Turn all the lights on.
A place too beautiful too seem real. Packed with tourists who want two things: custom-tailored clothes, from head to toe, and like everywhere else, buy one get one for free (cocktails!). You can’t blame anybody for that, it is amazing, but the fact that all the pretty, historical, charming small buildings in the center of Hoi An are stuffed with either a tailor, a souvenir shop, or a westernized restaurant (some of them are good though!) gives you a hard time seeing the actual town and believing in its beauty and its background.
Luckily untouched during the American War, what you see is a place that dates back 2200 years and a strong international influence, mostly Chinese and Japanese, and becoming (well-deserved) a Unesco World Heritage site in 1999. Vietnamese people like the place and those who live there are proud of it.
Actually it only takes one bridge to get away from what you could call Hoi An’s “Business Center” to find a totally different and more real feeling about this place. Cross Cam Nam Bridge and drive to have a look at the variety of traditional small Vietnamese houses and the very calm and laid back ‘Hoi Anese’ lifestyle.
If you can switch that part of your brain off that says: “This place is only about making money and being ribbed off, tourists searching for what they think is authentic and cheap, what could be the cause for locals to be less friendly than, e.g. in Saigon, and there’s nothing more to see after one drive-threw”, you will be able to fall in love with the architecture, the lights at night time and the atmosphere having a walk during the day, when it’s too hot and everybody else hides in air-conditioned rooms.
If you want to feel real Hoi An, get up at 6, drive to the markets. You will be able to get real prices, see Vietnamese early bird lifestyle, get a bouquet of flowers for 5000VND and the freshest Pho for 20000. And when you decide to go shopping, bargain, but with a lot of humor, laugh with them, tell them you’re from Saigon, you know the real prices. They will enjoy it and laugh with you.
A few addresses for you to enjoy Hoi An:
Friendly tailor, wonderful service, good prices (about 15 Dollars for shirts, dresses or shorts):
The Ocean: 485 Cua Dai, Hoi An City, Quang Nam
Morning Market :)