Whenever someone travels to Vietnam, I tell them they HAVE to go to Hoi An. Hoi An was my favourite place when I was here in 2001. It was one of the few places at the time that were pretty and atmospheric with a romantic air.

The first thing you encounter when arriving in Hoi An’s old town now, are masses of tourists. I am talking of bus loads of them! The huge busses wait on the other side of Hoi An’s river in An Hoi, destroying the view. The busses alone are an awful sight, but the droves of tourists being led through the small, once cute town let the hair on my neck stand up. What has happened to this little oasis?

Tourists Hoi An

There had always been lots and lots of tailors in Hoi An catering to tourists and their want of inexpensive, fast production of fitted clothing. And of course even at that time you were able to find many souvenir stores and tourist facilities. But things have gotten so extreme now! It’s difficult to take a picture of one of the old, yellow colored houses without at least one group of French or German speaking tourists standing in your way, babbling loudly and taking away what’s left of my Hoi An’s charm.

tailor Hoi An

Tailor Hoi An

Hoi An Tourists

Hoi An Cyclo

Asian tourists Hoi An

When you stroll the streets in the afternoon, the many colorful lanterns are turned on and you get a faint idea of what it used to be like, until you hear the same classical music play from different loudspeakers spread over the old town, giving you the feeling of walking through a movie set. The whole thing feels terribly unreal!

Hoi An lights

In between you see old women with rice hats looking as though they were selling fruits from the baskets strung over their shoulders. But when you get close, they call out to you to take a picture with them and you realize again, this is not real. Just like the pretty women down at the river dressed in beautiful traditional Vietnamese dresses…just a coulisse, waiting to be photographed for money. 🙁

Hoi An vendors

Hoi An

The bars in town offer all-day “two-for-ones” and beer for as little as 4000 Dong, about 8 Eurocents…and most tourists do take advantage of the deal (even if Vietnamese cocktails taste more like mocktails).

Two for one Hoi An

Of course Hoi An still has the wonderful old buildings and in the evening when many tour busses have already left, things get a bit quieter and one can start to appreciate the glow that the ancient town emits. One tries to ignore the many shops selling identical items, restaurants with Russian signs and concentrates on the tiny alleys and cute cafés. And with tourists or without, at night the dancing lights on the river and the lit lanters in all the streets almost turn Hoi An into the picturesque town it used to be.

Hoi An people

Hoi An

Hoi An

Hoi An

Hoi An

Hoi An lights

Hoi An lights

Hoi An chanting women

Once you leave the main roads of the old town and enter the back alleys, you suddenly are in a real Vietnamese place and no longer feel part of a movie scene. Real people look at you, wondering what you are doing there and smile or wave. Children ride along the streets on their bikes and locals sit together at street food stalls. And when you look into the open houses, you realize in its core Hoi An still has authentic Vietnamese life left.

Hoi An

Hoi An

Hoi An

Hoi An

Back alleys Hoi An

Wooden houses and scooters in town

And something I really liked about this town last time already was the booming restaurant scene. Hoi An has some of the best places to eat out. Paradise for foodies like me! 🙂

Bale Well Hoi An

Vietnam food

Ban Xeo

White Sail Restaurant Hoi An

Banana flower salad

Banh Bao White Rose Hoi An

Not far from Hoi An and easily reachable by bike is An Bang beach, a quiet stretch of sand with local restaurants and cafés. Not only the prospect of a few hours relaxation at the beach and the escape of Hoi An’s tourist masses are the pull here. Just the enjoyable ride along rice paddies, small vegetable patches and through small rural streets are worth the journey. Only a few tourists occupy the beach recliners here longing for the sun to bronze their skin, while the local waitresses are covered in clothes from top to toe including their masks to avoid the same.

Biking to Hoi An beach