The former trading port of Hoi An is a great place to sample some of Vietnam’s culinary delights while updating your wardrobe too.
By Jessie Richardson
Hoi An: Made up of a mix of Chinese, Vietnamese and colonial architecture.
Hoi An offers a relaxed stay, in anything from dirt-cheap hostels to cash-devouring resorts. iTravel-Vietnam points out the highlights of this tourist haven on the eastern coast of Vietnam.
Depending on time and monetary constraints, there are a variety of ways to reach Hoi An. Almost all modes of transport end in the city of Danang and from there it is a 45 minute journey (either taxi, motorbike or car) to Hoi An. Both Jetstar and Vietnam Airlines fly to Danang at least daily with prices starting at around US$50 per person each way.
For the slightly more adventurous (or slightly poorer), the overnight train departs Hanoi at 7pm and arrives in Danang at approximately 10.30am the next day. A tourist class soft sleeper costs US$52 or you can really rough it in a hard seat for US$36. Having an “Easy Rider” moment? Hoi An Motorbike Adventures offers a two day motorbike adventure from the nearby city of Hue to Hoi An. The journey follows the Ho Chi Minh Highway over mountain passes and through ethnic minority villages before arriving in Hoi An. Prices start at US$140 per person.
Where to sleep
Hoi An is full of hotels ranging in price from US$15 per room per night right through to US$2,000 villas. The frosted pink hues of the Cua Dai Hotel give it a slightly wedding cake-esque appearance which is oddly appealing. The hotel is light and airy and is a short walk to the center of town. All of the hotel’s 24 rooms are equipped with air conditioning, wireless Internet, satellite TV, and a refrigerator. Best of all, the hotel has a swimming pool. Rooms start from US$30 per night inclusive of government tax, service charge, and daily continental breakfast. Telephone +84 510 862 231.
The beautiful decorations of the Cua Dai Hotel.
For a more up-market sojourn, the Life Resort Hoi An is certainly dripping in understated colonial elegance. Situated on the Thu Bon River, the hotel is housed within lush, green gardens that provide a welcome relief to the hustle and bustle of the nearby market. All of the rooms come with a private porch and include all of the modern comforts in a charming French colonial exterior. Prices start from US$112 per person (not including taxes and surcharges). Telephone: +84 437 925 079/80.
The cuisine of Central Vietnam is strongly linked to the imperial emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty and as such is often complex and luxurious in both taste and appearance. Once of the most famous dishes of Hoi An is ‘Banh Xeo’ (Country Pancake) — and no trip to Hoi An is complete without it. This crispy fried pancake made from rice flour is stuffed with pork, prawns and bean shoots and served with fresh herbs and the ubiquitous nuoc mam (fish sauce). The Ancient Town is so bursting with delicious food that it would be sensible to anticipate at least a 3kg weight gain.
The Cargo Club offers French style cakes and ice cream as well as a huge array of savory delights (try the roasted fennel and goat cheese salad). The rooftop terrace offers enchanting views of the Thu Bon River, while the patisserie veranda is a lovely place to watch life drift by. Either way, you will feel like Catherine Deneuve in “Indochine”. Alternatively, cross the street and enjoy a quiet beer in the courtyard of the Hai Scout Café (98 Nguyen Thai Hoc).
Let’s be honest, one of the biggest draws of Hoi An is the abundance of tailors. Every street is lined with tailors waiting to kit you out with a new wardrobe. Most tailors can copy items from a picture, allowing you to indulge in all of your couture-related fantasies. For more intricate pieces, head to Yaly Couture who are able to do exquisite beading and embroidery. For simpler items any of the tailor shops will be able to make items within 24 hours at a very reasonable price. Don’t have shoes to match your frock? Never fear, you can also get custom bags and shoes made.
The Japanese bridge at night.
For culture vultures there are a variety of museums, temples and merchant houses that are open for tourists to explore. The most famous site in Hoi An is the Japanese Bridge whose beauty turns any hack photographer’s efforts into a masterpiece with just one click. Tickets for these sites are available at the tourist offices dotted around the town.For non-shoppers or those looking for a hands on experience, head to the Morning Glory Cooking School for Ms Vy’s famous cooking classes. A 1.5 hour class will set you back US$18 and best of all you get to eat a spectacular meal at the end — think fresh spring rolls, green papaya salad and fish in banana leaf.
If you are neither a shopper nor a chef and if the weather is fine, the Cham Island Diving Center offers one day diving and snorkeling. For US$65 per person explore coral reefs with two certified divers and enjoy lunch on a paradise island.
Your guide to the five must-see beaches in Vietnam.
By Justin Calderon
Vietnam, a country reminiscent of a war-torn epic that rang of rock-and-roll, decadence, and destruction was, up until recently, visited by only the adventurous traveler. Though late in its arrival as a member of part of the Southeast Asian travel belt, today this crescent-shaped land with innate tropical beauty has attracted international appeal, leading to an influx of budget tourists and luxury travelers alike from across the globe.
Cheap, tropical, mysteriously alluring — Vietnam’s climate provides the perfect beach vacation, while offering ample opportunity to peek down one of history’s infamous alleyways. Travelers will find a gamut of beaches dotting the coast including chill backpacker hangouts, luxurious resort getaways and sleepy fishing villages. From Central Da Nang to the southern capital of Saigon — north to south — lie five beaches every traveler should check out in their quest for the perfect beach in Vietnam.
1) Hoi An
Hoi An is an enclave of beautifully preserved yellow and blue buildings that makes you feel like you just stepped back in time into an 18th-century trading post. Sapphire waters lie on the other side of a 10-minute bike ride north through stagnant rice paddies, old French colonial villas, and the occasional propaganda billboard. The beachfront of the famed China Beach — the beach where soldiers were sent for R&R during the war — makes up the southern stretch. Recently named one of the most luxurious beaches in the world by Forbes, this white sand beach is home to comfy resorts and secluded swaths of sand.
Hoi An, however, has much more to offer than just a beach. Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1999, this coastal village was once known as the premier trading post in Southeast Asia for the Chinese and Japanese.
A bike ride around town takes you back to life in a small far-flung trading settlement. However, since the influx of visitors, shoppers are more likely to come across trinkets and “made-to-measure” one-day tailors than authentic goods.
Market life is still prevalent next to the river where you will find fishermen paddling along in their boats, stirring up their catch of the day. For a sense of life before modern times, head into select buildings in the Old Quarter where you can view 200-year-old interiors that have been preserved for public viewing.
2) Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh
If you decide to include Quy Nhon in your itinerary, expect to encounter only a trickle of foreigners stopping by on their way to Nha Trang. In a country besieged by tourism, Quy Nhon can truly be described as an authentic experience. Crowds of Vietnamese gather on the beach to play volleyball at sunset and offer hearty “hellos.” A few large hotels graze the southern beachfront, but since the Vietnamese aren’t keen to sunbathing, you’ll likely find the beach to yourself.
A relatively small coastal city in Central Vietnam, Quy Nhon embodies a relaxed tempo not likely to be found in other Vietnamese cities. Grab a bike and slip along Nguyen Hue Road where a number of grins will greet you from people sitting in colorful plastic chairs. The longer you stay in Quy Nhon, the more you will appreciate the carefree lifestyle here.
3) Doc Let Beach, Nha Trang
This tranquil and secluded beach just north of popular Nha Trang offers a few small, hard-to-find, resorts. As Lonely Planet enticingly puts it, “the resorts on the beach are fairly isolated. If you’re staying here, be prepared to do nothing but lay around.”
When I was there I stayed at Paradise Resort, a small, 25-bungalow resort run by Mr “Chere,” a French expat who has lived in Vietnam for over 20 years. You can rent a bungalow for the night, and the price includes three meals a day. The gregarious owner is very inviting and keen on getting all his guests to have a great time, making this resort seem more like a stay at a friend’s than a hotel.
The resort is flanked by a small fishing village that proves an interesting excursion when not baking on the beach. During the midday you’ll find hawkers rocking in hammocks to escape the sun while children run a-muck between farm animals and the streets.
4) Nha Trang
Nha Trang has always been popular with the Vietnamese, but lately more and more backpackers and affluent travelers have been making their way here. The busy southern strip of the city is crammed with restaurants, SCUBA schools, and tour companies ready to take you out to sea and to one of the numerous islands scattered just off the coast. For those not ready to take the full plunge into the world of SCUBA, snorkeling is a great way to get intimate with the ecological kaleidoscope beneath the surface (and even copious amounts of alcohol found on the boat ride out).
Mama Hahn’s Booze Cruise runs daily tours to four islands under the sails of their two lanky dinghies: the “lazy boat” and the “party boat.” Steadfast swimmers up for socializing with other international miscreants and an accompanying jovial Vietnamese guide should bee-line it to the party boat. As long as you stay buoyant and don’t swallow too much salt water, you’ll be sure to make it back to nurse that lingering hangover by nightfall. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
5) Mui Ne, Phan Thiet
Mui Ne, in Southeastern Vietnam, is a notable backpacker and resort beach, especially for those interested in kite surfing. On those windy days so common in Southern Vietnam, throngs of kites can be seen making polka-dot patches in the sky. The resort side of the beach is heavily subtitled in Russian to cater to the growing amount of tourists escaping the Russian winters. A manager at one of the multitude of seafood BBQ restaurants that checker Mui Ne road astutely observed, “[The Russians] are coming here a lot. I think it’s because it’s hot and very cheap.”
Though not easy, you can still find budget accommodations on the resort side of the beach for about $10-15, which is great considering that the backpacker side of the beach has lost nearly all its beachfront to erosion. A grey, impending concrete wall is now slammed by waves during high-tide leaving any idea of beach strictly to the imagination. There are a few bars and generic sit-downs here, and the low volume of traffic makes a motorbike tour up the 6-mile street safe and the best way to scope out the rest of what the area offer.
The resort side of the beach, lying on the southern end of Mui Ne, still has its sand, and the restaurants and bars there enjoy a party atmosphere well into the night. Just remember, Vietnam is not nearly as rife as Southern Thailand when it comes to beach parties, bean bag chairs, and fire twirlers — not that you’ll miss any of those things when you’re here.
Located 30 kilometres away from Da Nang City, the ancient and legendary Hoi An is one of Asia’s top destinations. Famous Thu Bon River, Cua Dai Beach, rice fields and old streets are adorned with souvenirs. The people are known to be friendly, honest and hospitable.
Hoi An vendors have earned a reputation for treating visitors well and not overcharging. The prices are very reasonable and the “foreigner tax” rarely, if ever, is applied. There are many small scale hotels for backpacking tourists ranging from USD10-12 per night.
Hoi An also offers unique culinary specialties such as Mi Quang, Cao Lau (two styles of vermicelli noodles native to Quang Nam Province), and Com ga (Chicken rice). Ba Buoi’s stall is very famous for Com ga and virtually anybody in Hoi An can show you the way to this stall.
Cua Dai Beach is just 4 or 5 kilometres away from Hoi An. It has many hotels and resorts with traditional style.
The Hoi An RiverSide and Hoi An River Beach are resorts looking over the beautiful Thu Bon River and all boast very beautiful views. Tourists can see farmers working in fields or storks searching for food, soaking in a peaceful countryside area.
In addition, tourists have another choice. They can stay in resorts looking towards the sea such as Palm Garden Beach Resort and Spa, Hoi An Beach Resort, Vitoria Hoi An Beach Resort and Spa or the Golden Sand Resort and Spa. They all have a modern design.
Cua Dai Beach is seemingly untouched. Its water is so clear that beach goers can see their feet. They can go to the beach all day and enjoy their dinner without having to leave.
Visitors can also see such sights as My Son Sanctuary, Cu Lao Cham Island in Quang Nam Province or Son Tra Peninsula, Ba Na cable car in Da Nang.
Below are some photos on Cua Dai Beach and hotels, resorts in Hoi An:
Like a beautiful painting
Cua Dai Beach has modern hotels and resorts but hold on to its traditional character
Coconut leave umbrellas at Cua Dai Beach
Sunset over Thu Bon River
Enjoy a cup of coffee on a boat, watching fields along its banks
A resort looking towards the sea
Resorts near the river keep their rustic nature
It is not commonly known that the history of signboards of shops in Hoi An, Quang Nam province, is the history of the development of this ancient city.
There is nowhere like in this city where the past, the present and the future are as connected to business and nowhere like in Hoi An where signboards of shops can tell so much.
Some of the signboards in Hoi An have been around since the 18th century and they are still hanging on the doors of ancient houses like living proof of the ancient city’s history.
Culture of signboards
On ancient streets of Hoi An, old signboards prevail on doors, giving the ancient city a unique architectural characteristic.
Signboards of shops are very diverse and eye-catching. There are 75 old signboards on the road of Tran Phu and 40 on Nguyen Thai Hoc street, belonging to shops of Vietnamese and Chinese-Vietnamese.
According to the Hoi An Relics Preservation Centre, there are 45 signboards of 100-200 years old and 30 of less than 100 years. Many shops have been known for centuries, such as Duc Hung, Xan Thanh, Van Buu, Tan Ky, Tuong Lan, Chan Nam Hung, Thuan An Duong and Quan Thang San.
Mrs. Thai Thi Sam, 90, at No. 77, Tran Phu road, said: “Quan Thang San signboard is written in Chinese script. It has been used for more than 200 years, since the age of my paternal grandfather. It has been moved several times. Though my family doesn’t do business anymore, we still keep it because it is the brand of my grandparents.”
The old signboard Quan Thang San is now hung on the most beautiful old house in Hoi An. This house is a typical example of the architecture of Hoa Ha region in China. The house’s owner, Mr. Diep Bao Hung, is the 7th descendant of a Chinese captain named Thai Ke Trinh, who traded traditional Chinese medicines with Asian countries.
According to a survey of the Hoi An Relics Preservation Centre, most signboards were made based on the Chinese conception of prosperity and luck. However, the signboard of each house has its own special quality.
Most signboards of Chinese-Vietnamese are written in Chinese and made of wood. They are carved and gilded. Typical examples are Chan Nam Hung, Tuong Lan, and Tan Ky, which are decorated with leaves, flowers, dragons, and cranes.
There are some signboards made of concrete on walls, decorated with patterns, such as Thai Vinh Xuong, Nam Phat and Cam Thach.
Minh Duc Duong signboard, 120 Nguyen Thai Hoc.
The names of signboards tell the history of Hoi An, a commercial port established by the open door policy of the Nguyen Dynasty to boost trade with Chinese, Japanese, Dutch and others.
Signboards also express good things, combining with the names of shop owners.
The signboards like Hoa An Duong, Chan Nam Hung, Bao An Long, Nam Phat and An Thai express the wish to live and work in peace in this southern land by Chinese traders from Fujian, Chiu Chow, Hainan, and Guangzhou.
Annually, signboards are cleaned by a wiping cloth wet with alcohol but they are never painted again. During the lunar New Year holiday, they are decorated with red-cloth flowers. Below the signboards are scrolls of parallel lines of script: “Safe and Sound” or “Prosperous”.
Whenever a shop hangs up its signboard, the owner always chooses a good time and performs rituals with flowers, betel and areca, wine, steamed glutinous rice, boiled chicken, incense and votive paper.
At Chinese shops, there are some more offerings like a bowl of noodles, a piece of red paper on the plate of chicken and steamed glutinous rice to wish for luck and immortality.
Le Thi Tuan from the Hoi An Relics Preservation Centre said that as trade has been the foundation of Hoi An for several centuries so shop owners treasure their signboards. The position of major signboards will never be changed. Each shop has 2-4 signboards, one in the house’s centre, one in the living-room, and another hung outdoors.
“Even when a shop changes its business, the signboard is still kept out of respect to tradition,” Tuan said.
The famous La Thien Thai shop.
There is nowhere like in Hoi An where signboards contain intangible cultural values. By looking at signboards and talking with signboard owners, one can learn about the life, habits and trade history of a family and the prosperity of Hoi An from the past to the present. Thus, the local government has regulations to manage signboards.
According to the chief of the Hoi An Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Nguyen Van Lanh, in 1997, Hoi An issued the first regulations on signboards in the ancient city. These regulations are very strict and based on the traditional way of using signboards at shops in Hoi An.
“Hoi An can both develop business, tourism while preserving its traditional values when it preserves its unique signboards,” Lanh said.
According to regulations, signboards must be clear, of standard size and suitable to the traditional style of Hoi An.
In region 1 of the ancient city, signboards must have brown, stone, dark yellow colours. The local authorities encourage traders to use wood to make signboards. The script on signboards must be Vietnamese.
Of nearly 1,000 signboards in Hoi An, around 70% are made of timber and done in the traditional style.
Hoi An will continue to introduce its culture to tourists through this system of unique signboards.
Visa to Vietnam can be applied on: Vietnamvisaexpress and Vietnam-visa
The ancient village of Phuoc Tich in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue has been recognised as a national cultural heritage by the Government.
Phuoc Tich, located 40km to the north of Hue, has 117 old houses, including 27 in traditional style that are of invaluable architectural and cultural value.
Importantly, it has clung to its traditional pottery craft through the centuries.
The first villages sprung up in central Viet Nam centuries ago. During the Le dynasty in the late 15th century, especially during the reign of King Le Thanh Tong, great southward migrations were organised to extend the nation’s territory southward in the face of Chinese aggression in the north.
Later, in the mid-16th century, the Nguyen Lords, seeking to build a new royal capital in the south, set off a further migration that saw more villages mushroom in the central region.
Most of the migrants were farmers, and their foremost interest upon arrival at a new place was growing crops.
But some villages chose handicrafts and other vocations to make a living. Phuoc Tich was one such.
The founders decided to build the village in Con Duong, a sanctuary for local Cham villagers who were also the owners of the land.
The site was probably picked because it was ideal for the vocation the founders had chosen: pottery.
It was near a river, thus assuring a supply of vital water and enabling easy transport of raw materials and finished products.
Phuoc Tich was a famous pottery village in its heyday, supplying the entire central region. It achieved great honour when the Nguyen Court in Hue had the village produce “om ngu”, or clay pots for cooking in the Forbidden City.
Their success enabled Phuoc Tich residents to afford the renowned Hue-style traditional wooden houses that are now regarded as a cultural heritage of the village – 27 of them in an area of just 1.4sq.km, each nestling in a spacious garden.
Looking at these garden-houses now, visitors can easily picture in their mind’s eye the golden age of the village with its hustle and bustle, splendour, and prosperity.
Like in Hoi An, the village’s old structures have been preserved by a chance of history: Pottery-making gradually lost its charm and young people began to go to other places, leaving behind the old and very young, in search of jobs.
Those who stayed back had no reason to make changes to their homes, and a large number of them have survived intact.
These days the village is again receiving a lot of attention, this time from researchers in and outside the country. Its large assemblage of old traditional houses and vestiges of Cham culture convince them of its great cultural heritage.
The Government and foreign organisations are considering plans to revive the pottery art of Phuoc Tich and, to an extent, restore the vitality of this typical handicraft.
The most ambitious project is one envisaged by Belgium’s Wallonie Heritage Institute and the Viet Nam Institute of Culture and Arts to revive the village through a tourism-based project. It is expected to help research the cultural heritage of the village, preserve the old traditional houses, and revive the traditional handicraft by organising tours to the place based on pottery, holding a “Heritage Day” festival in the village, setting up a website for it, and exhibiting Phuoc Tich products in Belgium.
The project could benefit the village greatly but suffers from some drawbacks.
No paddy fields
Because of its traditional dependence on pottery, the village is one of those rare Vietnamese ones without rice paddies.
In the late 20th century, when plastic products appeared on the market, everyday pottery died out slowly.
Without rice fields to turn to unlike in most other villages, people, especially young ones, began to migrate to cities, leaving behind old people and children.
This is a reasonably common occurrence in Vietnamese villages but Phuoc Tich has taken it to an extreme: old people and children make up 80 per cent of its population.
The farm chores that give rise to the iconic images of rural Viet Nam and draw tourists are conspicuous by their absence here.
Last summer I visited Phuoc Tich with American woman Le Thi Ngoc Dieu, and her husband Daniel Mark, both university professors. We were disappointed despite being briefed about its present state.
The fields appeared withered and uncared for, the houses were deadly quiet with old people and children listlessly sitting on the doorstep, staring vacantly, and doing nothing.
We agreed that to make the village interesting for tourists, the first thing to do was to give it back its pastoral life.
Then, the planned revival of the pottery craft should be able to provide well-paid employment to persuade young people to return home.
Another issue is the value of the pottery they may produce. The craftspeople, no longer conversant with the demands of the market, should be thoroughly apprised on patterns and styles they should create.
Nguyen Huu Thong, president chairman of the Viet Nam Institute of Culture and Arts, said his agency plans to link up Phuoc Tich with two neighbouring villages – My Xuyen (famous for its carvings) and Phu Oc Dem (rush-weaving) – to make wooden statues with ceramic pedestals.
This is likely to add value to Phuoc Tich’s products and help bring young people from neighbouring villages before Phuoc Tich’s young return themselves.
It appears to be most viable project conceived yet to resuscitate the village.
Vietnam has some fantastic shopping opportunities, so it’s well worth setting aside half a day or so to properly peruse. Hotspots include Hanoi, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City, each of which has a temping selection of everything from avant-garde art to sumptuous silk suits.
Some of the best buys are as following:
Vietnamese Art & Antiques
There are several shops to hunt for art and antiques. Both traditional and modern paintings are a popular item. More sophisticated works are displayed in art galleries, while cheaper mass-produced stuff is touted in souvenir shops and by street vendors. A Vietnamese speciality is the “instant antique”, such as a teapot or ceramic dinner plate, with a price tag of around US$2.
As Vietnam has strict regulations on the export of real antiques, be sure the items are allowed out of the country. Most reputable shops can provide the necessary paperwork.
Vietnam is emerging as a regional design center and there are some extravagant creations in the boutiques of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Ao dai, the national dress for Vietnamese women, is a popular item to take home. Ready-made ao dai costs from US$ 10 to US$20, but custom numbers can cost a lot more. There are ao dai tailors nationwide, but those in the tourists centers are more familiar with foreigners.
Hill-tribe gear is winding its way to shops in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. It’s brightly patterned stuff, but you may need to set the dyes yourself so those colours don’t bleed all over the rest of your clothes.
T-shirts are ever popular items with travellers, cost from US$1 to US$4.
Non (conical hats) are favorite items for women in both rainy and sunny times. The best quality ones can be found in the Hue’s area.
Hot items on the tourist market include lacquerware, boxes and wooden screens with mother-of-pearl inlay, ceramics, colourful embroidery, silk greeting cards, wood-block prints, oil paintings, watercolours, blinds made of hanging bamboo beads, reed mats, carpets, jewellery and leatherwork.
It’s easy to by what looks like equipment left over from the American War, but almost all of these items are reproductions and your chances of finding anything original are slim. The fake Zippo lighters engraved with platoon philosophy are still one of the hottest-selling items.
Bargaining should be good-natured, smile and don’t get angry or argue. Once the money is accepted, the deal is done. Remember that in Asia, “saving face” is very important. In some cases you will be able to get a 50% discount or more, at other times this may only be 10%.