Glittering lanterns twinkled overhead as we made our way from the waterfront and into the maze of Hoi An’s old town. Shopkeepers swept leaves from their shop fronts, while tourists peeked into their doorways trying to catch a glimpse of the hidden treasures within. It’s easy to see what it is that draws backpackers and holidayers alike to Hoi An. For me though, the draw of Hoi An was more than it’s charm.
I stood with Bear to my right as we looked up at a painting of the fishermen of Hoi An. The traditional nets, being cast out on the river from small wooden boats. But as I looked at the painting with it’s golden, orange tones behind the dark solid figures in the centre, I began to develop a deeper understanding of Vietnam.
A country moving very quickly towards a new modern future, with it’s huge, hectic cities and yet a country proud of the fundamental traditions and ways of life. Vietnam is an interesting country to visit at the moment, because while the sun is setting on a time now passed, it is still anchored to the simplicities that make it such a beautiful and unique part of the world.
So while Hoi An to many is known to many for its lanterns and it’s tailors, to me, Hoi An is the place where I first began to deeply understand the level of change that is prevalent throughout South East Asia. Hoi An is a place that centres around a bustling tourism industry and yet is a stones throw away from rural Vietnam, making it a wonderful stop when travelling through Vietnam with young children.
Hoi An with young children
Hoi An is a relatively easy place to travel in Vietnam. Numerous cafes serving both western and local food line the waterfront. The pushy selling that is very present in busier cities such as Hanoi is not present in Hoi An and most people speak relatively good English.
Where to stay in Hoi An with kids:
We stayed a short walk away from Hoi An’s old town in a hotel called Thanh Binh 2 Hotel. We opted for a family room, which meant we had a lots of space, two double beds, a hot shower and a balcony. Guests also have the option of breakfast and use of a pool, both of which are located in the neighbouring Thanh Binh 3.
What to do in Hoi An with kids
Do a spot of shopping in Hoi An’s old town
Hoi An has a amazing selection of shops that sell everything from Danish inspired children’s clothes and bamboo garments to holiday souvenirs and unique artwork, making it a great place to do a bit of shopping.
Lifestart Foundation is a charity that is set up to help disadvantaged families, so if you are looking to give back while on your travels, take a wander down to the Lifestart Foundation shop in Hoi An’s old town. From here people can browse around the beautiful items on sale, as well as enquire about classes, workshops and volunteering.
For travellers who enjoy adventuring into the more rural areas, a countryside bike tour is an amazing experience to embark on. We booked our tour with Heaven and Earth Tours and found them to be a great company that also catered to young children. Our bikes had sturdy child seats, the boys were given reasonably well fitted helmets and our guide was incredibly knowledgable about both the traditional way of life in the region and the changes happening throughout the country, which gave us a real insight into ‘real Vietnam’. We had such a great morning on our tour and enjoyed exploring the beautiful countryside with its vast green fields, clear blue sky and grazing buffalo.
Release a lantern
While we visited Hoi An, TET (Vietnamese New Year) was on. TET is a huge deal in Vietnam, many establishments, banks and businesses shut down for the holiday and Vietnamese people travel long distances returning to their hometowns to celebrate with their family. Hoi An during TET gets extremely busy, with street performances taking place and market stalls, fairground style games and amusements set up. In Hoi An during TET there were many people selling lanterns to release onto the river. The belief is that each lantern is a prayer and a piece of someone’s soul, so are not touched during the festivities. Bear was so excited to set a lantern into the river and it felt incredibly special to be a part of such a special occasion.
We were very thankful to be in Hoi An during TET, so we could witness the lanterns being released on such a special occasion, but you don’t have to visit Hoi An during TET to release a lantern. There is also a lantern festival every month (except February), which travellers can participate in.
Take a boat ride
This isn’t something we did personally, but we did see many families taking a boat ride down the river. During the day larger boats tour up and down the river with large groups and in the evening smaller boats take individual travellers and families up and down a different section of the river. We did notice the river looked incredibly overcrowded with boats by 8pm. While that may have been because TET was on, it may be worth heading down a bit earlier in case this is just common practice in Hoi An.
Walk through the Japanese Bridge
The Japanese Bridge is an iconic part of Hoi An’s history and was built in the late 1500’s by the Japanese community to link them to the Chinese quarters. The Japanese Bridge has a beautiful and intricate design, with a temple in the middle of it. The boys loved looking over at the waterfront from the bridge and Bear was intrigued by the writing on the outside of the temple and the scents wafting our from inside.
Dine on the waterfront
As expected food and drink along the waterfront is more expensive than the restaurants a ten minute walk away from Hoi An’s old town. It is worth paying a bit extra for at least one meal on the waterfront in Hoi An as the views in the evening are extremely beautiful. It is very calming sitting by the water and watching the world go past, especially when lanterns are being released into the river.
Water Puppet show
Visiting a water puppet show in Hoi An is an absolute must if visiting the city with young children. Water puppets are specific to Vietnam and are a wonderful craft to watch. It is also a great way of learning about the classic stories of Vietnam. The boys absolutely loved watching a water puppet show and Bear has been asking to go and watch another show. Showings are on a Tuesday, Friday and Saturday at the open theatre, which is a short walk away from Hoi An’s old town. Shows are approximately 45 minutes long, which is long enough for the children to settle into the performance, but short enough to keep their interest.
Visit a tailor
Hoi An is know for it’s tailors and many people visit to get clothes made for them. Although this isn’t something we did as a lot of the tailors were closed during our time in Hoi An because TET was on.
Take an afternoon to visit temples
The temples in Hoi An are vastly different from those in places such as Chaing Mai, making an interesting place to explore. A lot of the temples in Hoi An have strong Chinese influences, which highlight the history of the towns trading past. Bear found the large stone dragons fascinating and Monkey loved looking at the engravings on the walls of the temples. During our travels we have found visiting temples with the boys has helped them develop an understanding of different religions and cultures, so try to set aside an afternoon to visit the temples in each destination we visit.
Hoi An is a great central stop while travelling through Vietnam and can split up long journeys between the north and south. We really enjoyed our time in Hoi An and found it a beautiful place to explore. With that in mind, it is very much on the tourist path and potentially not the place for travellers looking to get a bit more off the beaten path. We personally welcome a tourist hotspot from time to time while travelling, especially with young children in tow and for us we found Hoi An a welcoming, charming place and one that for me, will always be the place where I found a painting that made me see Vietnam in a new, more insightful way.