Whereas Da Nang is the focus point of central Nam, a couple of hours further south will take you not only to the My Son ruins from the Cham Empire, but also the ancient town of Hoi An. It is a major stop on the itinerary for every backpacker as they adventure through South East Asia – and it’s not hard to see why.
When I first arrived in Vietnam, it took me a long time to fully appreciate the people and the culture. It was never on the radar for my first wave of nations to backpack, but as I began getting more and more used to the region, I realised that I couldn’t put off flying to Vietnam any longer, and I got my visa sorted and finally made it to Hanoi. Soon, I had made my way south to the central parts of the country. Da Nang was disappointing. Hue was incredible (one of the best places I’ve visited). Hoi An was the last of these major cities in central Nam that I got to – and I wondered how it would rank alongside the other two.
As it turned out, I really enjoyed my stay in Hoi An, and I wish I could have spent longer there. There were times when it didn’t really feel like Vietnam at all. Some people say Hoi An is a little too “fake”; that is designed like a theme park to impress tourists. However, I thought the opposite: it was a great town to check out in close proximity the Vietnamese people going about their everyday business. There was great food, great people, lovely architecture (oh the architecture!), and all that was missing was a few tourist attractions to keep me occupied – which is kind of ironic when you think of the criticism Hoi An gets for being “touristy”!
Rather than walking around a huge theme park, at times I thought I was in Mexico or Peru, what with the brightly coloured façades of the buildings and rustic look of the bars and cafés. Of course, you’re going to notice lanterns in Hoi An (lanterns are one of the trademarks of the city), but also here you are beside the water and it was nice to take a river cruise on a small junk boat. Unlike some of the junk boats at Halong Bay up north, these boats looked much more traditional. It was as if I was sailing out to sea with a couple of local fishermen in their trawlers!
Overall, I would come back to Hoi An in an instant. The sights, sounds, and smells still stick with me now, some weeks since returning. It could possibly be that Hoi An, like no other place in the country, typifies Vietnamese culture, and if you can find some cheap accommodation it must be great to spend a while here and just immerse yourself in the daily goings-on – that’s what I’ll be doing next time!