Old picturesque buildings, lantern lit streets and romantic meals over looking the water, boat cruises, sandy beaches and scenic countryside. That is Hoi An. It is without a doubt one of the absolute must see destinations in Vietnam. You definitely need a few days to take in everything that Hoi An has to offer, and even then, you could easily spend a week or two here if you wanted to. I think I could have spent the whole month!
Things to do in Hoi An
My favourite thing to do in Hoi An is just walk around the Old Town and along the river, but there are quite a few sites to check out as well.
The Old Town of Hoi An
The real draw card for visitors to Hoi An is it’s UNESCO World Heritage listed Old Town. It is such a unique place that is full of history, and its pedestrian/cycle only streets are amazing to just walk or cycle around at any time of the day. It is free to walk around the Old Town, but if you want to visit any of the sites, museums and cultural performances, you need to buy an Old Town Ticket. The ticket costs 120,000 Dong ($6) and gives you access to five different sites within a 24 hour period. There are many different sites to check out, so if you want to see more than five, you just need to buy another ticket. I found that five sites in the one day was enough. Here are the five sites that we visited:
- Tan Ky House – A beautifully preserved traditional house from the 18th century.
- Phuc Kien Assembly Hall– An old Chinese community gathering place. Very beautiful and similar to a temple.
- Quan Cong Temple – A lovely old Chinese Temple with beautiful artwork and decorations.
- Museum of Hoi An History and Culture – This museum has a lot of interesting pieces from throughout the history of the Hoi An area, from the Champa Kingdom to Hoi An’s rise to an important trading port.
- Japanese Covered Bridge – Famous in Hoi An, this beautiful 16th century bridge is a must see. If you just look at it from the outside, you don’t have to use your ticket.
Eat the Hoi An Cuisine
Due to the different influences of the Chinese and Japanese traders in Hoi An during the centuries, Hoi An has developed its own delicious cuisine, and there are several unique dishes that you should definitely try. Cao Lau ( a kind of chinese egg noodle soup with pork) was my absolute favourite, but also try the wonton soup and white rose.
Visit a handicraft village
There are a lot of shops in Hoi An that sell local handicrafts, but you can actually visit the places that make them on the islands nearby. You can catch a ferry or visit as part of a tour. We visited one of the islands as part of our tour to My Son.
Laze on the beach
You wouldn’t know it when you are in Hoi An, but there are actually two great beaches only a couple of kilometres away. Rent a bicycle and cycle to An Bang Beach which is free of resorts. You can rent a beach chair (with shade) for 30,000 Dong ($1.50) and spend the day swimming and lazing on the beach. There are plenty of restaurants here as well, and usually your beach chair is free if you eat at their restaurant.
If you wander along the waterfront in the Old Town, you will find yourself at the small but busy local market. I love these markets because they are great for people watching and mingling with the locals as they buy their fresh produce and bits and pieces. It’s a great place to buy some fresh fruit!
There is a souvenir night market that sets up on the island that is reached by crossing the footbridge (you can’t miss it). I wasn’t overly impressed, but if you are after some souvenirs then you might like it.
Visit the ruins of My Son
Hidden in a valley surrounded by mountains, My Son was the ancient Champa people’s most holy site. The impressive Hindu structures of My Son were badly damaged during the Vietnam War, but they are now UNESCO World Heritage listed and being carefully looked after. The best way to visit is to take a day tour from Hoi An. Our tour cost $8 per person which included the bus to the ruins, an English speaking guide, lunch, a boat ride on the river back to Hoi An, as well as a stop at one of the islands to visit a handicraft village. We also had to pay an extra 100,000 Dong ($5) for the entrance fee to the ruins, so our total cost was $13 per person. If you want to only visit the ruins, the cost of the tour is $5 (total of $10). I thought that the extra $3 was well worth it for the boat trip, lunch and village visit.
Tailor made clothes
Hoi An is probably the best place to get tailor made clothes in Southeast Asia. The tailors here are excellent and you can basically get anything made. I didn’t need to get anything made while I was there, but I hear that the quality is excellent and the prices are cheap.
Where to stay in Hoi An
I found that you need to spend a little more in Hoi An to get decent budget accommodation compared to other places in Vietnam, though there are plenty to choose from. Almost all of the guesthouses in Hoi An are located outside of the Old Town.
The search for decent budget guest houses in Hoi An took a little longer than usual, but we ended up settling on Phuong Dong. The rooms are basic but definitely comfortable, with air con and private bathroom for $14 per night. The Wifi was very sporadic but I managed to get by ok. It is located on the main guesthouse street of Ba Trieu, with lots of restaurants around and cheap bike hire out the front.
Where to eat in Hoi An
Restaurants are aplenty in Hoi An, and you won’t have trouble finding one in the Old Town or in the guest house area. Make sure to try some of the local specialty dishes such as cao lau and white rose.
Although located in the guest house area on Ba Trieu, this was our favourite place to eat in Hoi An. The food is cheap and delicious at any time of the day, and draft beer is only 5000Dong (25 cents) per glass. Try the cao lau here!
Nga Hang (Riverside)
I sometimes had trouble getting the correct names of the restaurants along the riverfront, but this was the first that we tried in the Old Town. Anything along the riverfront is more expensive than other areas of Hoi An, but you can still eat here on a budget and it is worth paying the extra for the romantic setting on the river front and lantern lit streets of the Old Town. We had some egg plant cooked in a clay pot here which was delicious.
This place is located right across the street from Phuong Hong Guesthouse and is a great breakfast option. A really friendly lady runs it and always greets you with a smile when she is there.
Tam Tam Cafe
Located in the Old Town, this cafe/bakery is a great place to relax with a coffee and a croissant. The Wifi here was great too.
Getting to and around Hoi An
We got to Hoi An by taking a bus from Hue which cost 105,000 Dong ($5.25). For a more scenic journey to or from Hue, you can take the train to/from Danang, which is apparently the most scenic train ride in the country; or you can hop on the back of a motorbike to go over the very scenic mountain pass (the bus goes through a tunnel). If you are flying in, the nearest airport is in Danang. From the airport or the train station, you can get a taxi to Hoi An for around $50, or try to take the local bus for much less.
The best way to get around Hoi An is by walking or cycling. I preferred walking in the Old Town, but I hired a bicycle to go to the beach (4kms away). Bicycles cost $1 per day.