I had high hopes for historic Hoi An described as “Vietnam’s most atmospheric and picturesque town” but was sorely disappointed.
The graceful, riverside town of Hoi An was once a major trading port attracting merchants from all over the world who influenced the grand and varied architecture. Hoi An’s UNESCO listed old town features a cosmopolitan smattering of Japanese and Chinese temples, merchant and clan houses and historic warehouses
The Thu Bon River silted up in the late 19th century ending the illustrious trading days of Hoi An and left the historic town in a beguiling time warp which reversed the town’s fortunes with the advent of a tourism boom.
Days pass meandering through Hoi An’s old town taking in the historic architecture, popping into explore the many different historic temples, assembly halls and pagodas, historic merchant’s houses and small museums giving an insight into the trades and multiculturalism that once shaped the town.
Hoi An’s iconic Japanese covered bridge that dates back to 1593 and is guarded on one side by monkeys and the other side with dogs to symbolise the animals that represent the years of the bridge’s construction and completion.
Wandering along the river as the sunset casts a brilliant hue across the small gathering of ships to the aged yellow buildings and once night falls watching the flickering lights of the candles floating on the river and glow of red lanterns hanging from the yellow shuttered buildings is a beautiful sight. The riverside looks incredible in the evening light as a few boats still go about their traditional business.
Hoi An is awash with delicious, atmospheric restaurants and cuisines, arts and crafts shops and is especially well known as the place to go to for an inexpensive tailor made suit.
Why I was disappointed with Hoi An
Rather than finding Hoi An delightful and being able to appreciate the historic atmosphere I felt that the tourism boom is really damaging the authentic feel of Hoi An’s historic town. Nearly every historic building in the Old Town was a touristy shop or restaurant which ruined the authenticity and atmosphere somewhat.
I was constantly and shamelessly harassed everywhere I went with cries of “You buy something” following me down the tourist crowded streets. Often aggressive sales people were constantly try to engage me in conversation with the aim to steer me into their shop to be measured for a suit or to look at the cheap tourist tat on the stalls of the night market.
The confusing ticketing system for the cultural sights like historic temples, houses and museums is, by Vietnamese standards, not good value for money. The tickets clearly state that they entitle entry to any of the attractions but some will say the ticket isn’t valid and try to get extra money from you anyway. The staff were not helpful and some were quite rude and aggressive.
As of April 2014 the tourist racket intensifies as a ticket (US$6) is required just to wander the streets of the Old Town. For more up to date information see Travelfish’s article on the changes.
Hoi An is a beautiful, historic city, it was voted by Wanderlust magazine as the best destination and as much as I wanted to enjoy it I can’t help feeling that it has already been ruined by tourism.
The multitude of shopping opportunities, hassle and the crowds of tourists overshadow and hide the real beauty of Hoi An and make it feel very inauthentic. It’s disappointing, the tourist trade is ruining the very reason to visit – unless of course you come all the way to Vietnam just to buy a suit!