One of the best places to visit in Vietnam, Hoi An (Vietnamese: Hội An) is a darling little town located in Central Vietnam. The old town was a trading port from the 15th-19th century. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Today it boasts bright yellow colored colonial French architecture, a quaint riverfront promenade, pedestrian-friendly streets, and the most unique feature – hundreds of colorful lanterns that light up the town every evening.
It’s easy to see why Hoi An is a highlight of pretty much every Vietnam itinerary. Keep reading to find out the 20 best things to do in Hoi An!
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Hoi An Travel Basics
Currency in Vietnam
The currency of Vietnam is the Dong (VND) and at the time of writing, the exchange rate was approximately 23,000 VND to $1 USD. So if we say that something costs 50,000 VND, that’s a little over $2. And don’t worry about bringing a lot of cash, there are plenty of ATMs around Hoi An.
Getting to Hoi An
Hoi An is located in Central Vietnam, about a 45-minute drive south of Da Nang which is home to a large international airport. You can book a car in advance, or there are plenty of options at the airport once you arrive.
Hoi An is also near Hue, the ancient imperial capital of Vietnam. You can take the train from Hue to Da Nang and then hire a car to drive the last 45 minutes. You can also book a van transfer all the way from Hue to Hoi An (or vice versa) which is quite a bit faster and every bit as scenic as the train.
Getting Around Hoi An
As with almost all cities in Vietnam, we recommend downloading Grab (iPhone | Android) on your phone and using it to get around. Grab is the most popular ride-hailing app in Southeast Asia and with it, you can easily get quick and inexpensive rides around Hoi An, Da Nang, and An Bang Beach.
Of course, you’ll need internet access to take advantage of Grab so we also recommend purchasing a SIM card as soon as you arrive in Vietnam.
When to Visit Hoi An
Hoi An has a tropical climate and is warm year-round. Temperatures in the summer months, May through August, are generally in the mid-90° F range. The winter months experience more mild temperatures, in the mid-70° F range, but the chance of rain is much higher. There is also the possibility of cyclones and potentially flooding.
The best time to visit Hoi An is February through May when temperatures are pleasant and the chance of rain is low.
Where to Stay in Hoi An
Little Riverside Hoi An is one of our favorite accommodations in town. Located right on the river, the views from the rooftop pool are absolutely incredible. It’s just a short walk from Hoi An’s historic old town and they offer free use of their bicycles. This is the perfect place to spend a few nights while you are exploring Hoi An!
Hoi An Odyssey Hotel is a bit removed from the hustle and bustle of the old city, but guests can take advantage of the free bicycles or walk for just a short 15 minutes. Not only do they have a beautiful pool but also private beach access to guests via a free hotel shuttle. You’ll be treated like royalty in this darling, quaint hotel!
The 20 Things you Must Do in Hoi An, Vietnam
1. Explore Hoi An’s Old Town
Hoi An is best known for its Old Town (also known as the “Ancient Town”) full of crumbling, yellow buildings. This charming little town actually has quite a long history. You’ll find a mixture of influences from the French, Chinese, and even Japanese. During the American War in Vietnam, both sides agreed to avoid fighting in Hoi An due to its historical importance and beauty. Thankfully, it avoided damage almost completely.
The Old Town is also a pedestrian-only zone so there are no cars or motorbikes allowed in after 10:00 am. It’s a welcome respite from the usual onslaught of motorbike traffic you’ll encounter in Vietnam.
The centerpiece of the old town is the picturesque Japanese Bridge (pictured above). But, you’ll also find dozens of well-preserved old wooden houses and Chinese assembly halls to explore. You’ll need to buy a ticket (120,000 VND) to enter the old town, though enforcement is somewhat lax if you’re just planning on strolling through the streets. If you want to enter any of the historic buildings, temples, or museums your ticket will almost certainly be checked.
Hoi An gets quite hot during the middle of the day, so we recommend getting up early and exploring the old city by foot or bicycle so you can beat the heat and the crowds. Or if you prefer to get a bit of history, you can book a walking tour of Hoi An’s Old Town.
2. Visit the Mỹ Sơn Ruins
About an hour’s drive west of Hoi An, you’ll find the ruins of the religious and political capital of the Champa Kingdom between the 4th and 13th centuries – Mỹ Sơn. The My Son Sanctuary is an interesting archaeological site that is unlike others in SE Asia as the spiritual origins are of Indian Hinduism rather than of Buddhist origin. Many of the temples were built for Hindu divinities – Krishna, Vishnu, and Shiva.
While the area is smaller than some of the other famous ruins in SE Asia, such as Bagan or Angkor Wat, the ruined buildings surrounded by lush vegetation are stunningly beautiful and most certainly worth a visit. There is a fairly flat loop trail that allows you to see the highlights of the area on foot. Be sure you get to Mỹ Sơn early to avoid the crowds and the heat.
Though you can higher a private driver to take you to Mỹ Sơn, the easiest and most cost-effective way to visit the ruins is on a guided tour from Hoi An.
3. Get a Suit or Dress Tailored
You’ll find tailors all over Vietnam but in Hoi An there is one on pretty much every corner. The city is known as THE place to get something tailored. Tran Hung Dao Street is filled with shops that have large books with design and fabric options in every color and texture you could imagine.
Keep in mind that while you can get custom-tailored clothes in Hoi An for far less than you’d pay in the US, the prices are still quite high by Vietnam standards. Expect to pay $120-200 USD for a suit and $80-100 USD for a dress. Dress shirts will run you about $30-40 USD.
Tips for Selecting a Tailor
- Have a design in mind before walking into a tailor or you’ll be completely overwhelmed by the options
- Shop around and check reviews before deciding on the right one for you
- Don’t be afraid to negotiate the price, but be willing to pay for good quality
4. Shop for Leather Goods
Most people love to go on vacation and shop! And Vietnam is an amazing place to pick up a few treasures as prices are quite low and there are so many things to choose from. While you can find a good selection of souvenirs all over the country, we’ve found Hoi An to have the biggest selection of shops in the smallest, most pedestrian-friendly area.
The souvenirs that dominate the streets of Hoi An are mostly made of leather. Leather bags, shoes, belts, and wallets in a variety of sizes and colors spill out of the shops that line the streets of the Old Town. You can choose to buy something off the shelf or get a custom-made piece, usually within 24 hours.
Our favorite shop is Tuong Khang located at 69 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street. Between us and all of our friends that we’ve brought here, we’ve bought numerous purses, weekenders, and custom-made shoes. She has quality leather goods, reasonable prices, and a quick turnaround time if you get anything made. But she generally doesn’t give a lot of leeway in negotiating so don’t expect her to budge on prices.
Tips for Buying Leather
- Check the zipper to make sure it doesn’t get stuck easily
- Inspect the lining of the bag or purse – we find the mesh lining to be far less durable than other options
- Make sure the seams are all sewn tightly shut
5. Take a Bike Ride in the Countryside
Most of the hotels in Hoi An have free bicycles available for their guests to enjoy. And if you book a cooking class in the countryside, it may include a bike ride from the market to their tranquil property. You’ll love the views of the massive rice paddies, grazing water buffalo, and the friendly locals waving at you as you pass.
Be sure to stop for an ice-cold drink at The Happy Buffalo which has a beautiful setting overlooking the rice paddies. They have yummy food, a great drink selection, and super friendly owners!
If you’d rather not navigate the countryside on your own, you can also book a guided bike tour.
6. Sample Hoi An’s Unique Cuisine
You’ll find that the cuisine in Vietnam is exceptional, no matter what region you are in. But it’s worth sampling the local flavors when you get the opportunity. Hoi An is known for two dishes in particular – “white rose” dumplings and Cao Lau noodles. You’ll only find them here so you better give them a try!
You can get “white rose” dumplings at many restaurants in Hoi An, or you can go right to the source – White Rose Restaurant. There are only two things on their menu – white rose dumplings and Hoi An Pizza. The dumplings are pretty standard but it’s interesting to see the women putting them together at a large table in the back of the restaurant.
The Hoi An Pizza is to-die-for! It consists of fried wontons topped with seafood and drizzled with tomato sauce. A must-try!
Cao Lau noodles are famous in Hoi An. They have a unique taste and texture due to the fact that they use water from the ancient Ba Le well in their cooking process. These thick noodles are served with pork and local herbs. They can be found at many of the food stalls in the Central Market.
7. Compare the Banh Mi’s
There are two small restaurants in Hoi An that claim to have the best Banh Mi’s in town – Banh Mi Phuong (Bánh Mì Phượng) and Madam Khanh – The Banh Mi Queen. Phuong was visited by Anthony Bourdain who proclaimed it to be the best, while most locals prefer the Queen. You’ll have to visit both and see for yourself!
8. Take a Vietnamese Cooking Class
There are dozens of cooking classes offered in Hoi An. Generally, they include a trip to the market to purchase your ingredients and learn about varietals that are common in the region. Your class may also include a bike ride through the countryside or a ride in a round basket boat. No matter what Hoi An cooking class you choose, you’ll be eating a big meal so be sure you come hungry!
Nha Trang is also a great place to take a cooking class in Vietnam!
9. Take a Sunset Boat Ride on the Thu Bon River
The Thu Bon River runs through the center of Hoi An town. As the sun goes down, you won’t be able to walk more than 20 feet along the riverfront without being sold a boat ride or a candle-lit lantern. Sunset is the ideal time to take a short, 15-minute boat ride (don’t pay the inflated asking price, you’ll need to negotiate). During sunset, the sky turns pink and the floating lanterns start glowing.
You can also buy a floating paper lantern to release into the river while making a wish!
10. See the Bamboo Circus
The Bamboo Circus is Vietnam’s version of Cirque Du Soleil with acrobatics, dance, and visual artistry all combined into an incredibly entertaining show. Everything from the music to the performances captures Vietnam’s beautiful history and culture. You’re sure to be mesmerized by the athleticism and traditional sounds of this spectacular show!
11. Lounge at the Beach
While Vietnam is not known as a beach destination, it does actually have quite a few beautiful beaches. There are two beaches near Hoi An that are popular with both tourists and locals alike – Cua Dai Beach and An Bang Beach. Sadly, much of Cua Dai was eroded in 2014 so most tourists opt for An Bang.
Rent a beach chair with an umbrella and spend the afternoon lounging. There are plenty of restaurants and bars all along the beach to keep you full and entertained for hours.
12. Ride in a Basket Boat
Even though it’s a bit touristy, one fun tour in Hoi An is a ride in a traditional round basket boat. You have undoubtedly seen these giant round baskets sitting on the beaches of Vietnam and wondered why in the world someone would design a boat like that.
The “thung chai“, or basket boat, is a holdover from the French colonial era. During this time the French were levying dozens of taxes on the Vietnamese, including taxing their fishing boats. To avoid being taxed, poor Vietnamese fishermen created the thung chai and successfully argued that it was a basket rather than a boat making it exempt from taxation.
You can combine a basket boat ride on the Thu Bon River with a visit to the local market and a cooking class – it makes for a fun, touristy day in Hoi An!
13. Paddle on the River
The Old Town of Hoi An is located right on the banks of the Thu Bon River which is teeming with activity from the locals. And the best way to get a glimpse of local life on the river is to go on a paddling tour with Hoi An Kayak!
The sunset paddle by kayak is ideal for beautiful views, cooler temperatures, and bird watching. The sunrise paddle will take you past men on fishing boats, pulling in large nets full of their daily catch. This tour also includes a trip to the bustling fish market and through a coco-palm island. They offer tours on kayaks and stand-up paddleboards depending on your paddling preference. It’s a fun way to experience local life in Hoi An while getting a great workout!
14. Shop at the Hoi An Night Market
The Hoi An Night Market begins right on the river near the Cau An Hoi bridge and extends the length of Nguyen Hoang street all the way to the end of the road. Here you’ll find several picturesque lantern shops at the very beginning (where one medium-sized lantern should cost about 100k VND) and souvenirs galore as you continue further along.
Carts with delicious sweet and savory snacks are sprinkled throughout. Be sure to save some room after dinner to sample the goods!
15. Scuba or Snorkle in the Cham Islands
If you prefer snorkeling to beach lounging, then book a boat tour to the nearby Cham Islands. This set of eight small islands is part of a Unesco Biosphere reserve and offers one of the best diving and snorkeling opportunities in Vietnam. Hon Lao, the largest of the Cham Islands, has a beautiful white sand beach, calm clear water, and a handful of vendors selling drinks and food.
The islands are located about 25 minutes off the coast of Vietnam. Most boat trips to the Cham Islands last about seven hours (from 8 am – 3 pm) and consist of a mix of swimming, snorkeling, and relaxing on the beach.
16. Buy a Lantern
Hoi An is known for the hundreds of lanterns that are hung in trees throughout the old city, as well as used as decor at most of the nearby hotels. You’ll love wandering around the streets at night, marveling at the vibrant, colorful lanterns surrounding the pedestrian-friendly riverfront.
If you choose to purchase your lanterns at the stalls in the night market, plan on spending about 100k VND for a medium size. Arguably it’s worth it to buy one so you can snap a photo without angering the stall owner.
If you plan to buy quite a few lanterns, you’re better off shopping at Tuoi Ngoc HandMade as they have lower prices (~60k VND for the same medium size) and a larger selection. If you’re feeling crafty, they will also show you how to make your own lantern for around 150k VND.
17. Go on a Sunrise Photography Tour
A sunrise photography tour is a great way to improve your photography skills while exploring a small village outside of the touristy Hoi An Old Town. Plus, you’ll come away with some spectacular photos from your trip. Read all about our photography tour experience here!
18. Walk Across the Golden Hand Bridge
Vietnam’s Golden Hand Bridge has become somewhat famous on Instagram recently. It’s set high in the mountains outside of Danang. It has the appearance of two stone hands rising out of the ground to hold a golden bridge that overlooks the valley below. You can see why it’s a popular place for photography.
What most people don’t realize is that this bridge is just a single attraction in a sprawling theme park known as Sun World Ba Na Hills. The entire park is modeled after European villages. You’ll find everything from a French wine chateau to a German-theme beer hall.
The different areas of the amusement park are linked by soaring cable cars. There is also a three-story “fantasy zone” full of rides, arcade games, and even a rock-climbing wall. Sun World Ba Na Hills is both weird and impressive, and it’s definitely a fun day trip from Hoi An if you have time for it!
You can reach Sun World Ba Na Hills on your own by motorbike (though it’s a bit far). Another option is to book a tour that picks you up and drops you off in Hoi An.
19. Sip Secret Cocktails
SecretEATS is known for organizing unique dining experiences in secret locations around the world. And they’ve recently added a Cocktail Experience to their list of tour offerings in Hoi An. You’ll sip custom drink concoctions in five different secret spaces. The locations and the cocktails are ever-changing. As such, you won’t know where you’ll be going or what you’ll be drinking until you actually arrive.
While sampling the refreshing, curated cocktails, you’ll be served some delicious traditional snacks and learn about the history of the space you’re sitting in. Tours start at 5 pm and finish at around 8 pm. It’s a fun way to make some new friends, try some unique drinks and snacks, and learn a bit more about Hoi An!
20. Explore the Marble Mountains
Located just 20 minutes south of the city of Da Nang are the impressive Marble Mountains! There are actually five marble and limestone mountains that are named after different elements – Thuy Son (water), Kim Son (metal), Moc Son (wood), Hoa Son (fire), and Tho Son (earth). They all have natural caves and tunnels. You can hike through them as well as Buddhist temples that have been added for worshipping.
The most popular of the Marble Mountains to explore is Thuy Son Mountain. You can climb the steep 150 steps to the top or take the elevator. At the top, you’ll find 3 caves and a secret “road to heaven” which offers a lookout with beautiful views of the area.
You can tour the Marble Mountains on your own, or join a group tour from Hoi An. But best to go early to beat the intense heat and the crowds.
There it is – the 20 best things to see and do in Hoi An, Vietnam. We hope you enjoy your trip to the darling little city!
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