I knew that the only way to enjoy Hoi An without the crowds would be to see it in the early morning. I woke up at 6 am and set off alone to explore the old town.
Hoi An sightseeing
Hoi An morning market
The morning fresh market was lively and -for a change- full of locals. I approached an elderly lady selling bananas who demanded an astronomical amount of money for a small bunch. I smiled and asked for the real price instead. She understood I was not a rookie tourist and offered me a fair price.
Empty streets of the old Hoi An
I cycled through empty streets and took tons of photos making the most of the rare moment when the shops were closed and all the advertisement boards and merchandise was out of sight. I could park my bicycle anywhere I wanted as nobody bothered me with parking fees at such early hour.
I noticed that the locals did live in the old town- they just seemed to be out and abound only very early in the morning. Apart from the residents, I saw only a couple of semi-professional photographers and quite a few Vietnamese couples taking wedding photo shoots. Even the famous Japanese covered bridge was empty at 7 am.
Hoi An combined ticket
I bought a combined ticket for Hoi An attractions as soon as the booths selling them opened. I went straight to a historical building which normally, due to its small size, would be bursting with people.
Tan Ky Heritage House
The visit at the Tan Ky heritage house was a real treat. All the houses in Hoi An had quite narrow facades but were very long instead. They were built in that way to avoid paying taxes. Inside the merchant’s house converted into a small museum, there were some old furniture and other artifacts. My attention was drawn to a collection of photos of devastating floods which affected Hoi An at least once a decade.
The combined ticket was valid for 5 chosen attractions and I regretted wasting one entrance for the Cau Chua pagoda on top of the Japanese Bridge. It could easily be seen from the outside while the interior wasn’t particularly impressive.
By 8 am, busloads of Chinese tourists descended on the city. I used the combined ticket to visit two Chinese assembly houses and a pagoda- all really stunning and intricately decorated.
The 17th century Phuc Kien Assembly Hall used to serve the largest Chinese community in Hoi An. It contained the shrine of the goddess of the sea and protector of the sailors. The highlights of that hall were beautiful mosaic- covered sculptures of the dragons and large embossments with marine scenes.
Duong Thuong Assembly Hall, although a bit older, was overall less impressive. I did appreciate the scary looking statues inside.
Quang Cong Pagoda
I finished the sightseeing with the 17th century Confucionist Quang Cong (also marked as Chua Ong) – a temple located just next to the market.
It was built to worship a general who was symbolising virtues important in the Chinese culture. The temple had a splendidly painted front door, lovely garden patio and a richly decorated interior.
Afternoon at An Bang beach
I really wanted to go to the beach so we cycled around 4 km along the main road to the seaside. It was actually quite a pleasant ride, along the paddies and across a river.
At the main entrance to the An Bang beach, we were told to pay for the bicycle parking. Moreover, the beach looked busy so we immediately turned around and went in search of quieter beach. We soon found a dirt, sandy road which took us to an almost empty beach with free parking spaces.
The beach was quite clean and pleasant, though I wasn’t so sure about the quality of the water. I had a short swim but we didn’t linger long since the sunset was fast approaching.
Evening in the old town
On the way back, we took a shortcut through the paddy fields, got lost in a maze of small lanes and eventually ended up in the old town. We left the bikes far from the main roads and walked to the market. I tried some great vegan food at one of the stalls. The prices were high and portions small but the experience for the palate was worth it.
After the dinner, I stopped at a stall selling che– my favourite dessert made of coconut milk. I ordered a bowl and sat next to a group of Chinese tourists. Once I finished, I was asked to pay 20 000 dong. I knew the price was too high and it got confirmed when one of the tourists whispered into my ear in English: ‘We paid 15’. I easily put the price down to 15 000 which was still more than elsewhere in Vietnam.
Dragon dance practice
We were already cycling outside the old town when drumming caught our attention. We stopped to admire two groups of young men practicing the dragon dance at a public football pitch. They were preparing for the mid-autumn festival taking place in mid-September, so 1.5 months ahead.
A group of drummers played vigorously while two boys wearing colourful trousers were going through various moves of the dance. One was tall and strong, the other small and very slim. The tall one was going to be the back part of the dragon while the small one would be holding the dragon’s head.
I’d have never imagined how difficult the dance had been for the performers if I hadn’t seen them rehearsing. The tall boy was bent in half all the time and had to lift the small one every time the dragon stood on the hind legs. We were really impressed with the skills and stamina of those boys.
One day was enough to get the feel of Hoi An but if you had more time and sufficient funds, surely you could explore it for at least a day longer.
How to get to Hoi An?
The most expensive option would be flying to Da Nang airport which has budget airline connections with HCMC and Hanoi. That route would involve a rather pricey shared airport transfer to Hoi An.
Another option would be a train to Da Nang and then a bus to Hoi An. It would be a reasonably choice if arriving from HCMC or Hanoi.
Hoi An is on every open tourist bus route. It has direct bus connections to Hue (3.5h), Phong Nha (7.5h), Nha Trang (12h) and Hanoi (13-15h).
Otherwise, much bigger Da Nang city is better connected by buses with other destinations. Bus to Hoi An leaves from the Da Nang bus station and takes around 1 hour.
How to get from Hoi An to Marble Mountains?
Go to the bus station in Hoi An (bex xe Hoi An) and wait for the direct bus to Da Nang. The ticket costs 20 000 VND [July 2018] and runs quite frequently. Get off at the crossroads when you see the karst rocks and the masonry shops. The bus stop is marked both on Google Maps and Maps.me
For a ‘secret path’, walk a bit further along the main road towards Da Nang until you see a small path to the right, leading straight to a tall pagoda. Otherwise, take the Duong Huyen Tran Cong Chua road which starts right next to the bus stop and walk until you see the first entrance.
The entrance fee to the Water Mountain: 40 000 VND, lift (one way): 15 000 VND, map: 15 000 VND. There is a vegan eatery near one of the entrances.
Prices [in Vietnamese dong as of July 2018]:
220 000 good standard en-suite, A/C double room 1.5km from the old town
190 000 minivan Kon Tum to Da Nang
120 000 combined ticket for 5 monuments in Hoi An
80 000 cheapest sleeper bus from Hoi An to Hue
50 000 light lunch at Hoi An covered market
40 000 entrance to the Water Mountain complex near Da Nang
30 000 bus from Da Nang to Hoi An
20 000 bus from Hoi An to Marble Mountains
20 000 vegan buffet at a budget vegan eatery
10 000 lotus flower drink from the street
10 000 sugarcane juice (outside old town)
10 000 glutinous rice dumpling with bean filling from a street vendor