Hoi An radiates old-world charm. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh may grab the headlines but this small town on the eastern coast of central Vietnam has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1999. The city’s history as a trading port remains a focal point of its modern identity – and old Vietnamese, Chinese, French and Japanese architecture abound – but to say Hoi An survives off its former glories would be a grave injustice. This town is alive and kicking.
Things to do
Acquainting yourself with the Old Town should be high on your agenda. Although it doesn’t span a vast territory, the narrow alleyways and their hidden wonders lie on both sides of the Thu Bon River. Popular sites include the 16th century Japanese Bridge and the area’s historical houses. Tickets from the tourist information centre allow you to enter and leave the sites at your leisure – a luxury given the spike in the number of visitors that appear later in the day. Evening boat rides along the river are the best way to see the lights and lanterns that dot the glistening waterfront.
The historic My Son temple
Two hours inland lies My Son, formerly the heartland of the Viet Cong army that fought United States’ forces during the Vietnam War. A day trip to the My Son Hindu temple ruins highlights the damage done to the region during the conflict: many of the 14th century Cham dynasty buildings were destroyed during air bombings and bomb craters remain visible to this day.
Where to eat
Local delicacies from the region include com ga, a dish of chicken and rice cooked in broth and turmeric, and cao lau, a noodle soup dish with sliced pork. Cao lau is only found in Hoi An and is said to derive its unique flavour from the water collected in the ancient Cham wells of the town.
One of the more popular restaurants in the Old Town is Morning Glory (106 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Minh An, +84 235 2241 555; msvy-tastevietnam.com), which has a range of central Vietnamese delicacies and street food. Elsewhere, Secret Garden (60 Le Loi, Minh An, +84 235 3911 112) is an elegant French colonial-style restaurant serving regional cuisine worth a visit.
What to drink
In the height of summer, with temperatures reaching 35 degrees Celsius, you may find yourself in need of a caffeine fix to counteract the withering effects of the heat. Head to the Hoi An Roastery (Various locations inc 135 Tran Phu St, +84 510 3927 772; hoianroastery.com) for freshly made drip coffee.
Hoi An’s bars wake in the early evening as the lanterns that litter the city’s streets come to life. Riverfront bars like the Mango Rooms (111 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Minh An, +84 235 3910 839; mangorooms.com) are the perfect place to sit with a sundowner and celebrate a weekend well spent.
How to get there
Cathay Pacific runs direct flights to Da Nang Airport, a 45-minute drive from Hoi An, from $710 (inc taxes).
Where to stay
Value for money The Lasenta Bouqitue Hotel is located 10 minutes from the old town and rooms boast picturesque views of rice paddies. From $80 a night; lasentahotel.com.
Middle of the road: The four-star Anantara Resort is a riverfront property that blends various influences from Hoi An’s rich cultural history. From $240 a night; hoi-an.anantara.com.
The big splurge: Four Seasons The Nam Hai is a luxury property that boasts three kilometres of pristine, private beaches. From $920 a night; fourseasons.com.