Hoi An’s architecture gives an insight into the town’s mixed heritage, with Dutch and French colonial houses squeezed between Chinese tea warehouses and Japanese temples. Local cafes, museums and open-fronted shops run alongside old canals.
Hoi An was once a major port on the Silk Route,high-quality fabric was easily available to the tailors of Hoi An, and at very low cost. The town has become well-known for its quality tailors, many of whom have been trading for generations.
More than 400 shops custom-make dresses, suits, shirts and leather shoes. You’ll even find on sale fancy dress outfits from the latest films. It’s best to allow a few days for your item to be made as your tailor will expect to carry out multiple fittings to get the garment size just right.
Many streets in Hoi An’s old town are car-free zones, making them ideal to explore on foot. Over 1,000 timber-frame buildings are still standing, topped with hand-carved tiles. The Chinese quarters are easy to spot for their wooden signboards gilded with Chinese characters — usually the name of the trading company. It’s possible to enter some of the meeting halls: there’s one for each Chinese province.
You enter the Japanese sector across a covered bridge: one of the few built outside Japan Inside is a small temple to the Taoist god of weather, Tran Vo Bac De, an important figure to visiting sailors and merchants. There are a number of museums and homes open to visit, or you can simply enjoy ‘white roses’ (prawn dumplings) in one of the local cafes.
The communities surrounding Hoi An profited from its importance as a trading town, selling a variety of local crafts to visiting merchants. These enterprises have bloomed into busy cottage industries, keeping Vietnamese handicraft skills alive. Cycling through the villages with an experienced guide, you can stop to visit the artisans along the way.
Along a leisurely 8 km (5 mile) route, you’ll ride past vivid green paddy fields and patches of farmland — usually tended by workers. Slow-flowing rivers weave across the landscape, often carrying small coracle boats — one of the most popular products made by hand here. Stopping to see traditional skills, such as wood carving and mat weaving, you’ll often be welcomed in by residents for a drink.
The site of My Son lies in a geological basin surrounded by a ring of mountains, about an hour inland from Hoi An. The indigenous Cham tribes chose this easily defendable location to build the capital of their empire, which grew steadily between the 4th and 13th centuries. Used as a military base by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, My Son was heavily bombed, but many ruins remain standing.
When you arrive, it can take a moment to differentiate the temples’ towers from the surrounding rocks, which are all being gradually reclaimed by the jungle. Built from locally fired bricks, some temples have bent roofs, claimed by archaeologists to reflect the crooked peak of Cat’s Tooth Mountain in the distance. Walking around the site, it’s possible to spot some of the remaining sandstone bas-reliefs that would have once covered temples across the entire site.
When driving around Hoi An, it’s worth taking a detour along the Hai Van Pass. Most traffic now bypasses the road through a 6.2 km (3.8 mile) tunnel, leaving the pass free for those who simply want to enjoy the views. The 19 km (12 mile) stretch of road climbs 3,000 ft (914 m) along the Annamite Range, which separates north and central Vietnam.
The road follows the Vietnamese coastline, with the South China Sea to the east and only jungle to the west. As you descend, the Lang Co Peninsula stretches right across the skyline. This beach-fringed headland is an ideal pit-stop, where you take a break at one of the few local bars selling juice and fruit.
February to May is usually a comfortable time to travel to Hoi An, when there’s plenty of sunshine, clear skies and warm temperatures. From June to August, skies remain clear but it can be quite hot with temperatures reaching 30°C (86°F). The rainy season runs from September through to January and floods can affect travel plans during this time.