Hoi An is world-renowned for its cuisine and with the sea just a few miles from downtown, it’s unsurprising that seafood is a mainstay on most menus. Hoi An Fish Market in Tranh Hà is where most of those delicious fishy things that end up on your dinner plate are bought and sold.
Where is it?
It’s about 3km west of the Old Town, on the banks of the Thu Bon river, at the beginning of a friendly village called Thanh Hà (known locally as the “Pottery Village”).
So it isn’t really in Hoi An?
No, the Hoi An Fish Market used to live next door to the Central Market but a few years ago, the powers that be decided it wasn’t either big or fishy enough to remain downtown, so they relocated. (Or maybe it was too fishy and the pungent smell was putting shoppers off their iced coffees.) Whatever the case, it’s still quite a pleasant cycle that follows the water for most of the way and at 5am in the morning, you’ll have the road almost to yourself.
5am?! You have to be kidding!
Well, the early bird catches the worm…or in this case, the fish. Sorry. But yep, this is one for those early risers amongst you. Because fishing in the seas around Hoi An is mainly done overnight. The boats leave their moorings as the sun fades, to return again at first light. And obviously, to ensure supreme freshness, the fish are then sold straight from the boats as soon as they reach Tranh Hà. Things start to get quiet when the fish run out soon after 7am.
That is awfully early. Why should I make the effort?
Well I suppose you could go to buy fish. But unless you’re having a party or looking to open your own seafood restaurant in town, you can probably satisfy all your fishy desires with what’s on offer at the other markets in town. The real reason to head to the fish market is for the experience. Tranh Hà is seriously off the tourist trail; chances are very high that you’ll be the only foreign face there. And probably the only person not in a conical hat.
What have conical hats got to do with fish?
Nothing really but more so than any other market in town, the sellers and shoppers at the Fish Market seem to love conical hats – the place is a little bobbing sea of cones, or non la as they’re known to locals. Great for photos.
So they don’t mind you taking photos?
No, snap away. To be honest, people here are busy, really busy. You could stand in the nude juggling lobsters and the market folk would barely bat an eyelid at you. The market only lasts for a couple of hours and that’s strictly business time. In all the hustle and bustle you may get slapped by a few fish tails and pushed out the way a few times. Don’t worry, there’s no malice in it. Just go with the flow and by all means, do a little pushing back yourself if you need to make your way through. Try not to hurt the fish though. They’ve suffered enough.
Do they sell anything but fish?
There is a small traditional covered market adjacent to the fish area but nothing special – and nothing you can’t see at Ba Le, Tiger or the Central Market. Really, the Fish Market is more about the fish. Even then it isn’t all about the fish…it’s all about the spectacle.
Any Top Tips?
The Fish Market is hopping (and flapping) every single day but one. On the 14th day of the lunar cycle each month (also known as “full moon night”), the people of Hoi An take a breather from their regular routines to set up altars and honor their ancestors in exchange for good luck. As a result, many of the fishermen won’t go out fishing that night and consequently the fish market the following morning resembles something of ghost town – albeit one that smells of fish and has a few more cats roaming around.