After an exciting motorbike trip from Hue over Hai Van Pass (which you can read about here), I was thrilled to arrive in Hoi An. I didn’t know much about the city prior to my arrival, but once I was there, I didn’t want to leave. Hoi An is the quintessential Vietnamese town, full of colorful lanterns, a picturesque river, walking streets blocked from motorbikes, and shops with the most beautiful handicrafts Vietnam has to offer. The restaurants are also incredible, as are the tailor shops all around the city.
Lantern Heaven in Hoi An
My friend Kathrin and I arrived in Hoi An shortly after dark. After getting settled into our adorable Air Bnb, we headed into town where we were immediately struck by the beauty of the glowing silk lanterns strung across the streets of Hoi An. You can see silk lanterns being crafted throughout the city by skilled craftsmen. The lanterns have a bamboo frame, which are covered with silk and a tassle. Lantern prices range between $1-10 for high quality lanterns.
Exquisite Hand Painted Vietnamese Ceramics
Similar to Hue, Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is considered an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port, where Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese, Dutch and Indian traders came to trade their goods in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Japanese believed the heart of all of Asia (the dragon) lay beneath the earth of Hoi An. It was particularly known for its ceramic industry and textiles. You can see some of the ceramics being made around workshops dotted throughout the city. My favorite shop was a store called Reaching Out, which employs handicapped individuals. Reaching Out is not cheap and prices are listed in USD, but you know that your money is supporting a group of talented individuals who would not be working otherwise.
I toured the Museum of Trade Ceramics during one of my days there, which is located in a restored wooden building build in 1858 and includes beautiful pottery from Persia, China, Thailand, India and other countries.
Japanese and Chinese Influenced Architecture of Hoi An
During our stay, we spent much of our time just walking around, checking out the sites including the Japanese Bridge, a unique covered structure that is the only known covered bridge with a Buddhist temple attached to one side. We also passed by several assembly halls, including the Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall, founded in 1690 and served as a religious and cultural gathering place for the Chinese ethnic group living in Hoi An.
Food Lover’s Delight in Hoi An
Hoi An also offers fantastic restaurant options. Our favorite restaurant was Morning Glory, which features many of the region’s unique dishes including cao lau – a spiced pork noodle dish that is absolutely delicious! Every dish was incredibly flavorful and the total bill was very low. This ranks as one of the best restaurants I have ever eaten at! I also stopped by Banh Mi Phuong during my stay, which Anthony Bourdain claims to have the best banh mi sandwich in the world. I have to agree!
In the morning, we awoke to stunning views of the farm behind our AirBnb as well as the perfume river, which Hoi An is located on.
Hoi An turns into a thriving morning market, where you can get some of the freshest vegetables and meat I have ever witnessed. The women selling the vegetables lovingly clip their herbs and arrange them in beautiful baskets, while constantly sprinkling them with water so they retain their freshness.
Tailor Made Clothing at its Best
Above all else, Hoi An is known for its tailor made clothing and shoe shops. There are literally hundreds of tailors throughout the city, ranging from high end commercial tailors to family run, independent shops. It’s worth going into a few shops before settling on one. Interestingly, prices are always quoted in USD (and then converted to Vietnamese Dong).
After a stroll through the market, Kathrin and I went to the first tailor our hotel had recommended, which is called Bebe Cloth Shop. Kathrin ordered a three piece suit, made of merino wool for $250. I ordered 2 cocktail dresses, a skirt, and a pantsuit. Being an avid Pinterest user, I am constantly pinning outfits that I like so had an entire board dedicated to things I was interested in having made. They were not able to make anything beaded or embroidered so I stuck to having basic items created. I showed pictures of the two dresses I wanted made and brought in a JCrew pantsuit that I wanted copied. I went in for a total of 3 fittings over the course of 3 days, and I was generally happy with the cocktail dresses. The pantsuit was an exact replica of the one I brought in, and the skirt turned out just okay – they simply didn’t have the right material and in the end I accepted it even though I do believe I could have walked away from it. I also purchased a few silver rings (averaging ~$50 USD) and custom-made leather sandals (3 for $50 USD).
The second shop I visited was Yaly Couture, which came highly recommended by a friend and had excellent reviews on Trip Advisor. This shop was a class above Bebe, and the service was generally good. The only issue was I had to go in for several fittings, and the team of tailors I was working with was working up until the very minute I had to leave for the airport. I ordered several items from Yaly, including a 3 piece suit, 3 evening gowns, wide legged merino wool pants, and 3 blouses. As a result of rushing finishing touches, the suit jacket came out with a few imperfections but I am generally pleased with the outcome. Between the two shops you can expect to pay the following prices: custom tops and skirts $40-60, cocktail dresses $80-110, dress pants $100-$150, evening gowns $150-$250, and suits $250-350. I would strongly advise going into the shop with pictures of what you have in mind first and being very vocal about how they need to finalize the finishing touches once made. Also, give yourself plenty of time to make the pieces so the tailors do not get sloppy at the end.
Below are photos of Yaly, the clothes I had made there, a fitting, and the interior lining I selected for my suit.
In short, Hoi An is a MUST see on your Vietnam itinerary. Enjoy!
A Gilded Globe’s Top 5 Things to See & Do in Hoi An
- Get a custom made piece of clothing at Yaly Couture
- Buy ceramics at Reaching Out
- Eat a banh mi sandwich at Banh Mi Phuong and dinner at Morning Glory
- Buy a silk lantern at one of the many lantern street vendors
- Stroll around the morning and night markets along the Perfume Riverfront