I’ve just had 2 weeks in beautiful Hoi An, Vietnam, and wanted to reflect on how suitable it was for the digital nomad lifestyle. I was super pumped to visit Hoi An as I had heard it was really special, and it didn’t disappoint! It’s in Central Vietnam, is best known for its ‘ancient town’ (spectacularly lit at night with hundreds of lanterns and heady with the scent of incense), and the proliferation of tailors available to custom make beautiful clothes for you.
I spent 2 nights in a hostel (which I won’t name because I hated it and don’t feel that would be fair), 6 nights at the Thien Nga hotel on Ba Trieu street, then 5 nights in the Hong Cong homestay in a little laneway tucked behind Tran Cao Van. My intention, as well as some serious R&R, was to get a daily routine happening with GI Gen, which I’m going to consider a partial success.
Here’s my summary of Hoi An’s suitability for digital nomads looking to stay put somewhere for awhile.
Internet is probably the most important thing, wouldn’t you agree? Sadly, it’s not great here. There were frequent drop-outs, some sites that wouldn’t load at all (like Amazon), and frustratingly slow at times. On the plus side you can get some level of connectivity everywhere – every cafe and restaurant offers ‘free wifi’. If you’re patient and don’t have really high expectations of what you’d like to achieve in a day, then it’s worth persevering with. If you have must-meet deadlines or your business depends on responsiveness, it may not be the best choice for you.
I don’t know if it’s this bad all year round, but I figured 2 weeks was a decent sample size to draw some conclusions from. What I found most frustrating was that it teases you – the signal usually looks strong,but things take an eternity to load, or just refuse completely.
Accommodation here is cheap and cheerful. A basic homestay with no breakfast included but with clean sheets, a TV, wifi and air conditioning will set you back $10USD a night, or about 200,000 Vietnamese dong (VND).
If you prefer something a little more anonymous than a homestay, a nice hotel (3.5 stars maybe?) with wifi, a TV, air con, a decent shower, will cost $20 – $25USD per night, usually including breakfast. Thien Nga was the perfect set-up actually, with a balcony and table and chairs and a writing desk (heaven!). The breakfast was good too, especially if you’re ok with eating bread (which sadly I’m not). Only the wifi let it down.
Like any tourist town, the further you get away from the tourist hot-spots, the cheaper the food gets, but even within the ancient town the prices vary significantly. You can pay anywhere from 40 – 100k VND ($2 – $5) for a plate of Cao Lau (noodles with pork and veg – the local speciality). But if you venture off the main streets just a block or two and into the network of small streets and laneways just out of the old town, you can feast for 100K VND.
Meeting the locals helps – they’ll tell you where to eat. The places I frequented the most were Cafes 41 and 43 (next door to each other on Tran Cao Van), the vegetarian place right opposite there, the name of which I unfortunately can’t remember), Nha Hang Restaurant at 88 Ba Trieu St, and Chip Chip restaurant at An Bang beach, opposite the Under the Coconut Tree homestay (just delightful hospitality and delicious cheap food if you’re prepared to wait patiently for it).
There are more cafes in Hoi An than you could visit in a year, from expensive Western hipster joints in the old town, to authentic Vietnamese style places with only Ca Phe Da (Vietnamese filtered coffee served hot or cold, usually with condensed milk – so good!!) available for 10,000 VND (50 cents).
What I observed about Vietnamese cafes and restaurants is they so often are just an add-on to people’s homes, so that while they’re super keen to get you in the door, once you’re there you’re largely ignored and seldom asked if you’d like something else or are ready for the bill yet. So you could easily order one coffee and sit there for hours with a laptop without any pressure at all, while the family eats their own meal and plays with their kids around you (which is nice if you don’t mind the background noise).
Other stuff a digital nomad might care about:
Levels of English: passable just about everywhere you go, and occasionally very good. Of course they love it when you make an effort to speak Vietnamese.
Toilets: Occasionally you’ll find only a squat toilet available (like at Chip Chip restaurant for example), but usually there’ll be a western toilet available with the hose instead of toilet paper. Make sure you carry tissues with you if you can’t do without loo paper, but be aware it needs to go in the bin next to the loo, not in the toilet itself because their sewers can’t cope. Surprisingly this was rarely smelly or off-putting.
Showers: Most Vietnamese bathrooms are the ‘wet room’ style common in Asia, where the shower head just hooks onto the wall and there’s no separate cubicle. Newbies beware – this gets messy! Don’t leave your clothes on the floor or they’ll get wet.
Western food: It’s available but of course more expensive and from what I heard not all that good. It’s usually bread-based – sandwiches, burgers, pizza, pasta, so I just avoided it and stuck to local food. The Kebab Shack on Thai Phien st (near the corner of Tran Cao Van) does a ‘traditional’ ‘Sunday roast’ every day of the week for 120K VND.
Transport: The easiest and cheapest way to get around, besides walking (which isn’t actually that easy when you consider that footpaths seem to be designed to serve every possible function in Vietnamese towns except to be walked on), is to hire a push bike for about $1USD per day. You can hire scooters cheaply too, if you dare.
So, in summary, Hoi An is a gorgeous part of the world – I spent two very happy weeks there mooching around town trying out the local cafes and eateries, riding a bike down to the beach (An Bang beach which is way better than Cua Dai beach), and, when the wifi allowed it, working online. Well worth a visit if you’re not in any great hurry and just want a dose of seriously cool atmosphere.
If you’ve got any experience of Hoi An yourself, post a comment below. I’d love to hear about it!