Hoi An, Vietnam

May 1, 2013, In: Asia, Travel, Vietnam

Since returning to the states, the number one question people seem to ask is: “What was your favorite place?” It’s an impossible question to answer and it makes me sound like a liar- because my answer changes with my mood. But if I had to pick a favorite stop today, it might be Hoi An, Vietnam.

I love getting comfortable enough in a city that the roads start to look familiar. (Not that it seems to keep me from getting lost…) I love being somewhere long enough to have favorites: A favorite sandwich stand, a favorite breakfast spot, a favorite umbrella vendor. Hoi An was one of a handful of places that I stayed in for more than three days. I was here for a little less than a week- but it was just long enough to fall in love.

Hoi An doesn’t have a checklist. The guidebook doesn’t provide a detailed section of places to go and things to see. I think this is a huge reason that it became one of my favorite spots. After a pretty quick pace for about a month in a half, this deliciously, low-key stop was exactly what I needed. Now this is not to say that I don’t love a good checklist… I have visited (and loved) many places that require making a plan in the morning, and being careful not to stray too far, lest you miss one of the national treasures. However, it’s a nice change of pace to stop somewhere where the only thing you are meant to do is “soak it in”.

In my travels over the last decade or so, I have probably seen about a dozen National Palaces, but show me a picture of one and there is a good chance I couldn’t tell you which country it belonged to. After a while, temples, cathedrals, palaces… they all start to blur. But I will always remember the tree at the end of the street that marked our favorite Banh Mi Sandwich find in Hoi An. I will always remember the route we took every morning from our hostel to our breakfast spot, and I will always remember the motorbike ride from town to the beach.

Since the guidebook isn’t going to list it out for you, hear are a few of the “Highlights of Hoi An, According to Mindy”

  • I’ve rarely met a beach I didn’t like, and Hoi An was no exception. We rented bikes from our hostel and took a You can rent an umbrella and chairs and have frozen drinks or buckets of beer brought to you for about the cost of parking at some of the beaches in the States at Cua Dai Beach. We’ve been told that at times there is surf, but there certainly wasn’t while we were there. I could have spent a full week lounging and walking this white sand beach, watching the Vietnamese fishermen beat their nets and the pedlars walking along hawking their braided bracelets and Magnum ice cream bars.
  • You can’t visit Hoi An and not try the world’s best sandwich. I’m not kidding. The Banh Mi Phuong sandwich stall serves up the most delicious banh mi sandwich in the world (think fried egg, headcheese, liver pate, pork belly…) okay it doesn’t sound as appetizing as I’m writing it, but let me just tell you: it is heaven on a baguette. You may question my judgment, considering I had been surviving on rice for about a month and a half at this point, but on our second of five consecutive visits to this little stand, we noticed an article taped to the outside of the cart window. Apparently Anthony Bourdain agrees with us. So there you have it… Definitive proof that we discovered one of the world’s best sandwiches.
  • I never thought I would say this, but here it is… A trip to Hoi An is not complete without at least considering custom tailored clothing. Tailor shops are huge in Southeast Asia. I used to laugh when they would approach us in Bangkok, holding laminated pictures of three-piece suits showing pictures and asking “Suit? Suit?” I would look at these people like they were crazy! “I am carrying everything I own in a backpack, it’s 100 degrees out, I am sweating through a sundress… and you are talking to me about custom tailored suits??” If they weren’t talking bathing suits, I wanted nothing to do with them. That rant aside, however, I will sheepishly admit that I fell under the tailor spell in Hoi An.If you are going to buy a custom tailored anything in SEAsia… Hoi An is the place you do it. Even knowing this, I had no intention of getting sucked in. And then one day, as we were walking to the river, a little red riding coat caught my eye. (Okay it was not a riding coat, but that that makes it sound more romantic.) I had to at least inquire, and by doing so… decided that I had to own it. $35 for a darling, red, tailor-made coat, that they will ship back to the states for me? Yes, please. I stood there for the better part of an hour being measured and trying to describe what I was looking for. During my second fitting, I guess I decided this whole “custom” thing was quite fun, and thought, “Why just get a red jacket, when white is such a nice color as well.” What’s a girl to do when they are so accommodating with their combined shipping policies? :) Both coats made it back to the states before I did and I am already looking forward to next fall so I can wear them.

Considering my list is limited to a beach, a sandwich stall, and shopping (my only real purchases in 3 1/2 months, I will note) you can wrap your mind around just how much there was “to do” in Hoi An… and yet, it’s at the very top of my list. Here are a few pictures of one of my favorite towns. No national palaces or historical landmarks- just alluring, charming Hoi An.
Hoi An-11

Hoi An-13

Hoi An-14

Hoi An-16

Hoi An-24

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Hoi An-30

Hoi An-122

Hoi An-85

Hoi An-86

Hoi An-88

Hoi An-89

Hoi An-10

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Hoi An-174

Hoi An-181

A few notes since my visit in early 2013:

Several storms have hit Cua Dai Beach over the last few years, taking much of the beautiful white sand with them and leaving the beach a bit barren. An Bang Beach is another excellent option for spending a lazy day at the beach. This beach was more of the “locals” beach in 2013, and had a much more authentic Vietnamese feel. With Cua Dai attracting fewer visitors these days, I have read that An Bang has is catering more to tourists than it did in 2013.

In late 2013, Banh Mi Phuong moved from the little street stand it had called home for almost 20 years to a more permanent location near the entrance to the city’s main local market. You can find it by the market entrance on: Hoang Dieu Street in Hoi An, or just ask anyone where to get the best Banh Mi in Vietnam. They will point you in the right direction!

As for the tailor shops… you can’t miss them.

  1. Reply

    I loved Hoi An too and also got sucked in by the tailors. Ended up with a suit that I still wear today! Idyllic is how I would describe it, especially compared to the hustle and bustle of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh

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