Hội An, located in central Vietnam about a 45 minute drive from the city of Da Nang, often emerges as a favourite among travellers of Vietnam, myself included.
Formerly known as Faifoo, it is known for its well-preserved ancient town featuring a mix of Japanese, Chinese, French, and Vietnamese architecture, situated on a number of canals (earning it the nickname ‘Venice of the East’) on the Thu Bồn River.
While it can be easily seen in a couple of days, stay longer if possible, taking in all the sights, and make sure to include the following in your visit:
Visit the Ancient Town sites
If you’ve been travelling around Vietnam already before arriving in Hoi An, you’ll probably find the pedestrianised Ancient Town as a much needed break from the crazy motorcycles. It is full of tourists in their place, but as we were there slightly in the off season (October) we were usually the only ones at each of the sites.
To see the sites of the Ancient Town, you purchase a ticket at one of the offices (there’s one right outside the Japanese Bridge) allowing you into five sites out of 21 of your choice at 120k Dong. We stopped by:
- The Japanese Bridge
- Old House if Phung Hùng
- Quang Trieu Assembly Hall
- Quam Am Pagoda
- Quang Cong Temple
Shop at the Night Market
Hoi An’s night market is a great place to pick up souvenirs and gifts, try some local food, or just soak up the lantern-lit atmosphere. Around 50 stalls line the street, selling the usual souvenirs such as magnets and shotglasses, as well as jewellery, bags, clothes, silk lanterns and more.
Like any market in Vietnam, you can haggle on prices, and the stall holders are generally willing to make a deal if you buy more than one of an item. There’s also several stalls selling sweet treats, and we snacked on some Thai-style banana pancakes as we browsed.
It opens from 6-10pm everyday, and after you can stop by one of the nearby bars for happy hour (which in many places lasts most of the evening).
Take a boat to see the town by night
As with any tourist area in Vietnam, you’ll probably find the constant flow of pushy sales people annoying; in Hoi An it is the constant chorus of “boat boat! Lantern ride!” that will interrupt a walk down the river.
But it is a gorgeous way to enjoy all the lights in the town, rowed by a bamboo boat down the river and lighting lanterns to place in the water.
Keep in mind that you can haggle the price down, they tend to start high at about 300k dong, but we were there on a quiet night and managed to get the price down to 100k.
Admire the silk lanterns
One of the things that makes Hoi An so enchanting is the thousands of silk lanterns that adorn the streets of this town in every colour. Take a walk during the day and then come back at night to see them lit up.
You can also watch these being made at stalls and shops and even take a few home. We picked up a few from a local stall, which did prove challenging to carry around the remainder of the trip, but they arrived home in one piece.
Treat yourself to some custom tailored clothing
Hoi An is famous for its tailors, and the streets are full of places offering custom made garments. As someone who measures 5 feet tall, the thought of getting something that actually fit my proportions was too good to pass up and I came home with a beautiful new teal work dress and a perfectly fitting black jumpsuit, while Matt had a new suit made; my only regret was not buying more.
I have heard the quality and value for money can vary across the tailors. Our driver that dropped us in Hoi An recommended one, Faifoo, and while I’m usually wary of these types of recommendations, knowing tours often recommend places based on getting commission, but this place was brilliant. They had a real eye for detail, managed to get us the pieces ready in a very short time span, and was reasonably priced. I’ve already worn my dress a few times and it seems very well made.
Try the local food
Each region of Vietnam has its own local specialities and the central region is no different. Hoi An also has a few dishes that are unique to this town alone.
Noodle soups are popular everywhere, with many different local takes, and Hoi An is famous for it Cau Lau, a soup made with thick, chewy noodles and pork.
Banh Mi, a crisp but soft baguette filled with your choice of meat is also very popular in Hoi An, and we found a great place just outside the Ancient Town, Bahn Mi Phuong.
Relax at the beach
Admittedly we didn’t spend much beach time in Hoi An as the place we stayed had a pool that we wanted to enjoy and our time was quite limited. There are two main beaches, An Bang and Cua Dai . My recommendation is to skip Cua Dai, it isn’t the cleanest or most scenic and you can’t swim there, and go to An Bang, staying for dinner at a nearby seafood restaurant.
The need to knows
Getting there: Hoi An has no rail or airport, so you’ll have to transfer there via Da Nang or Hue, either with a driver or by bus. Da Nang is closer and you can often get a cab there or hire private transfer. We got a private transfer from Da Nang and then on to Hue that included tours so that we could see some of the sites nearby such as the Marble Mountains and Hai Van Pass.
Where to stay: I’d recommend staying near the Old Town if you can as there is so much to see and do there and using a bike if you want to get to the beach (some b&bs even let you borrow these for free). We used Green Tea Homestay, about a 15 minute walk into the Old Town, and loved it: really peaceful with a pool and good breakfast.