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.
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.
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.
So what should you do? Click your heels and dive down an alley.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
So go on, be brave. Throw away the map and put your walking shoes on!
By Caroline Mills
Last updated on 13th December, 2014.