Hoi An floods. From late October until mid-December, Central Vietnam is wet, very wet, and some areas of Hoi An’s old town are literally underwater. Oh, and there are typhoons as well. Welcome to high season in Hoi An. Here’s some advice your travel agent won’t give you: pack your wellies and if you have concerns about spending your days swanning around town in a day-glo body-condom, you might want to bring your raincoat too.
Hoi An sits on low ground surrounded by waterways and mountain ranges, and then there’s a tidal influence as the main river meets the sea. Tides as we all know are influenced by the moon, so as the tourists flood here during October and November for the full moon festivities, so do the high tides — and if you are thinking a little rain never harmed anyone, then you most certainly have not witnessed the speed of Hoi An’s burst riverbanks flowing through the old town.
Having said that, if you are prepared, Hoi An is still one of the most incredible experiences you will have on your travels — whatever time of the year you stroll through the labyrinthine alleys of the old town, it feels like you are pulled back to an era long forgotten (I say the alleys, as these tend to be the silent, atmospheric parts of town where you will not be subjected to friendly cries of, ‘Buy something!’). During the floods you get to see something that in the Western world is becoming rather thin on the ground: the most inspiring sense of community as the town folk come together to help those affected and then again for the massive clean-up.
If you plan to be in town during the wet season, the best thing you can do is book yourself into a hotel out of the flood path (see above map), which means those romantic riverside retreats are strictly no-go areas. The best options for backpackers are Ly Thuong Kiet Street, for flashpackers it’s Hai Bai Trung Street, and those with more cash still should head to the beach.
If none of those options float your boat — ahem — then we have a flood map that you can check out before you check in. If you rare heading here during the full moon in October or November, for your own safety please check the weather a few days before you arrive — if there’s a typhoon heading this way, then you might want to stay where you are until it has passed. Foreca.com has the most accurate weather report for Hoi An from my experience.
As with everything Vietnamese, there are some unusual ways to predict a bad flood season. The talk is that 2012 is going to be one of them; the natter is it’s something to do with the shoots on the bamboo, but in all likelihood it’s more to do with the hydroelectric dams being built along the rivers near the old Ho Chi Minh trail — the second one of these has problems, so Hoi An will too.
Up until last year, it was possible to take a boat through the old town when the floods came, but the government has now banned tourists from jumping into sampan boats powered by 70-year-old plus women due to safety issues. The reason for this is a good one, and you should bear it in mind if you are going to try and slip past the police — if electrical wires fall into the water, you are going to fry.
Do be wary of booking cooking classes ahead and getting tailoring done if there is talk of imminent flooding as businesses do close down and it is difficult to get a refund if you have to leave for onward travel before the floods subside (if this does happen, try to get your hotel to help with communications).
Travel in and out of Hoi An is not affected unless there is a typhoon. If you are travelling north, phone your next hotel before you leave to be on the safe side, especially if your next destination is Hue, which tends to flood at the same time. If the constant rain is getting you down, go south — Mui Ne is baking — or far north — Sapa is at its most beautiful. The constant rain is a Central Vietnam thing.
And if your hotel floods… at worst you might have to move rooms or hotels (try not to stay on the ground floor). They all have generators, so you should still have power, but you might lose WiFi. It’s quite easy to imagine the worst as the flood waters usually hit during the night, but before you book a flight to safety, do jump on the first boat out of reception as you’re never more than a few hundred metres from dry land and the waters subside almost as quickly as they arrive.
A final bit of flood advice? You know those reviews about musty hotels? Check the dates, it takes a good two to three months to dry out a hotel.