Photo essay: Getting lost in Hoi An's old town

Go for a wander, pack a camera

What we say: 4 stars

If there ever were a destination worth throwing away your map for, Hoi An’s old town is the place to do so with gay abandon. For most visitors a wander through town consists of shoving out their elbows and trawling their way up and down the main drag, ticket in hand while muttering “No, I don’t want to come to your shop,” over and over.

The town was absolutely packed.

The town was absolutely packed.

Don’t get us wrong, the main town hosts stunning, beautiful examples of ancient Chinese, French and Japanese architecture and a sampan-strewn river with a scattering of wonderful places to stop and cool down over a plate of something local while watching the world go by.

A secret door down an alleyway off Le Loi Street

A secret door down an alleyway off Le Loi Street.

It can make for perfect, lazy carefree days, but the charm is lost when you get home and every photo you have includes a snap-happy tourist or nine.

It wouldn't be Hoi An without a few alley lanterns.

It wouldn’t be Hoi An without a few alley lanterns.

So what should you do? Click your heels and dive down an alley.

Just tucked behind Nguyen Thai Hoc.

Just tucked behind Nguyen Thai Hoc.

A whole new world of charm and character awaits, you know, all that stuff they say about bygone eras; down the alleys is where it’s at in Hoi An.

An old Cham well down an alley near Tran Phu.

An old Cham well down an alley near Tran Phu.

What’s best about following this tactic is the alleys are totally off the radar of the packs of cruise ship tourists (their umbrellas don’t fit, it’s wonderful).

Look out for the Old Garden Restaurant signs off Tran Phu Street for this little hidden gem.

Look out for the Old Garden Restaurant signs off Tran Phu Street for this little beauty.

A good start point is down by the central market. Tran Phu Street is littered with a labyrinth of alleyways that dart and meander past all the buildings UNESCO forgot about, and although some are dilapidated, they are original.

One UNESCO missed.

The one that got away.

Whole communities go about their daily lives away from the maddening crowds and the stringent rules in the main city are pushed aside, allowing for shocking behaviour like hanging out laundry and a few atmospheric fluorescent lights to stop you from coming a cropper while negotiating the alleys at night.

Alley industry.

Alley industry.

For those who are concerned by the safety issues involved in slipping down a quiet alleyway, the only thing you really need to worry about are the dogs; don’t walk over the threshold of someone’s property and you’ll find they shouldn’t even raise an eye.

Are those pants! In the old town?

Are those pants! In the old town?

So go on, be brave. Throw away the map and put your walking shoes on!

Last updated: 13th December, 2014

About the author:
After years of camping in her back garden in the New Forest, Caroline Mills’ parents went wild and jetted her off to Morocco where her dream of becoming a traveling belly dancer was born.
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