A few years ago market traders and food stalls were pushed out of Hoi An‘s old town in a bid to clean up the streets, leaving traders relocating outside the guarded boundaries of the pedestrian-ised zone. Then the Quang Nam authorities cleared the old central market and provided a new “cleansed zone”, in which a number of the family-run food stalls relocated to serve both locals and visitors wishing to sample the best of Hoi An’s specialty dishes all under one roof. For the food traders and the old town this has worked out remarkably well, but for a while the families who ran0p lantern and souvenir stalls were left with nowhere to trade.
In 2011 this all changed and an area across the river on the once barely inhabited banana plantation islet of An Hoi was cleared to make space for what is now one of the most beautiful night markets I have ever visited.
An Hoi has been in the throws of a teenage growth spurt long enough for it to become a smaller but almost mirror image of its bigger sister Hoi An and it’s getting bigger. A boat dock has been added to its sleeve of tricks with plans in the not so distant future to relocate the main ferry point from the dock on Bach Dang to its quieter, greener shores. All but a few of the houses lined up along the river have transformed into a wide range of restaurants, from the boutique Fusion Lounge to the more humble Chips, Fish and Stuff with its 4,000 VND fresh beer, the best spot by far to sit and watch the world go by. Alfresco has plonked itself a few metres right of the bridge from the old town, with seating overlooking the lantern festival of Hoi An’s night market.
The mainstay of the night market are the silk lanterns that Hoi An is famous for, with the growing number of stalls keeping the prices competitive. The choice of styles is endless, with traditional silk, lace and chiffon alongside detailed handpainted cottons — in fact just like the local tailors will whip up any design you throw at them usually on the spot. Even if you don’t fancy carrying one around in your rucksack across Southeast Asia you can at least see these guys in action without having to pay to go on a lantern-making tour. It’s bloody hard to resist though — somehow I came back with three, one of which I had handpainted with the Union Jack in the time it took to glug back a jug of Sangria across the street. The price was $18, which is what you’d pay for just one in the shops in town.
Lanterns are not the only thing on offer though, with plenty of stalls laden with trinkets, jewellery, silk fans and, um, cheese graters — according to that stallholder ” foreigners like cheese”. They line the street from sunset till 21:00 or 22:00, with the lantern stalls opening up slightly earlier at around 16:00. The best time to visit is as night falls and An Hoi becomes the island of a thousand lanterns.
Once you’ve filled your boots at the market, especially if you’ve not yet sampled a nice cold fresh bia hoi, you should make your way to a restaurant called An Hoi directly opposite the bridge (though the staff here have an appalling lack of manners that make it an almost comedic experience). For dinner, pick any one of the riverside spots, but do try to sit upstairs on a balcony seat if you want to avoid hassle from the occasional hawker or have a particular dislike for the odd river rat making an appearance at your table. If you were looking for something a little more fine dining, Mango Rooms on the riverside to the right of the market is highly recommended for a splurge or at least a happy hour cocktail, which is served up with a few complimentary first-class nibbles.
By Caroline Mills
Last updated on 13th November, 2014.