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Hoi An was the principal port of the Cham Kingdom, which controlled the strategic spice trade with Indonesia from the 7th to the 10th century and was a major international port in the 16th and 17th centuries – and the foreign influences are still there to this day.
The authorities have a ‘vision’ for Hoi An and the police patrol the streets to ensure compliance. Restaurants and Bars are not allowed to ‘spill out onto the street’ and there is talk of scooters being banned from some areas (including An Hoi Island). They are serious about maintaining Hoi An’s charm and in not letting things get out of control.
The Russians tried to ‘move in on’ Hoi An to turn it into another Nha Trang; but, the police pushed them out and stopped them taking hold. Thank god. There is a rumoured Russian Mafia connection with Nha Trang.
As soon as you arrive in Hoi An, you know that you have arrived somewhere special. It has character. It has atmosphere. It has a really nice vibe.
I travelled from Da Nang to Hoi An on a local bus.
The distance is about 25Kms, it takes about 30-40 minutes and costs VND30k (plus an extra VND20k for a suitcase).
I monitored the bus’s route and progress on my smartphone GPS. Where I was staying was 2-3 Kilometers out from the center… and, I didn’t want to get to a bus terminus too far away…
When the bus passed its closest point to my hotel, I asked the Bus Conductor if the bus could stop and let me off. She happily obliged (they do this for locals all the time).
This meant that I only had a 500m walk to my hotel; which I found easily using my GPS.
Vietnam is, generally, very good for internet access with almost all Accommodation, Restaurants, Cafes, and Bars offering decent and reliable Free WiFi. Obviously, some are better than others.
The WiFi where I stayed was excellent and I hardly needed to use my own data at all. I could even ‘stream’ English Premier League football games.
If you are in or near the Old Town, you can get everywhere on foot… and, it is pleasant to do so.
Some bicycle rentals are asking for VND50k / day! DON’T PAY IT.
Some hotels out from center provide complimentary bicycles – they have to because, otherwise, it is too problematic for their guests to get around.
You can easily get from the Old Town to the Beaches on a bicycle… and, it is a pleasant 25 minute ride.
You shouldn’t really need one, unless you are arriving / leaving and need to get to / from a Hotel that is out of center. Taxis have modern meters, so you can usually trust the price – but watch out for the extra ‘luggage’ charge when you come to pay.
Always ensure that you agree a fixed price and / or what is included in the meter price before starting your journey.
The ‘standard street rate’ for a scooter is VND150k / day! DON’T PAY IT.
Scooters can be rented for as low as VND100k / day but VND120k is more normal. For a long-term rate, target VND75-80k / day; your Homestay should be your first ‘port of call’ as they are the most likely to do their guests a good deal (hoping that you will stay with them longer).
WHERE TO STAY:
It is worth noting that there is now a ban on building any more Homestays in Hoi An. The authorities believe that there are already too many Homestays. Any ‘new builds’ have to meet strict standards; those standards almost force any ‘new build’ to be to 2 star (plus) Hotel.
There are plenty of nice Homestays in and around Hoi An Old Town to choose from – many to GRANDPAcking Standard and at GRANDPAcking prices.
However, I was not in Hoi An in Peak Season and ‘beach life’ wasn’t really going to work well this time of year. It still rained at some stage during the day on most days (some days it rained almost all day), the seas were still a bit ‘surfy’, and water visibility was less than 5m (which made snorkelling and SCUBA Diving below par).
- Tran Hung Dao road to the north
- An Hoi Island (inclusive) to the south
- 18 Thang 8 road to the west
- Hoang Dieu road to the east
This is a summary of what I found and the best offers I could negotiate for a 14 night stay:
I considered the properties in red to be too far away from the ‘vibe’, the properties in orange to be ‘borderline’, and the properties in green to be workable options. The figure next to the property name is the ‘rating out of 10’ that the property gets in reviews. Underneath the property name I show the square metrage of the room, the room rate (VND1000s), the breakfast rate (VND1000s) – a 0 means that breakfast is included, and the per night total (VND1000s).
Hoi An Life Homestay:
Before I arrived in Hoi An, I used AGODA.COM to find the Hoi An Life Homestay. With Agoda, you pay in advance on your Visa Card (with BOOKING.COM, you usually pay the hotel on departure in local currency).
I got a GRANDPAcking Standard Deluxe Double with a large hot water ensuite, good reception cable TV (with English sports & movie channels), and aircon & ceiling fan.
The discounted on-line rate was VND221k / night (less than US$10) including breakfast and a free bicycle. The breakfast was perfectly adequate and came with a free (small) tea / coffee. There was a reasonable choice on the Breakfast Menu including Egg Fried Noodles, Noodles Soup, Egg & Baguette, Fruit, or Pancakes.
You needed the bicycle as it was a 30 minute walk to the Old Town and double that to the beach. A bicycle brought this down to 10 minutes and 20 minutes, respectively.
An Hoi Hotel:
A GRANDPAcking couple would (probably) have chosen the Style Apartments on the eastern end of Dao Duy Tu street. It is not yet listed on any hotel search sites – the price will, probably, go up when it does to account for the booking site commissions. It was by far the nicest room for the money (but didn’t include breakfast – so, there was a ‘hidden’ cost of breakfast on the street each day). I reckon that I could have made a final offer of US$15 / night for 14 nights and gotten the room that I wanted at the front with a balcony overlooking the street. The room was modern and well laid out with clean lines; it reminded me of my room in the Vibola in Kampot.
The ‘normal’ price was US$22 / night (VND493k). Breakfast is included. The Hotel also has a small pool. The Receptionist offered it to me at US$18 / night (VND400k) for 14 nights.
I offered them VND350k / night – cash up front. The Receptionist said no. I took out my calculator and typed in ’14*350=’ and showed it to her. I asked her if she really wanted to say ‘no’ to VND4.9m? Or, if she would like to change her mind?
She said that she had to talk to her manager; she asked me to return 1 hour later – which I did. When I returned she had forgotten to talk to her manager (such things are normal in these parts of the world) but he was there. She talked to him in Vietnamese whilst I stood beside them; he agreed within seconds. We shook hands and the deal was done.
One of the things that I liked the most about the An Hoi Hotel was the 1st floor restaurant and its view out over the water to the Old Town. There was one table out on the balcony which I tried to get to whenever I could (which was more often than not because I am always up so early in the morning).
The An Hoi Hotel came with a free breakfast and has about 16 different breakfast menu items to choose from.
I worked my way through a few of them. They were simple but adequate.
I had already negotiated 2 free black coffees with my breakfast (instead of 1) because I like my coffee in the mornings.
I may have been a bit ‘hasty’ in limiting my area so close to the center of the Old Town.
There are still many ‘street stall’ and ‘local cafe’ options available to help keep your Costs Of Existence down.
ON THE STREETS:
The best street food is a Baguette which should cost VND10k (in the suburbs) and VND15k (in the Old Town); Many in the Old Town ask for VND20k – offer them VND15k! The Baguette comes filled with sauces, salad, and strips of meat.
A Cao Lau (Noodles with Salad and slices of Pork topped with Pork Scratchings) will set you back VND25k on the Waterfront road (Cong Nu Ngoc Hoa) west of the ‘Japanese Covered Bridge’.
This eating area is ‘rustic’ but it really is nice just sitting there next to the water watching the lights from An Hoi Island and the world go by.
You can also mix it up a bit and pay VND50k for something more ‘substantial’ like a mixed rice topped with different meats and vegetables.
THE BALE WELL RESTAURANT:
You will hear about this place if you search the inernet. It is quite well known (no pun intended). You will find it down an alleyway on Phan Chau Trinh street (behind the Nha May Forget Me Not Restaurant).
Here you get a ‘set menu’; you have no choices… they only do this one dish. You sit down and they bring it to you. I ate on my own, and they delivered: a big plate of salad greens, a plate of stir fried vegetables, 2 small omelettes, 3 spring rolls, 3 pork kebabs, 3 mince beef kebabs, 2 dips, a bowl of chili, and a wad of rice papers. At the finish, they even serve you a chocolate mouse!
Only a ravenous teenage boy could have had any chance of eating it all!
Your hosts will come to your table and demonstrate what to do: you take a couple of rice papers, insert some salad, add some vegetables, add an omelette or spring roll, and add a kebab, then you roll it up and eat it with the dips. It’s a bit like a Peking Duck…
The set menu for 1 costs VND110k and drinks are priced ‘OK’ with a local beer for VND20k.
I would suggest that a GRANDPAcking couple should go and ask for a meal for 1 and share it. Hopefully, they will let you do that. There is plenty of food for 2 people – especially of GRANDPAcker age. This will put the price at VND55k each – which is in GRANDPAcker range.
THE GANESH INDIAN RESTAURANT:
This is said to be ‘the place to go’ in Hoi An if you want to eat Indian; which I did one night.
It is ‘above GRANDPAcking budget’ with vegetarian curries in the VND70-100k range and meat curries for VND90-150k. A plain Naan will set you back VDN30k and a fancier Naan about VND50k.
When I arrived the place was full so they sat me down to share a table with 3 Germans: two lads in their 20s (Til and Andy) and a lady (Christina). They were kind enough to talk English for the rest of the night and we had some fun.
I wanted to treat myself, so I ordered a Chicken Vindaloo with a Cheese Naan and 2 glasses of House Red. The total bill was VND211k. It was very nice (especially the fresh Naan) but a bit over-priced (in my opinion). You can eat 10 local meals for that price (like a Cau Lao) in the market and street stalls.
Other places worth a visit include:
- Banh Mi: On Phan Chau Trinh near the corner of Hoang Dieu; They do a nice variety of fresh Baguettes for VND20-25k. The good thing about this place is that you know that the meats haven’t been sitting in the open all day.
- Banh Mi Queen: On Tran Cau Van street; Another ‘famous’ Banh Mi… try their ‘mixed’ Banh mi for VND20k.
- Khoai Tay Va Ca: On the eastern end of An Hoi Island facing the Old Town; Spoil yourself with the best Fish & Chips in Hoi An for VND135k.
- Local Cafes: You will find many local cafes in the side streets on the edge of the Old Town; Many are very reasonably priced with simple, tasty meals for VND20-25k.
This is a beer drinkers paradise.
This is Bia Hoi territory where you can do the famous “US$1 Pub Crawl” (Google it)! If you get to the ‘edge’ of the Old Town, you can find Bia Hoi selling draft fresh beer for VND3k / glass (the glass is the size of a half-pint / 250ml). Some even do a ‘Buy 2 Get 1 Free’, so it costs you VND6k for 3 drinks – that’s VND2k (less than US$10c) per beer (less than US$30c per pint)!
The beer is good too! You would think that it might be a bit ‘rough’ and leave a nasty ‘hang-over’ in the morning, but, no. Probably because of the lower than average alcohol content.
As always, they try and get you to eat whilst you are there (the profit is in the food).
But I found their food ‘mid range’. The cheapest food on the menu was a Noodle Soup at VND30k, but most cheap dishes were VND45-55k and a Pizza started at VND90k.
OLD TOWN BIA HOI:
Get closer to or into the Old Town and the price goes up to VND4k-5k per glass. By now, Bia Hoi are competing with the numerous Happy Hours available in the bars and restaurants. Happy Hour bottles of Saigon Green (beware!) and Larue start at VND10k.
This is only 5-10 minutes walk from the Old Town and does the ‘3-for-2’ Bia Hoi for VND6k.
I ate Prawns & Cashew with rice there one night and I was pleasantly surprised.
It was a good sized helping with plenty of prawns and cashews for VND95k.
By the time that you add in the cheap beer, you can have a very nice evening there for under VND115k each.
THE “FOR YOU” BAR & RESTAURANT:
BUY 1 GET 1 FREEs:
Watch out for the ‘Buy 1 Get 1 Free’ Happy Hours that don’t display prices. You usually discover that the price of the beer was inflated anyway so, by the time that you get your 2 for 1, you are paying the normal price anyway.
HAPPY HOUR OFFERS:
There are, also, a lot (if not more) Happy Hour Cocktail offers. During the day, some bars hand out vouchers / invites to attract you in that night. As always, the girls get the best deal… on many occasions their 1st Cocktail is free. Get the girls in… and the boys will follow…
Cocktails should range from VND50-75k, so a ‘2 for 1’ on these is good value for money.
If you avoid the ‘dodgy’ bars (see YOUR SAFETY, below) there are many good bars to go to offering special Happy Hours on different nights of the week.
One example is Mr Bean on An Hoi Island which plays Mr Bean movies on a big screen all night; on some nights you can drink unlimited ‘Mixers’ (e.g. Gin & Tonic) for VND100k or unlimited Cocktails for VND250k. If you buy one of these deals or a Cocktail at the normal price, you can get a free Shisha. One night I treated myself to a Tequila Sunrise and Apple Shisha for VND100k.
There are many more around town to choose from; just look at the ‘flyers’ during the day as they are being handed out.
THE BLUE DRAGON:
It is on Bach Dang street on the waterfront (between Hoang Van Thu street and Tran Quy Cap street) with a view of the fishing boats and the ferries that come and go shipping people and goods to / from the isolated Song Thu Bon islands.
They have a Happy Hour until 20:00pm with bottles of local beer for VND10k as well as other Happy Hour specials. It has a couple of tables on the street and is a pleasant place to while away some time with a beer. Friendly staff, nice location, cheap beer… The food is reasonably priced too!
I met a retiree from Australia here (Ken); we met up a few times around town and at a couple of Expat Bars where I met other expats living in Hoi An on a permanent basis.
HOI AN SPORTS BAR:
This bar is located on Phan Chau Trinh near the corner of Le Loi. Unlike many sports bars, the beer prices here are still reasonable with a Larue or Saigon Green for VND20k (in other sports bars, beers start at VND30k). Their food isn’t cheap though.
The Hoi An Sports Bar plays a nice mix of music, has a Pool Table (which is why I was there), a big screen, and several smaller TV screens dispersed around the walls.
They have live bands playing every night with all sorts of different music.
It isn’t cheap (relatively speaking), so either ‘top up’ first elsewhere or pop in on your LIVING expenses.
A House Red Wine is VND50. Local beers start at VND35k.
But, for that price, you get to hear some good live music… the lead guitarist knows his stuff.
Fancy a coffee? One nice place is the 85 Celsius on the eastern end of An Hoi Island facing the Old Town.
They do 2-for-1 Vietnamese coffees for VND30k. Small but tasty.
Nowhere’s perfect. That includes Hoi An.
There are some ‘dodgy’ bars that GRANDPAckers are best to avoid. They target the young, backpacker crowd and entice them in with offers of 2-for-1s, free drink on entry, free Shisha for groups of 4, etc.
The problem is that this also attracts some ‘dodgy’ locals. This is where they come to prey on unsuspecting tourists. The tourists are usually drunk and ‘easy pickings’… whether that be for pick-pocketing, over-charging for rides home, or playing for money on the pool table.
You would avoid such bars at home in your own country, so why would you go to them here in Hoi An?
PLACES TO AVOID:
Once you get past your ‘free drink on entry’, these bars are over-priced. I would suggest that you avoid the following bars:
- Why Not Bar: Famous for kicking off late and staying open until 3-4am. However, some bad local dudes (some posing as Moto Taxis) hang around outside waiting for the drunks to stagger out. There are many stories of people being ‘taken home to their hotel’ but finding themselves in the middle of nowhere confronted by the driver and his mate(s) demanding money. There are also rumours of solo girls getting raped on the way home.
- Tiger Tiger: One of the backpacker traps. One guy tried to pick-pocket my smartphone in there. I travel with trouser pockets that have zips for such events – and he had no luck.
- Other Such Bars on An Hoi Island: There are 3 or 4 more bars on An Hoi Island similar to the Tiger Tiger. You will spot them as soon as you see them – they all look the same and they are full of drunken backpackers. Avoid those too.
- The Golden Kite: (see below).
THE GOLDEN KITE – DO NOT GO HERE!
One night I fancied a game of pool. The Golden Kite is 3 doors down from my Hotel and has a Pool Table – so I popped in.
There was an American guy (Greg) playing on his own, so we partnered up for a few games of singles. At about 10:30-11:00pm a couple of the bar boys challenged us to a game of doubles. Which we did. They wanted to play for a beer. So we did. We had a few games and a couple of ‘double or quits” and ended up quits (no-one owing anyone anything) at the end of the night. By now, they had closed the bar and closed the doors. Greg and I were the only people still there with 6 of the bar boys. They wanted to play for 1 more beer – which we did; and lost (in our defense, we had a few beers under our belts by then – and the bar boys were sober).
One of the bar boys then demanded that we owed them VND200,000 for the beer!
We tried to talk to him calmly to say that we did not agree to such a bet. The bar boy started getting very angry. Greg started to get angry back – but I calmed him down.
The bar boy went over to the pool cue rack, grabbed a pool cue, and started coming at us with it. The girl behind the bar and one of his friends quickly grabbed him and held him back. The 5 other boys surrounded us and it looked like Greg and I were going to have to take them all on.
Luckily, although both of us are in our 50s, neither Greg nor I are small so we managed to show enough of a threat for them to back down. We managed to get out unharmed.
SAFE LATE NIGHT EARLY MORNING DRINKING:
Most places close at 10:30-11:00pm and the police strongly enforce this closing time.
Out of the few bars that are allowed to stay open, there are only a couple that I would suggest as safe places to go:
- One Love Bar: A nice little bar on the edge of the Old Town with Beer Pong and Pool Table. The beer prices aren’t too bad either with a small Saigon Red at VND25k and a small Tiger at VND30k.
- Brown Eyes Bar: A couple of kms out of center on Hung Vuong street (the road west to the Fishing Village). Dance floor and Pool Table. Bottles of beer VND30-35k. Their touts hang around bars as they close (including the Golden Kite and Tiger Tiger) hand out flyers offering you a free moto out to the Brown Eye. As normal, make sure that you are always with a friend and that you don’t end up on your own…
These bars DO NOT suffer from the same ‘dodgy’ Vietnamese locals problem that the Golden Kite, Tiger Tiger, and Why Not Bar do.
ANOTHER LITTLE STORY:
I was walking home from the One Love Bar (above) at 2am. I turned a corner to find 2 VERY DRUNK middle aged ladies having issues with 2 moto drivers. I stopped to check that they were OK.
These girls had been to one (or more) of the ‘dodgy’ bars on An Hoi Island and had partaken, no doubt, in many of the Happy Hour offers. 🙂
The moto drivers were trying to get VND200k out of them for driving them 150 meters from the island to an empty street.
The ladies had just discovered that they had been robbed / pick-pocketed on An Hoi Island and had no money left in their purses. They lost about VND2m that night. They could not pay the rip off price for their motos.
The moto drivers told be that they had spent about 1 hour driving them around town but the ladies did not remember where their hotel was. Seeing the state of the 2 ladies, I tended to believe the moto drivers…
By now, 2 more moto drivers had turned up. A couple of them started raising their voices… the situation was ‘on the turn’. I had to stop them rifling through the ladies handbags.
Anyway, I tried to persuade them that the only way to solve the problem was to get the ladies home to their hotel. Once there, they could get the money that they needed to pay for the motos.
As I was doing so, the 2 ladies walked off leaving me to it. 4 angry moto drivers and me.
In the end, the lads understood that I had to go after the ladies to make sure that they got home safely. What else could I do? They accepted the fact that they weren’t going to get paid and they didn’t try and stop me.
I caught up with the ladies and got them back to their hotel (eventually). 🙂 Let’s just say that it was ‘hard work’ and very amusing.
They were very lucky that night. It could have been a lot worse.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:
GO TO A TAILOR:
Hoi An is famous for its tailor shops; this is where you can get clothes made up at very reasonable prices – if you negotiate!
When you first walk in, their opening price is a ‘westerner’ price. It takes a bit of bartering to get it closer to a ‘Vietnamese’ price. Just threaten to go next door.
I left New Zealand with a few clothing items that I knew I wanted to replace as and when I found the right replacements. I have 2 pairs of shorts that I want to throw away and a couple of tops too.
- An extra large waist (so that I could pleat up the material at the front and go ‘commando’ in the hot weather)
- Left and right deep pockets (smartphone in one and wallet in the other) – both zipped for security (to avoid pick-pockets)
- Two extra pockets on the thighs (like cargo pants) for odds and sods
I found a suitable tailor and agreed a price of VND700k for 2 pairs. I, probably, paid more than I should have (VND500k may have been a better price) – but they were really nice people and I couldn’t be arsed arguing over a few more $s. I got exactly what I wanted for that price – and I was happy with that.
Obviously, I didn’t get the ones in the picture – I went a lot madder than that! 🙂
I am so glad that I got them – they are SO COMFORTABLE!
Anyway, that’s my story. Shop around yourselves. It’s fun and you too may end up getting something that you really want for a good price. BUT, before you let them put what they’ve made into a bag, THOROUGHLY CHECK THE SEWING QUALITY.
I had to ‘tidy up’ a bit of the sewing on mine when I got them home. 🙂
I met a lady from Germany who had negotiated a tailored Cashmere Suit with waistcoat and cravat PLUS an additional Cashmere Dress for US$190.
Another useful thing to buy if you are travelling is a silk sleeping bag.
These are particularly useful when:
- You are on a bus with excessive aircon: this happens a lot in S.E.Asia, they love being cold (and the driver won’t turn the aircon down) – jumping into you sleeping bag helps to keep you warm)
- You find yourself stuck in a Hostel with dirty bed linen or no bed linen
You will see silk sleeping bags for sale in many of the shops. The ‘asking price’ for a single is VND200k and a double VND400k. DON’T PAY IT!
I got my single for VND70k (NZ$5 / US$3.25).
GET OUT AND ABOUT ON A BICYCLE:
Cua Dai has suffered a lot of erosion over the years and is, now, a narrow beach. But, still, very pleasant.
The better beach of the two is An Bang a couple of kilometers further north.
MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:
Hoi An suffers from the usual ATM VND2,000,000 transaction limit. Different banks charge different amounts for your transaction. For VND2m you can be charged as much as VND50k for the privilege.
As usual, I found that the best bank was the Agribank. At their ATMs I could withdraw a maximum of VND2,650,000 for a transaction charge of VND22k (of course, I still had to pay my home bank’s Foreign ATM Transaction Fee).
Laundry: The normal rate is US$1 / Kg – the best price found was VND20k / Kg.
Local Shops / Street Stalls: Big Water VND10k. Vietnamese Virginia Tobacco Cigarettes VND10k (but they try and ask VND25-30k).
Market: Large bunch of Bananas (about 16-18) VND20k (but they try to ask VND40k).
I checked Regional Flights and booked a flight from Da Nang to Hai Phong directly with Vietnam Airways; it cost VND569k (US$25).
I decided to stay in Hoi An for an extra week; my Vietnam Airways ticket was non-refundable… so I bought another one for Monday 21st December at the same VND569k price. Sod it… it’s only US$25!
I had to make my own way from Hoi An back to Da Nang airport. I was quoted a wide range of prices; the most expensive was VND400k for a taxi.
In the end, I purchased a Shuttle Bus ticket for VND110k which included a pick up from my Hotel. They pick a few people up from the hotels but, once done, travel time is about 60 minutes.
But, what a Tourist Town!
It has atmosphere, it has vibe, and the prices are perfectly acceptable.
Hoi An makes it into my Retirement Locations shortlist.
Hoi An is my favourite place in my 1 year of travelling so far. With so many nice restaurants and bars it is so easy to meet locals, travellers and expats from all around the world and have lots of fun. I couldn’t help myself… I ended up partying many nights.
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