Hoi An – Vietnam’s most charming city

The houses in Hoi An ancient town were all painted in yellow, a washed, pale yellow. Rich, dark wooden beams and old sun-bleached timber planks built the shade, the support, the doorframes, the carved and ornate balcony railings. It was beautiful here.

an old wooden cart in a vietnamese back street
A wooden cart in Hoi An

The roofs were tiled red and brown, lichen spotted and fractured and pouring on top of each other. Lanterns hung in reds and greens from balconies and doorways, bright and cheerful. Flowers exploded from top-level balconies, and tall potted plants completed the display downstairs.

The doorways to restaurants and shops are wide open, and embraced walkers-by as they admired the wares for sale. And don’t forget Hoi An’s world famous tailors! Any clothes, any style, for a low price, 24 hours a day!


The Japanese bridge was there, the beloved jewel in the crown of this old fishing town, and a fair sprinkling of Buddhist temples.

Of course, there’s also the unmistakable Vietnamese city stuff too, blocky, rectangular lumps of concrete serving as gutters, sidewalks and steps, power lines sagging under the weight of one too many power cables, motorbikes parked wherever they fit, bicycles and rickshaws and street food carts.

At night, street markets create a colourful light display across the water, down by the river. Most of the old town remains quiet and cool, though the restaurants resonate to heated chatter.

It’s not the most accessible place in Vietnam, as it’s big brother Da Nang a few kilometres down the road has the international airport, the industrial shipping port, the train stations.

But that’s part of the appeal of this beloved little place; if you want to come here, you arrive as subtle as a mouse, by taxi or bus. And that’s exactly how it feels to be here, quiet, relaxed, nothing big or loud or urgent. There’s no traffic on old town, save a few bicycles, and as a result, very little noise.

Hoi An traffic
Hoi An traffic

Cua Dai beach

I’d been in Asia for 6 weeks, and despite being near the water a lot (in Bako National Park, Penang, Ha Long Bay, etc), this was the first time I actually went swimming. The beach is Cua Dai beach, about 5km outside of the ancient town, and pretty easy to reach by bicycle.

That’s exactly what we did. Jeff and I hired a pair of antiquated bicycles from a little ‘mom and pop’ style’ café that served us breakfast that morning. In the spirit of our bike rentals thus far, we named them; Jeff was riding Thunderbird, and I had Martin.

Cua Dai beachfront. Pretty cool...but no bike parking, bring a lock.
Cua Dai beachfront. Pretty cool…but no bike parking, bring a lock.

On the way back from the beach Martin had a flat tyre, and I rolled the defeated, deflated bike back to the rental place for a pump-up. I felt awful; the couple didn’t appear to have much money, let alone enough for a tyre replacement.

Nevertheless, they switched bikes for me, giving me an even more run down thing we named Rusty. 10 metres down the road, riding off the kerb onto the road, Rusty’s seat bar twisted and broke at the metal, and I fell off. The embarrassment was compounded by the guilt as I had to have my bike repaired for the second time today.

Cafe 43

Cafe 43 in Hoi An. If you’ve been there, you know how great this particular establishment is. It’s just awesome. The food is authentic and extremely tasty, and there’s cooking classes if you feel motivated. The testimonials under glass on each table don’t lie.

The staff are cheeky, hustling passers-by, making jokes and punching patrons in the arm. Of course, there’s the beer brewed on site, 3000 Dong ‘fresh beer’ which is just a fraction of a dollar, and some of the best beer I tasted in Asia.

The beer is take away too. But look at the picture at the end of the page and decide if you still want the take-away option…

What we have here is mine and Jeff's dinner and entertainment, Hoi An style. The Mummy on laptop, a muffin each, and a bottle of take-away beer. Bon appetit!
What we have here is mine and Jeff’s dinner and entertainment, Hoi An style. The Mummy on laptop, a muffin each, and a plastic bottle of take-away beer. Bon appetit!

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