The beautifully preserved town that has been at the heart of Vietnam’s tourism revival is once again a commercial centre, the air crowded with spruiking and foreign languages.

If the destruction of heritage in other Vietnamese cities and towns is anything to go by, the world can be grateful for Hoi An’s World Heritage designation. It has put rigid controls around any changes to the old town. Locals have come to appreciate the value of the tourism dollar and seem content that their town will be prosperous even if it never experiences a building binge of the kind that has shaped most of the country’s urban areas.

Hoi An’s old town is small and quaint and the absence of cars from its historic streets make it a wonderful place to spend slow time - eat, walk, cycle and explore. You won’t need our encouragement to shop.

Cao lau and other local culinary specialties are delicious, accessible and available everywhere. And some of Vietnam’s best cooking classes are run here. 

Many of the old houses and pagodas are open for visitors using a strangely complicated ticketing system. While the history is rarely more than token, these old merchant homes and places of worship are very interesting.

Nearby, a visit to the Cham ruins at My Son is worthwhile and a cycle around Cam Kim Island on the Thu Bon River is a delight.

Divers and snorkellers also flock to daily boat trips exploring the coral and marine life off nearby Cham Island.