Oh Hoi An. What a charmer. We instantly fell in love with this ancient city! Hoi An is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque towns in Vietnam, where you can catch a glimpse into traditional Vietnam.
Originally a bustling and wealthy port town, Hoi An has transitioned into a vibrant tourist hub. No, literally – the houses are all yellow! The ancient city is protected by UNESCO which has resulted in most of the buildings remaining the way they did centuries ago, with dark wooden slats and bright coloured walls. As if the city wasn’t already attractive enough, the ancient quarter is pedestrianised preventing Hoi An from becoming polluted and over ridden with mopeds, which creates a peaceful and laid back atmosphere.
We managed to squeeze a lot into our three day trip but there is so much to do in this adorable city that we could have stayed longer (and we definitely want to return before we leave Vietnam).
We travelled to by air, taking an early morning flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Hoi An’s nearest airport in Da Nang. This route is a gateway to central Vietnam and subsequently serviced by a ton of different airlines every day. From Da Nang airport you will need to drive about 40 minutes to Hoi An. Unlike most airports, Da Nang doesn’t have hop on shuttle buses, meaning that a little bit of preplanning is required if you’re wanting to transfer straight to Hoi An from the airport.
There are a number of options for transferring. You can book a shuttle bus but bare in mind that bookings must be made in advance. I wish we had realised this as we would have definitely booked ahead. Another option is to catch a local bus to Da Nang bus station and then transfer to a Hoi An local bus. Or alternatively you can be lazy like us and take a taxi the whole way, this will only set you back around 450.000đ. We checked the going price on Uber/Grab and bargained a set fare, but it you aren’t comfortable doing this then the meter wasn’t far off this price.
Hoi An is the perfect size to explore on foot as most of the main attraction are in the old center. We opted to mix wandering with cycling, which is super manageable and safe because there are no motor vehicles – you just have to watch out for aimless tourists who forget bikes are still permitted on the streets! Most hotels/hostels offer free bike hire but if yours doesn’t then there are a number of stores you can hire from who will also give you maps and tips on routes. The country surrounding Hoi An is easily accessible, and the roads are QUIET and FLAT which makes for a perfect day exploring the rural countryside.
If you aren’t up to walking or cycling then cyclos are a popular alternative for touring the old city. Be prepared to negotiate – I’ve heard the asking price can be steep!
As a huge draw for all types of traveler, Hoi An has a vast range of accommodation options to suit any budget, with hostels and homestays, but also a range of hotels for every budget.
Note – if you opt to stay within the ancient city then it is highly likely that you will have to walk a short distance with your luggage to reach your accommodation as no motor vehicles are permitted within this area.
We stayed in the midrange Long Life Riverfront Hotel which happened to be on offer when we were booking last minute (BONUS). We enjoyed a pleasant stay here and particularly loved having a pool to cool-down in, something we don’t have the luxury of in Ho Chi Minh City. The room wasn’t the best aesthetically that we’ve stayed in (personal taste), but it offered a good range of breakfast options and large rooms, we even had a free standing bath which we stupidly neglected to take advantage of. The staff were super accommodating, letting us check in early, store our luggage, arranging our airport transfer and they even let us borrow bikes after we had checked out which meant we were able to explore the whole of our last day. It is in the perfect location – situated right on the river front, around the corner from the night market, across the river from all the sites and surrounded by restaurants, bars and spas. Perfect!
Did you know that there is a Vietnamese dish that you can only try in Hoi An? Its a dry noodle dish called Cau Lao and you can’t get it anywhere else in Vietnam!
It cannot be made outside of Hoi An because it is made with water from an ancient Cham well in the city (apparently). And it is ngon qua! (delicious) You can grab a bowl at street vendors and cafes throughout the town – We tried ours at a hole-in-the-wall cafe on the outskirts of the ancient city. Cau Lao noodles are special as they are made from rice with tamarind (if I remember correctly), turning them a yellow colour and giving them more flavour! This is without a doubt one of my favourite Vietnamese dishes and one you have to try in Hoi An!
While in Hoi An you should also head out of the ancient city to pick up a Banh Mi from Phi Banh Mi , who boast at selling the best Ban Mi in Vietnam. If you aren’t familiar with Banh Mi’s then they are basically a fresh baguette which you can have filled with a variety of things -most commonly a selection of meat, pate, cucumber and pickled veggies! All laden with hot sauce and soy. Locals eat them for breakfast (you can even get them with fried egg) but we prefer them for lunch!
We’re not sure if Phi’s Banh Mi’s are the best in the country but they sure are up there with the best we’ve tried! And when a sandwich is TripAdvisor No.4 rated eatery it’d be rude not try!
Tip- copy us and pick one up on your way to exploring the countryside and stop to enjoy it at the beach!
For dinner try BBQ-ing your own food at Anh Boa BBQ and hotpot. Located on a quiet back street near the night market, this little restaurant serves some beautifully marinated meats and some more unusual BBQ items like the clams pictured below. They were marinated in a peanut and lemongrass sauce and boy were they good, and thats coming from someone who doesn’t like shellfish!
While Hoi An has turned into a bit of a tourist trap with prices set noticeably higher than in Saigon, there is still an abundance of street food to be found if you come off the main drag. Head to the perimeter of the old city for lots of tasty hole-in-the-wall eateries which will keep you on budget!
By far one of our favourite things about Hoi An was wandering around the maze of street, browsing the shops and stopping off for a coffee every once and a while. The streets are so picturesque and this is a beautiful and peaceful way to spend an afternoon getting acquainted.
Japanese Covered Bridge
Definitely head for a look at the Japanese Covered Bridge, an iconic feature of the town. This bridge has a interesting history, built to connect the Japanese and Chinese districts which were home to the foreign traders who settled in Hoi An. The design is very intricate, showcasing Japanese, Vietnamese and Chinese influences.
Learn to Cook
Hoi An has an incredible range of cookery classes on offer, where you can begin to learn the art of complex Vietnamese cooking (seriously, dishes have so many ingredients). We took a morning class with Thaun Thinh Island Cookery class which included a market tour and a boat ride through the mangrove forest to the cookery school. The class was amazing – delicious food and good tuition, surrounded by beautiful mangrove forests.
Visit the Central Market
Soak up the energy and atmosphere of Hoi An’s food market. This was another one of my favourite parts to our trip to Hoi An. We cycled through the market on our first day but returned to purchase produce for our cookery course the next morning.
Tip – be sure to head first thing in the morning (between 7-9am) to experience the market in full swing. I guarantee you will see some sites to make you both giggle and stare in astonishment.
Browse the Night Market
Hoi An boast one of the best (night) markets that we’ve seen in Vietnam. The quality of items on offer here is much higher than your average tourist tat, but expect to pay accordingly. With beautiful silk and woven lanterns, tea pots, chopsticks, hand made bags and a large selection of traditional hats on offer, I’m confident you will find something tasteful to remind you of your trip to Vietnam.
Cycle through the Hoi An countryside
We originally wanted to book a tour to get a little further afield but unfortunately we were limited for time, so instead we ended up DIYing it and heading out on our own to do some exploring. After only 10 minutes you’re surrounded by rice paddies, farmers and buffalo at work, heading over bridges with fishermen at below, cycling past mangrove forests and finding a welcomed break at the nearby beaches. A great way to spend an afternoon and something we recommend you try to fit into your trip if you can!
Jump the waves at An Bang beach
While An Bang definitely isn’t the best beach you’ll find in Asia it does make for a great place to relax after cycling through the Vietnamese heat!
Be prepared to pay for loungers from restaurants and then pay for drinks on top. At some, if you order food you can get the bed for free, but these restaurants definitely weren’t cheap for food or drinks!
Take a tour to My Son, Vietnams biggest Ancient Cham site. We did this trip a few weeks later from Da Nang but as its closer to Hoi An we would recommend using Hoi An as a base. You’ll have to set aside a whole morning for this one as its a little bit of a drive, but if you haven’t been to a religious Cham site before then its totally worth it.
Tip – head there as early as possible to beat the crowds and you’ll likely have the whole area to yourself!
If you’re like us and like to keep busy when you visit somewhere then here are a few things we might try to squeeze into another trip to Hoi An.
- Get some clothes tailor-made. Hoi An has the most dense population of tailors in Vietnam (and potentially the world, but don’t quote me on that). You’ll see when you get there, almost every second shop offers suits, dresses, shoes, bags, coats, bikinis – literally anything you want tailor-made! Do some research before picking a place in order to get high quality and good value. Most offer 2 day turn around or less so if you want to do this try and do it first thing when you arrive!
- Hop between the Chinese temples and traditional house. You can purchase a pass which will get you access to the Japanese-Covered bridge, the many Chinese temples and the old houses whose interiors have been maintained as they were centuries ago. We opted to skip this one but maybe we’ll get a pass next time.
- Take a pottery or Lantern making lesson. Where better to take a lantern making class than the city filled with them? Admittedly this appealed a lot more to the artistic side of me than it did to David but its definitely something that will be on the cards for a return trip. As a bonus you would get to take home a beautiful personal souvenir!
Travelled September 2016 | Cost for 2 people for 2 nights and 3 days in Hoi An
Prices are in both Vietnamese dong (đ) and British pound (£), conversions are estimates based upon the current exchange rate.
|Airport transfer||taxi 450000 |
return through hotel 300000
Hoi An has become a tourist trap because of its undoubted beauty, so be prepared to pay inflated rates compared to some less touristy destinations in Vietnam. However exclude our multiple massages and drinks, and pick cheaper dinners and a slightly cheaper cookery course (though the one we did was so amazing that I wouldn’t recommend scrimping here) and you could have a great time here on a reasonable budget!