Hoi An has been an important fixture in the tapestry that is Vietnam for a long time. It was one of the main trading ports in the 16th and 17th centuries, an integral part of the spice trade during the 7th - 10th centuries when it was controlled by the Champa people, and later a town with a strong merchant community. The marks of these influences are still heavily etched into the streets of Hoi An's old quarter.
If you want to know all about the food of Hoi An, and how the different cultures have influences the food of the region, check out our video below.
The Old Quarter is a massive draw for domestic and international tourists alike. For VND120,000 (around $US6) you get entry into the area as well as entry to 5 of the paid historical sights, such as; the Japanese Covered Bridge, museums, or historical houses. The money from the purchase of these tickets goes to the preservation and promotion of the historical sights. We feel it is important to support this kind of project and maintain it for future generations so we have no problem paying the price to ensure it will be around for years to come.
Hoi An's old quarter was inscribed as a UNESCO world heritage sight in 1999 and UNESCO oversees it's management plan to ensure compliance with guidelines. We have read many reviews from other travelers who have felt 'ripped off' by the entrance cost. However, we feel, that it is a small price to pay to visit so many sites and we felt the value justified the cost.
In Hoi An we visited the Japanese Covered Bridge, some historical houses, and Chinese Assembly Halls. The Japanese Covered Bridge - personally I thought walking through it, which is what you pay for, was overrated. I was happy enough taking pictures from the outside, which was free. The Chinese Assembly halls were an impressive experience, with finely manicured potted gardens and brightly coloured buildings.
What I will say is that the cost of items inside the old quarter is ridiculously marked up. You can save money by walking a couple of streets away from the old quarter to do your souvenir shopping, if you want to do any at all. You will also find that stores on the far side of the Japanese Covered Bridge, and the stores on the very fringes of the old quarter will have lower prices than the ones at the very heart. This is because tourists flock to the centre and will usually do their shopping there so vendors can charge a higher price.
Hoi An is famous for tailor made clothing and custom made shoes. Shoe shops are ubiquitous and it can be overwhelming to decide where to take your business. We spent a great deal of time deciding which one would suit us best. The staff were friendly, not pushy, and listened to our requests and made changes accordingly. Make sure you feel comfortable with the people making your shoes/clothes, and don't be afraid to ask customers in the store what their experience has been like.
Dean ordered 2 pairs of shoes; one casual leather shoe and one leather sandle. We arrived to pick them up but the sandles were not quite what he wanted, after explaining the alterations he required they made the changes and the shoes were ready to be picked up the following day. They were very reasonably priced, though we did have to haggle, and the product that we got in the end was high quality.
Our advice for getting shoes made are;
1. Have a clear idea of what you want, pictures help.
2. Express your expectations at the first, and make sure they understand what you will and will not accept. 3. If you are not happy with the product when you get it tell them, give them a chance to rectify it. After all they rely on word of mouth for their business so you are doing a disservice to the both of you by accepting an inferior product.