News in Hoi An Ancient Town
Hoi An has a long history of flogging goods to international visitors, and while the port’s no longer in business, the people of Hoi An haven’t lost their commercial edge. The former trading port of Hoi An is a great place to sample some of Vietnam’s culinary delights while updating your wardrobe too.
Hoi An has a long history of flogging goods to international visitors, and while the port’s no longer in business, the people of Hoi An haven’t lost their commercial edge. It’s a common occurrence for travelers not planning to buy anything to leave Hoi An laden down with extra bags – which, by the way, are easily purchased here. The big lure is the clothes. The number of tailor shops is just extraordinary somewhere around 500. For a look at the ma-terial available locally, take a peek at the Hoi An Cloth Market (Tran Phu street). Hoi An has long been known for fabric production.
It is not only clothes that are being turned out in quantity – shoes are now a popular purchase. The cobblers here can copy anything from sneakers (trainers) to the highest heels or the coolest Cubans. Prices are very low, so it’s a great place to pick up sandals, copycat Campers or anything else that takes your fancy.
Reaching Out (Tell: 862 460; 103 D Nguyen Thai Hoc; Time 7.30am-9.30pm) is a great place to spend your dong. It’s a fair-trade gift shop with profits going towards assisting disabled artisans. The presence of numerous tourists has turned the fake-antique business into a major growth industry for Hoi An. Theoretically you could find something here that is really old, but it’s hard to believe that all the genuine stuff wasn’t scooped up long ago. Proceed with scepticism. On the other hand, there is some really elegant artwork around, even if it was turned out only yesterday.
Paintings are generally of the mass-produced kind, but are still hand-painted; for a few US dollars you can’t complain. A row of art galleries (D Nguyen Thi Minh Khai), inside the gorgeous old buildings just across from the Japanese Covered Bridge, are great to browse through. And now that you’ve bought that lovely artwork, you need to light it properly.
Lighting is a major growth industry here and lanterns lead the way. Popular Chinese lanterns come in various shapes and sizes, all easily foldable. Woodcarvings are also a local speciality. Cross Cam Nam Bridge to Cam Nam Villiage, to watch the carvers at work. woodcarving is a speciality on Cam Kim Island. Vietnam has a great reputation for its ceramics, and while much of what is on sale here comes from around Hanoi, it is worth stocking up if you are only visiting central Vietnam. The black pottery wish a glassy glaze is particularly striking. It’s best to browse the strip of small ceramics shops ( D Bach Dang) along the riverfront.
Hoi An’s main contribution to Vietnamese cuisine is “cao lau”, doughy flat noodles combined with croutons, bean sprouts and greens and topped off with pork slices. It is mixed with crumbled, crispy rice paper immediately before eating. Other Hoi An specialities are fried won ton, bank xeo (crispy savoury pancakes rolled with herbs in fresh rice papar) and the delicate ‘white rose’ (shrimp encased in rice paper and steamed).
The beauty of Hoi An is that you can find a spectacular cheap meal at the Central Market and in local restaurants in secluded residential laneways – or you can chose an upmarket eatery, lavish even by Western standards, serving excellent fusion cuisine. There are heaps of such restaurants on D Nguyen Thai Hoc, D Tran Phu and on the waterfront. A newer stretch of eateries and bars is worth exploring, facing the Old Town on the An Hoi riverbank. While a pricy town for Vietnam, it remains a bargain for most visitors.
Hoi An has the best-value accommodation in Vietnam, and quite possibly the whole of Asia. Don’t be surprised to find a stylish air-conditioned room in a brand-new hotel with free breakfast and a swimming pool for less than US$15. Some places even throw in complimentary bicycles for guests’ use. A building boom has resulted in a glut of options, with 1000 beds added in a six-month period in 2003 alone. Still, if you have your heart set on a particular hotel, you should probably book ahead at busy times. Considering how small and walkable Hoi An is, there should be no great compulsion to find a place in the heart of the Old Town. In addition, the older hotels in the centre tend to charge the same as the quieter and more spacious ones on the edge, but lack the extras like swimming pools.
There’s a cluster of new hotels with rear views over rice paddies as ound D Ba Trieu to the north, and several more on the road to the beach (D Cua Dai) – although these latter are a good 10-minute walk from the action. Many of the new hotels are second or third incarnations of old favourites, with innovative names like II and III. The most upmarket options are on the riverbank or at nearby Cua Dai Beach. Prices listed here are standard rates. Many places advertise two rates for rooms: with or without air-con. It was common for rates to rise during the peak December and January period, but now with such oversupply it is generally no longer the case. Outside of these times you may be able to negotiate a consider able discount.