Drifting along the river by the colonial waterfront façade of historic Hoi An takes you back to the Vietnam of a bygone era. Originally a port town that dates back to 1595, it attracted traders from all sorts of different nationalities – Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese. As such, it was the first cosmopolitan centre on the South China Sea. The narrow streets are charmingly devoid of traffic and walking them you can feel as though you’ve gone back in time and away from the bustle of modern-day Vietnam. But bustle there is, at the local vegetable and waterfront fish market, and along the adjacent dock. A quick negotiation with one of the woman unloading produce from their shallow boats will get you a relaxing paddle to the peace and quiet in the middle of the river. Then you may be taken past the town’s colonial architecture and on to the riverfront stilt villages for a further look at the vibrant life of Hoi An.
You’ve probably got a favourite shirt, blouse or skirt and wish you had another the same. Or you might dream of a custom mod-cut suit lined with striped fuschia satin, or a stylish summer cocktail dress that won’t break the bank. Here in the colonial ambience of Hoi An you’re able to get one, or several, made to your exact specifications by one of its famed and inexpensive tailors. Amongst colourful bolts of cloth, style catalogues and wooden carvings, families of shop attendants will fuss over and measure you up like the finest on Saville Row. And have your new clothes cut and stitched overnight. Alterations are done in a cinch too. So, stand with your arms out and legs apart and let the tailors of Hoi An get to work and make your sartorial dreams reality. Just be sure to have fun with bargaining!
Hue may boast 'royal cuisine', but nearby Hoi An is arguably the more atmospheric place to explore the Vietnamese palate. It doesn't take long exploring the town to discover how much the locals appreciate their food around these parts: hawkers' stalls busy up for breakfast; lunchtime cafes spill out on to the streets; and come evening time restaurants in French-colonial buildings are packed with diners, locals and visitors alike. The country's tasty staples are all present and correct in Hoi An, from bowls of steaming beef soup noodles to sticky rice cakes, but be sure to seek out central Vietnam's culinary highlights as well. Hoi An's cosmopolitan past resulted in fusion food long before the idea became fashionable, and those international flavours live on in its dishes, from Chinese rice dumplings to won tons to spiced-up cao lau, each with a depth of flavour and balance of ingredients that will have you ordering extra helpings.