What makes Hoi An, Vietnam so unique

It’s very easy to see why Hoi An was voted 2019’s best city in the world in Travel and Leisure’s annual “World’s Best” survey. This charming city is home to welcoming locals, an incredible food scene, unique architecture and an easy-going atmosphere, all originating from ancient roots. Located on Vietnam’s scenic central coast, Hoi An is easy to get from anywhere in Vietnam thanks to how connected the city is to public transportation. If you’re coming from Da Nang it’s a mere 45 minute ride, from Hue to Hoi An, under 3 hours, and is equidistant from both Hanoi and Nha Trang. Easily accessible from all parts of the country, Hoi An is a luminescent jewel that must be examined when visiting this captivating country.

Discover the city’s history of pottery

Explore the traditional craft village of Thanh Ha, where locals have been making and trading their works for over 400 years. What started as a one-time event for specific craftsmen who were chosen to create decorative pieces for the royal family’s palace was enough to turn the town into a hotspot for potters. Located just one mile (about 3 km) from Hoi An’s ancient town, getting here is simple and the reward is great. The narrow alleys are lined with riverside homes, all of which are filled with different types of pottery in various stages of production. Each item is carefully mixed, molded, baked and painted by hand, just like it was during the Nguyen Dynasty, when the artform gained fame here. If you are interested in a more in-depth history of Hoi An’s pottery, you should visit the Museum of Trade Ceramics.

Get a taste of the vibrant food scene

Vegetables Sale Women at the Market Hoi An, Vietnam
Vegetables Sale Women at the Market in Hoi Ann
©Marco Verch Professional Photographer an Speaker’s photostream/Flickr

Hoi An is arguably the hub of street food in all of Vietnam. Perhaps the most popular dish you can find here is called cao lau. In order to make this dish, water must be taken from Hoi An’s one thousand year old well, Ba Le. The rice must be soaked in ash water from the region’s Cham Islands, and the vegetables must be taken from the Tra Que organic vegetable village. As you can see, Hoi An is equally as famous for its labor-intensive cao lau as it is for its ancient beauty. 

Hoi An also boasts a high-quality fish scene as a result of the lingering fishing culture. Take a cooking class when you visit this city and you can learn all there is to know behind the culture, history and how to prepare the food here. This combined with the locally grown, brightly colored produce, the unique tofu desserts, and “mango cakes” that are actually made with sticky rice, peanuts, sugar and no mangoes whatsoever make for a truly unique and exciting experience for your tastebuds. 

Explore the region’s unique topography

Cham Island, near Hoi An, Vietnam
Cham Island, near Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An was blessed by the topographical gods. The city itself is surrounded by lush, green mountains, offering exciting bicycle rides and adventurous (or less-so) hikes. Get lost in the hills of rice paddies and quaint villages until you reach the next reason why this area is blessed: the beaches. Whether you decide to go north and hit up the exciting Da Nang Beach on the Nui Son peninsula, or go west to An Bang for relaxation away from tourists, every inch of this area is a geographical masterpiece.

Learn to relax with the local, laid-back way of living

Vietnamese local in a non la (Vietnamese conical hat)

Hoi An is a town of many simple wonders. The minimal traffic makes for a more relaxing day to day life. The less time you spend stressing about how to get from point A to point B, the more time you have to enjoy both points. The city’s low cost of living, affordable accommodations, cheap transportation options, and food that is equally as cheap (and equally as delicious), only add to the low levels of stress here. Your accessibility to local markets makes everyday items not only more affordable, but also more fun to purchase. 

Lanterns in Hoi An, Vietnam
Lanterns in Hoi An’s ancient town, Vietnam

Colorful lanterns hang from one building to the next, while local women sitting outside in their ao ba ba (street pajamas) and non la (Vietnamese conical hat) sell knick knacks, veggies and little local delicacies. You may come to Hoi An for the sights and smells, but you will stay for the infectious, tranquil lifestyle.

Be intrigued by the ancient city’s beautiful architecture

Hoi An, Vietnam architecture
Hoi An’s iconic yellow buildings

One striking element that everyone notices immediately upon crossing the threshold of the city limits, is the distinctive golden-yellow color that covers the buildings. Other than giving Hoi An the feeling of constantly being hugged by sunshine, there are a few reasons why the buildings are this color.

  1. In this region of the world, yellow is a symbol of power, royalty and superiority. Specifically to the Vietnamese people, yellow symbolizes luck, pride and prosperity, all of which the people of the city hoped and still hope for.
  2. Yellow absorbs less heat, therefore making buildings less likely to trap heat; something that is very practical and handy for Vietnam’s hot and humid climate. 
  3. In addition to these beautiful, yellow buildings, Hoi An boasts nearly 1,000 ancient houses that can be explored. Of these 1,000, 844 are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Many of these houses have been turned into museums, shops, cafes, or workshops for various different types of artists, craftsmen, tailors, shoemakers, and many more other handicrafts. 

As a result of Hoi An’s highly protected status, there are many strict building regulations that the city must adhere to in order to maintain the look, vibe and ingenuity that the city offers. For example, original street plans cannot be demolished or changed and the traditional wood architecture must be retained, consequently giving you the feeling of walking into an aesthetically pleasing time warp.

Chillout or go wild when you experience local nightlife

Hoi An, Vietnam by night
Hoi An by night

Start your night by releasing a candle-lit paper lantern into the Thu Bon River, a ritual that is said to bring good luck and happiness to those who partake. From here, roam around Hoi An’s lantern-lined ancient town streets and alleyways, while live music can be heard from every which way. Make a pit-stop at the 17th century Japanese Covered Bridge, a prominent site in the city, and bask in its beauty as it leads you to the Chinese Quarter. Re-energize yourself with some a late-night banh mi and a coconut popsicle from the Night Market. End your enchanting night by going to bed and getting rest for the next day… or by getting drunk off cheap beers (Bia Hoi is the local draft beer) at one of the many local bars that are scattered all around the city.

Enjoy a tailor-made shopping trip

Though Hoi An is famous for its pottery, gastronomy, history and architecture, perhaps the city’s biggest claim to fame is its massive collection of tailor shops. Because of Hoi An’s humble beginnings as a small trading port city on the Silk Road, the tradition of tailoring was perfected. So much so, that to this day tailor shops outnumber all other businesses two to one! Take a class and learn how to tailor any item you like or get something tailored specifically for you, as a nice, unique memory to keep you warm on the bus back to Hanoi before getting on the plane back home.

Get educated on Hoi An’s involvement in the silk trade

Silk being transported in Hoi An, Vietnam

During Hoi An’s peak as a silk trade hub around 300 years ago, silk was used as a type of currency, playing a major role in economic and cultural development in Vietnam. 

Silk is a naturally occurring protein fiber produced by the cocoon of a silkworm.  It takes about 3,000 silkworms consuming 104 kg of mulberry leaves over three days in order to produce a mere 2 kg (1 lb) of silk. 

The result of this tedious, difficult process is a lightweight, soft and absorbent material that is perfect for hotter countries like Vietnam, and other Southeast Asian countries. Because of the difficulty and grace that is required to handle and to create the silk, it was considered a luxury item and therefore was only available to royals. Today, although some types of silk are still highly pricey, you can still find yourself some nice silk scarves, among other items, as a token of your time on the former Silk Road.

Whether you are looking for adventure or relaxation, beach or jungle, food or drink, art or history, Hoi An is a timeless city that offers a bit of everything for everyone. Don’t you want to see for yourself why it’s the best city in the world?

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