Vietnam: Hoi An

Hội An is a ridiculously pretty UNESCO World Heritage site, located in central Vietnam. Known for its tailors and lanterns - and also yummy bánh mì, which I'll tell you about in my dedicated food post - Hoi An is the sort of place you shouldn't visit with a view to ticking off the sights, but rather a place where you should have a meander, a mooch, and soak up the colourful atmosphere.

First things first, on the tailor side of things, I'm going to tell you not to bother. I would say, and we did traipse around various tailors, considering materials and getting quotes, unless you are genuinely after something - and actually wanted it before you got to Vietnam - it's kind of not worth it. To me, all the finished items on the mannequins just looked really cheap and these are the items that are supposed to get you interested and through the door.

So, what should you do in Hoi An if you're not having copious amounts of measurements taken? Well, the old town is full of quaint streets, and these all get lit up in the evening by colourful lanterns. It's a delight to mooch around the streets, poke your head in the shops then, finally, sit in a bar by the river and watch the world go by. Be by the river before sunset though because, when darkness falls, the sky above the shops and restaurants pop with colour as the lanterns get lit and there's the most glorious sunset over the river.

But, there's not all when it comes to lanterns. Come nightfall paper lanterns are released into said river, and you can take part by either buying a few lanterns and a) lowering them off the side of the bridge that separates Hoi An from the island of An Hoi, or b) by taking a boat ride for around twenty minutes and releasing them that way. We went for the former option, lowered our lanterns into the water and made a wish. It's the Hoi An equivalent of throwing pennies in a fountain, but it's much more beautiful.

Another word on exploring the Old Town in case, like me, you've decided to visit and are doing your research for your trip. Like Ba Na Hills, Google threw up a weird search results - that to enter Hoi An's Old Town you have to pay an entrance fee of 120,000 dong (£4). All I can say is, based upon the two days we spent there in October 2018, we did not need a ticket merely to mooch around the streets.

Sure, to visit some of of Hoi An's temples  and museums you need to purchase a ticket, but the search results seemed to suggest that a fee also applied to merely walk through the streets of the Old Town. If we were supposed to buy a ticket, I can only apologise, but we didn't spot any signs, ticket sellers or, indeed, inspectors, to suggest that this information is still true.

The beauty about Hoi An is it is small enough to walk around yourself (though cars aren't permitted in the Old Town). But, if you fancy doing something a bit less moochy and a bit more actiony whilst you're in Hoi An, then I'd highly recommend an afternoon traditional countryside bike tour with Heaven and Earth Bicycle Tours. Run entirely by women, we booked our tour on TripAdvisor for £13.32 each the day before we wanted to go. This price included our bike hire, the tour, and also a bottle of water.

We had an amazing time and the bike ride isn't at all taxing. It was my first time on a bike in sixteen years, and I was a little apprehensive - so silly - but the 9km (5.5 miles) route is flat and involves lots of stops. Meeting at their office on An Hoi island, the first part of the tour involves catching a ferry to Cam Kim island, which takes about 45 minutes. Olly was immediately volunteered to captain the boat, which he did with great aplomb.

All-in-all, the tour lasts around five-six hours depending on the time of year and when sunset is, and Cam Kim island is pretty rural so you don't have to worry about the crazy Vietnamese traffic you get in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City! The tour is all about the more traditional side of Vietnamese life, and after having a poke around a house on the island, we headed to visit the amazing 90 year old lady above who still weaves mats every day to get by.

After a short cycle, our next stop was a rice wine distillery where we saw and tasted the local rice wine, also know as "happy wine". Definitely not my drink of choice but it's cheap enough for the locals to afford - and it does the job of getting them drunk! After some more cycling - and, yes, I did buy a conical hat especially for this bike tour; I even managed to get it home - we found out more about how the traditional circular basket boats are made that fisherman use... then had a go at rowing one with a cheeky Vietnamese lady nicknamed "Sexy Lady" helping us out!

I was not the best rower, I have to confess, and needed quite a lot of help from her. After stopping for a drink and snack, we cycled to our final stop to learn about how some traditional souvenirs are crafted, and then how the bigger boats are constructed. We did stop off for a sunset picture in the paddy fields on our way back to the ferry, but it was the wrong time of year to actually see the rice been harvested or tended to - at least in this part of Vietnam.

Our tour guides Tram and Lucky were good fun, shared real insight, and made our afternoon tour really enjoyable. I'd highly recommend if you're visiting Vietnam to add the ridiculously pretty town that is Hoi An to your itinerary,  as well as taking this tour. You won't regret it.

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