The Streets of Hoi An, Vietnam

Of all the places I visited in Vietnam on my two-week country tour, my absolute favorite city was Hoi An. It is significantly smaller and more user friendly than the likes of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, and it’s not nearly as touristy or tacky as Nha Trang. Granted, it’s gaining popularity with travelers, so it’s probably lost some of its local charm to foreign influences over the years, but I still found it to be an interesting, charming and fun place to visit.

The city’s Old Town spans just a few blocks in each direction, and the entire area is walkable or accessible by bike. I visited Hoi An in the middle of August, and the daytime temperatures were high, especially when combined with humidity that made my hair curly (something that has never, ever happened before). As a result, the city woke up early (myself included, thanks to a noisy rooster outside my window), hibernated during the hottest hours of the day and came out to play once the sun set.

So what was it about Hoi An that appealed to me? Well, in addition to its accessibility (and lack of scary traffic), I found the following to be the highlights of my stay:

 

Women in Hoi An Vietnam Market

 

A Bustling Marketplace

Along the river’s edge was a market that was particularly busy in the morning hours. I happened upon it by accident my first morning there and spent the better part of an hour wandering among the tarp-covered stalls. I wasn’t interested in buying anything, but I love walking through markets, checking out the local produce and brand name knock offs.

Like many markets in the world, this one was grouped by product type. Everyone selling noodles was in one row, those selling spices sat together and seafood was strategically placed near the water. I was in town on a holiday (though I’m not sure which one), so there were a bunch of people selling live chickens and geese as well.

Most of the people selling goods were women, and I didn’t get the impression that many of them spoke English. If you’re interested in buying something at the Hoi An market, make sure you carry a pen and paper for price negotiation.

 

White Roses Food Hoi An Vietnam

 

The Food

I had read that Hoi An has the best food in Vietnam and, after my first meal, I completely agreed with the sentiment. For some reason, the food in Hoi An seemed much fresher than in other parts of the country, and I absolutely loved the fruit juice and smoothies in the city.

While there, I ate at a few different dining establishments, and all of them were outstanding, so it must be a city thing, not just a restaurant thing. My favorite discoveries were the white roses and spring rolls, both wrapped in soft white rice paper. In the summer heat, these light appetizers were a good substitute for an entire meal.

One of the things I did in Hoi An was take a cooking class. I’m not a cook by nature, so I was an utter and complete failure, but luckily the people running the cooking school helped me out so at least my food was edible even if it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing. I’m not sure if there are cooking schools in other parts of Vietnam, but given the fact that the food in Hoi An is a big draw, it makes sense to me that people like to take cooking classes when visiting the city.

 

Artist at Reaching Out Organization Hoi An Vietnam

 

Reaching Out

One afternoon, as I was walking the streets of Hoi An (which I never tired of, by the way, even though I walked many of them several times), I happened upon Reaching Out, which is a fair trade gift shop. There are lots of handicraft and curio shops in Hoi An, so I’m not sure what drew me to this one, but I was glad I stopped in.

It turns out that Reaching Out, which was established in 2000, is both a socially responsible organization and handicraft shop in which all of the items are made by disabled artists. The organization does not accept donations; instead, it trains disabled Vietnamese in handicrafts ranging from weaving and needlework to jewelry making. These people are then given the liberty to create their own crafts and, in return, receive ongoing training, a meal allowance, health insurance and a monthly wage.

One of the great things about visiting Reaching Out was that I was able to walk through the workshop, where many of the artisans were at work. In fact, I bought a pendant that was made by one of the jewelry makers I saw working on a different piece.

It should be noted that, on my way to the Cu Chi Tunnels, we stopped at another establishment where victims of Agent Orange are trained in crafts, but that felt much more staged to me. I felt at ease walking through Reaching Out, and I felt like the artists were comfortable as well.

Visit Reaching Out’s website for more information about the organization.

 

Suits at a tailor in Hoi An Vietnam

 

Visiting the Tailor

Despite its small size in comparison to other cities in Vietnam, Hoi An has an exceptional number of tailors. In fact, it’s probably what the city is best known for. There are rows upon rows of tailors throughout the city, all of which display examples of their products with letters of praise written by previous customers pinned to them. Regardless of what you’d like to have made—jackets, suits, shirts, scarves, skirts—you can have it made in any fabric and any color in Hoi An.

While I was there, I decided to have two pairs of knicker-esque airplane lounge pants made, something I based off of a pair of pajama pants but aren’t commercially made. I quickly learned that you have to find a tailor that you like and bargain hard for the price you want, but you also get what you pay for. Clothes aren’t necessarily cheap, but you can have anything made exactly to your needs, which is the real draw of having them made in Hoi An. Turnaround time is exceptionally fast. If necessary, chances are you can put in an order and have a fitting in the morning and have your new clothes by the evening. I wasn’t immediately happy with the quality of my clothes, so I took them back and had them fixed, which wasn’t a problem at all.

There is a fabric market near the city’s main market, and rumor has it that you can get clothes cheaper there, but I found it a bit maddening. Women were hustling me and one literally chased me around the market trying to thread my eyebrows. I opted instead to have my clothes made at one of the hundreds of actual shops lining the street.

 

Colorful lanterns at night Hoi An Vietnam

 

The Colors

Maybe it was Hoi An’s small size or innate charm that let me really look at it, but I found the city to be particularly colorful. The temples were beautiful, the storefronts were welcoming and everything was incredibly vibrant. During the day, it was the piles of fabric, multi-colored boats and various trinkets at the market that caught my eye. At night, things became even more brilliant, as large lanterns were lit up and a rose-colored hue fell over the stores when the lamps were turned on.

There is something about the color of a place that makes it much more appealing to me. Gray, drab settings have their place, but a variety of hues, like those found in Hoi An, make me feel like certain places have more life than others. Perhaps this was one of the reasons I liked Hoi An so much.

17 Responses to “The Streets of Hoi An, Vietnam”

  1. Sabina

    I totally agree. I love Hoi An more than anywhere else in Vietnam, hands down. It is so colorful, relatively quiet and so very easily walkable. Plus, a huge and spectacular beach is only a 4K bike ride away. I wish I’d spent more time there, actually.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      So glad you love Hoi An too! I didn’t know about the beach. I’ll have to check it out next time I’m there (and I will go back).

      Reply
    • JoAnna

      I absolutely agree. I especially love how accessible it is.

      Reply
  2. Bob

    Wow, the food looks delicious! And LOL at the “boyfriend blazer.”

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      The food was amazing! And I absolutely had to take a picture of the Boyfriend Blazer. It was such a funny moment when I discovered that tailor shop and I was bummed to be on my own because I had no one to share it with.

      Reply
  3. Alanna

    Your last comment struck me- I loved traveling alone, the first few times- but it is such a better experience to have someone with you to share experiences with! That’s one of the things my brief stint as travel writer really made me realize…on another note, I like your new blog set up!

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Hi Alanna! Thanks for the comment! Traveling solo is a very meaningful experience for me, but I really do enjoy sharing the experience with others. Though its easy to talk about certain things, there’s no way to fully share a moment with someone who wasn’t with you. In any case, I’m sure you’ll have plenty of joint travel experiences waiting for you on the wings with your husband. Congrats, by the way … the photos were beautiful!

      Reply
  4. Emily S.

    I’d love to go to Vietnam, but if I go to that part of the world, I’ll probably be going solo… there’s no way I could ever get Alex to go 🙂

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      You can definitely go solo there. I did it last year and survived completely intact!

      Reply
  5. Abby

    I didn’t know until last night about your Vietnam trip. Fascinating!

    Reply
  6. lara dunston

    Helpful post! Fell in love with Saigon (HCMC) – just loved it, esp. people we met, food, and fashion (so many creative people there) – so eager to get to Hanoi and Hoi An as well.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      I think you’ll really enjoy Hoi An, Lara. The food is excellent!

      Reply
  7. Elaine Head

    Thanks for mentioning Reaching Out, where my husband and I have been volunteering for the past four years.
    The shop now employs more than 50 disabled workers and 50 more in home based work throughout the country.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Thanks for stopping by, Elaine. Reaching Out was an awesome place and I spent a fair amount of time there, watching the artists and checking out their crafts. It’s a really stellar organization, and you should be proud of it.

      Reply
  8. Luxury Travels

    You paint a fantastic picture! I love Hoi An and you’ve really highlighted some of its high points. I thought the night market was very cool and the Ancient Japanese covered bridge was great to see (when not mobbed by tourists)

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      My visit to Hoi An was the highlight of my trip to Vietnam. I think I’d skip a few of the other areas, but I’d happily return to Hoi An.

      Reply

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