A stroll around the faded facade of Hoi An’s old town casts a magical spell on even the tightest of purse strings; baggage allowance may be forgotten and bags soon crammed with iconic Hoi An kitsch. If what you are after is tourist tat, then let Hoi An be your guide; we won’t be held responsible for that tailored skinny fit brocade suit, the last minute Laboutins and those half-dozen lanterns. But if you’re taste is more to the pages of Home Beautiful, then you are going to need some guidance.
For keepsakes that come with a ‘quite possibly made in Hoi An, not China’ stamp, step away from the markets and take your inspiration from village names: carpentry, pottery, marble, slate, brass and silk are all locally crafted and although these villages are well worth a visit (each craft village comes with its very own retail outlet) to avoid the tourist mark-up you’re better off saving your haggling for the independent shops in Hoi An where the competition for custom is much fiercer.
For art, head straight over the Japanese Bridge to bohemian Nguyen Minh Khai Street, where you’ll find treasures such as propaganda poster prints, awe-inspiring oils and Chinese rice paper art. It’s a refreshing break from the similar but more expensive galleries you’ll find in the central streets of the old town.
For those looking to kit out their kitchens, fans of the old classic blue and white ceramics will find their nirvana in the little known wholesale outlet that sits on the corner of Bach Dang and central market. The choice, quality and price here beats all the competition in town hands down.
For something slightly more ‘antique’ than this season’s fish or flower designs then the smaller shops along Bach Dang keep a stash of unsold collections in dusty backrooms resembling the Hoi An horde, for which you can pretty much name your price — Hoi An shop owners don’t like old stock.
For food paraphernalia – coffee, spices and Quang Nam specialities like delicious chilli jam — tuck yourself into the food market between the fresh market and food hall at Hoi An’s central (Cho) market where you will find stalls heaving with five spice powder, cinnamon, turmeric and black pepper that easily compares with the Kampot stuff for a fifth of the price (Ed: Oh really?).
You’ll also find clay pots, marble pestle and mortar sets and coconut wood cooking utensils, all handy for recreating your cooking class experience back home. If hunger strikes or you need inspiration you can always head to either the neighbouring food hall or famous Phuong’s Banh Mi.
A final last word for those whose holiday really isn’t complete without a scattering of tat: dig in your elbows and cast your eyes past the daunting cloth market, as upstairs your needs will be fully catered for at wholesale prices.
By Caroline Mills
Last updated on 19th December, 2013.