Along with Da Lat, Hoi An is one of my favourite places i've visited in Vietnam (so far). It's little town on the river which basically comprises of just 3 main streets (with lanes branching off) but has character and charm aplenty, no modern, highrise or office buildings here. It's an historical and very rustic place where all the architecture is heavily influenced by Chinese and Japanese designs (16th century so says my guidebook) and in a lot of ways it feels like an old European city such as Venice (not that i've been). All the shops - and there are many - are all independent retailers specialising in tailoring, silks, shoes and art - all of which can be custom fitted and made to your specifications. There's also the usual souvenir shops but the stuff here isn't half as tacky as i've seen previous places. Believe me you could spend ALOT of money here, but only alot in a Vietnamese way, it's all still much cheaper than the UK.
The people here are also very friendly & helpful and i've enjoyed eating by the river in the very social surroundings of the market. I've also indulged in some of the local specialities such as Cau Lau (flavoursome noodles with pork) and Wonton (crackers with shrimp and vegetables in a tangy sauce) -both of which come recommended. Also yesterday for something they call "The Heritage Journey" festival, Miss Universe (I kid you not - she's apparently Vietnamese) was paraded through the streets of Hoi An followed by an army of classic VW Beetles, campervans and Vespas'. T'was pretty cool, wouldn't have been out of place in somewhere like Brighton - give or take Miss Universe.
So I say if you ever come to Vietnam and you're short on time, the only places you need visit are Da Lat and Hoi An, with a possibly a few days in Ho Chi Minh and Can Tho. The North I have yet to see but im leaving on a bus today to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam so we shall see.
Tom Havell, suited and booted. X