Vietnam: Hanoi or Hoi An?
November 24, 2009 9:52 PM   Subscribe

3.5 days in Vietnam: Hanoi or Hoi An?

We're going to Vietnam for a week over new year's. Half of it will be in a beach resort in Mui Ne; the other half could be in Hanoi or Hoi An. Which should we do? We're three people, 30ish, interested in food and culture and art and nature more than nightlife, etc.
posted by raf to Travel & Transportation around Vietnam (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Either will be enjoyable. Hoi An is genuinely charming but there is not much to do; 'nature' in any meaningful sense will not be found there. If you're happy to bum about it can be relaxing but Hanoi has infinitely more options available and some really great day trips (e.g ceramics village) as well.
posted by smoke at 10:26 PM on November 24, 2009

I vote for Hanoi. While it doesn't have the immediate sense of history that Hoi An has, there's far more you can do inside Hanoi compared to Hoi An. I wish I had had more time to explore Hoan Kiem Lake and the Old Quarter. Just have the presence of mind to dodge the millions of scooters on the streets, and you're all set.

Hanoi's food experience is best encapsulated in Quan An Ngon on 18 Phan Boi Chau in the Hoan Kiem District - short distance from the Temple of Literature, which is a must-see for culture fiends in Hanoi. Among other things, we ordered crab drizzled in tamarind sauce, and it was HEAVENLY. (Another review, this one from the Noodlepie blog.)

Too bad you can't postpone your trip for another year - Hanoi will be celebrating its 1000th anniversary in October next year; if you do go this year, you'll benefit from the first phase of prettifying in preparation for next year's festivities.
posted by micketymoc at 10:28 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

These are two very different cities.

Hanoi is a city that, when I visited, seemed like it would be very nice to live in. Great street food, pleasant shopping districts, wonderful parks and green spaces, French café and pastry culture left over from the colonial days. Beer is cheap and plentiful. It's all wonderful. There are very few tourists, the people there feel true, and overall, I liked how the city kept its distinct character. All the great metropolis of the world are beginning to look alike, as international companies are taking over and building chain stores and shopping malls. That hasn't happened in Hanoi. If you want to feel what it's like to live in Vietnam, go to Hanoi.

Hoi An on the other hand, is a very strange phenomenon. So strange, the whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is composed of 140 tailors, and about as many fancy restaurants to entertain the rich tourists -- and nothing else. There are many spectacular culinary experiences to be had in Hoi An of the kind that you could never afford outside of Vietnam. The tailors who do business in Hoi An are world class, and will craft a custom dress or suit to your specification overnight, for 80$. Just bring them a picture of what you have in mind. It's just incredible how good they are. The city is beautiful, magical, and very romantic. If you just got married, to go Hoi An.
posted by gmarceau at 11:32 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you want to get clothes made, then 3.5 days in Hoi An sounds about right. The beach nearby (a bike ride away) is pleasant. The (?) My Son Heritage site outside of Hoi An is interesting, and requires most of a day if you are interested in 'culture'. The food of Hoi An is interesting and regional too.

If you want to experience Viet Nam as lived by the Vietnamese, Ha Noi wins hands down. Get away from the interesting, but touristed, Old Quarter, to the markets, the coffee shops and small street restaurants around Truc Bac Lake, and maybe visiting Uncle Ho's Mausoleum ~ even if just to see the reverence of so many queuing so patiently for a few glimpsed moments.

Remember that it will be colder at this time of the year. It may be an issue, depending on where you are coming from.
posted by Flashduck at 12:48 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have to agree with gmarceau, the two cities are so different, it's not fare to compare them.

Hanoi is the hustle and bustle of Vietnam, Hoi An is the somewhat more sleepy, tourist centric mecca of made to order clothing.

I quizzed many fellow travelers during my time in Vietnam about their view on Hoi An, and the majority who didn't like Vietnam in general loved Hoi An, whereas the ones who liked Vietnam in general spent most of their time in the country.
posted by felspar at 1:25 AM on November 25, 2009

agree with most people - hoi an is charming but apart from eating cake an having a suit made there's not much else on offer.

I went to my son and it was an ok day out - not astonishing but I'd been to Angkor wat on the same trip.

Hanoi is a nice city and there's frankly a lot more to do there and in the area. my trip was coloured by the worst rains in 30 years, I'm sure you'll have better luck.
posted by 6am at 3:58 AM on November 25, 2009

Hanoi was probably my favourite big city in Asia. Lots to do, and generally an interesting city.

Hoi An was a treat too, though. I loved the beach (but it sounds like you'll get enough of that).

Since you have to choose, I'd go with Hanoi, but you really can't go wrong either way.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:09 AM on November 25, 2009

Hanoi. Old Quarter. Beer in an alley, and fan-fucking-tastic steak frites.
posted by aramaic at 5:36 AM on November 25, 2009

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