Hội An is a truly beautiful city. The Old Town is very well preserved when compared to the rest of Vietnam, and has a really nice atmosphere in the evening/night because of all the lights scattered along the winding lanes. Although now all the shops cater to tourists, their architecture has been preserved, which granted the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site to the city in 1999.
The bus ride from Hué to Hội An should take about 4 hours. The only problem I had was that it started to rain a lot, which made me look into the weather forecast for the next few days, and it was supposed to rain on the next 5/6 days…
I ended up staying for 5 days, but I feel I spent 1/2 days too much mainly because of the rain. I stayed in Homeland River Homestay for 15$ double room. It has free bicycle rental and is located on the Cẩm Nam island which is right across the river from the Old Town. This area is very calm and there isn’t much happening there, so if you want to eat/buy something (and you will), you always have to cross the river (~2km to the Japanese Covered Bridge).
To enter most of the main attractions in the Old Town you require a ticket, which is sold in strategic access points like bridges. Now comes the tricky part. Don’t believe anyone trying to tell you that you need to buy the ticket to walk the streets. If you want to cross the Japanese Covered Bridge you need a ticket, but if you don’t want to pay for it you can always use the nearby footway on the waterfront.
In my 5 days in town I was only asked about the ticket once, on a small alley that leads to the riverside. Since I was aware of this and didn’t have one, I just turned back and continued by an alternate alley. They will never let you cross the checkpoint if you don’t have the ticket.
If you want to do some shopping I think that Hội An presents to you the most diverse shops you can find, from custom made suits to old communist propaganda. Just be aware of the quality of the products because when there is a lot of offer that usually means that sometimes their quality is a bit dubious.
In case you want to eat/drink cheaply I recommend you to go to the island on the other side of the bridge near the Japanese Covered Bridge. You can find Bia hơi (beer brewed daily and matured for a short period) for only 4 000VND (about .15 cents). This is where you can also find some cooking classes, another popular activity in Hội An that takes place on a daily basis. The other cheap option, and the one I used the most, is to eat in the central market, where you have a big offer of food at very reasonable prices (1-2€).
While in Hội An there are 3 dishes that you should try, because they’ll be difficult to find in another city:
- Cao lầu, a dish of rice noodles which are not quite as slippery as pho and a bit closer in texture to pasta. The noodles are topped with slices of roast pork, dough fritters, and this being Vietnam, lots of fresh herbs and veggies.
- White rose, a type of shrimp dumpling made from translucent white dough bunched up to look like a rose.
- Wonton dumplings, essentially the same as the Chinese ones.
There is one particular place in the central market that serves Cao lầu that was praised by Anthony Bourdain, and is generally known as one of the best places in town. It can be identified by said label placed on the pillar behind the stall.
It is at night that Hội An becomes magical. The city is filled with gorgeous, vivid lights in every corner, and the city gains a funny feeling, almost like a fairy tale. It was a shame that the rain ruined a little bit of my experience, but it could be worse, I was able to still enjoy the atmosphere.
Don’t take my words lighlty when I say that the rain was a problem, because there was one day where you had to use a boat to go through some streets! A lot of tourists seemed to enjoy this and some locals were able to earn some money just by taking tourists on their boats through the streets.
I also spend 1 day outside Hội An because I wanted to visit the Marble Mountains (Ngũ Hành Sơn), 10km south of Danang. You can stop there if you’re coming by bus from Hué, or you can do like me and head straight to Hội An, rent a scooter there and do a 1 day trip to Danang (which I recommend because Danang didn’t seem worth it). I rented my scooter on a little shop/bar right next to the bridge between Cẩm Nam island and Hội An.
The Marble Mountains is a group of 5 mountains, Kim Son (Mountain of Metal), Moc Son (Mountain of Wood), Thuy Son (Mountain of Water), Hoa Son (Mountain of Fire), and Tho Son (Mountain of Earth). I only visited Thuy Son where there are several buddhist temples in the caves and grottoes, making it a popular pilgrimage site. Allow at least 2-3 hours to fully explore everything, wear confortable shoes (fit for a little bit of climbing) and a flashlight is also useful.
I still had time to drive around the city of Danang, and I wasn’t really impressed by what I saw. It is just another city, with a bustling traffic (it was the hardest place to drive in all Vietnam). I’m glad that I didn’t stop there and went directly to Hội An from Hué.
As a little bonus, here is a photo of a parking lot of a mall in Danang. It is as crazy as you can imagine:
All in all I totally recommend you to go to Hội An. Despite all the bad luck that I got with the weather, I really enjoyed the city and think that it’ll remain as one of the highlights in Vietnam(alongside Cat Bá and Tam Coc).
How to get there and away
What to do/see
- Old Town.
- Do some shopping from custom made suits to old communist propaganda.
- Danang and Marble Mountains (need to rent a scooter to get there).
Where to sleep
- Homeland River Homestay, 15$ for a double room, a very nice owner that is always worried if you're having a good time or not. Their transportation to Nha Trang was spot on.