Need some break from your normal daily activities in Hanoi? There is just one hour afar a town where you can swap all the chaotic things from Hanoi for a life of slow going in the narrow lanes of Hoi An. This charming town on the banks of the Thu Bon River, once one of Southeast Asia's major international ports, is nowadays an enchanting enclave and a buzzing tourist haven.
As everywhere in Vietnam life's starts early and so it is as well in this town with its colonial splendor. Set on the banks of the Thu Bon River, Hoi An seems to me like a living museum of Chinese temples, Japanese merchant houses and some French colonial buildings which fade away with time. If you might start to count all houses, temples etc. you most probably would come up with about 800 structures which are significant for the atmosphere of Hoi An.
Beginning with Cham Culture followed by Dutch, Portuguese, Chinese and Japanese traders you can imagine the history of this former busy port throughout the times. The recline began as the river silted up and once again the town reclined to a backwater existence. Fortunately even the Vietnam war didn't much hassle the town and so most of the old buildings had been still intact. In 1999 the UNESCO put it on their World Heritage list for being an exceptional well preserved example of a traditional Asian trading port.
This led as well to some settings in different films like the Quiet American an adaption of a Graham Greene novel in 2002. The touristic value of the town expanded and today you have about 500 stores venturing in tailoring shirts, suits and dresses as well as a number of shoe manufacturers. Seems like a fashion lovers paradise. Copying from magazines, catalogs or the suit or dress you bring them is quite cheap and fast. If you want to get good quality than you have to look around more carefully and bring as well more time as usually announced.
To come here you have to flight to Danang and take a bus or taxi. It is a 40 minute ride to Hoi An and you pass by some small hills called the marble mountain. Hoi An itself is composed of four main streets running parallel to the river. It is a lovely town with a charm of peeling paint, tea- and coffee houses and a lot of pastries, mostly french.
The biggest attraction of the town is the Japanese Bridge in Than Phu Street. The covered bridge was built around 1590 to connect the Japanese and Chinese Quarter. To visit the Bridge and some of the old houses you can get access with an Old Town Ticket which you can buy at different locations. It is quite a reasonable price and support the preservation of the houses. The whole town has fortunately agreed to revive the atmosphere in using the ancient practice of colored lanterns.
On the 14th day of each lunar month the town has a lantern fest where motorbikes are banned in the Old Town, the street lights are turned down and silk lanterns, song and dance transform the settlement into an enchanting and magical place. If you are just a visiting tourist and not sure about what all the street vendors are offering and if its safe to take a bite there are some good tours offering a food tour with explanations about all this delicacies. Apart from taking a tour like that you might consider renting a bike and having a look at Cua Dai Beach, going to some Cham ruins or to the Marble Mountains.