Hoi An City and Culture

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Hoi An City and Culture
Whether you want to delve into the heritage of the old port, get outfitted by one of the town’s legion of tailors, or simply luxuriate over a cocktail in a riverside lounge, Hoi An has enough in its locker to keep you occupied for days.
By Duncan Forgan, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of Yaly Couture
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    Made to Measure
    Some attribute Hoi An’s plethora of tailor shops to its history as a center for the silk trade, even though the bespoke-clothing boom is a recent one. Others maintain that the phenomenon comes from a Vietnamese propensity for copycat businesses. Either way, the ancient town has established itself as the place to get clothes made in Southeast Asia. If getting a custom-made suit is on your Vietnam wish list, there are several reputable tailors in town – but they won't be cheap. Yaly Couture is expensive but highly regarded. Other respected names include A Dong Silk and Thu Thuy.
    Photo courtesy of Yaly Couture
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    Architectural Wonders
    The warren of streets and alleys set back from the Thu Bon River reveal everything from Japanese merchant houses to Chinese pagodas and ancient tea warehouses. Key sights are many, and are easily navigable in a couple of hours of walking. The most iconic symbol of Hoi An’s trading past is the town’s beautiful covered Japanese bridge, a faithful recreation of a bridge that was constructed by the Japanese community in the 1590s. Other architectural highlights include the ornate Cantonese Assembly Hall, featuring kitschy and colorful dragon statues, and Tran Duong House, built in French-colonial style in the 19th century.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    A Day in Danang
    Most tourists see little of Danang outside of the airport on their way to Hoi An, but the populous city is worthy of a few hours of anyone’s time. Clean and prosperous-feeling, Danang rewards unhurried investigation. Typical "must-see" attractions are thin on the ground compared to Hoi An, but the Museum of Cham Sculpture houses an impressive collection of relics. Danang's chief draw is the proximity to China Beach, and the clutch of luxury beach resorts that line the coast include big names such as Hyatt and Pullman. Danang’s center is also attractive, with contemporary eateries such as Limoncello, My Casa, Fat Fish, and the Waterfront that give Hoi An’s dining options a run for their money.
    Photo by Jose Fuste Raga/age fotostock
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    The Ancient Kingdom of Champa
    Much of Vietnam was ruled by the Kingdom of Champa until the 19th century, with the My Son temple complex as the empire's intellectual and religious center. Erroneously described by some as Vietnam’s Angkor Wat, the present-day ruins at My Son pale in comparison to the majestic remnants of the Khmer Empire. In fairness, Vietnam’s most extensive Cham ruins make for a fascinating day trip of historical significance when taken on their own merits. My Son's temples are unfortunately in poor shape today, with only about 20 structures surviving where at least 68 once stood, but the intimate nature of the site combined with the enchanting setting in a lush jungle valley overlooked by Cat’s Tooth Mountain compensate for any shortcomings.
    Photo by Vidler Steve/age fotostock
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    Retail Therapy
    Like many tourist towns, Hoi An harbors more than its fair share of tacky souvenirs, but a growing contingent of expatriate entrepreneurs and enterprising locals has given the town’s retail options a much-needed shot in the arm. Aside from the ubiquitous tailoring outlets, the majority of Hoi An’s shops are focused upon arts and crafts, souvenirs, and gifts. The town is famous for its Chinese-style lanterns, and the family-run Hoi An Handmade has been lovingly crafting examples for generations. Browse Mosaique Decoration's stylish modern lighting and furniture, and cross the bridge to Randy’s Book Xchange on Cam Nam Island to pour over thousands of used books.
    Photo by Dezerai Seitzer
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    A Stroll around Hoi An
    Shorn of horn-honking trucks and erratically piloted motorbikes—thanks to its UNESCO-listed status—Hoi An is a veritable oasis when compared to the rest of Vietnam. Pedestrians can take in a wide range of sights in a matter of a few hours. Start at the Old Town itself with its pagodas, old merchant houses, and colonial architecture. Continuing along the north bank of the Thu Bon River you’ll reach the town market, where vendors purvey an array of fruits, vegetables, fish, and meats. Finish off your promenade by crossing the bridge near the market to sleepy Cam Nam Island, where you can browse the books at Randy’s Book Xchange.
    Photo by Thomas Stankiewicz/age fotostock
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    Cocktail Hour
    Although better known for its dining scene than its drinking options, it is possible to let your hair down in Hoi An. Many of the town’s better restaurants are also well known for their impressive cocktails, and most have generous happy hours with two-for-one deals. The imaginative concoctions at Mango Rooms and Mango Mango are particularly enticing. There’s a decent selection of upscale drinking venues these days too. White Marble is the town’s first wine bar and has a selection to impress even the fussiest oenophile. Nearby, Q Bar is a mainstay of the Hoi An scene, with a cocktail list to rival the classiest nightspots in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.
    Photo courtesy of Q Bar
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    Hands-On Treatment
    Vietnam is no slouch when it comes to pampering weary limbs, with nearly as many massage therapists in Hoi An as tailors. Standards vary according to price, but the strong competition means that you can get a very reasonable kneading for a highly acceptable price. For the full pampering experience, there are a handful of more upscale options to choose from; the spa at the Nam Hai resort is particularly sumptuous. For something a little different, try the blind therapists at Hoi An Blind Massage Centre who are known for their skilled, sensitive hands.
    Photo courtesy of Balcony Media Group
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    Photogenic Hoi An
    Even a novice photographer can't go home with a bad shot in Hoi An. The town offers enough eye candy to keep even the speediest shutterbug constantly clicking, with a riverine setting, amazing architecture, and a surrounding tableaux of swaying palm trees, emerald rice paddies, and picture-postcard beaches. Photographer Etienne Bossot helps both budding snappers and experts to find the best photographic opportunities in town on his specialized photo tours. Not the camera type? Classes are also offered in lantern making, painting, and jewelry making.
    Photo by age fotostock