For those who are looking for the quintessential Vietnamese experience, Hoi An surges straight to the top of their itinerary. This ancient port city has everything from the country’s fainest and most famous cuisine, to beautiful beaches, glorious traditional architecture and an almost enchanting ambience. The city itself has been of major importance for over 2,000 years, and its key role in the regimes of occupying powers is reflected in its traditional buildings, which features examples of Vietnamese, Chinese, French and Japanese architecture.
Many visitors arrive here from Da Nang airport, which is a mere 45 minutes away by air-conditioned bus. There is no railway station in Hoi An, but it is possible to travel to Da Nang from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City and then switch to the bus at Da Nang airport. Alternatively, there are plenty of overnight tour buses carrying travelers from the two major cities by bus into Hoi An. Most of the city center is off limits to motorized traffic, and so you’ll do most of your sightseeing on foot. This is perhaps one of the most charming aspects of Hoi An – it’s a relief to be able to lower your guard and relax from the chaos and noise of the traffic of other Vietnamese cities.
If there is one place in this country where you should sample the local cuisine, it is here. The city’s name itself is synonymous the world over for its food, and there are a number of dishes worth trying while you’re here. Banh Bao Vac is a type of shrimp dumpling which is hand formed into the shape of a flower. Cao Lau noodles are prepared with water from the local area, and is served with pork and vegetables. Hoanh Thanh are similar to Cantonese wonton dumplings, also served in soup, or occasionally deep fried. There are plenty of eateries in this town, but for a more authentic local experience, you might want to make your way over to the Central Market, where you can soak up the smells of authentic Hoi An cuisine, before sitting down and enjoying your meal in the company of locals.
Take a walk around the old town and along the riverfront to take in the sights of Hoi An’s historic center. From traditional Japanese pagodas to Vietnamese town houses and Chinese meeting halls, a stroll around the Old Town will take you on a tour of the city’s rich history. Once the sun begins to set, the city gently ushers you into the past – there is no electric street lighting in Hoi An. Instead, the streets and buildings are lit by silk lanterns, which create an air of mystery, romance and nostalgia. Many visitors who experience this decide to prolong their stay in Hoi An, simply to experience it again.
Around Hoi An
One of the reasons Hoi An makes a great destination, is that it is not only a fascinating and historic town, but it is also surrounded by places of beauty and interest. Nearby Cau Dai beach stretches out under the palm trees with barely a tourist in sight. If you’ve been to other beaches in Southeast Asia – expecting the pristine setting of golden sand sinking into a turquoise ocean, only to be disappointed by throngs of tourists, noise and litter – then you should definitely head for Cau Dai beach, which won’t disappoint you.
Marble mountain is a popular sightseeing spot due to the numerous statues of Buddha carved into the rock, along with the splendid vista it gives way to. Those interested in the was with the United States also find this spot to be of interest, as it was from here that Viet Cong soldiers managed to gun down so many American aircraft at the height of the war.
The My Son Sanctuary is home to a great number of sculptures which span the centuries, dating back to the Champa Kingdom. Many of the older towers are covered with jungle overgrowth, giving it a real feel of being a ‘lost kingdom’.
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