Not being natural city types, we approached Hội An via the coast road from Da Nang avoiding as many built up areas as possible and bracing ourselves for another busy city. As we reached the final leg of our 80km day and found ourselves cycling through rice fields rather than the outskirts of a city, we realised this place might be different.
Not yet a sprawling mass like nearby Da Nang (or so many other towns and cities we have pedalled through without the urge to stop), Hội An is something special. At the heart of the old town on the banks of the Thu Bon River you will find a very different slice of Vietnam.
On our way in to the old town we passed welcome signs informing us that these streets are pedestrianised from 3pm each day …but if you are riding bicycle you are welcome at any time. Like I said, this place is special.
The historic district which is a fusion of Chinese and Japanese influences is a UNESCO world heritage site, just beneath the familiar bustling Vietnamese surface is a 15th century trading port full of grace and elegance. It is well worth spending a little more time than you might have planned to here. I still find myself wondering just how much of Vietnam looked like Hội An before the Indochina wars, before the French (1945-1954), the English (1945-1946) and the Americans (late 1950s- 1975) steamed in and started bombing, invading and “occupying” things for personal gain thinly disguised as political improvement.
From the 16th century Japanese covered bridge walk down any street in the direction of the sea, find yourself a window seat in one of the many coffee shops or bakeries and watch the world go by for an hour or two. The longer you sit, the more you will notice.
If you can afford to time your journey, plan to be here over full moon as Hội An becomes even more beautiful. On the last night of the old moon and the first night of the new moon, incense burns in the door of every establishment, “lucky money” is laid out to encourage good fortune for the coming month and prayers are said for good luck, happiness and good health. Hội An is illuminated by thousands of brightly coloured silk lanterns every night but they seem to double in number as the full moon approaches. I could spend hours describing it but I think you should see for yourself if you can.
Try the “fresh beer” at the food court end of town and look for a sky bar or second floor restaurant terrace as the sun goes down. Give this place the time it deserves before you move on.
FYI: You can have your clothes tailor made in Hội An, the area is famous for it and while the quality from the highly rated shops on trip advisor is indeed very good, if you like a relaxed shopping experience where you are given time to think, choose carefully and get exactly what you asked for the first time around this is definitely not the experience you are looking for.