I doubt there’s much I can say about the town of Hội An that hasn’t been said a hundred times before.
The little enclave in central Vietnam graces the cover of half the country’s travel guides. It’s the model of small-town Viet architecture. And on any given day it probably hosts as many tourists as Saigon or Hanoi. Everybody visits Hội An.
I don’t say this to knock it. People come for a reason. The century-old architecture and styling of the old quarter (“Hội An Ancient Town”) has been preserved, and it is breathtaking. The shop faces are timber-and-mortar, painted in the iconic French colonial yellow. The countless narrow alleys snake through town flanked by wooden shutters and handmade gates. Everywhere you look you’re shaded by flowery vines and Asian lamps. It is a photo come to life.
There’s always a but. A place so accessible and picturesque quickly gets accosted by tourists. In most of Vietnam – even the major destinations – it’s easy to escape the foreigners, to find the ‘real’ parts of town. Not so in Hội An. By day, the Ancient Town hosts more tourists than locals. Massive tour groups shouting in Chinese, Korean, English, Russian, and more clamor by. Every shop – and I do mean every one – is geared for tourists. Prices are accordingly inflated. Even outside the old quarter you’ll see Caucasians everywhere, cycling about the city on rickety hotel-provided bikes. I don’t blame people for wanting to visit, but the constant human grinder of tourism can wear on the mind.
What does that mean for my assessment of the place? Minor annoyances aside, I absolutely do recommend checking Hội An out. It’s definitely worth your time, and doubly so if you’re inclined toward photography. I simply urge a little caution and restraint when it comes to spending money. Most products sold here can be found elsewhere (there are exceptions, such as the photorealistic Hội An 41 Silk embroidery shop, the likes of which I’ve never seen anywhere else), often at much lower prices, and food will be pricier than the Vietnam average. Even less tangible things like bicycle parking will be rather expensive. Don’t let vendors guilt you into buying anything – they make plenty of money from less-savvy travelers. Also, don’t let yourself get trapped in the old town. There’s more to see around town, and you can find all manner of restaurants wherever you go. On average things will be a bit cheaper the farther you go from Ancient Town (but still expensive for Vietnam).
Hội An is very much worth a visit to take in the sights. Ignore the shopkeeps, and focus instead on the alleyways, the wooden awnings, and especially at night, the thousands of colored lamps and floating candles. The aesthetics of Hội An are nearly beyond compare.
But one doesn’t post about Hội An to ramble on in text form. So rather than continuing this feeble effort at artwork by prose, I’ll instead simply leave you with the photos to see for yourself. *Enjoy the sauce!*