Hoi An sits on a peninsula amid a cluster of islands in a wide river delta. The main river branch passing through town is the Hoai River, though people and maps commonly refer to it as the Thu Bon, of which it is actually a tributary.
With the endless rows of tailor shops, streets that suddenly change names or switch to one-way, Hoi An can be confusing at first but after a couple of rounds of walking, you’ll get the hang of it. The historic quarter is a grid pattern, with Bach Dang Street running along the river marking the southern edge. The central market flanks the eastern edge while the west is anchored by the iconic Japanese Bridge. Almost directly south of the Japanese Bridge is the bridge over to An Hoi, an islet that doesn’t have the same UNESCO building restrictions. Unlike the historic quarter, where everything closes by 22:00, on An Hoi you’ll find bars and restaurants open until midnight.
Every day from 08:00 till 11:00 and 15:00 till 21:30 the old town is closed to motorised vehicles and open only to pedestrians and cyclists -- though it is difficult to get around on bicycle with so many tourists on foot. Certain sights within the old town such as pagodas, old houses and assembly halls require a 120,000 dong ticket.
ATMs are widely available (they really want you to spend here). Most charge around 20,000 dong per withdrawal, with a frustratingly low limit of 2 million dong per transaction. However, Agri Bank on the corner of Tran Hung Dao Street, where it meets Le Loi Street, has a withdrawal limit of 3 million dong and does not charge an ATM transaction fee.
Internet and WiFi is available everywhere. Everywhere. 3G will get you through during Hoi An’s frequent power outages, which sometimes last more than a day.
The main post office is on Tran Hung Dao Street at the corner of Hoang Dieu. It has air-con and desks to sit at and write out postcards.
Hoi An's main hospital is at the intersection by the traffic lights where Le Loi meets Tran Hung Dao; it’s cheap, sufficient for stitches but basic. The private Pacific Hospital at 6 Phan Dinh Phung Street is where tourists usually head. The emergency is open 24 hours.
Heading to Da Nang is an even better bet. Hoan My Hospital at 161 Nguyen Van Linh Street is the top hospital. For family medicine, Family Medical Practice is excellent. They have foreign English-speaking doctors on staff, their own laboratory for blood/urine tests, pharmacy and vaccinations.
Family Medical Practice Danang: 50-52 Nguyen Van Linh Street, Hai Chau District, Da Nang; T: (0511) 3582 699, 24 hr (0913) 917 303; www.vietnammedicalpractice.com.
Hoan My Hospital: 161 Nguyen Van Linh St, Thanh Khe District, Da Nang; T: (0511) 3650 676, (0169) 616 7172; www.hoanmy.com.
Hoi An Hospital: 4 Tran Hung Dao St, Hoi An; T: (0510) 861 364.
Pacific Hospital: 6 Phan Dinh Phung, Hoi An; T: (0510) 3921 656, (0510) 392 1887; pacifichospital.com.
A little bit of common sense and humility goes a long way in bridging the gap between cultures and understanding the basics of Vietnamese etiquette makes a difference.
Hoi An itself is booming, however Quang Nam province is still one of the poorest in Vietnam, with most of the surrounding villagers surviving on farming and fishing. Thinking is far more conservative than in the big cities.
Dress to the occasion. In town, shorts and a T-shirt are fine. If you're planning on stopping in on a few pagodas and temples, the normal rule of covering shoulders and knees applies. Beachwear is fine at the beach but bathing topless or nude is a no-no. When walking, cycling or motorbiking around, wear a shirt — away from the beach, girls in bikini tops and bare-chested boys cause offence.
Never buy anything from a child no matter how cute they are. The same applies to paying for photos. These children are put on the street by their parents when they should be at school or at home in bed. The money they make, more often than not, is not used for helping the family or for the child’s education but for funding gambling or drinking habits. Donate to an NGO doing reputable work instead. There are many good ones. We’ve listed for instance Lifestart Foundation, Swim Vietnam and Ong Vang.
The Vietnamese are natural performers and most are happy to pose for a photograph. Before you shove your camera in their face though, it’s simple manners to chat and ask if it’s okay. If you are photographing a market stall owner, buy something from their stall and check they don’t mind rather than encouraging them to demand a fee. The exception to this is in the countryside. Farmers and fisherpeople do struggle and often live in poverty. If you offered 10,000 dong for their patience, it would really make a difference to them.
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you’ll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.