Hoi An is one of the more popular tourist cities in Central Vietnam and every foreigner that we’ve met in Vietnam has been there or is going there. My cousin went last year and found that a day trip was enough time to explore the historical spots, so we took her advice and headed there on Saturday afternoon with plans to stick around until evening to see the weekend lantern festival. From Da Nang you can get to Hoi An by tourist bus (Sinh Cafe Tourist 70,000 VND), taxi (350,000 – 400,000 VND), motorbike (price depends on if you’re driving or hiring a driver), or local bus (15,000 – 20,000 VND).
We read plenty of exciting stories on the interwebs about foreigners trying to take the local bus and getting charged 5x more than locals, about 100,000 VND, and occasionally getting thrown off the bus with their big bags if they didn’t pay the “official” fare demanded by the bus attendant. Despite the potential fare conflict, we decided to try our luck with the local bus. It’s really cheap (if you don’t get the foreigner rate) and it helped that the bus stop was across the street from our hotel. I also liked the challenge of trying to pass as a local. We waited for the yellow bus with the Hoi An sign and hopped on from the back entrance as it slowed down for us. The man said “Hoi An?” and I replied “Hoi An!” like a local who took the bus to Hoi An every day. The fare collector was a woman who sat across from the back door and looked more like another passenger rather than a city transportation employee. I handed her 30,000 VND for me and Kanako and she handed it back and said 40,000 VND. Woohoo!!! She thought I was a local and didn’t try to charge me 200,000 VND! Either that or she thought I looked really tough and she didn’t want to mess with me. That’s probably it.
Once we arrived in Hoi An we hopped on the back of a couple of motor bikes and headed to lunch. We tried the traditional Hoi An dishes of fried wontons, white rose, and my Quang noodle dish. The white rose was a dumpling in fish sauce, the fried wonton was flat and topped with a shrimp cocktail mix, and the my Quang noodles are like the ones I talked about in my Da Nang food post. All three dishes were quite tasty, especially the fried wonton. We had a tasting menu at Miss Ly’s restaurant which was good, but a tad pricey for Vietnamese food.
After lunch we purchased the obligatory tourist coupon pack and headed towards the various heritage sites that earned Hoi An its UNESCO World Heritage designation. The coupon pack gives you five tickets which you can use to enter up to five heritage spots along the main drag. Most people visit one of the old houses, a couple of temples, a museum, and the Japanese Bridge. The traditional architecture was interesting to look at but it seemed like the old houses were also used as a place to sell stuff to tourists.
As you’re walking along the main drag there are all sorts shops selling the kind of junk that someone must be buying otherwise the shops wouldn’t still be in business. We found a cool shop that sold old Communist propaganda posters, but the girl tried to sell us one for $100 USD. She said it was an original. Puh-leeeeeeze! We smiled and said no thank you.
I don’t know if it was because it was so hot and there was no AC anywhere in the historical area of Hoi An, but we we were not really feeling this place. There were more shops than cultural heritage sites and, as expected, the main drag was overrun with roving packs of tourists. I’m glad my cousin gave us a heads up about doing just a day trip, but we did meet other travelers later who had stayed in Hoi An rather than Da Nang and they all liked it, so don’t be deterred by our experience. There are definitely cultural and historical aspects that are worthwhile there and maybe it’s more relaxing if you can walk back to your air-conditioned hotel room when you get too sweaty. Oh, and we didn’t even get to see the lantern festival because it didn’t happen that night. We negotiated a flat fare by taxi back to Da Nang since the local bus stops running around 5pm or something ridiculous like that.