Hoi An Ancient Town, Vietnam (October 2017)
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Before I moved to Thailand, and for many years after I moved to Thailand in 2003, I never had any interest in Vietnam. This was possibly because Vietnam is a communist country and my preconceived ideas of a communist country told me that it wouldn't be very interesting or attractive. How wrong I was.
Probably some time in 2015 I started to see articles about Hoi An Ancient Town and because of my fondness for photography it looked exactly the kind of place I would enjoy visiting.
Woman cycling, Hoi An, Vietnam
I try to take my family for a break once or twice a year and usually we stay at a beach resort in Thailand that is within driving distance. This was due to happen again late in 2017, but I really didn't want to go to somewhere such as Trang, Krabi or Nakhon Sri Thammarat again.
These places are attractive and draw in many foreign tourists, but I have been many times. As I live in Thailand I had no interest in eating the same kind of food and dealing with the same kind of people that I deal with every day. I needed a change.
I spoke to my wife about a trip to Hoi An and because she has only ever been outside Thailand on one occasion (when we went down to Penang in Malaysia) it was quite easy to convince her.
Hoi An Introduction
Located in central Vietnam on the South China Sea coast with a river going inland, Hoi An is perfectly located for a trading port and this is what it became in the 16th century.
After Pope Alexander VI had decreed that the entire world outside of Europe would be divided between the Spanish and Portuguese (with absolutely no regard for the indigenous people of those countries), Portugal was keen to trade in Southeast Asian countries.
Street vendor, Hoi An, Vietnam
Spices from the East had become extremely popular in Europe, initially available through Portuguese traders, but other countries grew tired of having to go through a middle man and decided to trade directly themselves.
This resulted in the establishment of such organisations as the British East India Company, the Dutch East India Company, and similar ventures in other European countries. Hoi An was also considered to be a very important trading centre among Chinese and Japanese merchants.
Eventually the port of Da Nang (further north along the coast) took over and Hoi An became very quiet. It remained this was for several hundred years and later on, when the Americans dropped millions of tons of bombs on Vietnam, Hoi An - fortunately - sustained little damage.
Owing to the fact that it was a very well preserved ancient Southeast Asian trading port, Hoi An was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.
Hoi An Today
At some stage the people of Hoi An developed a tradition of displaying lanterns. Hat Yai, where I live, has a lantern festival once a year and it attracts many visitors. People like lanterns. Hoi An doesn't just have an annual lantern festival; it has lanterns all year round.
Hoi An at night
So, what we have is an extremely well preserved ancient Southeast Asian trading port covered in lanterns. It's absolutely perfect, but in many ways it is too perfect. If the Disney corporation were to open an ancient Southeast Asian trading port attraction in one of its theme parks, it would look exactly the same as Hoi An.
When you consider that the climate is welcoming, there is a rapidly developing Vietnamese tourism and hospitality industry, there is more tourism in the world nowadays than there has ever been before, and with the Internet it is so easy for people to discover places like Hoi An, it was inevitable what the end result would be.
Hoi An, beautiful as it is, is a constant heaving mass of tourists. Not only do tourists from all over the world come to stay in Hoi An, but every evening dozens of large tour buses bring in more tourists from Da Nang to see Hoi An after dark.
Hoi An at night
This has all happened fairly recently. The Australian owner of a restaurant in Hoi An was telling me that it was very different just five years ago, and that the rate of development isn't sustainable. I wish I had seen Hoi An earlier, but I missed the boat.
I started visiting Thailand in 1987 and have seen many locations in Thailand ruined by mass tourism. I understand that local people want to bring in as much tourist revenue as they can, but it is sad to see what happens.
The famous Japanese covered bridge in Hoi An, Vietnam
There is lots of development going on along the coast between Da Nang and Hoi An and Hoi An will only continue to receive more and more tourists. It remains to be seen whether the local authorities will allow this to happen, or whether they will limit the number of tourists to a sustainable level.
The nearest airport is at Da Nang and there are several flights from various destinations in Asia. I flew from Bangkok with Bangkok Airways and the flight takes around 90 minutes. From Da Nang the drive to Hoi An is relaxed and takes around 40 minutes.
Da Nang International Airport, Vietnam
The airport at Da Nang is modern and efficient. I made a request to my hotel for a driver to meet us at the airport. The price was 500,000 VND for a 7-seat car (Toyota Fortuner) or Bt400,000 for a 4-seat car (Toyota Avanza).
I thought this price was quite reasonable, however, in Hoi An I saw taxi trips to Da Nang advertised for as low as 240,000 or 250,000 VND.
Taxi fare from Hoi An to Da Nang
Visa requirements change all the time and it is imperative that you check just before travelling.
I have a UK passport and I believe that citizens from about five European countries do not require a visa for Vietnam if their visit is less than 15 days (visa exemption). My wife and children have Thai passports and citizens from ASEAN countries can stay in Vietnam for up to 30 days without a visa.
If you are a citizen from a country that requires a visa on arrival to enter Vietnam you can apply on-line. There is a lot of information on-line.
There are many accommodation options in Hoi An ranging from large hotels to small guest houses and home stays. Just like Thailand, hotel room rates are quite cheap compared to most of the rest of the world. Rather than staying in Hoi An, you could stay in Da Nang, where there is better shopping during the day time, and just come into Hoi An in the evening to visit the old town.
Some people may prefer to stay right inside the pretty old town and this is quite possible in a hotel such as the Vinh Hung Heritage Hotel.
I am still patting myself on the back for my choice of hotel in Hoi An - La Residencia Hoi An Boutique Hotel And Spa. It was a fabulous hotel with the most amazing hotel staff I have ever met. The rooms were great, as was the food, as was the location. I recommend it highly.
Vinh Hung Heritage Hotel, Hoi An, Vietnam
La Residencia Hoi An Boutique Hotel And Spa, Hoi An, Vietnam
La Residencia Hoi An Boutique Hotel And Spa, Hoi An, Vietnam
La Residencia Hoi An Boutique Hotel And Spa, Hoi An, Vietnam
I have eaten at a few Vietnamese restaurants in Thailand and although the food has been satisfactory, I wasn't that impressed. The Vietnamese, like the Thais, eat a lot of pork, but unlike the Thais they also eat a lot of beef. They also have a fondness for eating cats and dogs.
A pig being spit-roasted in Hoi An, Vietnam
One of the positive legacies of the country being colonised by France for a long time is that there is a lot of bread. I tried the famous banh mi (baguette) with beef and it was good. They are available with other fillings and very cheap to buy from street vendors.
Banh Mi stall in Hoi An, Vietnam
My wife tried the pho bo (beef noodle soup) and said it was good. She is very fussy with her food and will normally only eat the kind of Thai food that her mother makes, so any kind of endorsement from her about food is good.
Ganesh Indian restaurant, Hoi An, Vietnam
International cuisine is very widely available and I was delighted to find out that Hoi An has about four Indian restaurants. The thing that many Brits abroad miss most of all from home is Indian food. I ate at both Ganesh and Baba's Kitchen, but preferred the food at Ganesh.
After about three days in Vietnam my wife started to have severe cravings for Thai food. There are some Thai restaurants in Hoi An and we ate at one called Thai Market. The waiter and chef were Vietnamese, the menu had nothing in Thai, but my wife said the food was satisfactory.
The climate in Hoi An is similar to where I live in southern Thailand. Throughout the year it is either hot or very hot, but never cold. From September to January it can be quite wet.
Hoi An suffers from flooding and in one doorway in the old town lines had been painted to indicate the height of floods in various years. In 1964 the flood level exceeded three metres. It would appear that all the major floods in Hoi An occurred in either October or November.
The rainy season can be very pleasant if it doesn't actually rain because the lower temperatures are a lot more comfortable. I went in October and although the weather was perfect when I first got to Hoi An, there was some rain later on.
A week or two after returning from Hoi An there was a huge flood.
Vietnam is one of those countries that needs to lose some zeroes from its currency. One million Vietnamese Dong isn't very much money and every time your restaurant bill arrives it is for hundreds of thousands of Dong. It's also a little concerning when your hotel bill arrives and the total is 10,580,000 VND. It takes a bit of getting used to.
In most countries 1,000 units of the local currency is normally quite a lot of money. However, using the exchange rate at the time of writing, 1,000 Vietnamese Dong is the equivalent of about 4.395 US cents.
The front of a Vietnamese 1,000 Dong note
The rear of a Vietnamese 1,000 Dong note
Vendors will often drop three zeroes when telling you the price of something. If they say '100' it actually means '100,000'. American dollars are widely accepted and the locals tend to use a fixed exchange rate of 20,000 dong for one dollar even though the rate fluctuates.
Fixed US dollar exchange rate in Vietnam
Many places in Hoi An offer to exchange money and - just like everything else - the rate varies enormously. If you are offered a rate and then walk away the person will normally call you back with a better offer. Exactly the same thing happens when you go shopping. You need to search around a little and use your best haggling skills.
I exchanged quite a lot of Thai Baht at Suwarnabhumi airport before we left for Vietnam and got a horrible exchange rate. My advice would be to exchange just enough for your taxi ride to the hotel when you arrive in Vietnam and then to change money locally where you will get a better rate.
Hoi An is quite small and the best way of getting around is to walk. The old town is restricted to just pedestrians and cyclists, thus there is no motorised transport. I wish that Thai tourist resorts would enforce such a policy.
Banana vendor, Hoi An, Vietnam
In places like Hoi An there is so much small detail that it is best to traverse the town as slowly as possible, and that means walking. At the end of the day you will probably have covered tens of kilometres, but there are plenty of massage shops where you can get an invigorating foot massage fairly cheaply.
If you do want to ride a bicycle there are places everywhere offering bike rental.
There are also lots of trishaw drivers in the old city who are always looking for business and hustling tourists. If you are tired of walking this is one way of seeing the old town while sitting down.
Trishaws in Hoi An, Vietnam
Once you are outside the old town there are metered taxis and motorbike taxis. I used taxis a few times and didn't have any of the problems I have in Thailand with taxi drivers trying to rip off foreigners.
Entrance To The Old Town
It can be quite confusing as to whether you have to pay to enter the old town, or not. I entered several times and was never asked to pay or show a ticket. I met people who had been in Hoi An for several days, but who were only asked to show their tickets on their last day. No one had asked on previous days.
Officially, you are supposed to buy a ticket but many people simply walk in without paying. At certain times staff ask to see tickets, but they only seem to pick on tourists at random. They may ask at one location to the old town, but if you enter at another location there is no one asking. It's very unorganised.
Hoi An old town entrance ticket
I bought tickets for me and my wife - my two young children didn't need to have tickets. Despite the ticket declaring that it is only valid for 24 hours, I was told that it lasts for the duration of your stay. It's only 120,000 VND and this money helps to maintain the old town so I didn't resent paying.
Twenty-one buildings in Hoi An are designated as 'Sightseeing Places' and you need a ticket to enter these places. On each ticket there are five vouchers, which allow you to visit five sightseeing places. When you visit, one of your vouchers will be torn off. As you can see, I only used one voucher on my ticket. A voucher should have been town out when I visited the Japanese Bridge, but nobody asked to see my ticket.
Things To Do
The Hoi An tourist industry is centred around the UNESCO registered old town and apart from that there isn't a great deal to do. If you enjoy shopping, you can only buy tourist souvenirs in Hoi An. There are no large stores, malls or supermarkets, but these things can be found in Da Nang.
Hoi An seems to have quite a reputation for bespoke tailoring and there are lots of shops where you can get clothes made, but this was of no interest to me. There are also quite a lot shops selling leather goods.
Buying custom-made clothing when they visit anywhere in Asia has become a cliche among Western tourists. Over the years I have seen many examples of hand-made tailoring in Thailand and, quite frankly, I believe I can buy better ready-made clothes in department stores.
One of the many tailor shops in Hoi An, Vietnam
Keeping my children occupied in Hoi An was a big problem. The hotel staff told us about a children's play area where there was a miniature train, but when we went it was closed and even if it had been open it was very small.
An Bang beach is nearby and only takes 10 minutes to reach from Hoi An - the hotel I stayed in offered a free shuttle bus service to the beach. It's an attractive beach and my kids thoroughly enjoyed playing in the sand. However, in October the sea was quite rough and there were red flags on the beach telling people not to swim. A local lady told me that every year there are news reports of people drowning there.
An Bang beach, Hoi An, Vietnam
An Bang beach, Hoi An, Vietnam
We also took a trip to My Son, which is about an hour away from Hoi An by car. It is the site of ruined Hindu temples, and quite similar to Ayuthaya and Sukothai in Thailand if you are familiar with those places. Like Hoi An, it is also a UNESCO world heritage site.
My Son UNESCO world heritage site, Vietnam
My Son UNESCO world heritage site, Vietnam
After paying an entrance fee of 150,000 VND visitors walk to a small transport terminal and from there board electric vehicles to get to the site of the ruined temples.
My Son UNESCO world heritage site, Vietnam
My Son UNESCO world heritage site, Vietnam
It's an attractive area, but there were two problems when I visited. Firstly, the wet weather which made it difficult to take photographs. Secondly, my wife has no interest in anything related to history or culture. She refused to go up to the site. I went alone, but knew that I had to hurry back. Just like Hoi An, this is another place that is always swarming with tourists.
Another popular activity, especially after dark, is to go for a boat ride on the river. There are lots of little Vietnamese ladies rowing tourists up and down the river.
River boat trip, Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An has a night market, which is located on the opposite side of the river to the old town. It's quite small and attracts lots of tourists. At the market you can buy souvenirs of your visit to Vietnam.
Many of the items are hand-made and very attractive. My wife bought some hand-painted enamel jewellery boxes for her friends and some other knick-knacks.
As is the case in many parts of Asia, it is necessary to haggle over prices. With most things that we bought the actual price we paid was about half the initial price we were told.
Once you have reached the lowest price you can negotiate, the best strategy is to then say thank you and walk away. If the vendor can offer a cheaper price he or she will call you back and make a revised offer. If not, they will allow you to walk away.
Buddha images for sale at the Hoi An night market
My natural reaction is to start gushing about how wonderful the Vietnamese people were, in exactly the same way as tourists to Thailand gush about Thai people. However, my experience of living in Thailand since 2003 has shown me that tourists never actually understand the people in the countries they visit. Therefore, after spending just five days in Vietnam I am not qualified to make any assessments.
I picked up a book in Vietnam about the life of Pham Xuan An - 'Perfect Spy' by Larry Berman. The author makes the point that the Vietnamese people are very difficult for foreigners to understand and that, basically, America lost the war with Vietnam because Americans didn't understand the Vietnamese.
Vietnamese school children on an outing to My Son, Vietnam
Nonetheless, I detected distinct differences compared to Thais. Thailand was never occupied by a foreign power and this seems to have made Thais quite arrogant. There is an air of superiority with Thais and also a sense of entitlement.
The Vietnamese have had a very different history. For almost 1,000 years the Chinese Han dynasty occupied Vietnam. Later, France colonised Indochina, which included Vietnam, for approximately 60 years. When France surrendered to Hitler there was then a Japanese occupation of Vietnam. After the war and Japan's defeat, the French attempted to regain control again and this resulted in the First Indochina War.
After WW2 the United States emerged as the pre-eminent world superpower and as well as having an imperialist foreign policy agenda, the USA feared the expansion of communism and the 'domino effect' that could occur if one Southeast Asian country fell to communism. This resulted in the Vietnam War, or Second Indochina War.
Flower sellers in Hoi An, Vietnam
Basically, the Vietnamese have experienced a lot of war, hardship and oppression and this seems to have created people who are a lot more humble and grateful for the better lives they have now.
The staff in the hotel where we stayed were so amazingly genuine, friendly and helpful they made it one of my best hotel stays ever. I left Vietnam with incredibly positive feelings about the Vietnamese.
Tourists In Hoi An
Hoi An attracts all kinds of tourists from all over the world. Backpackers go there, but not as many as go to certain areas of Thailand located on the banana pancake trail. There are also lots of five-star tourists.
Asians seem to make up the bulk of the tourists. There are Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and - as usual - they always travel in large tour groups. Despite there being direct flights from Thailand I didn't see many Thais. I was expecting to hear Thai spoken quite a lot in Hoi An, but I didn't.
Foreign tourists in Hoi An, Vietnam
There weren't too many Europeans and the vast majority of white Caucasian tourists were from Australia. Australia doesn't have a particularly large population, but wherever I go in Southeast Asia there are always lots of Aussies.
I had one interesting conversation with the Australian owner of a restaurant in Hoi An. On his list of the most obnoxious tourists he rates France as number one and Australia as number 2. He was quite complimentary about British tourists.
He told me that Hoi An locals refer to the big Asian tour groups as penguins. Like penguins, they walk in lines and have short arms that aren't long enough to reach into their pockets to get money to buy things.
The term Thailand uses for this phenomenon is 'Zero dollar tourism'. This term refers to tourists who arrive in large tour groups and only spend money in pre-ordained shops and restaurants, but very little of their money ends up going into the local economy.
Driving In Vietnam
Cars in Vietnam drive on the right, as opposed to other parts of Southeast Asia (Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore) where driving is on the left.
I didn't think I would ever say this, but driving in Vietnam is probably crazier than driving in Thailand. There, I said it. In some ways it is similar to Thailand, but in other ways it is very different.
Green light - Go, Amber light - Go, Red light - Still Can Go
It is similar in the way that drivers completely ignore traffic laws and traffic lights. Vietnamese are forever sounding their horns, but this is just how they drive. At an intersection no one gives way, but as cars and motorcyclists enter the intersection they blast their horns.
Thais drive a lot faster and lot more aggressively. When a Thai starts sounding his horn you know he is angry and there is a chance that weapons might come into play. Vietnamese sound their horns all the time, but there is no anger or aggression.
Vietnamese sound their horns constantly while driving
There are lots of motorbikes, as there are in Thailand, and - just like Thailand - giving way to others depends mainly on vehicle size. Motorbikes give way to cars, cars give way to vans, vans give way to big trucks and buses, etc.
The big trucks I saw were all Chinese brands that I had never heard of and whereas Thailand has mainly Honda and Toyota cars, there were lots of Hyundais in Vietnam.
As is the case with Thailand, it is essential that before you drive a car or motorbike yourself you should familiarise yourself with the local driving style.
Along the coast between Da Nang and Hoi An there are several massive construction projects taking place. It would seem that private enterprises are investing huge amounts of capital in order to increase their capital. I believe there is a name for such an economic system, and it isn't communism.
Perhaps my perception is wrong, but there seems to be an awful lot of capitalism in communist Vietnam and it is very contradictory to the official economic system of the country. For a supposedly communist country, a lot of what I observed in Vietnam was classic capitalism.
Communist propaganda mural, Hoi An, Vietnam
Most of what I saw looked very similar to Thailand, or any other non-communist country. However, when you are travelling around you see the typical communist-style propaganda posters by the road side.
These have pictures of the glorious leader plus hammers and sickles, glorify the military, show electricity pylons and other symbology referring to the infrastructure development that has taken place in the country, convey tractor production figures etc, and show happy Vietnamese citizens with broad smiles on their faces.
What do the Vietnamese think? I'm not sure because I didn't sit down with any Vietnamese and have a meaningful conversation about the country's political system, but one comment did surprise me.
At the end of my stay I wanted the taxi driver to stop on the way back to the airport so that I could take a photo of a large communist mural that had been painted on a wall. As I was trying to explain what I wanted a Vietnamese man said the Vietnamese had a special name for such a mural. When I asked him what is was, he told me 'graffiti'.
The world has never been fair and in the Internet age the gap between the haves and have-nots is larger than it has ever been. Theoretically, communism is a much fairer system but the problem is that it is completely at odds with human nature. Most people tend to be selfish and greedy and are only interested in themselves and their close friends and families.
From what I have read, Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist rather than a communist and only embraced communism in order to set his country free from colonial oppression. I suspect that eventually communism in Vietnam will go the same way as communism in Eastern Europe went in the late 1980's.
Compared To Thailand
Because I have lived in Thailand for a long time it was natural to keep comparing Hoi An to Thailand. The countries are similar geographically, but they are very different politically and culturally.
One of the things we noticed straight away was the absence of any 7-Eleven stores, which are ubiquitous in Thailand. There are lots of small, privately run minimarts but they only offer a very small selection of goods. Hoi An has no large stores, however, Da Nang has supermarkets and branches of Lotte and Big C.
Thailand has both traditional wet markets and Western style supermarkets, but Hoi An just has the former.
Traditional butcher shop in Hoi An, Vietnam
Traditional butcher shop in Hat Yai, Thailand
During my time in Hoi An I wandered around by myself quite a lot taking photos. I did not see any sign of prostitution at all, and neither was I approached by girls on the street. I went for a few massages and was never offered any 'extra' services. When I visit tourist resorts in Thailand it is very different. Neither did I see any ladyboys - another extremely common sight in Thailand.
Vietnam was very clean with very little garbage on the streets, whereas some parts of Thailand are filthy and there is a lot of fly tipping (illegal dumping of garbage). There were also a lot fewer flies and mosquitoes in Vietnam.
Coconuts, Hoi An, Vietnam
My wife made several comments about the fruit in Vietnam and I noticed it myself. Fruit is abundant in Thailand and it always looks really delicious. Whenever we saw fruit being sold in Vietnam it looked neither plentiful nor that tasty.
Geographically, the two countries are very similar and I couldn't work out why. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that the USA sprayed 20 million US gallons of Agent Orange and other chemicals over Vietnam during the Vietnam War?
Da Nang, near Hoi An, has one of the highest contaminations of dioxin from the use of Agent Orange.
Prices were about the same, but I found Vietnam to be slightly more expensive. As I have said elsewhere, there was a lot less aggression in Vietnam - especially on the roads. Thais are very aggressive drivers and road rage shootings occur fairly frequently. My impression of the Vietnamese was that they are a lot more humble, laid back and genuine than Thais.
Thailand's tourism slogan 'Land of Smiles' was the most brilliant piece of marketing copy ever. Vietnamese people smile just as much, but their smiles are much more genuine. One comment I read on an Internet forum years ago was 'behind every smile there is an angry Thai'. This isn't too far from the truth.
There was also one really strange omission.
I love cats and wherever I go I see cats. However, during my entire time in Hoi An I didn't see one single cat. I found this very strange. There were stray dogs (although not as many as in Thailand) and pet dogs, but not one single cat. I discovered the reason for this after I returned home.
Dangers And Annoyances
I have a good sixth sense and it has always kept me out of trouble. I felt absolutely no danger in Hoi An. I didn't see any police and locals told me that they had no concerns about their children playing outside.
If you decide to rent a bike or motorbike you need to be very careful if you are unfamiliar with the local style of driving. Motorised vehicles aren't allowed inside the old town, but some of the locals ride their bicycles quite fast and aggressively. I was almost hit by bicycles a few times.
Walking and cycling town, Hoi An, Vietnam
There are some other potential dangers in the surrounding area, but these are very unlikely to affect tourists. During the Vietnam war the USA carpet-bombed the region and there is still a lot of unexploded ordnance, including landmines.
If you visit somewhere such as My Son and decide to start hiking off the beaten track be aware that there could be dangers.
Another legacy from the war, and another potential danger, is contamination from Agent Orange. The United States sprayed around 20 million gallons of nasty chemicals during the war. This had a devastating effect on plants, animals and humans, and there is still contamination. Da Nang is known for having one of the highest contaminations of Agent Orange.
However, as I said, these problems from the Vietnam war are unlikely to affect the vast majority of tourists.
With regard to annoyances, there is a lot of peddling in the street. Vietnam, like most Asian countries, is highly inequitable and there is no welfare system. A few people are very rich, but many are very poor and they still need to make a living.
In Hoi An we were approached on the street (and while sitting in restaurants) by people wandering the streets trying to sell things to tourists.
It's not always bad - I bought a copied version of the book 'Perfect Spy' from a street peddler and we also bought some very attractive, hand-made Christmas cards - but when it happens all the time it can get quite annoying.
The female street vendors wearing their traditional conical hats will encourage you to take photos if they see you with a camera, but then they will want money or will want you to buy something.
I do feel genuinely sorry for them, but my financial situation is such that I can't help every street peddler who approaches me. I tried to help a few, but my finances are limited.
Everyone these days has a smartphone camera and selfie stick, but if you are a little more serious about your photographer here are a few comments.
Selfie, Japanese bridge, Hoi An, Vietnam
All photos on this page were taken with a Canon EOS M6 Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera (MILC).
For Hoi An you want wide, not long lenses. I anticipated that this would be the case and the longest lens I took with me was a Canon EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-f/5.6 zoom, however, I didn't use it. Probably 80% of my shots were taken with a Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-f/4.5 ultra-wide angle zoom.
Originally, I had intended taking a Canon EF-M 11-22mm f/4-f/5.6 lens. However, the EF-S lens is faster and when I previously compared these two lenses I found the EF-S to deliver better image quality.
The other lens I used quite a lot was the Canon EF-M 22mm f/2 pancake. This is a super little lens. Combined with the Canon EOS M6 it makes for a small and light package, the image quality is excellent, and because it is fast it can be handheld in low light.
The other lens I had with me was the Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 pancake. Just like the EF-M 22mm it is a small, light pancake lens that is convenient to carry and has excellent image quality. I used it a little, but not too much.
I knew that I would be taking a lot of shots in low light and that I would need some kind of camera support. I bought a small Manfrotto Pixi Evo tripod specifically for this trip, but didn't use it. It is too low to stand on the ground and I just couldn't find any suitable walls on which to place it.
I would like to have taken my Gitzo GT2541EX tripod, but decided it was too heavy. In the end I took a cheap, plastic tripod that I received free when I bought my EOS M6. It was flimsy, but it did the job.
Well, I didn't want to take one anyway
It can be very difficult taking photos of buildings in Hoi An without there being hordes of tourists in each frame. The town gets quite busy during the day time and extremely busy in the early evening.
Early morning is a good time and if you wait until around 8:30pm the tourists start to go back to their hotels, but all the lanterns remain switched on. After 8:30pm is the best time for night shots.
My photography opportunities were severely limited because I was travelling with my young family. I managed to get a spare hour here and there, but if I had been alone I would have got a lot more photos.
My overall impression of Hoi An and Vietnam was extremely positive. I felt quite sad to leave and I can't remember the last time that happened.
Hoi An old town
Hoi An was beautiful and after many problems with Thais over the years it was so refreshing to meet people who were so friendly, helpful and genuine. If you are considering visiting Southeast Asia I would highly recommend making a trip to Hoi An.
The only issue now is that the Hoi An 'secret' is well and truly out of the bag. Already, there are too many tourists and the situation will continue to get worse. I hate to think what it is going to be like in five years' time.
If you plan to go, go as soon as possible.