Formerly the largest port in South East Asia, the significant silting up of the river brought Hoi An’s development to a grinding halt and it reverted back to being a bit of a sleepy backwater.
As a result the city has managed to retain much of the splendid historic buildings and its charm before it was ‘discovered’ and has become one of the THE stops on the increasingly well-trodden Vietnam tourist trail.
The old buildings, a mix of styles based on the cultures that established themselves during the boom times, have a predominantly pale yellow colour that show a little of the ravages of time but manage to pull off the ‘shabby chic’ look perfectly (why is it UK 1960s tower blocks cannot manage this feat?).
Japanese and Chinese influences are particularly strong, with a large number of the particularly historic buildings throughout the town seemingly lifted from another country and deposited in Vietnam. For a small fee you can buy a ticket that gets you entry to a number of these and they are wonderfully well preserved and worth a look.
Despite the throngs of tourists, plethora of souvenir shops, and the strangely odd speaker system that pipes calming classical music (rather than propaganda that you get in other Vietnamese cities) throughout the centre it somehow manages to not to have lost it’s soul in the way that tourist hotspots can sometimes do. Wandering round the lantern lit streets of Hoi An for a few days is a wonderful way to spend your time.
If at any time strolling down traffic free streets (at least in the day time), relaxing in one of the many cafes, bars and restaurants, or browsing the shops gets tiresome, then it has a few other tricks under it’s sleeves. Bicycle hire is unbelievable cheap at less than a $1 a day, and a short cycle ride out of the town will take you through breathtaking rural scenery of rice paddy fields or to the coast for an idyllic beach front complete with sun loungers, bars and picturesque fishing boats.
Hoi An has a certain something about it, similar in many ways to the sleepy town of Luang Prabang in Laos. I think it is apparent that we like the place a lot. In fact we reflected as we headed to the train station to head north to Hanoi that we could have happily spend another day or two lost in it’s charms.