Having just experienced the organised chaos of Ho Chi Minh and mostly unthouched Luang Prabang earlier this year, Hoi An, for all its old-world charm, was a refreshing place to swing by in. Its Ancient Town possesses architecture influenced by the Chinese, Japanese, and colonial French given its 16th and 17th centuries status as a major international trading port and this gives Hoi An so much character it makes you feel you are in another time. Comparing it to the other places I’ve been to, it’s a combination of Malacca‘s quaint vibe and Penang‘s solid cheap eats.
I had been wanting to travel to this town in Central Vietnam since I found out about it last year and it surely didn’t disappoint. It’s maze of striking faded yellow buildings filled with Chinese shophouses, art galleries, and easy-on-the-pocket restaurants was an absolute thrill to explore. The only thing that was a bit of a bother was the sweltering heat that seemed to have no limit, but it was our price to pay since some new friends from the hostel and I decided to get a tan armed only with tanning oil and our drenched tops. Otherwise, it would have been way more comfortable to wander around this UNESCO World Heritage Site during dusk when the temperature drops a little.
Fukian Assembly Hall
The entry to all landmarks in Hoi An is based on a coupon system which lets you into a maximum of 5 sites a day for 120,000 VND. I had no plans on paying to check any of them out because my research said it wasn’t worth it (they’re alright but not great), but I found myself receiving a stub so I decided to pop by the Fukian Assembly Hall. I’m sure I would’ve appreciated the site more if I were Chinese and if there were plaques explaining its purpose, but there was really not much to see.
Madame Khanh: The Bánh Mì Queen
I’ve had a couple of bánh mì’s in Ho Chi Minh and Hoi An and there is no beating Madame Khanh’s. It’s packed with loads of egg, chilli, pork, greens, and a mystery sauce (which even her helpers apparently don’t know how to concoct) all for 20,000 VND. There is a steady stream of people, both locals and tourists, coming and going so it may take a little while, but it’s definitely worth the wait. The dozens of recommendation letters displayed in this unfussy eatery should attest to that.
Down a small alley a few meters away from a famous well, this local restaurant is known for one particular dish: barbecued pork served up satay-style which you then combine with rice papers, fresh herbs, omelettes, and some Vietnamese kimchi to create your own fresh spring rolls worth only 110,000 VND. Don’t worry, they’ll assist you in making your first roll. You owe it to yourself to go here while in Hoi An.
The Mermaid Restaurant
We asked the keeper of our hostel where we could find the best white rose (a type of shrimp dumpling) and bánh xèo (Vietnamese fried pancakes stuffed with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts) and she recommended this place due to its close proximity to the local market, ensuring all its ingredients are fresh as fresh.
The Central Market
Compared to most of the other central markets I’ve been to in South East Asia, this one is fairly small. But similar to most of the other central markets I’ve been to in South East Asia, it’s also hot, noisy, and manic. What’s good about going here is that unlike most of the food joints in town, the stalls inside the market don’t charge foreigners for more compared to the locals. A standard meal should only set you back about 20,000 VND. I had a good cao lầu (rice noodles topped with roasted pork) here one morning.
Hoi An is known for having shops that instantly copy and/or make up garments for travelers- from custom-made suits to winter clothes to shoes. I was a bit skeptical at first going around and seeing the samples as they seemed to be better at making womenswear than mens, but after a mate got a good deal for not so bad pieces, I quickly signed up for my own. But don’t expect copping inspiring shirts and dresses as the price (I got mine for 182,000 VND each after haggling) suggests that they’re only run-of-the-mill and casual going-out pieces.