Graceful and historic, Hoi An is one of Vietnam’s most atmospheric and delightful towns. Once a major port, it boasts the grand architecture and stunning riverside setting that befits its heritage, and modern issues of traffic and pollution are almost entirely absent.
The face of the Old Town has preserved its incredible legacy of tottering Japanese merchant houses, Chinese temples and ancient tea warehouses – though, of course, residents and rice fields have been gradually replaced by tourist businesses. Lounge bars, boutique hotels, travel agents and a glut of tailor shops are very much part of the scene here. And yet, down by the market and over on Cam Nam Island, you’ll find life has changed little. Travel a few kilometres further – you’ll find some superb bicycle, motorbike and boat trips – and some of central Vietnam’s most enticingly laid-back scenery and beaches are within easy reach.
Granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1999, Hoi An is now firmly on most visitors’ agendas. For some it’s already too much of a tourist trap, with its profusion of tailors’ shops and art galleries and its rapidly proliferating hotels – try telling those who come for a day and stay for a week. It’s easy to while away the time, taking day-trips to the atmospheric Cham ruins of My Son, biking out into the surrounding country or taking a leisurely sampan ride on the Thu Bon River.