Hoi An is about one of the most charming cities I’ve ever seen. It was here that I realized Vietnam is one of my top three favorite countries in Asia. With its immaculately preserved buildings and history, this old trading port and UNESCO heritage site offers the perfect mix of foreign and local Asian influences that I’ve yet to see mixed so nicely anywhere else.
They call it the Venice of the East because of its location on the banks of the Thu Bon River, but the most impressive thing about this old city? All the lanterns! Hoi An is the only place in Vietnam that is required by law to dangle lanterns from their store front facades. As night encroaches, the warm glow of colored silk peppered all over the ancient town soothes and transforms the town into a dreamy retreat after each bustling day. Add to the captivating vista and buy a wish lantern to float down the river with hundreds of other colorful bobbing orbs…and don’t forget to make a wish. Steeped in culture, cuisine and a charming melange of Europe meets Asia, I’d recommend everyone to stay at least one night in Hoi An. Get around on foot or by bike (Holland anyone?) since the Ancient City is so compact and full of people. I had missed the cozy European feel of walking old streets and not worrying about cars. Personally, I loved the busy mix of street side cafes, pagodas and shops on each narrow street; there’s no way to get bored here. I’d also heard about the amazing food and restaurants in Hoi An, but wow was I floored by how great our meals were. I had the best Indian food of my life there (Ganesh), and recommend Morning Glory for real Vietnamese transcendence. The options for other amazing restaurants will make you dizzy, but walk it all off on a peaceful stroll around the glowing streets once the sun goes down and browse unique souvenirs, and trinkets to bring home.
MUST DO: I have an obsession with markets and hanging out around the central market in Hoi An was amazing! It was an eye opening experience as every food imaginable is crammed and sold under the roofs of this historic old building. Packed full of fresh fish, meats, vegetables and succulent, sweet fruit, this is most definitely the heart beat of Hoi An. Can’t cook? This is the perfect place to learn and start! Vietnam in general is known for its tremendous cuisine, but cooking classes here are the thing to do.
WHEN TO GO: Try and synchronize your visit with the famous Hoi An Full Moon Festival (held every 14th day of the lunar month). The glowing atmosphere filled with lanterns transports tourists to a time 400 years ago, when Hoi An was a booming hub for the spice trade. ALSO: If you need to cool down from the immense heat during the peak season, head down to the Cudai Beach or An Bang Beach.