10 things to do in Hoi An, the charm of Vietnam
I was thinking whether to say Hoi An the charm of Vietnam or the charm of Indochina. But because I fell so much in love with Luan Prabang in Laos, I decided to go for “just Vietnam”. Don’t misunderstand me though. I did not say the most beautiful, but the most charming. There are so many beautiful places in Vietnam! Just think for instance….Halong Bay, or the country side, or the coffee plantations, or the Mekong Delta, or the mountains… you get the gist
But for me, Hoi An is definitely the charm of Vietnam. And although today Hoi An lives mainly from tourism, many people have not heard about it. I will not hide to you the fact that it can feel and it is very touristy, but even so it is a place that should not be missed.
I didn’t know what to expect there exactly, so I planned 3 days there, thinking it should be enough and because I wanted to head to the beach next. But…the moment I arrived…oh my! It got me! The city got me into its charms. How could it not? Imagine a conglomeration of old yellow houses lit but silk or paper lanterns at night, little streets lined up with shops, restaurants, hip bars, charming cafes, taylors. Ah the tailors of Hoi An! If you have heard about Hoi An before, the tailors are probably one of the first thing you’ve heard about. There seem to be thousands of tailor shops. And they can do anything. Give them a day or two and you have your unique piece (or dozen pieces) of clothing (or your unique copy if you choose to do so).
The description above is related to the Ancient town or Old Quarter, which was declared a Unesco World Heritage protected site in 1999. This is the place where most people will stay and spend their time. But Hoi An is more than that as you will see below. Just a short ride out of town there are beaches! And resorts! But let’s take them one by one:
What to see/do in Hoi An
Hoi An is not your typical sightseeing town. There are no big sights to “tick off” your list. It is a town to take in, relax and enjoy. And in my view, here are the top 10 things to do in Hoi An:
1. Walk around the Ancient town (or Old Quarter)
The many streets and alleys are hosting a beautiful collection of old architecture combining Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and even European influence. Once a seaport, the ancient town used to be a merchant heaven and even today you can visit some of their old houses who are now open as small museums. In some of these houses, still live descendants of the old merchants.
Need some caffeine intake, or just to take a rest from all that walking? Hop into one of the many and charming coffee shops. My personal favourite: Hoi An Roastery
When the sunset approaches grab you camera and take some gorgeus photos bathed in that precious golden hour light. There is no shortages of places or angles where you can
In the evening, the old quarter becomes even more charming if possible, when the myriad of lanterns hanging above the streets, in from of shops, restaurants or in the lantern shops are lit with all colours
By now it’s time for dinner or drinks…or both. Luckily there are plenty of options available: from delicious street food to gourmet restaurants, from dirt cheap delicious local meals to fine dining. The cosmopolite city of Hoi An has it all.
And if you still want to continue….live music is also available. One of my favourite places for that was The Dive Bar (pictured below)
2. Go and check the Japanese bridge
This is the emblem of the town and the most important “attraction”, so if you have to “tick off” something, this would be it. The Old Japanese bridge, just like the name suggests, was build by Japanese merchants at the beginning of the 16th century, just before they left the city.
3. Visit little museums, old merchant houses, temples
Most of them require an entrance fee which is covered by the admision tickets to the old town which include visits to a number of these sights. Temples are free of charge
4. Take a boat trip on the river
A boat trip can be really nice especially at sunset or in the evening when the lights come out and hundreds of paper lantern are released on the water.
5.Visit the local markets
I love local markets and I try to visit them everywhere I go. You cannot get more local than this! Plus they are a wonderful place to discover things that are typical for the place and even get in touch with some locals. As a former seaport, Hoi An also has a wet market which is a very interesting sight early in the morning. Get ready for a mosaic of colours, smells an sounds. WONDERFUL!
6. Take a cooking class
There are plenty of cooking classes on offer, from half a day to a few days course. One of the most famous ones is Ms. Vy’s class at Morning Glory restaurant. The restaurant is also one of my favourites in Hoi An. The food is really mouthwatering!
7. Take a food tour
My favourite Southeast Asian food is Vietnamese food and Hoi An is the place to try some of the best dishes. So of course I could not miss a food tour here (I’ve been taking a lot of these in Vietnam!). And what better tour than a street food tour by motorbike? 🙂 Asia really got me into motorbikes and I never missed an opportunity to ride one. Whenever it was possible I always chose the tours by motorbikes. It feels more local and they were private so I could always enjoy a lot of chatting with the locals! Win-win! 😀 . I took this tour with Hoi An Food tours and it was excellent so I can fully recommend it.
8. Take a photo tour
If you are into photography, this is one of the best places to do this. I took the tour with Etienne from Pics of Asia and I can happily recommend him. Etienne lives in Hoi An for many years now and he knows the place like the back of his hands. He even speaks Vietnamese, which is a great help when he takes you to local villages during his sunrise or sunset tours. These tours are great not only for photography but also to see and experience local culture which you would not have access to otherwise. Here is also his FB page
9. Go to the beach
Well…this is how I actually started my sojourn in Hoi An. First day: beach day! And because my first full day in Hoi An was a Sunday and I have heard about this great brunch at this lovely resort, I thought “I NEED THIS”. So I went to Victoria Beach resort and spa. Whattaday! Whattabrunch! Perfect!
So…this was the beach, which I passed by on my way back from the resort…
….And this was the resort…brunch and all…
10. Visit my Son Sanctuary
This is the most important Cham remains in the whole Vietnam and also a Unesco World Heritage site And although the few remaining ruins are not in the best shape, it is still an atmospheric place to visit early in the morning. The ruins are in the might Angkor Wat style, but at a MUCH smaller scale and in a worse shape due to being left to the jungle. The sight is about 1 hour drive from Hoi An and you can opt to make the return to Hoi An by boat.
Of course whether you spend 3 days or a month in this charming city, you will never run out of things to do. Some other examples are: bicycle rides through the nearby villages and rice fields, spas, massages, day trips to nearby locations (even the Imperial City of Hue can be visited as a day trip from Hoi An if you are short on time) and so on.
Where to stay
I stayed at Vin Hung Library hotel which I can fully recommend. The rooms were very charming and with plenty of space, the location was excellent, the people were extremely nice and….it has a pool on the top floor!! All in all an excellent stay and excellent value for money!
Some other useful info about Hoi An
- in and around Hoi An (including Hue) you can find 4 out of 5 cultural Unesco World Heritage sites of Vietnam
- the old quarter is mainly pedestrian, motorbikes being banned during certain times of the day. This is such a difference compared to other cities of Vietnam!
- You can also go diving in the nearby Cham Island, which is not an activity people would expect to be able to do in Hoi An
- 5km outside Hoi An, at Cua Dai beach, is located Vietnam’s most exclusive hotel: Nam Hai hotel
And as usual, at the end of the article I let you in an uninterrupted visual trip through the city. Enjoy!
Best viewed as a slideshow by clicking on an image!
Note: All links to third party websites in this article are based on my personal recommendations for the reader. I do not receive commission from the third parties referred to.