Before visiting in Hoi An, I had heard so many wonderful things about this town. My parents, cousins, and friends told me I just had to go. However, when I got to Ho Chi Minh city and booked flights there, I started hearing a lot of mixed reviews. Others at my hostel told me it was too crowded, incredibly touristy, and slightly disappointing. With all those differing opinions (and with flights already booked) we went off to Hoi An to see for ourselves.
My verdict? Yes, Hoi An is crowded. And yes it is filled with tourists. But disappointing? Not at all. In fact, I know it sounds cheesy, but those four days really were magical. Here’s my guide to 4 dreamy days in Hoi An, and my dos and dont’s (and definitely don’ts).
Day 1: Getting There
We arrived in the evening on a flight into Da Nang airport from Ho Chi Minh. It is also possible to take a bus (which takes about 24 hours) or a train (which takes a little less) but we calculated that the money we would save just wasn’t worth it. So we paid $80 for a round trip flight. We arranged a shuttle to Hoi An (its about an hour away) in advance, which proved to be a smart idea since taxis began at about 250,000 dong at least, and the shuttle cost 100,000 per person. We arranged the shuttle with our hostel, but on the way back to the airport found many little tourist agencies in Hoi An to book through as well, which give it for 110,000 but with a little bargaining you can get it for 100,000. It is possible to take a local bus to Da Nang bus station, but then you will have to take a taxi from there to the airport.
Immediately when we arrived at our hostel (Tribee Kinh) the free spring roll making class was just starting up, and naturally as backpackers we couldn’t resist the opportunity for free food. So we threw our bags down at the reception and grabbed seats at the vegetarian table. We learned how to make a spring roll, first making a little roll that is then fried, and then wrapping it in rice paper and fresh veggies and noodles. Delicious! I ate about a thousand, truly taking advantage of this free meal.
We then headed out on the hostel’s pub crawl. Drinks were much cheaper than in Thailand (I believe around 80,000 dong for a cocktail) but still pricier than food.
Day 2: Exploring the Old Town
After waking up and having the fabulous breakfast supplied by our hostel (all you can eat eggs, toast, homemade jams and peanut butter, fresh fruit), we headed out to explore the town.
We spent much of the day exploring the colorful historic buildings and wandered through the markets. You can buy a pass to enter five of the historic buildings and temples, but we opted to just explore by ourselves. In the afternoon we shopped around at different tailor stores and settled on one right next to our hostel (big mistake! Read on to find out). I wanted to have a jumpsuit made, as well as a dress for my friend’s wedding. After being measured and choosing styles, we went out for dinner (pho, yum!) near the old town.
That evening we walked around, and admired all the lanterns and the reflection of the colorful lights on the river. We also went to the night market, and had fun shopping for clothing with fruit patterns (for some reason that’s a huge thing here. God forbid you should leave without your very own pair of banana shorts, watermelon dress, or pineapple shirt!). The lights begin turning off a little before 10:00 PM, so when they did we walked back to our hostel.
Day 3: Cycling Through the Countryside
While Hoi An is a stunning little town, the towns around are very interesting as well. It is very easy to rent a bicycle (for about 20,000), get a map, and explore the surrounding areas. We got bikes from our hostel, but there were also plenty of bike rental places on our street. Getting out of town was a little busy (and no one seems to drive in their lane!) but once out of town the views were very rewarding.
We began by biking through the rice paddies to reach coconut palms village, a cute place right on the river. When we arrived there were a few tour buses in one spot, but elsewhere in the village we didn’t see any other tourists. There you can pay to be taken around in a round basket boat (though it costs around 200,000 dong). Or, if like us you are on a tight budget, you can just hop in an abandoned one and sit there until someone comes and yells at you (don’t worry i got out before then).
After that we hopped back on our bikes and headed to the beach. Very near coconut palms village there is a large bridge that leads to a fisherman village you can explore, but since it is 10 kilometers further I just biked to middle of the bridge to see a view of all the rice paddies below and came back.
We made our way to Hidden Beach which was not remotely crowded, parked our bikes, and got smoothies and fresh rolls for lunch. The restaraunts were much more expensive on the beach, so if you want to save money you could always bring with you a snack or a bahn mi instead. When we were there (in October) the sea was quite rough and the weather not too warm, but it was still nice to sit and admire the view.
On the way back into town we stopped at the vegetable villages, where you can see many people working in their vegetables plots. Many of the popular cooking classes take place here as well.
We went back to town after this, but you can also continue to the pottery village (which I visited a couple days later). This village has historically made clay pottery, and if you want you can buy a piece (though I’m not sure how you would continue to backpack the world with that in tow!). Luckily our hostel gave us a little piece as a gift.
After getting back to town and spending some time at the tailors, we went to dinner at a little vegetarian place near our hostel that was tasty and very cheap (if you search “pho bahn bi” it is a few places before it on the same street) We spent another evening walking in town and admiring the lights (it’s just so beautiful you can’t get tired of it!). One of the bars near the night market has live music every night, so we sat by the river and listened (if you’re not as cheap as us you could theoretically also go in and have a drink).
Day 4: Marble Mountains
After breakfast I went out on a day trip to Marble Mountain. You can do organized tours there, or book a bus through your hostel or a tourist agency, but I decided to go on my own. This turned out to be much easier than expected.
I walked about 10 minutes to the local bus station (which is very small and is basically a little dirt parking lot) and asked for the next bus to Marble Mountain. I was pointed to a rickety old bus and charged 50,000 dong (but you should bargain, because Ohad went the next day and only paid 30,000 dong). When it’s time for the stop (about 40 very bumpy minutes later) the usher (not sure what to call her! She was a little old woman who collected tickets) opened the door, the bus slowed down, and I jumped off. I walked through a little market of statues and easily found the entrance, paid the 40,000 dong entrance fee, and climbed the stairs to the top of the mountain. I would advise you to look at a map to make sure you see all the attractions (Ohad didn’t…I think he went to a completely different place).
I visited a few temples, a pagoda, and then climbed into one of the large cave shrines. It was breathtaking! In one of the caves there is a little passage you can climb out to reach the highest point of the mountain (there is probably a better and less sketchy route though). From there you can see a beautiful 360 degree view of the surrounding peaks, the valley below, and the nearby ocean. I only spent around An hour and a half at Marble Mountain before taking the bus back (wow nothing like the adrenaline rush of jumping onto a moving bus!) for which I paid 30,000 dong.
Back in Hoi An I had one of the best meals I had in my entire trip to Vietnam, a vegetarian bahn mi! Phi Bahn Mi offers a vegetarian Bahn mi for only 20,000 dong and it is soooo good! In fact, it’s so good that I had two more in my remaining day in Hoi An.
The afternoon was a bit more eventful. We went back to the tailors to see about the progress of our clothes. My clothes were not like I had ordered at all! I was very upset and tried to cancel the dress I had ordered that I would only be able to see the next morning before we left, but they told me i could not cancel. After arguing for a very long time, we decided to come back the next day after thinking over what to do.
After that battle, we went back to the vegetarian restaraunt for dinner and then for a final stroll around the old part of town. We purchased a boat ride for 120,000 dong, and though it was only about 20 minutes, it was such a beautiful ride, and we got to release candles into the river. Yes, cheesy, but so pretty it made me want to cry.
Day 4.5: The last showdown
We were all packed up, ready to go, but we had one last thing to do: our dreaded visit to the tailors. By this point it had turned into a full fledged mini war, with the tailors keeping our $100 deposit as well as our clothes. I was determined we would leave with one or the other. And so, over the ends few hours, a battle played out.
Stage 1: Arguing. This happened for a very long time, with the tailors repeating the same things over and over again, and wanting us to pay more money.
Stage 2: Bargaining. We tried to bargain down the remaining money they wanted us to pay, not entirely successfully.
Stage 3: Annoying. I had the fabulous idea of trying to annoy them into giving us our clothes. I danced around their shop, performed a mini musical, tap danced, but nothing worked!
Stage 4: The Upper Hand. After spending many hours in the first three stages, I finally grabbed a few of the other customers fancy tailored clothes that were on a rack and ran back to my hostel (which was basically next door) and stood outside in its safety.
Stage 5: the screaming match. And so, I stood in my hostel doorway with the coats, and the women of the tailor shop stood in their doorway yelling at me. The other backpackers at my hostel cheered for me, and physically blocked the ’tis lord from getting in. The tailors gathered a crowd of other tailor women to yell with them.
Stage 6: The Intervention. Finally a man in the street intervened and spoke to me and the tailor women. He worked out a deal where I would give them back the costs and they would give me my clothes.
Stage 7: Celebration! Just kidding, I was far too scared they would come and hunt me down. Good thing we left on our shuttle and flew back to Ho Chi Minh City.
– always look at tailor reviews on TripAdvisor
– You can bargain for anything in Vietnam (even a bus)
– Phi Bahn Mi is a must for the vegetarian traveler
– Make the most of the beautiful Hoi An nights, because the pictures really don’t do it justice.