First, a clarification – I loved both Hue and Hoi An – but neither was what I had expected. Many travelers we’ve met on our trip praised Hoi An, but described Hue as a “one-night town.” So we were pleasantly surprised when we pulled into Hue.
Our first day found us on a 25 km bike ride around the outskirts of the city. Chandler wanted to visit the royal tombs, but neither of us was keen on joining a large tour – and neither of us have any business driving a motorbike after two years in Ethiopia – so we thought our best option was bicycles.
With a heat index of 40C and more hills than we had anticipated, it turned out to be an ungodly hot day – much like every other day we’ve experienced in Vietnam. Someone once told me it rains every day in Vietnam – they lied.
So after thoroughly sweating through our clothes (and Chandler’s backpack! Gross), we were able to see Khai Dinh Tomb & Tu Duc Tomb. The first was definitely more impressive, structurally, but Tu Duc Tomb is surrounded by a picturesque garden, making it a lovely place to spend the day.
My only recommendation, if you ever do this trek yourself: Rent motorbikes, not bicycles, or pay someone to take you.
That evening (after the world’s longest cold shower and a restful afternoon), we decided to take in the night market. It was pretty much what you’d expect – delicious smelling food that you hope won’t give you food poisoning (although the presence of flies makes you mighty suspicious), more trinkets than could ever be purchased, and bundles of clothes that people somehow know will fit them.
But the true spectacle of the night was the Truong Tien Bridge, built by none other than Gustave Eiffel (Eiffel Tower & Statue of Liberty). The bridge spans the Perfume River and is spectacularly lit up at night.
The next morning was spent inside the citadel at the Purple Forbidden City. It was hard to get a grasp on just how majestic this city once was – we bombed large portions of it during the war and they were never rebuilt. But what was still standing was impressive. The main gate was under construction (as well as numerous other buildings), but the side gate was still gape-worthy.
The rest of our time in Hue was spent wandering the streets, gorging ourselves on food (so much better than our previous few cities), a pool day (Hong Thien Ruby Hotel was great!), and taking in the full moon celebration. Every night of our stay, a handful of locals dressed up in dragon costumes and roamed the city streets with drums and other instruments.
Easy to say, we were sad to leave Hue. But everyone had talked up Hoi An, so we knew we were in for something great. Our first night we weaved our way through Hoi An’s Ancient Town (named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999). During the week, no motorized vehicles are allowed in the protected area, giving the town a more medieval feel.
We quickly realized that our tour on the way to dinner had taken us through nearly the entire town. Despite what everyone says about Hoi An, there isn’t exactly a lot to see. We purchased passes to enter the city (not required but highly recommend, and cheap), which included tickets into five cultural sites. We peaked into a couple of old houses and found the Japanese covered bridge. Most things were fairly underwhelming after the grandeur of Hue’s tombs, but we did find some fairly epic dragon statues made of mosaics in an assembly hall.
But, don’t worry, we soon found something to hold our attention – and keep us in the city an extra day: tailor-made clothing. When we had first arrived at Blue Clouds Homestay, our hosts asked if we had any plans on getting clothes made. We quickly informed them of our travel plans and the impossibility of carrying clothes around with us for another three months. It took all of ten minutes walking through the city to change our minds.
That night, after dinner, we were back in our room looking up reviews of the best tailors. Chandler anxiously downloaded images from the most recent GQ, while I frantically scrolled through every clothing photo I had ever saved on Pinterest.
I’ll save you from the details, but by the end of our five days in Hoi An, I had purchased two dresses, a pair of shorts, a replica tank top (from one of my favourites), a pair of boots, and heels. Chandler now has two suits, eight dress shirts, two ties, and handmade bag of suede and leather. All created from hand-picked fabrics, tailor-made to our measurements. And all shipped back to Texas to save us the hassle of trying to carry them with us (for only $84!).
We used two tailor shops in Hoi An – Wall Street Tailors for the more intricate work (custom dress & shorts, suits & shirts) and Tam Thu Fashion for the simpler pieces (basic dress & replica tank). We used Than Thien Friendly Shop for the heels and bag and would have used them for the boots as well, but they didn’t have the right fabric. Ocean Shop was recommended instead and they did a great job. We really can’t recommend these four shops enough! A friend of ours unfortunately had a disastrous suit and pair of boating shoes made from someone else during the same time : /
But, I don’t want to give you the wrong impression of Hoi An. It really is a lovely city. We went for the history of the place, but stayed for more than just the clothes. The true beauty of Hoi An can be seen in the early morning and in the late evening. If you’re up early enough (or during low season), you’ll have the place pretty much to yourself.
The town also absolutely glows at night. Streets on both sides of the river are covered in paper lanterns and all along the river, tourists are floating little candle wishes. It’s almost like walking into a dream (if your dreams come with a little panhandling).
When we weren’t stressing out (unnecessarily) about fittings, we were enjoying all the atmosphere and charm Hoi An has to offer. And so, while the title of this post might have been a bit misleading, I can definitely say that both Hue and Hoi An deserve quite a bit of your attention.