Hoi An, Vietnam is one of Vietnam’s premier destinations. And for good reason. By offering a variety of things to do from calm beach time to a vibrant town center with excellent restaurants and hotels, this quaint city is a great stop for many tourists.
What is there to do in Hoi An? You can enjoy the Ancient Town center, with lavish bridges and romantic lanterns filling the streets and waterways. Head down to the amazing waterfront beach clubs and restaurants for some relaxation under the sun.
Take some cooking classes or hop in a basket boat to tour one of Hoi An’s most beautiful areas full of giant palm trees and waterways. Or grab a scooter to check out incredible lookout points, the famous Golden Bridge, and other ancient ruins nearby.
If you’re heading to Vietnam, make sure to add a stop at Hoi An to your itinerary.
- Why Should You Visit Hoi An? Notes from Our Experience
- Old Town Hoi An – What to Do
- Fun in the Sun at Cam An Beach
- Where to Eat in Hoi An – Restaurants and Local Dishes
- Other Adventures Near Old Town
- Day Trips and Other Things to Do Near Hoi An and Da Nang
- How to Get to Hoi An – From Hanoi to Hoi An
- Where to Stay in Hoi An Vietnam
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Why Should You Visit Hoi An? Notes from Our Experience
Before going to Hot An, I was a bit apprehensive. After all, I have heard quite a bit about it and some of my friends had already visited. My concerns were that it would be overly touristy and not authentic; not something that fits in with the Off Path Travels destinations.
I was very pleasantly surprised and now urge tons of people to visit. Hoi An is growing and has a robust tourism industry, but the city is still full of incredible people, authentic cuisine, and plenty of memorable adventures.
Hoi An, Vietnam is located in the middle of the country along the Pacific coastline. This UNESCO World Heritage site was used as a trading port from the 15th to the 19th century, where a variety of influences fused together to create a town full of unique architecture and culture.
Hoi An has an estimated population of around 120,000 – 150,000 people (depending on the source), most buildings are three stories or less, and it still functions as a commercial hub for the local communities.
Da Nang is the closest major city with a population of over 1 million people and an extremely robust tourism scene, with many casinos and large resorts. Most people go through Da Nang on their way to Hoi An, whether it’s on a plane, train, or bus.
We first arrived in Hot An thinking we would spend no more than a week there. But then we kept discovering new things to do. New areas to visit, foods to try, and other incredible activities that kept us around. It also helped that we found a great hotel with owners who would do anything to keep us happy.
We ended up staying for close to three weeks.
But don’t worry. You don’t need to stay that long to take in all that Hoi An has to offer. Depending on your tastes, I could see some people spending 3-4 days in Hoi An while others might enjoy a week or longer.
If you want to quickly bounce around to different activities, a long weekend might do the trick. But if you want to relax on the beach, take part in multiple day trips to surrounding areas, and understand the variety of food and activities offered in Hoi An, then a week or more makes sense.
Most tourists begin their visit to Hoi An by checking out Old Town, also referred to as Ancient Town. This area covers multiple blocks of the city, stretching along both sides of the main river going through town (Thu Bon River).
It is closed off to motor vehicles each morning and evening, and is the main hub for a lot of tourist attractions. Candle-light lanterns fill the river and can be seen all around town.
There are countless restaurants and bars in the Ancient Town, including authentic Vietnamese choices and plenty of international cuisines. Tailors offering custom suits and dresses are on each block, along with numerous souvenir and trinket shops. Hop in a bicycle-powered tuk-tuk for a lazy ride around, or stay on your own two feet and wander away.
After exploring the Ancient Town, most people head for the beach. You can easily bike from the Old Town area to the beach or to where you can go for a memorable boat tour around stunning palm trees. Stop for an afternoon of cooking classes to get a better understanding of the love and culture that goes into each local dish.
And when you’re ready to explore other areas, rent a motorbike and head inland to see ancient My Son Temple (another UNESCO world heritage site), Marble Mountain lookout point, and the Instagram-famous Golden Bridge with giant hands holding up an elevated walkway. You can even go on an adventure to the nearby Cham Islands, a biosphere reserve renowned for its marine life and mountainous islands.
As you can see, Hoi An offers up plenty to do. Attractions are far and wide, the settings are beautiful, and the people are friendly. What else could you ask for?!
Old Town Hoi An – What to Do
Describing every great thing about Old Town Hoi An is impossible. The colors, lanterns, boats, streets, shops, restaurants, markets, and so many other aspects combine to create an incredible area of Hoi An worth exploring multiple times. It is no wonder that the majority of hotels are located near this central area.
Without a doubt, Old Town must be explored at two different times if you want to uncover the best of it: Morning for the bustling market and at night for the unique ambiance with colorful lanterns everywhere. The roads in Old Town are free of motor vehicle traffic from 9-11 am and 3-9:30 pm every day.
In the early morning (around 6-7 am) the central market (Chợ Hội An) is at its busiest. Fresh fish are pulled in from the boats who went out early that morning for the daily catch.
Noodles are laid out in front of the vendors, including Cau Lau, a local noodle specialty made with lye-infused water. Fresh fruits and vegetables of all sorts are available, as are all sorts of incredible pieces of art and other small trinkets to bring back home. The mangos here will blow your socks off.
Then you can head over to check out some of the local attractions, such as the Hainan Assembly Hall (Hội quán Hải Nam) or some of the countless restaurants around there. The plentiful nearby attractions can be saved for the evening if you’d prefer.
The crisp morning air makes way to a warm sun in the afternoon. If you’re visiting during the summer months, you’ll want to head to the beach or somewhere with air conditioning to wait out the afternoon heat, which can get above 100° F (about 38° C). The winter temperatures are much more comfortable, with highs around 80° F and lows around 65° F (27° C to 18° C).
Come back to Ancient Town at night to see its true spirit. Small boats line up along the riverside, the owners and their compatriots do their best to talk you into a short boat ride in the small river.
Lanterns are sold to tourists, who light candles and set their lanterns in the river to float away with their wildest wishes. The lantern price is established by the authorities at 5,000 VND or about $0.25 USD as of mid-2019, as indicated on signs near the river.
If you visit during a full moon, the monthly lantern festival takes over. The lanterns come out in even bigger numbers and the street lights are turned off to allow the candlelight to take over. This also tends to be the busiest time each month for the area.
Want to stop for a nice drink and still take in the environment? Then grab a glass of wine on the lovely patio overlooking Old Town at GAM (Gem Art Museum).
After that, take a few steps down the street to Lantern Bridge, also known as the Bridge of Lights. You might be surrounded by a few other tourists (and it’ll be packed on nights with a full moon), but stand here for a moment to enjoy the boats riding under you and the wonderful lighting surrounding the area.
You can purchase a single pass for 120,000 VND (about $5.15 USD) to enter five attractions in Old Town. First is the Japanese covered bridge (Chùa Cầu Hội An Quảng Nam), one of the most beautiful aspects of Old Town Hoi An. Incredible photo opportunities here.
The Assembly Hall Of Fujian Chinese (Phuc Kien Assembly Hall) is just down the street. Tran Family Chapel (aka Tran Ancestor Worship House) can bring you back in time, showing you some of the historical buildings and the way of life for Hoi An residents.
The Old House of Phung Hung (aka Phung Hung Ancient House) and souvenir shop. Take in the incredible architecture, but beware of the many vendors operating out of here. A good place to pick up a souvenir if you are in the market.
Head south across the Bridge of Lights to discover another giant row of restaurants and bars on a small island. There is even a lovely night market here spanning a few blocks.
Ice cream vendors loudly clank their metal scrapers against the ice-cold surface to attract customers, a noise that you will become oddly familiar with as you wander around. You’ll also notice many stands with local delicacies including frogs and plentiful seafood.
You can also visit many museums in the area, including Hoi An Museum of History and Culture, Museum of Trade Ceramics, and Museum of Sa Huynh Culture. Check out this Rusty Compass article on Hoi An museums for more information.
These are just a few of the attractions around Old Town. Your vision will be filled with street performers, small shows, and entertainment around every corner. Visiting Hoi An and merely wandering around Old Town, day or night, will fill you with a lot of nice memories and experiences. It is worth visiting all by itself.
Fun in the Sun at Cam An Beach
Old Town is the main attraction of Hoi An and the An Bang Beach in Cam An is the secondary attraction. This area is filled with awesome beachside restaurants and beach clubs. The water in the area is beautiful and there is a large, sandy area to enjoy while visiting.
There are hotels and places to stay that are in this area, but since Old Town is such an amazing experience, we recommend staying there or somewhere between the two, then heading to the beach when desired. A lot of hotels offer bike rentals and it takes about 20 minutes to bike to the beach from Old Town. You can also take a Grab (the local version of Uber) if you prefer.
When you visit the beach, beware of parking scams. There are multiple lots for parking bikes and motorbikes along the road, and they will yell at you to stop and park there.
Continue to your destination because nearly every place has its own small parking lot. If you are a patron at their restaurant, most let you park there for free.
Soul Kitchen is one of the most popular beachfront restaurants and bars, but there are an abundance of them along the coast. Salt Pub and Restaurant is another popular spot down the street.
We ended up at a no-name spot here that had cheaper prices, a less crowded beach area, and a very relaxed atmosphere.
Cua Dai Beach is another beach area just south of Cam An. However, it has recently suffered erosion problems and is still in the process of rebuilding as of mid-2019. We recommend sticking to the Cam An area because of this.
Where to Eat in Hoi An – Restaurants and Local Dishes
Vietnam has a vibrant gastronomical scene, with many local specialties and dishes. With a lot of fertile lands and a central commercial port, Hoi An is a special spot for foodies.
One of Hoi An’s most authentic noodle soups is Cau Lau. This dish has special, thick noodles made from specific water from local wells that contains lye from ashes in it. Their characteristic color and taste set the dish apart from many other noodle soups. Pork and a base of leafy greens are often part of the meal, but there are plenty of different variations using different vegetables and meats or meatless options (such as tofu).
Some of the other local specialties include Bun Rieu (noodles with tomato broth), Banh Bao Vac (white rose dumplings filled with shrimp or pork), Mi Quang (turmeric noodles), Com Ga (chicken with rice), and Banh Xeo (crispy rice pancakes).
While the local specialties are abundant, the Banh Mi sandwich is one of the most popular dishes in Hoi An (widely in Vietnam). Banh Mi’s are a sandwich served on a small baguette, sliced in half and stuffed with a variety of combinations. Pork, liver paté, and/or egg-based Banh Mi are very popular, but you can also find tofu, mushroom, chicken, and a ton of other options.
There is one Banh Mi place that is more popular than any other in Hoi An: Banh Mi Phuong. But that’s mainly because Anthony Bourdain stopped by there during the filming of No Reservations. Their menu is large and everything we ordered was tasty, but even though I love Bourdain, this place’s reputation might be a bit exaggerated and I encourage you to try alternatives.
Our favorite Banh Mi location is Banh Mi Phi. Although this is located a tiny bit outside of Old Town, they serve up a quality sandwich on fresh bread and even have a fresh chili paste to add. The owners and workers were always extremely friendly, the drinks are nice and cold, and their tofu option was one of the best we had in all of Vietnam.
Other Restaurant Recommendations
If you enjoy craft beer, go to Hoi An Brewery (aka Hoi An Brew House). I love beer and I was shocked by the incredible quality served here. They also have excellent smoked and grilled meats, including Korean-style chicken wings. Their fries were pretty solid too.
Cafe 41 is a small restaurant ran by the owners of the hotel we stayed at. Their menu is full of many local dishes and everything is made with love. This family was a major part of our trip to Hoi An and we can’t say enough positive things about their hospitality and service. By staying at the hotel with breakfast included, we ate a lot of dishes from Cafe 41’s main chef and loved it.
As with almost any town in the world, there is a pretty good pizza place here too: Good Morning Vietnam. With top-notch service, a decent wine list, and pretty solid pizza, this is a good place to stop by if you are feeling like some decent pizza near Old Town.
The best late-night place we found was Valhalla Grill Hoi An. This roadside restaurant stays open until around 2 AM, serving burgers and falafel sandwiches, along with fries and onion rings. There are a few popular hostels near here, so if you want to meet some people and head out o the town, this is a good place to check out.
Vegetarian Restaurants in Hoi An
There are quite a few vegetarian restaurants in Hoi An. Our favorite is ROM Bistro in the northern part of town. They serve a lot of local specialties in meat-free versions with portions large enough to share for most items. They also have great drinks and excellent service.
Rosie’s Cafe is right across the street from ROM and is incredibly popular. It has some great breakfast items and vegetarian options, but they were based much more on traditional western cuisine rather than local. For instance, they have a traditional English breakfast plate with sausage, beans, and the works. They also serve quality smoothies and drinks. A nice place to go, but more of a tourist trap with tourist prices.
Other vegetarian options can be found at any of the three separate locations of Minh Hien. The third one (Minh Hein III) was our favorite due to its awesome courtyard area. The vegetarian-focused food was incredible, although priced at tourist levels. We tried the Cau Lau here and enjoyed it.
One other tip: If you go out looking to pick up some small snacks from a store, try to find one that has closed doors and air conditioning, such as the AP Mart located in the central area of Hoi An. We had issues a few different times buying from locations where the storage was less than ideal and led to some disappointing snacks (stale cookies/chips). The summer heat was simply too much.
As you can see, Hoi An has a robust restaurant scene and you won’t have a problem finding options to eat at. You might notice that most of our favorites are away from Old Town as those restaurants tend to be very tourist-focused.
Going a few blocks outside of the Old Town area makes a major difference in the food offered and the prices. We walked around all over the city day and night without any issues or concerns for safety. But as always, stay aware of your surroundings and avoid secluded, dark areas whenever possible.
Other Adventures Near Old Town
There are plenty of things to do near Hoi An outside of Old Town and the beach areas.
The Tra Que Vegetable Village is a small island between Hoi An and Cam An that is best known for its agriculture and cooking classes. We went over early one morning before heading to the beach and thoroughly enjoyed biking around on the paths that run throughout the crops.
You can find excellent tours and more cooking classes in the Bay Mau area, which is essentially directly east of Hoi An Old Town (near here). This area is best known for the “coconut tours” in classic basket boats through the many small rivers and waterways which are surrounded by magnificent palm trees and other vegetation.
Cam Kim Island is just south of the Old Town area and is a quaint place to visit. It used to be accessible by boat only, but now the Cau Cam Kim Bridge connects the area to Old Town. Most of the island is full of rural scenes, rice paddies, and quiet roads perfect for exploring. Beware, the bridge is narrow and is constructed from metal, making it a bit sketchy to get across. But you can cross on motorbike or bicycle if you can muster up the courage.
There are also plenty of kayaks, paddle board, and boat rentals throughout all of Hoi An. You can explore the region on your own or through guided tours. Kayak rentals usually run around $10 USD for a couple of hours, and more specific tours (like a sunrise guided tour) can cost upwards of $35 USD per person. It pays to shop around and negotiate, as is customary in most of Vietnam.
Day Trips and Other Things to Do Near Hoi An and Da Nang
If you’re willing to travel a bit farther away from Hoi An, there are a few things which you should consider checking out.
First, the My Son Temple is about an hour’s drive away from Hoi An. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The temples are ruins are on the smaller side, but many people enjoy visiting here.
Cham Islands are located just off the coast of Cam An and many people say this is a must-do during a visit to Hoi An. You can take one of the countless tours which head over. Or if you want to take things into your own hands, you can ride on the public ferry that the locals use.
However, the public ferry to Cham Islands only goes to the island once per day and leaves less than an hour after arriving. Therefore, you’ll need to stay the night on the island if you go this route. A great place to go fishing, snorkeling, hanging out on the beach, and exploring the small archipelago.
Going back to the mainland, the Marble Mountain overlook point is north, close to the city of Da Nang. There is a small hike up to a lookout point with a view of the Bay of Da Nang and the East Sea, plus all around Da Nang and the surrounding area. There are also caves to explore here.
Keep going north through Da Nang, then go out on the small peninsula to the east and you’ll be near Sơn Trà Mountain (Monkey Mountain). A National Park is located here and offers some excellent motorbike rides as well as scenic views of all around.
Keep going north a bit more and you can find the Hai Van Pass which is often spoken of as one of the most scenic motorbike or car rides in the entire region. Yeah, this is a good area to explore by bike (or car).
The last point of interest near Hoi An is the Golden Bridge. This is an incredibly popular spot with a large bridge held up by two giant hands. Instagrammers flood here in droves, so it can be a bit touristy and overwhelming. Nonetheless, it’s a very cool bridge and a unique sight.
How to Get to Hoi An – From Hanoi to Hoi An
By Air: Getting to Hoi An is fairly easy due to its proximity to Da Nang, a large city with a major airport. The Da Nang International Airport (DAD or VVDN) is one of three international airports in Vietnam, with the other two being in the major metropolitan areas (Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh / Saigon). The easiest way to get to Hoi An from Hanoi, Saigon, or just about any international destination is to fly into Da Nang.
Check Skyscanner for the best flights.
Once you arrive at Da Nang, you will need to take to get a ride from the airport to Hoi An. Many hotels offer an airport shuttle or you can book your own ride. Vietnam uses Grab, which is nearly identical to Uber. You can also rent a car or motorbike easily in Da Nang, just make sure your hotel has a parking area.
By Car or Motorbike: Hoi An is in the central region of Vietnam along the Pacific coast. It is about 500 miles (800 km) from Hanoi and just a bit farther from Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon). Many people on extended trips to Vietnam buy motorbikes for their stay and travel around as they see fit.
It is easy to get to Hoi An via car or motorbike/scooter since major highways go to Da Nang. However, since Hoi An is a 15-hour ride from either major city (Hanoi or Saigon) under the best of conditions, it is advised to take a flight if Hoi An is the only destination you want to see between the two major cities.
By Train or Bus: Very few trains and busses go directly to Hoi An. Instead, most will take you as far as Da Nang, from which you’ll need to transfer to another shuttle service, find a local bus, use Grab, or rent your own transportation. We usually love taking trains and buses, however, we did a lot of research and found that it was well worth it for us to take a flight instead of a train or bus.
The costs for the first and second class trains were nearly as much as the flight when we visited. But as always, this depends heavily on the time you visit and the level of comfort you can handle.
There are some horror stories out there about the Vietnamese train and bus systems (issues with undersized sleeping quarters, sanitization, and rodent/cockroach infestations mainly). At the same time, tons of people use these transportation methods daily and it is absolutely a viable option to get to Hoi An.
Where to Stay in Hoi An Vietnam
There is a large variety of options for accommodations in Hoi An, Vietnam. You can find top-notch hotels with pools and concierge services, budget-friendly hostels with a party-like atmosphere, and the famous homestays where you bunk up with a local family and get an inside view into the life of the locals.
The vast majority of people who visit Hoi An choose to stay in the Old Town area. This is convenient since most of the restaurants, nightlife, and cultural attractions are in that area. However, it is also the highest priced and most touristy.
For that reason, we preferred staying just north of the Old Town area on the outskirts of town. This area is full of local families with kids playing in the street, authentic restaurants, and a more laid-back atmosphere. It is also centrally located between Old Town and the Cam An beach area, making it easy to get to either place.
Some choose to stay at the Cam An beach area and make the trek into town when they want to get away from the beach. This is fine if you want to mainly visit the beach, but it might be a bit annoying to get to Old Town during the evening when it is most lively.
Midrange Option: For our stay, we chose the newly-constructed Vinstar Hotel and are incredibly happy with our experience. The hotel recently opened in early 2019 and is very tastefully decorated and furnished with lovely blue accent walls, awesome air conditioning units, and a full set of furniture including nightstands, wardrobe, and a small desk in most rooms. Some rooms have a balcony overlooking the road.
The bathrooms at Vinstar Hotel have a separate shower area, whereas many rooms on the cheaper side of things have a “wet bathroom” design where there is no separation between the toilet and shower areas. The breakfasts we had here were amazing, they have a full rack of rental bicycles, and the owners are happy to provide information and tips on things to do while visiting. They can also book airport rides and other tours if you’d like. The Hoi An Brewery, ROM Bistro, and plenty of other restaurant options are very close.
Luxury Option: If you’re looking for the best of the best in Hoi An and have a more substantial budget to work with, then the Four Seasons Hoi An should satisfy your desires. In a similar location as VinStar, the Four Seasons offers a great pool area and stunning views of the nearby rice paddies. And all of the amenities Four Seasons’ patrons are accustomed to.
Budget Options: On the lower end of the price scale, the Hua Mau Don Homestay offers a fridge, desk, good WiFi, and breakfast for a good price. Many people enjoy staying here. Another good option with a water view is the Hoi An Dat Cam Homestay. Many rooms even have a small sitting area with chairs, and breakfast can be included. The only downside is that there is no fridge to keep any leftovers, drinks, or small snacks chilled.
None of these fit your needs? No problem. Check out the plentiful listings in Hoi An on Booking.com.
Hoi An, Vietnam – A Wonderful Visit to Vietnam’s Oldest Town
As you can see, there is so much to do in Hoi An that there is no wonder that it’s becoming a major tourist destination. Do yourself a favor and check out the charm of one of Vietnam’s oldest cities by visiting as soon as you can.
Enjoy the tranquil boat rides, beautiful evening lantern-filled scenes, and incredible cuisine offered in town. Then head to the beach from some fun in the sun at a great beachfront restaurant. And don’t forget to leave some time for a basket boat ride, some cooking classes, and checking out the nearby attractions and viewpoints.
What are some other unique areas you’ve visited that combines awesome environments with a rich history? We’d love to add them to our travel list! Leave a comment below to share.