Vietnam has a lot of cool destinations (Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh and Ha Long Bay were the other three that I had the chance to experience) but my personal favorite was a tiny historical town outside of Denang called “Hoi An.”
Back in the 17th and 18th century, the small river town hosted traders from China and Japan, so the architecture is an interesting mix of various different Asian styles. Somehow, the buildings remain pretty much completely intact today, which makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. There’s no traffic, no pollution, no high-rise buildings — none of the annoying stuff that dominates the feel of other Vietnamese cities like Saigon and Hanoi. It’s also the dressmaking capital of Southeast Asia… Just saying.
My mom and I spent 36 brief and wonderful hours in H0i An, and both of us fell completely in love. To get there, you fly into Denang, and then drive 45-minutes to an hour from the airport. You can experience the city in a day or a week, depending on how much time you want to spend at the beach and how many dresses you want to have made, but it’s definitely worth a visit — I would even recommend it over Hanoi, for anyone with a limited amount of time in Vietnam.
Here are some tips for anyone lucky enough to make it to Hoi An. If you want to invite me back with you… LMK.
Where To Stay
The MGallery Hotel
I fell totally in love with the Sofitel MGallery line of hotels while I was living in Vietnam, and this was one of my favorites. The rooms were brand new, huge and cozy with an elegant infusion of Asian decor. There was an endless breakfast buffet that took place overlooking the beautiful outdoor pool, which was obviously my favorite part. Plus, the property it was only a fifteen-minute walk along the river to the Old City (or a five minute pedicab ride), which made it incredibly convenient.
What To Do
Walk Around The Old City
The “old city” of Hoi An is really its biggest draw. The little town is set on the river, and filled with ancient temples and architecture alongside modern shops selling handmade goods. The streets are closed to cars, so your best bet is to rent bikes and spend the day riding around and exploring. You can bop in and out of the shops, as well as old temples and houses from the 17th and 18th century. At the very end of the old city, there’s a traditional Vietnamese market where locals buy everything from groceries to bras and underwear. Definitely worth making the trek to see the hustle and bustle.
Get Dresses Made Yaly Couture
Hoi An is synonymous with custom tailoring, and is known for having some of the best and most affordable dressmakers in the country (… like I said, it was my favorite city in Vietnam). My mom is crazy about detailing, so we checked out between 5 and 10 tailoring shops before we stumbled upon Yaly. It was a huge shop with dozens of women running around shouting measurements in Vietnamese, but their designs and fabrics were stunning. We found dresses we loved on Net-a-Porter and asked the tailors to re-create them, and I ended up with a Balenciaga lookalike for $50. I also got some other non-Balenciaga, but equally amazing options for $5-10… Everything was SO SO SO cheap, I couldn’t help myself, and ended up with nine dressses (I’m going to wear them to all the weddings I have to go to this summer! I swear!). Dresses usually take 24 hours to make, which is why 36 hours is actually the perfect amount of time to stick around.
Go To The My Son Ruins
I’ve gotta admit, this was probably my least favorite part of the weekend. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site, and is made up of Hindu temples that were built between the 4th and 13th centuries. It’s always really cool to see architecture that’s so old, but unfortunately, a lot of the ruins were destroyed by bombs in the Vietnam War so there isn’t a whole lot left to see. Make sure you get there in the morning, otherwise it is way to hot to deal with.
Go To The Beach
Vietnam, I like you. 🇻🇳⛱ •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• #mytinyatlas #mytraveldiary #findyourbeach #bikinioftheday #vietnam #hoian #anbangbeach #beachbody #beach #beachlook #ootd #aotd #remotelife #solotraveler #girlswhotravel #wanderluster #wanderlust #wanderlusting #travellife #travelgoals #travelerslife
I love, love, love going to the beach, but in a new place I’m usually one of those people who opts to do more exploring than laying and staring at the same ocean you could see from the California coast. That said, An Bang beach in Hoi An is worth dedicating an hour of your day to. It’s only 15 minutes outside of town, but has a completely different feel than the old quarter. It’s packed with locals and tourists (the city’s other beach was destroyed in a story a few years back) and it’s not uncommon to see old Vietnamese women setting up shop and serving homemade Pho right there on the sand.
Eat Cao Lau
I had never heard of Chow Lau before I got to Hoi An, but it’s apparently only found in the town of Hoi An. It’s made of noodles, pork and local greens, and was unexpectedly my favorite dish I ate in all of Vietnam. We found it at a tiny, nameless shop while wandering around the old town, but it’s available in almost every restaurant that serves local food. You’ve GOTTA try it. Trust me.
Eat A Banh Mi
As if Hoi An didn’t sound amazing enough already, it also happens to be home to the best Banh Mi in Vietnam. The famous shop is called Bánh mì Phượng, but it was (very, very) sadly closed by the time we got there on our last afternoon in town. It’s supposed to be incredible, and based on what I’ve heard it’s absolutely the best there is… as long as you get there before 2pm. We went to a little, nameless shop around the corner, which was also really delicious… Proving that you can’t go wrong with Banh Mi in Hoi An.
Eat At Morning Glory
… I swear there are more things to do in Hoi An than eat, but the food is just so good. Morning Glory restaurant in the old city is admittedly touristy, but its extensive menu will give you a chance to try every Vietnamese dish you can possibly imagine. We ate upwards of 8 dishes between the two of us, but it didn’t make us sick which is always a good sign.
Take A Boat Ride
At night, local fishermen will take you out for a moonlit boat ride. The entire town is lit by traditional lanterns, and the colors are absolutely incredible. You’re also encouraged to make a wish on a flaming paper boat, but these end up creating a lot of garbage the next morning and are definitely not worth it. Still, the boat ride itself is awesome, and super romantic for anyone who doesn’t happen to be doing it with their mother, like I did.