Hoi An is one of the most charming and romantic towns in all of SE Asia. The colonial streets with their yellow walls and dark wood shutters, basking in the romantic light of hanging lanterns, beckon all who travel to Vietnam. Hoi An is famed as the mostly densely populated area of tailors (if not only in SE Asia, in the world), but there is so much more to this ancient city than shopping (though still a totally acceptable reason to visit). With three trips in less than a year, I’ve seen and done almost everything you can imagine. This complete Hoi An Wanderlist will guide you through everything this adorable UNESCO town has to offer, and how to experience it to its full.
Hoi An Wanderlist
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Get lost wandering around the old town
Going for a lazy wander around the old city is the perfect way to acclimatise in Hoi An. Take in the yellow washed houses, the dark wood interiors and the lanterns swinging above. If you are able to brave the mid-day sun you will find the city at its quietest and almost have the streets to yourself. Cafes are not hard to come by, so take many little drink stops to cool down and refresh on your wanderings. Make your way towards the river and see what temples and sites you can stumble upon.
A common alternative is to rent a bicycle and cycle around the ancient city – most hotels offer free bike hire, and if not for free then you will be able to rent one for around $1/2 a day from your accommodation, or from vendors near the riverfront.
COST: Free, or ~$1/2 if renting a bicycle. You can search for a hotel with free bike rental via booking.com*.
WHEN: The evening is the most pleasant weather for wandering as the sun gets extremely hot. Subsequently most visitors flock to the streets at night to see the lanterns and do some relaxed shopping. If you can cope with the heat and sun then head out in the afternoon and you will be rewarded with peace and quiet in the city.
If walking around the town isn’t possible for you, why not get a cyclo to ride you around? Head to the area next to the Japanese bridge – this is where the drivers park up when they don’t have a ride yet!
Cross the Japanese Covered Bridge
This is one of the most iconic buildings in Hoi An, and for good reason. It’s architecturally unique, intricate and comes with an interesting history! Hoi An was once a bustling port, with different nationalities, such as Chinese, Japanese and Dutch, calling it home. Originally the town was divided along the river, with the Japanese merchants forming a community on one-side, and the Chinese on the other-side. The covered bridge, which comes complete with a buddhist temple inside, linked the two communities together.
COST: To cross the bridge you will need to purchase one of the multiple attraction tickets (available in the tourist office opposite the entrance to the bridge). The tickets cost 150,000 VND and give you access to 5 attractions (pagodas or old houses) of your choosing. Alternatively you can see the bridge from the outside for free.
Learn to cook Vietnamese food
Hoi An is home to the best selection of cookery schools in Vietnam, hands down. Cash in on it while you’re here and learn the skills to make some classic Vietnamese dishes! These new skills also make for a unique souvenir (I’m all about those memories and skills over material souvenirs). Some of the typical dishes to recreate in class are phở (noodle soup), bánh xèo (savoury pancakes) and gỏi cuốn (fresh spring rolls).
When picking a class be sure to opt for one which includes a market tour and boat ride to get the most out of the experience. I took a class with Thuan Tinh Island Cookery School which is situated in the middle of a coconut grove you paddled through to get to the school! I absolutely loved this class and it was possibly my favourite cooking class EVER!
COST: A half day class with Thuan Tinh Island Cookery School was $34. However costs very depending on the course you pick, and there are a range of different schools to suit all budgets in Hoi An.
TIME: Most courses will include a pick up at around 8am to see the market, and will then last all morning, finishing at lunch time. So set aside a half day to do your cooking class in Hoi An.
TIP: Book a tour which includes a market tour and boat ride.
Central Market tour
A hive of energy, this market is a great spot to explore local food shopping in Vietnam. While some vendors have turned towards tourism, the market still mainly caters to locals shopping for their groceries. As a result the Hoi An market is predominantly fresh foods. Around the fringes of the markets you’ll find tourist shops popping up, shift through them and you’ll uncover some gems – like beautiful straw shopping bags to carry your fresh fruit home in!
TIME: Go in the morning, around 7-8am to see the market in full swing. The market remains all day but first thing in the morning is when you’ll be able to see the most activity and locals shopping.
TIP: I recommend touring the market as part of cooking class as it was super useful having a guide who can tell you about through the produce and answer questions.
Related Post: Hoi An Market Photo Journal
Cycle through the Vietnamese countryside
Leaving from Hoi An old town, it only takes a short 10 minute cycle before you are out in the countryside, surrounded by rice paddies and local life. If you are doing a city hop of Vietnam then I can’t recommend getting out into the Vietnamese countryside enough. The land around Hoi An is extremely flat, making it perfect for some relaxed cycling around. So long as you have internet on your phone and/or GoogleMaps downloaded it’s hard to get lost.
COST: Free if your accommodation includes free bike hire, ~$1/2 if you have to hire a bike (can be done via most accommodation or you can find bikes for rent by the Thu Bon River). You can search for a hotel with free bike rental via booking.com*.
TIME: This really depends on the pace you want to go at, anywhere between a few hours to a full day.
WHERE: My self-guided bicycle route of the Hoi An Countryside starts on Hai Ba Trung street in the centre of the old city and takes you on a route towards An Bang beach and then back into town, passing through lost of Hoi An countryside.
TIP: Download the area map on google maps for offline mode before leaving your accommodation. That way, if you get lost you will be able to find your way back to the city centre without much trouble.
Looking for something a bit more adventurous? If you’re up for some longer distance cycling in the Vietnamese sunshine then try a tour with Heaven and Earth Bicycle Tours. I really wanted to try one of their tours but I still haven’t found the time (yet)!
Related Post: Self-Guided Bicycle Tour of the Hoi An Countryside
Eat Cao Lầu noodles
Now one of my favourite Vietnamese dishes, Cao Lầu is a local Hoi An dish. The noodle dish is said to only be possible to make with water from a local well, hence you won’t be able to find anywhere else! Cao Lầu is a dry noodle dish, made with much thicker noodles than normal, more like udon noodles. The noodles are topped with pork, a handful of herbs, sauce and rice crackers on top.
COST: 30,000 – 80,000 or more depending on where you eat it.
WHERE: As the local speciality, Cao Lầu can be found just about everywhere. From street food down by the river, to cafes and restaurants – whatever your budget and style, you need to try Cau Lau!
Looking for something a bit more relaxing to do? Nearby An Bang beach is the place for you. It’s not the best beach in Vietnam but it’s definitely not the worst. Lots of beds, restaurants and waves to cool down in. Be prepared to pay for a bed from one of the beach front restaurants and potentially to get some hassle from vendors walking along the beach.
COST: You will need to pay for a sun lounger and bike parking if you drive or cycle there. Many places will try to scam you out of money when parking so have your wits about you and know how much money you are handing over. It can be anything from 10.000 (standard price for bike parking) to 30.000 VND.
GETTING THERE: It is too far from the city to walk, but you can easily take a taxis, uber or grab. Or if you are enjoying cycling around you can use this route to cycle to An Bang Beach yourself.
Take a boat ride at sunset and float a lantern
Can you think of anything more romantic? Taking a leisurely boat ride down the Hoi An river at sunset allows you to soak up the atmosphere while being slightly removed from the crowds. Along the river side you’ll see lots of boats offering rides, so finding one is not a challenge. If you wait to go later into the night you’ll find yourself surrounded by lanterns floating down the river.
COST: 50.000VND per person on the boat, roughly. 10,000VND per floating lantern. You can purchase lanterns from vendors at the side of the river. Due to the intense work of paddling the boats it is courteous to tip.
My Son is an ancient champa temples site, set in a beautiful mountain valley about 1.5 hours from Hoi An. If my limited knowledge of Vietnamese has taught me anything, its that the Vietnamese love to name things quite literally. In the case of My Son, it translates to beautiful (my) mountain (son).
COST: Tickets to enter the UNSECO My Son site are 150,000 dong and our bus tour was an additional 150,000VND per/person.
GETTING THERE: You could drive yourself if you are able to ride a motorbike, it is quite a long drive and the roads are winding and used by locals at high speeds so be careful. Taking a tour will make life easier for yourself. You can book a tour through most accommodation or one of the travel agents in the ancient city.
TIME: Tours normally take half a day, leaving around 8 am and returning before lunchtime.
TIP: Visit first thing in the morning, or on a sunrise tour to see the ruins when it is quiet. The site gets really busy later in the day. Another bonus of heading early doors is that you beat the mid-day sun. If you do go on one of the later tours, don’t forget a hat and sunscreen. There are shops where you can buy juice etc there.
Related Post: Learning to Ride a Motorbike in Vietnam
Browse the night market
Hoi An night market is one of the better markets I’ve seen in Vietnam, selling a range of local made and more tasteful items. You can find lanterns, lots of silver jewellery and bags. The standard tourist items which are sold all over Vietnam are also sold here, but there is a better mix of taste and tat than you’ll find in other markets across the country. Don’t forget to bargain!
WHERE: Nguyễn Hoàng, Hội An
Get items tailor-made
One of the things Hoi An is undoubtedly famous for is its dense population of tailors, ready to whip together custom made clothes for you. In addition to being able to get clothes made, you will find plenty leather tailors who can make custom fitting shoes, bags and other leather wear like jackets and belts. There are sooo many stores that it can be overwhelming trying to pick where to go. I have bought all manner of leather items in Hoi An, ranging from holdalls, to backpacks, jackets and a belt.
For more on getting clothes made in Hoi An, check out these posts:
- Samantha from There She Goes Again, tells all about her experience getting clothes made at Yaly Couture, Hoi An.
- The wonderful Izzy from The Next Somewhere spills all the insider tips from BeBe Tailor on how to pick a tailor in Hoi An, on Christinas Vietnam.
Another thing that Hoi An is not short of is temples. The majority of the temples in Hoi An are of Chinese origins and can be visited using the multiple attraction tickets you need to cross the Japanese Covered Bridge.
See what ancient life was like in Hoi An’s old houses
Being an ancient city, Hoi An is the best place in Vietnam to get a glimpse of what life looked like in the colonial past. Some of the houses in Hoi An have been maintained how they were in the past so you can see for yourself!
Make a lantern
I haven’t done this on any of my trips, partially because of time and company. On one of my trips I spotted a guy sitting in a woman’s stall at the night market making one with her from scratch! There are also classes you can take which will not only teach you the art of making one but also leave you with a beautiful souvenir to take home.
A class which is on my radar and I hope to take on a future visit is a lantern making class with The Lifestart Foundation, who are a non-profit organisation supporting those with disadvantages in the community. Their half day classes also include a traditional painting class which sounds really interesting too!
Tea Tasting at Reaching Out
The beautiful Reaching Out Teahouse in the heart of the Hoi An old town not only offers the perfect people watching spot, but also delicious tea and a worthwhile cause. All of the staff are deaf, and they urge you to also enjoy your tea in quiet. The whole experience is very humbling, as you think about the difficulties they must overcome. To make it even more worthwhile the profits go back into the community, funding training to teach those with physical disabilities skills that will help them to find work and fully integrate into society.
COST: Drinks are around 60-80.000VND. Snack bowls are 30.000VND each.
WHERE: 131 Trần Phú, Sơn Phong, Hội An.
See the old city lit up by lanterns at night
And of course, you cannot miss the spectacular show that Hoi An puts on every night. The streets of the ancient town are adorned by hanging lanterns. It is nothing short of magical to see the sky lit up at night in Hoi An. The town gets really busy at night, so be prepared for there to be lots of tourists. But its also cooler which makes it a great time to do some shopping and enjoy a drink under the lanterns.
Hoi An in such a charming city, and one that cannot be skipped on a trip to Vietnam. What is your favourite thing to do in Hoi An?
My must not miss in Hoi An is definitely the Reaching Out Teahouse!
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For more on Hoi An:
- A Travel Guide to Hoi An, Vietnam
- Vietnamese Cooking Class in Hoi An
- Self-Guided Bicycle Tour of the Hoi An Countryside
- Photo Journal: Hoi An Market