Wherever I go I spend a great deal of time researching what to do when I arrive at my destination. Most of the information I found on Hoi An was superficial. I know it’s a great town for taking photos, but dig a bit deeper and there is so much more to it. I have included some of the obvious things to do, but I also hope that you will find some surprises in this Hoi An travel guide.
Is it all it’s cracked up to be?
It seems like whenever you mention Vietnam those in the know ask “are you going to visit Hoi An?” My first visit was 10 years ago and it was with trepidation that I planned this visit. I thought that is might be spoilt by the influx of tourists, but much to my surprise it was more beautiful than before. Things were cleaned up, lanterns were everywhere and a whole new market had developed across the river. I couldn’t wait to explore.
Why do I like Hoi An?
The first thing that I liked was there was still not a skyscraper in sight and everything is spread out in a leisurely fashion. The second thing was the lack of pollution that plagues the big cities. There is no smog and the air is not polluted. It’s always a pleasure to breathe fresh air and know that I won’t be sneezing and feeling miserable. I don’t cope well with polluted air.
The river meanders through the town dividing the old and the new. The inhabitants have to deal with annual floods. We were shown a video taken by a waiter in one of the restaurants we visited which was quite horrific. Even if the inhabitants are evacuated they return knowing that they will be forced to move again the next year. I love the resilience of the people.
A brief history
There have been humans in the area for the last 2200 years. The port, however, was officially established in 1595. It soon became a major trading port in South East Asia in the 16th and 17th centuries. As trade developed immigrants from China and Japan settled in the town. These influences are still around today and can be seen in the temples, pagodas, shop houses and of course the Japanese Bridge.
Hoi An was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in December 1999, for the “fusion of indigenous and foreign cultures (principally Chinese and Japanese with later European influences)”. The town was also largely unaffected by the American War (or Vietnam War) and as a result, it is almost like it has been preserved in a time capsule. UNESCO has also described it as the place where time stood still which describes it perfectly.
My Hoi An Travel Guide
Explore the old town
Many of the streets in the old town are closed to traffic which is just as well when you see the size of them. There are around 1000 old buildings and 844 are UNESCO listed.
I like the juxtaposed architectural styles throughout the town. French Colonial sits beside a temple. A pagoda dwarfs a shophouse. Bougainvillaea rambles over the carved wooden roof tiles. Tourists and locals alike wear traditional Vietnamese hats and they walk or cycle through the streets. It really is as pretty as a picture postcard.
The houses are predominantly yellow. Like so much in Oriental culture this has a special significance. In Vietnam yellow represents wealth, prosperity, royalty, happiness, and change. There are a number of theories as to why the houses are yellow, but none of them is compelling enough for me. The one that makes the most sense to me is that yellow reflects light and heat so it helps to keep the house cool.
Venture off the main drag
Explore the road less travelled. Look at the tiny lanes between the buildings. There is often something interesting going on. I guess that it’s a way for the locals to escape the tourists and bring a bit of normality to their lives. I had to smile when I saw a group of men, seated on the ubiquitous low chairs, playing cards.
Eat great food
If you are a foodie then you will be in heaven! There is so much to choose from. The town’s signature dish is Cao Lau. It is a rich pork-based broth with noodles and vegetables. You will find it all over the town. It is cheap and delicious. Another favourite is the deep fried wontons with a salsa-like topping. Wherever you go the topping is different according to the house recipe. White rose dumplings (Bahn bao vac) are also traditional and are steamed dumplings filled with pork. They are in the shape of a rose, hence the name. They are a tasty morsel you should not miss.
Hot spots for those Instagram moments
The Japanese Bridge
This pretty bridge was built in the 1590’s as a link between the Japanese and the Chinese parts of town. Look out for the statutes of a pair of dogs and a monkey guarding the entrance. According to legend, these are there because many of Japan’s emperors were born in the year of the dog or the monkey. Another tale is that the bridge was started in the year of the monkey and finished in the year of the dog. It’s up to you which one you prefer to believe. It’s quite pretty in the evening as well so remember to stop by as well.
Bridge over the Thu Bon River
The Thu Bon river is great for photos at any time of the day. At dusk, as the lights are turned on the whole vibe of the town begins to change. It’s a busy spot and there is always a queue here so you will just have to be patient to get your perfect shot.
Historic houses and temples
There are more than enough of these to keep you busy for a while.
These are some the highlights, but here’s a link to a more detailed list.
- Trieu Chau Assembly Hall
- Fukian Assembly Hall (Phuc Kien)
- Quan Kong Temple
- Tan Ky House
Both the fresh produce market during the day and the more touristy market across the river, at night, offer loads of photo ops for you to capture your perfect insta shot. The morning market is frenetic, colourful and just a bit smelly. I enjoy the chaos but my husband struggles with the pungent smell and heads to the closest coffee shop.
The highlight of the evening market is all the vibrant lanterns. It’s like a fantasy world. Couple that with the dragons and other mythical creatures and you will feel it’s a bit like Disneyland.
Hoi An travel Guide – Day Trips to Inspire
There are loads of opportunities to do interesting trips from Hoi An either for a full day or a half day. I spent some time visiting Marble Mountains. It is a fascinating place with a long history, pagodas, temples, caves and a spectacular views. Here’s the link to my post to help you plan your visit.
The village is a short distance from Hoi An. It produces organic vegetables and herbs. It was fascinating to wander through the fields with our guide and learn about the different herbs and their uses. We then made our way to one of the houses on the river for a cooking class led by a trained chef. Vietnamese style spring rolls are crunchy and delicious so I was really happy that was one of the recipes we were taught.
The meal we cooked was served at a table that was set on the riverbank. Before our meal, we enjoyed a foot massage. Having spent the last few days walking miles it was like heaven!
The tour ended with a sunset cruise and yet more delicious snacks. We made our way back to Hoi An and headed out towards the river mouth to watch the sunset. It was a wonderful day out that gave us a fascinating insight into a much slower pace of village life in Vietnam.
I used Rose Travel Service and was impressed by their efficiency and excellent organization of the tour we booked and would recommend them for your touring plans.
The Best Foodie Tour in Town
If you are interested in an amazing experience then this is the tour for you. The Original Taste of Hoi An is a half day tour during which you visit a market, a couple of different vendors and end up at a tasting venue for yet some more local food. This is undoubtedly one of the best foodie experience you will ever have. I have done many food tours and experiences over the years and I rate this in my top 5. It is a great concept and the hosts are passionate about the food which shows in what they do. Give it a try!
Best Time to visit
The best time to visit Hoi An is from December to April. I was there at the end of March and while it was hot it was not humid. I am used to the heat but my previous visit in August was incredibly hot at around 35 degrees. I would not recommend visiting in June, July or August unless you have no choice in the timing of your visit.
Other things to do
There are around 400 tailors in Hoi An. This dates back to the days of the Silk Route when the town was a major trading port. If you have a favourite item of clothing then take it with for them to make another for you.
Bicycles & Scooters
You can rent scooters and bicycles at a number of places around town to enjoy a ride through the countryside, down to the beach or even around town.
Visit An Bang beach to soak up the sun
Explore the city and its beaches
My Son Sanctuary
Take a trip to My Son Sanctuary to explore the ruins of this UNESCO listed site.
Enjoy a cocktail at one of the many bars that line the river and watch the sunset. I like Thang Long’s upstairs deck not only for the views but also for the most generous happy hour cocktails I have ever had.
Don’t miss having an iced coffee at Hoi An Roastery. It’s easy to find as they have a number of outlets in town.
Hoi An is located in central Vietnam, in the Quang Nam province. It is easily accessible from Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi (each an hour flight). It is about 30 kilometres south of Da Nang.
There is a direct shuttle bus from the airport, that leaves every hour, on the hour and costs $6 US.
Taxis cost around $18 US. My hotel arranged a transfer for exactly the same price. Most of the hotels seem to offer this service so check with them when you book.
I hope that you have been inspired by my Hoi An travel guide enough to include this magical stop on your Vietnamese itinerary. Hoi An will both surprise and delight you if you give it the opportunity.
Related: Day trip to Marble Mountains
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