Did I Do Hoi An All Wrong?

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Photo by Huy Le, used with permission

Look at that.  Hoi An looks magical, a beautiful riverside town in Vietnam where you just can’t wait to stroll around.

That photo, along with several others, was the reason I booked four nights in Hoi An.  I was immediately drawn to the town and the more I read about it, the more I knew I would love it.  I started assuming it would be like Antigua, Guatemala — a little touristy, yes, but that brings comforts and amenities while still offering a peaceful ambiance.

dragon bridge hoi an
Gorgeous decorations in Hoi An Ancient Town

I researched more and more, which just strengthened my excitement for Hoi An.  There were plenty of sightDOING activities to enjoy before capping off the night with a never-ending bowl of noodles and fifteen cent beers.

So imagine my disappointment when I showed up and the streets were wall-to-wall people, the semi-“authentic” tours were outrageously tacky, and my husband who had dragged his fishing pole nearly 10,000 miles across the globe couldn’t find a peaceful patch of riverbank for catch and release.

hoi an basket boat palm weavings
A little “forced fun” on a basket boat ride and learning to weave palm fronds.

Okay, maybe I’m making it out worse than it really was (you can find interesting locales if you rent a scooter and start driving out of the ancient town), but it was far from the dream I desired.

hoi an scooter
I scooted off to small towns, country backroads, and the beach!

Halfway through our visit, I was so frustrated that Mike and I sat down over a plate of spring rolls and started googling airfare to other places on our phone.  Day trip to Hanoi?  Sure, maybe.  We could book it, last-minute, for about $75/person and have about 11 hours on the ground thanks to plentiful departures.  Too bad the forecast for the day was heavy rains and I couldn’t handle any more disappointment.

That’s when Hoi An taught me how to vacation.  We had time to spare and not a lot catching our eye.  It was time to sleep in, eat too much, spend the day reading in the fresh air, leisurely drink a cup of coffee.  I think normal people do this all the time when they travel, but it’s an option I usually overlook.

Hoi An ended up being all right, but I don’t think I’ll go back again.

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Things to Do in Hoi An

Because there were a few things I’d definitely recommend:

Hire a tailor for custom made clothing

hoi an tailor
My husband working with a fabulous tailor in Hoi An.

There are tailors everywhere in Hoi An, and it was fun to have formalwear custom fit for less than the cost of it off the rack at Macy’s.  Mike and I went to separate tailors based on pricing, fabrics, and designs, but his tailor was far superior, so go to A Dong Silk.

 >>>>> Check out my tailored dress on Facebook!

Make your own lantern

A homemade lantern frame, waiting to be decorated with silk

Our visit overlapped with the monthly lantern festival, so we wanted to make our own lanterns.  I’ve used Backstreet Academy previously on Asian trips, and they continued to impress me in Hoi An.  Our instructor’s English was minimal, so watch carefully and just mimic each step as best as possible.

Hoi An Puppet Theatre

Water puppet show at Hoi An Theatre

Water puppet shows are all over Vietnam, and it’s worth seeing one.  The Hoi An version is shown twice weekly at Hoi An Theatre and lasts a little under an hour.  It’s made up of short vignettes, 3-5 minutes long, showing daily life in the area and/or Vietnamese folk stories set to local music.  I’ve seen nothing like it anywhere else in the world.

Get out of town

Long Tuyen Tu cemetery, near Hoi An

In addition to our scooter excursion, we rode bikes one afternoon through the countryside.  Ignore the tourists riding water buffalo in rice paddies and see what you can find, like colorful cemeteries.

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Where to Eat in Hoi An

Bahn Mi Queen (115 Tran Cao Van Street)

banh mi queen hoi an
We went twice for cheap, delicious sandwiches.

This sandwich shop, named after Madam Khanh, had way better bahn mi sandwiches than the famous Phuong Banh Mi.  They’re priced at about $1 and you can order fresh fruit smoothies or cold beer to go with it.  The place isn’t fancy, but I loved the combination of crusty bread, egg, pickled veggies, and hot sauce that she used.  Just don’t think too hard about what’s in the meats and pates.

Cocobox (3 Locations in Ancient Town)

I’m always on the lookout for vegetables when traveling since restaurants tend to skimp on portions.  Cocobox has veggie-heavy juices, bold salads, great coffee, and freshly made cookies (it’s still vacation, after all).  It’s expensive by Vietnamese standards but cheap with the USD exchange.

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Where to Stay in Hoi An

I loved La Residencia, an upscale boutique hotel that costs about $50/night.  It’s not in Old Town, which means it’s a little quieter, but you can walk to just about anywhere in 5-20 minutes.  The breakfast buffet will feed even the pickiest of eaters and the staff is wonderful.  On warm days, cool off at the indoor pool or with a complimentary iced coffee on arrival.

Treat Yourself

The Magic Spa, less than 5 minutes from La Residencia, offers amazing massages.  I think I paid $25 for 90 minutes.

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Have you ever been disappointed by a destination?  Tell me how you handled it!

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For more of the good and bad of travel destinations, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Old Town is beautiful, but the ancient city of Hoi An Vietnam is overrun by tourists! Here's how to escape them if you go (although you may want to read this before booking a trip).

6 thoughts on “Did I Do Hoi An All Wrong?”

  1. Becky-

    We scheduled a full day with Jak Tran Tours and really got a deep dive into real village life (farming, fishing, bike riding) and was impressed with the personal touch of Jack and his hyper local approach to structuring an itinerary,

    We also had a superb day with Green Bamboo Cooking School- going to the bustling local market (where we learned that the gorgeous to these ‘Chinese’ apples are not eaten by locals because they know how much chemicals are in/on them, rather the locals eat the ugly, squat looking apples grown near Hoi An which all the tourists spurn because of their deceptive looks. The owner reminded us- you DONT eat with your eyes!

    That said, we thought 3 days was just about right for Hoi An

    1. @beaubo, Thanks for the recommendations…hopefully other readers will use these!

      We tried an eco tour, but with a different company. There wasn’t much “eco” about it and I felt like we were parading around the community instead of learning/interacting with local life in a respectful way.

      I had half a thought of joining a cooking class, but we did one in Ho Chi Minh City and had another one planned in Hong Kong, so a third class in two weeks seemed overkill. Maybe not.

  2. Thank Becky for share this information. I don’t know the actual taste of Bahn Mi Queen sandwich. Hope I will taste it soon.
    Ancient town! I just love to visit there. When I go to Vietnam, I will definitely visit there. Hope it will happen soon.

  3. I was in Hoi An with the kids for three days, but my 7 year daughter was ill (with what turned out to be tonsillitis). That said, after the chaos of Hanoi and two hard traveling weeks in Japan it was a great respite. We brought a deck of cards and hung out at the coffee shops, swam in the hotel pool, and did a little shopping. It was definitely more of a “be” place than a “do” place, but we did enjoy it.

    1. @Dia, Thanks for sharing. I agree, it’s a “be” place and it sounds like you and I ended up spending our time somewhat similarly compared to the go-go-go of some travel. I think my disappointment was caused by 2 things:
      1) Having totally different expectations before arrival
      2) Not needing the respite that it was

      But, at the end of the day, still glad I went even if I have no desire to go back.

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