Hoi An Vietnam ~ If you’ve been travelling through Vietnam for a while, arriving in Hoi An is like a breath of fresh air – this little city located smack dab in the middle of the country is the kind of place that feels like a town frozen in time. Much of Hoi An’s charm lies in its colorful colonial streets and historic buildings that date hundreds of years back to a time when the port city was still known as Faifo. History oozes from the city’s walls and it’s easy to spend hours wandering around as you soak it all in. Here are a few reasons to love Hoi An:
Hoi An Vietnam Ancient temples and historic buildings
One of the more unique buildings found in Hoi An is the Japanese Covered Bridge located in the historic town centre. The Japanese bridge was built by the Japanese community in the early 1600s and it still stands today.
When you cross this bridge you’ll notice that one side of the entrance is guarded by two monkey statues while the other is guarded by two dogs. It is believed that this is because construction began in the year of the monkey and finished in the year of the dog, but the truth is that it happened so long ago that no one can say for sure.
If you are interested in doing a lot of sightseeing in Hoi An, a good option might be to purchase special tourist ticket from the local information office in the centre of town. For $6 you’ll have access to any 5 museums, temples, assembly halls, traditional performances and workshops.
Biking around Hoi An Vietnam
The best way to explore the city centre is to rent a bicycle for the length of your stay – get lost in the back alleys, cycle the length of the riverfront, and then cross over to An Hoi Island which hosts a fun night market in the evenings.
Another nice aspect about renting a bicycle is that you can take a few side trips to places like Tra Que (an organic herb village about 2 kilometres north of the city), or if you are craving some time at the beach, you can take your pick from An Bang beach or Cua Dai beach which are also a short bike ride away.
Vietnam Silk Lanterns
The first thing you’ll notice when you arrive in Hoi An are the beautiful silk lanterns adorning the buildings across town. Their bright colours and patterns brighten up the streets while helping preserve some of the old world charm.
For those interested in taking some silk lanterns back home as souvenirs, there is the option of attending a lantern-making workshop in town, or if you’re not too crafty, you can purchase them from any of the gift shops.
Hoi An Vietnam Market life
Hoi An’s markets get going early in the day. If you arrive at the Central Market shortly after sunrise, you’ll find vendors setting up along the waterfront by the Thu Bon River. The market is a blur of fresh fruits and vegetables, live chickens and ducks, nuts and spices, and so much more.
The Central Market can get really busy by mid-morning, so expect to compete for walking space with motorbikes, bicycles, shoppers, and vendors swinging yokes full of produce.
Hoi An is a city for shopping. If you want to have clothes custom made for a fraction of the price you would pay back at home, then this is the place for you. There are hundreds of tailor shops in Hoi An, so don’t be too quick to settle on one. Browse the mannequins around town, flip through the catalogues in each shop, and if you still can’t find what you want, bring in a magazine or a sketch, and tailors will work with you.
Whether you’re looking for summer dresses, leather sandals, or a three-piece suit, you can have it made in Hoi An. That’s Hoi An in a nutshell. If you’re considering travelling through Vietnam, this little city should be one of the top spots on your itinerary!
Best cultural things to do in Central Vietnam
Vietnam is a country with a long history and a fascinating culture. Just the fact that there are as many as 1000 historical, cultural, and architectural sites which have been officially classified as “Heritage Sites” is reason alone to consider traveling to Vietnam.To list all 1000 sites would make this post way too long, but …
In Hue, you can pass through the Thahn Tan Hot Springs on the way to the picturesque Thuan An Beach. They are around 13 kilometres from Hue itself and surrounded by woodland.
The idea is that you start off in the coolest waters and work your way up to the hottest.
You could also explore the Dai Noi (Imperial Citadel) which is almost like a historical monument in its own right. In fact, the peaceful surrounds of this unique walled complex is absolutely unmissable and well worth a day of your time to explore.
Take a boat cruise down the Perfume River to see the seven Tombs of the Emperors – the lavish tombs of Vietnam’s last imperial family.
These elaborate resting places date from the late 19th or early 20th centuries and one of the most ornate both inside and out is the 1925 tomb of Khai Dinh.
It’s no surprise that pretty Hoi An is one of Vietnam’s most popular destinations. It’s got a little bit of everything – fascinating history, great food, unparalleled shopping, top notch hotels and a beautiful beach to boot.
Make it here for the Full Moon and you’ll see the locals celebrate by switching off all its electrical lighting and making the town look beautiful by the light of thousands of lanterns.
If it’s relaxation you’re seeking, then check out the Zen Spa where you will receive traditional Vietnamese therapies. Many of the hotels and resorts in Hoi An town, by the beach have some fantastic facilities.
The five star Fusion Maia, located between Hoi An and Da Nang is Asia’s first all-inclusive spa hotel, with the biggest spa complex in the region – definitely the best place to indulge yourself.
To get out and about, a lot of visitors hire bicycles or motorbikes in town and then cycle around the centre and the surrounding area to really get down with the locals.
Exploring Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
From the beach, take a boat out to Cham Island for amazing snorkelling and diving opportunities, wandering through traditional rice paddies and explore archaeological sites.
Halfway between Hoi An and Da Nang are the romantically-named Marble Mountains. A day trip into this area will reveal hidden cave entrances, numerous tunnels, and several Buddhist sanctuaries.
Those with energy to burn can climb up one of the peaks for a stunning panorama.
Da Nang and the coastline of the South China Sea have some of Vietnam’s most idyllic beaches. In the town itself, visitors can discover the world’s finest collection of Cham sculpture at the Cham Museum and families can keep the kids happy the wet and wild Da Nang Water Park.
Bewitchingly beautiful and exotic, Vietnam’s Halong Bay lying in the Gulf of Tonkin offers a breathtaking variety of natural attractions, historical sites, scenic beaches and nearly 2000 islets and limestone karsts (landscapes recognizable by caves, sinkholes and drainage systems existing under the ground).
Caves and Grottoes
One of the more popular UNESCO World Heritage sites, Halong Bay is visited by travelers from all over the world each year who come to view enchanting grottoes sculpted by waves and winds, explore illuminated caves and hike in Cat Ba National Park. From Europe you can easily fly to Vietnam from Heathrow Airport or Gatwick Airport; both of UK’s largest airports. If you’re driving to Gatwick Airport make sure you explore official Gatwick Parking options for a great deal.
Bay of the Descending Dragon
The name “Halong” literally means “Bay of the Descending Dragon” and originates from a legend that attributes the creation of Halong Bay to a great dragon that inhabited the mountains and dug out the crevasses, caves and valleys forming the bay with its enormous tail.
When the dragon finally died and fell into the sea, his body was so heavy that water rapidly immersed the area and left only island pinnacles visible.
Archaeological evidence indicates that prehistoric humans lived in Halong Bay approximately 20,000 years ago. Currently, 1600 people reside in several separate fishing villages spread over this luscious northern Vietnam area. Inhabiting unique floating houses, the people of Ha Long Bay sustain themselves by fishing and harvesting various marine animals (primarily molluscs) that live in the waters surrounding their villages.
When to Visit
The UNESCO World Heritage site’s climate is the most appealing in March, April, May and June, with warm, tropical winds, dazzling sunsets and calm weather conditions dominating the bay during these months. Winter brings cooler temperatures, drizzle and heavy fog to Ha Long Bay while June, July and August is filled with stormy, rainy days and occasionally severe weather events.
Cat Ba and Bo Hon Islands
The most visited Ha Long Bay island is called Cat Ba, famous for its pristine national parks, impressive cave systems and for being home to the Golden-headed langur, an endangered primate that can be found sleeping in caves and foraging during the day.
In addition, Cat Ba Island offers swimming, colourful coral reef diving and grottoes.
Bo Hon Island attracts travelers who want to see the Virgin Cave, or “Hang Trinh Nu”, where a fascinating shrine has existed inside the cave for hundreds of years.
According to legend, this shrine is actually the body of a young woman who committed suicide when she was forced into an arranged marriage with a Chinese man. After taking her own life, her body turned into the stone shrine that is still seen today. Halong Bay is referred to as one of the seven wonders of the world and for good reason.
Visitors have access to one of the most resplendent systems of caves that were established during the Pleistocene era between three and 11 thousand years ago. Most of these caves are beautifully illuminated by iridescent lights which intensifies the grandness of ancient stalactites descending from cave ceilings. In addition to the natural beauty of Halong Bay, you can also enjoy the cuisine and culture colouring this lush area of north Vietnam. Gat Gu (steamed rice pancake), sweet-tasting Tien yen chicken and chopped squid grilled to perfection!