On the water in Hoi An, a UNESCO world heritage site. By Aaron Joel Santos.
Hội An’s allure is distilled in the narrow streets of the Ancient Town. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was a bustling commercial hub from the 15th to early 19th centuries. Merchants from China, Japan and later Europe settled in Hội An, creating the unique architectural fusion you see today. The townscape -- its open market, tight alleys and wooden footbridges -- hasn’t changed. Bring your camera along as you tread the ornate Japanese Bridge, step inside the Tấn Ký ancestral house, and wander the Phúc Kiến Assembly Hall.
Dining in Hội An is pure pleasure. Farms all around contribute just-picked vegetables, herbs and fruit, and fishing boats yield their catches to the markets daily, so you’ll have no shortage of memorable meals. Three quintessential dishes in Hội An are cao lầu–a toothsome noodle dish–hoành thánh crispy wontons, and the oh-so-succulent white rose shrimp dumplings. But it’s the humble bánh mì that fosters culinary showdowns.
Hội An is a magnet for foodies and cooks looking to learn the secrets of Vietnamese cuisine. Most cooking classes include a trip to the bountiful Hội An Market, although some will ferry you as far as the vegetable farms and fishing villages. Have a morning to spare? Try your hand at the cooking schools of Red Bridge, Morning Glory or Secret Garden.
Sunrise in Hội An is a prime time to grab your hat and hop on a bike. With any luck, you’ll find yourself in a sea of green, with water buffalo flicking their tails along the path and flocks of herons scattering on the horizon. The island of Cẩm Kim, a ferry hop away, is a lush, lovely landscape. In Cẩm Thanh and Trà Quế, you’ll pass quiet riverside lanes, vegetable farms, and frond-fringed ponds.
An Bàng Beach, just a 10-minute drive from the Ancient Town, promises seafood lunches, sandy stretches and cool waves. Soul Kitchen is a favourite chill-out spot to bring your books, beach blankets, and bikinis. For a full day of sun and surf, board the ferry to the Chàm Islands, where you’ll have pristine shores and a handful of diving spots all to yourself.
Hội An may charm your pants off, but it’ll also sew you a new pair. The streets are overflowing with tailors eager to stitch you an outfit in 24 hours. In the ready-to-wear category, check out the racks of cotton, linen, and silk threads at boutiques such as Papillon Noir and Metiseko. Jewellery and leather goods are also high on the list of temptations for shoppers.
An insightful diversion awaits 40 kilometres away at the Mỹ Sơn Sanctuary, a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site. Tucked into a valley near a shaded stream, these temples were built by the Chàm people, who established a thriving spice trade long ago in Central Vietnam. The surviving structures, which bear the scars of time and war, date from the 7th to the 13th century.
Get in line for your banh mi fix at Banh My Phuong first thing, then poke around the stalls of the wet market to eye the day’s best produce. Cycle through the rice paddies to An Bang Beach for a seafood lunch and dip in the ocean. When the air cools, walk the streets of the Ancient Town, stopping to check out any stores that catch your fancy. Have a sumptuous Vietnamese dinner, and stroll back to your hotel in the glow of Hội An’s colourful lanterns.
On your second morning in Hội An, sign up for one of the excellent cooking classes in town or visit the organic vegetable farms on Trà Quế. In the afternoon, divert yourself to the historical ruins at Mỹ Sơn, or do a self-guided tour of Hoi An's charming cafes and tea houses. Afterward, sip sundowners with a view of the river at Mango Mango, do a last-minute spot of shopping, then treat yourself to a well-deserved foot massage.
Like the rest of Central Vietnam, Hội An weather can be unpredictable. Expect rainy days and several storms from September to January. If you arrive at the start of the year, bring a few extra layers to stay warm. March to May are the best months to visit, but you can also see Hội An from June to August, if you don’t mind the intense heat.
The easiest way to access Hội An is to fly into the international airport in Danang, a 30-minute drive from the Old Town. There are domestic flights from Vietnam’s major cities to Danang, as well as direct flights from Bangkok, Siem Reap, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong. Hội An can also be reached by bus from the North or South of Vietnam.