Ah, Hoi An Vietnam. This colorful city is boundlessly intriguing with its narrow cobblestone streets, bright lanterns, and abundance of tailors waiting to create whatever customized masterpiece your heart desires. Although a bit of a tourist trap, its a curiously delightful one that is sure to keep you entertained regardless of your travel preferences. In fact, I can’t imagine a traveler not finding something to love in this gem of a city.
After spending several days in Hanoi this past September, this coastal town was a much needed breath of fresh air (both literally and figuratively). With a population of just over 120,000, its still on the smaller side as far as cities go and is easy to navigate around town and to the beach by bike or foot. Me and my travel buddies (little sis, mom, and dad) were only there for a few days but loved every minute of it. If I were to do it all again though, there are a few things I wish I had known that I want to share with you in case you ever make it over to that part of the world.
Tips and General Information for Visiting Hoi An Vietnam
- You can pay in American dollars – but watch out for the exchange rate! Many vendors will round the rate up in their favor so you end up paying more in the long run.
- Spend some time at the night market. It might seem like a bit of a shopaholic nightmare, but if you can relax it can be fun and a great place to get cheap souvenirs.
- Some vendors get feisty when they’re haggling – don’t take it to heart. If you are not interested, be firm and avoid eye contact. After politely declining several sales pitches, we realized that our American friendliness is probably taken as a sign that we’ll cave and buy something so its more respectful of their time to just be direct up front. When we did want something, we normally offered half of the original price given and settled for about 2/3 of that original price. That seemed to be pretty standard for us. The street vendors tended to be more flexible on pricing than the vendors with actual store fronts. A lot of the time, I chose to pay full price for things that aren’t very expensive just to avoid the whole haggling process, but that’s just me.
- As with Hanoi, the massages can get quite intimate and can be a little rough. For $15 though, you can’t really expect too much. I had three massages while in Vietnam and had a few unexpected occurrences:
- The masseuses chatting the entire time to each other – not exactly the relaxing experience I expected.
- Forget modesty. Two of the masseuses watched me undress and half way through one massage I was a bit startled when the lady climbed on top of the table, sat on my legs, flipped up the towel and placed a few hot stones on my tushie. Definitely took me by surprise, to say the least…
- They almost always pop the knuckles on your hands and feet. My little sister enjoyed it. I did not. Just be warned, it seems to be standard practice.
- Sign up for a cooking class – even if the recipes don’t look like something you’ll make again back at home, the experience is a must for food lovers! We did a private class at Treat Hoi An and the instructor was absolutely delightful and the food was fantastic. It included a tour of the market which was one of my absolute favorite parts of the trip.
- Visit the outdoor central market to see where the locals buy their food. The market is a photographer’s dream with vivid colors and vibrant activity on every corner (and every nook and cranny in between). We did this as part of the cooking class we took and it was so incredibly fascinating to see behind the curtain into the daily life of Hoi An residents.
- Most hotels loan out bicycles – use them! The town might feel small, but your legs and feet will ache after traipsing through those cobblestones and you can cover much more ground cruising on two wheels.
- Visit the beach. It wasn’t exactly ideal beach weather when we were there in September (it rained quite a bit) but it was still enjoyable and a beautiful 20 minute bike ride away. I didn’t swim but my dad said the ocean was like bathwater. The fishing boats are really interesting too. If you come early enough in the day you’re bound to see at least a dozen round boats scattered throughout the beach. Plus, the ride from the city center to the beach takes you through parts of town that you wouldn’t see otherwise.
- At the good shops tailoring is not cheap! Don’t expect it to be. All things considered, the prices are extremely low for tailored clothing, but after hearing the unbelievably low prices at the cheaper tailors, if you’re anything like me, you might be a bit jaded and the prices at the nicer shops will seem steep. Try to keep the prices in perspective – you get what you pay for!
A Guide to Custom Tailoring in Hoi An Vietnam
Between the travelers in our group, we got:
- A ton of tailored sundresses made for $10 each
- Several tailored skirts for $10 each
- I got a nice blazer for $60 (they originally told me $80 for the fabric I wanted)
- A combination of 2 Men’s suits, two additional pairs of pants, and three additional sports coats for $600. Each suit came with a coordinating dress shirt, tie, and pocket square and he chose high quality fabrics (wool, cashmere, etc.).
- About 15 pre-made simple cotton sundresses for $5 each
If you want to get something tailored, PLEASE heed this advice:
- Shop around on your first day and ask about prices, lead time, and styles. Most of the reputable places will need at least 2 days lead time, and most prefer 3 to allow for two fittings and any needed alterations.
- The reputable shops are worth the cost. They really do have better quality and there’s no way around this. Just like anywhere else, you get what you pay for. The few items we had made at the nicer tailors (we used Kimmy’s) were well worth the extra money. They are tailored garments after all. They’ll normally come down a bit from the original price they give you, especially if you’re buying several items, but don’t expect to barter the way you do with street vendors here. You pay for quality and if you don’t, you’ll regret it. Also, splurging on nicer fabric is totally worth it!
- If you do choose to use the lower quality cheap tailors, as far as sundresses go, make sure to add at least two – three inches to the length. Even after hand washing and line drying, all of ours shrunk at least 3 – 4 inches to the point that they are unwearable. The cheap shops use low-quality fabric that does NOT hold up well. At least they make lovely shirts now. Here’s one of the dresses before it shrunk.
- Bring good photos of every item you want made. Having a clear picture and reduces the risk of your wishes getting lost in translation. If you forget to do this or don’t have anything specific in mind, don’t stress it. There will be plenty of style books that you can leaf through.
Restaurants in Hoi An Vietnam
We ate at more restaurants than I could possibly name in one post (or remember the names of) so I’m just going to include a few notes on my favorites. I’m sure there are plenty of other tasty places to grab a bite at in Hoi An, but out of the ones we tried, these four stood out as the best.
We went to Morning Glory our last night in town where we met up with a few of my parents friends for dinner. This place was absolutely fantastic. Everyone enjoyed their dishes and the ambiance is great for chatting and having a nice, relaxing meal. It was a little spendier than the small shops, but not too steep and worth the cost.
Treat Hoi An BBQ Garden Restaurant
Treat Hoi An was another pleasant surprise. We wandered in here after a busy morning of shopping and exploring and were immediately drawn to the inviting atmosphere and laid back decor. We were scoping out locations to take a cooking class and after our delicious lunch, knew we had found the place. Both the food from the restaurant and the cooking class were absolutely great and I’d recommend both to anyone.
Diem Den – right by our place, the Long Life Hotel
This restaurant was right next door from the Long Life Riverside Hotel (which I would recommend in a heartbeat if you’re looking for lodging!). We popped in here for a quick lunch upon arrival and everything we ordered was fresh and tasty. After getting a few mystery order surprises in Hanoi, this meal was refreshing and just what we needed.
The service was great too. It’s a small family restaurant and it was fun to chat it up with our server who spoke a little bit of English. Here are my travel partners enjoying the spread. PS – try the smoothies!
Here’s a picture of the front of the hotel we stayed at (the restaurant was right next door). For around $50 per night we were in a luxurious suite in an ideal location facing the river. It is a short 2 -3 minute walk from the hotel to the main bridge that leads to the downtown shopping area. We loved everything about this place.
Our last meal in Hoi An was at Mango Mango before taking a shuttle back to the airport in Da Nang. It was definitely very westernized and modern, but prices weren’t too bad and we were in the mood for something predictable. This delivered on all levels and the service was really pretty quick.
And when all else fails, you can always grab a few good snacks in the airport on the way out of town…
Well, that’s all I have to share with you on the wonderful city of Hoi An. I hope your trip is just as memorable as ours was! Here are a few other articles with travel tips on visiting Hoi An Vietnam that I thought were useful:
- Do’s and Don’ts in Hoi An Vietnam by Jade’s World
- This is just a Virtual Tourist comment area, but I thought some of the suggestions were helpful
- Top things to do in Hoi An by Lonely Planet
- Hoi An by Nomadi Matt
- The 7 Best Things to do in Hoi An Vietnam by Stray Asia Travel Blog