10 Things You Should do in Hoi An, Vietnam’s City of Lanterns
The ancient town of Hoi An used to be a major trading port. Now, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most visited places in Vietnam. This fact alone might be a turn-off. After all, who likes a place full of tourists? We certainly don’t, but we’d heard so many nice things about Hoi An that we had to include it in our Vietnam itinerary.
I’m so glad that we did, because touristy or not, we loved Hoi An. How could we not fall in love with it? With its curved roofs and brightly painted old shops, its ancient temples and the many palm trees lining its river, it’s a true feast for your eyes.
Beautiful by day and magical by night, Hoi An is a photographer’s dream and one could easily spend an entire day just taking photos of it. You can get a feel for its rich history just by wandering its narrow alleyways. Hoi An is the food capital of Vietnam and as you walk around it, your stomach will begin to rumble from the aroma of delicious Vietnamese dishes that fill the air. It’s a truly enjoyable place to visit and one that should be part of everyone’s Vietnam holiday.
We decided to spend six nights in Hoi An and, with all the fun things to do there, we never found ourselves bored. Here are 10 things you should do in Hoi An:
1- Wander the small streets of the ancient town
The ancient town of Hoi An is a real delight to walk around. It’s a picture-perfect old Vietnamese town with a mixture of French colonial, Chinese and Japanese architecture. It consists of a few major streets that are crisscrossed by many narrow alleyways, each more charming and colourful than those before it. Bright coloured lanterns hang across the streets, and the street vendors wear their iconic, conical hats. Then there are the beautifully restored heritage buildings, such as the Tan Ky house and the Japanese Bridge. You’ll definitely want to visit those.
Take a walk along the shores of the Thu Bon River for more views of the old town and for great photography opportunities. Along both sides of the river, there are many restaurants and bars where you can sit and enjoy the atmosphere as you sip a local beer or a Vietnamese coffee.
Note: You’ll need a ticket to enter the old town. The ticket will be valid for the entire length of your stay. Be sure to hold on to it. However, I stupidly lost our tickets and no-one ever asked us for them. The ticket also includes five passes to use at any of the twenty-two sightseeing attractions, such as the Japanese Bridge, Tan Ky house and Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall. Entrance tickets to the Ancient Town cost VND 120,000.
2- Visit the night market
Every night on Nguyen Hoang Street, on the other side of the river, there’s a night market. There you’ll find many local vendors selling handmade souvenirs, jewellery, clothing and local snacks. The street is lit by hundreds of colourful lanterns making it another great spot for photographers. There are many stalls selling lanterns, but much to the shop owners annoyance, rather than buying them, most people simply photograph them instead. If you are looking for nightlife, the area is also full of restaurants, bars and clubs.
As pretty as Hoi An is by day, seeing the lanterns lit up and glowing against the night sky is something else! As you cross the river to the market, you’ll see many paper lanterns with candles floating on the river. These are sold next to the banks of the river. You can buy them and place them on the water before making a wish. Doing this is supposed to bring you good luck and happiness.
3- Visit the Central Market
Hoi An’s Central Market bustles with life. Although it’s chaotic, it’s a great place to check out the locals going about their daily life. You’ll find a mix of local shoppers, vendors, tourists, and chickens running about. There is so much to see, smell, photograph, buy and taste! But look out for motorbikes because they will drive straight through the crowds to get to their destination!
4- Soak in the sun on An Bang Beach
An Bang Beach is about five kilometres outside of town. It’s easy to get to. You can catch a taxi there or ride and park your bike at one of the many restaurants. You buy a drink and the restaurant owner “watches” your bike for you.
An Bang beach is a nice beach to spend the day at, relaxing with a good book. You can rent one of the many lounge chairs or simply put your towel down on the sand. If you’re after lunch or cocktails, there are many restaurants and bars to choose from.
5- Ride through the countryside and rice fields
There is much more to Hoi An than its ancient town. Within a short bike ride out from the city centre, you’ll find countryside with rice fields, herb gardens, local villages and lush greenery. You’ll see farmers working their fields, water buffalos grazing, fishermen fishing in the rivers and you’ll experience a more rustic way of life. My favourite part was coming across a friendly calf who came running towards us for attention. I could have spent hours cuddling him; he was the cutest. Simon had to drag me back to my bike!
6- Take a cooking class
Hoi An is probably the best place in Vietnam to take a cooking class. Many of the best restaurants in town offer them. First, they’ll take you on a tour of the local market, and then they’ll show you how to make some of the nicest Vietnamese dishes, such as fresh Spring Rolls, Papaya salad, Chilli and Lemongrass Chicken. Of course, when we made them they never tasted quite as good, but hey, you might be better cooks than us! Nevertheless, it was a fun experience. Two good, reputable cooking classes are Green Bamboo and the Tra Que Garden cooking class.
7- Visit the My Son ruins at sunrise
The My Son Sanctuary is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, about fifty kilometres outside of Hoi An. This group of partially ruined Hindu temples was built between the 4th and 14th century AD and was dedicated to the worship of the god Shiva. The temples are set in a valley roughly two kilometres wide and are surrounded by two mountain ranges. This means it can get really hot there during the day. So the best time to visit is at sunrise when it’s cooler, the light is perfect and most tourists are still in bed! If you’ve been to Angkor Wat you might be a little disappointed, but we haven’t and we really enjoyed our visit to My Son.
8- Eat and eat some more
While in the food capital you’ll want to eat out a lot. In fact, if you wanted to, you could probably spend your entire time there eating! I’m pretty sure I could of! There are so many amazing restaurants in town (read on for some of their names), and some great street food to be had.
Hoi An has a few speciality foods that you should try:
- Cao lầu (a dish made with noodles, pork, and local greens),
- Banh Bao Vac or White Rose (a shrimp dumpling),
- Com Ga (chicken rice),
- Mi Quang (Vietnamese Turmeric noodles).
9- Get something tailored
Hoi An is one of the cheapest places in the world to get custom-made suits and dresses. As for finding a tailor, well they are pretty much on every corner. But not all tailors are that good, so be sure to do your research. Everyone in town will recommend someone, mostly their family members or friends. If you’re interested, ask other travellers for recommendations, especially if you’re planning on getting a suit made or something of similar expense. Unfortunately, we can’t recommend any as we didn’t need anything tailored and decided to avoid those shops altogether.
10- Visit Cam Kim Island
Cam Kim Island is a short wooden boat ride away from Hoi An and it’s another great place to spend a few hours riding a bike around. Although you can also ride there directly via a recently built bridge, the boat ride is half the fun. Once on the island, you’ll find more typical rural scenes, villages and rice paddies. But the best part is that there are no cars, so you can cycle in peace. Cam Kim is also famous for its wood carving. We visited an area of the island where the locals were building and repairing traditional boats which was really interesting to watch. Mind the local geese though, they aren’t as friendly as the buffalos!
Where is Hoi An?
Hoi An is a city in Quảng Nam Province in Central Vietnam. It’s forty kilometres from the city of Da Nang and its International Airport. There are many ways to get to Hoi An from Da Nang. You can arrange private transfers through your hotel, or through a local company (many companies can organise that for you at various prices). You can also take a taxi, which should cost between AU$20-$35. Mai Linh is a reputable taxi company. There is a $6 direct shuttle from the airport. Finally, if you aren’t in a rush, the local, yellow bus, will set you back $1 but will take up to two hours (it’s only convenient if you’re coming from Da Nang city as it doesn’t stop at the airport).
How to get around in Hoi An?
Hoi An is a great place to enjoy by foot. You can also get around by bike. Some hotels have free bikes for guests to use, so always check before hiring. If not, there are a few bike hire places in town. A bike rental should cost about AUD$ 1.50 for the day. You can also hire a motorcycle for as little as AU$7 a day.
Where to eat?
White Marble Wine Bar
This turned out to be our favourite place in Hoi An, not only because of their awesome wine selection but because the food was delicious. Try their sharing platter, a lovely selection of Vietnamese dishes.
Their food is inventive and tasty. Their cocktails are delicious. Head upstairs for the best view of the river to accompany your lunch. It’s a great place to soak up the atmosphere and engage in a little people watching.
Green Mango is a bit more expensive than other places but their food is super tasty and fresh. Go there early for happy hour and start your meal with a few cocktails!
Even though Morning Glory has become very touristy, the food is still outstanding and the prices are quite reasonable considering its location. There are so many dishes to choose from that it’s actually quite hard to decide. The Banh Xeo was delicious! Be sure to make a reservation or arrive very early.
There’s nothing fancy about Bale Well. It’s a plastic tables and chairs affair with a set menu of Banh Xeo (pancakes), grilled pork skewers, fried spring rolls, rice pancake and dessert. The waitress will show you how to eat them the traditional way. It’s actually a lot of fun and the food was very tasty.
This unassuming shop is a small family run restaurant serving the best traditional Banh Mi in Hoi An. It’s a great place for a quick and cheap lunch.
White Rose Restaurant
If you want to try the famous White Rose this is the place to go to. The restaurant has been open for three generations and the recipe is a family secret. It’s the only place in town that actually makes the White Rose. You can even see the ladies making them as you enjoy your dish.
The restaurant supplies the White Rose to all the other restaurants in town and to the street vendors. What’s a White Rose? They are flower-shaped dumplings made with translucent white dough and filled with spiced minced shrimp. They’re topped with crispy fried shallots and served with a special dipping sauce. Besides these dumplings, the restaurant only serves one other dish – crispy wontons, otherwise known as the “Hoi An pizza”.
Where to stay in Hoi An?
This boutique hotel offers seventeen uniquely designed villas and is a five-minutes walk to the Japanese Bridge and the night market. Prices start from AU$65. Click here for the latest prices.
Located just outside the old town, the Almanity is quiet and only a few minutes walk to the action. It offers daily free massages, free bikes and it has an amazing pool to cool off in after a day exploring. We had a lovely stay there. Prices start from AU$170. Click here for the latest prices.
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