Central Markets, Fish and Meat Markets settled along the Thu Bon River in the Unesco Heritage town of Hoi An. A fascinating place to visit for an authentic experience of fresh produce sales, straight from the farmers.
When you are in Hoi An, do as the locals do! Get up early and enjoy the peacefulness of this small town before the busloads of tourist hit the old centre.
Hoi An is on the World Heritage list from UNESCO and therefore the old town is not prone to modernisation, billboards or advertising signage. When you walk through town early mornings, you get a sense of how live used to be in this old trading place. No signs of tourist, just me and the locals.
Get up at sunrise, bring your camera and smile to get the best pictures. Morning light is best for some beautiful pictures and with your smile you get away from accidentally taking a shot from a local or two.
I usually just sit down at a junction or square and observe what is happening around me. Watch farmers cycling or walking by with their baskets full of fresh produce. Watch locals opening their doors and windows, swiping the doorstep of their shop, doing their morning prayer.
I first visited Hoi An in 1998. Back then Vietnam just opened its borders for foreign tourist and travel was limited to some coastal towns and Dalat only. Limited travel to Sapa and the Mekong Delta was only possible when you booked with a government travel guide.
When we visited Hoi An, there were only a handful options of private hostels to stay and even less places to eat. There was the odd tailor in town and the island of An Hoi where todays night markets are held was farm land.
When I first did an early morning walk, I was astonished by how quiet the town is compared to the tourist scene of the night before. You really get the opportunity to get those out of the book pictures from the bridge, temples, lovely houses and little streets. Even a picture of the main road along the water only captures a few locals if you wait for the right moment.
Some of the temples open their gates early and you can respectfully walk around. It’s so peaceful that you can almost cut air with a knife. Sit down and inhale the tranquillity.
The Hoi An market is divided into 3 main sections, a covered market for seafood, meat and other fresh produce, a street section, and the market hall.
The covered market area, closest to the water side is where it is the liveliest. Fresh means fresh, fish is brought in by small boats and sold directly on the water’s edge. Big blocks of ice are caried in to keep the fish fresh and don’t be surprised when some species are still flipping their teals. The fish mongers are working hard to sell there produce quickly. Be respectful when you walk around and remember that this is their daily job. Other parts of the covered area are reserved for fresh meat, eggs and live birds. You will find all sorts of cuts, and in good Asian tradition all parts of the animal are sold for consumption. This is the part of the market where you need a strong stomach, but if nothing else, it is a good eye-opener for your kids too.
The street section is mainly dedicated to fresh fruit, vegetables and the odd stall selling hot coffee or local specialities. Vendors display their wares on blankets, carefully stacking the goods to appeal to customers. This part of the market starts early morning and goes on until about 11, although most vendors leave earlier. By then there are simply to many tourists walking around and the road needs to clear. I love this part of the market for its great photo opportunities. Especially in the morning when the sun light has a nice angle and the light is not to bright. Sit down somewhere on the pavement in between stalls and wait for the right picture opportunity. There is so much happening around you, you will get your shot.
The market hall is divided into 4 sections. The section closest to the open market area is dedicated to fresh meat and start and finish a little later than the meat section in the covered area. You will also find the best noodles sold here, colourful variations to please the eye. The middle part of the market hall is dedicated to little shops selling household articles, incense, tea and herbs. These little shops are open till the afternoon, locking up their wares at night. The market section furthest away from the water is my favourite spot for breakfast and lunch. This is where you find food stalls, usually specialised in one or two dishes only. Sit-down with the locals and enjoy a Hoi An special “Cao Lau” Noodle, Vietnamese coffee or fresh salad, prepared right in front of you.
The outer area of the market hall is dedicated to some larger shops selling crockery, baskets and other household items. Over the few years that we have visited Vietnam we have collected a beautiful dining set.