From the best tailors in the world to pretty beaches to historic attractions, and an ancient town center that is recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage site, Hoi An is one city in Vietnam that you don’t want to miss. Located just an hour and a half plane ride from Ho Chi Minh City, it has all the intrigue of its larger counterpart, minus some of the chaos and sprinkled with more charm. There are virtually dozens of fun things to do in Hoi An and I’ve listed some of the best ones for you.
The Best Things to Do in Hoi An—Vietnam’s Ancient Town
1. ✧ Sample Cau Lao
What is Cao Lau you ask? It is a traditional noodle dish that comes right from the city of Hoi An. The authentic Cao Lau takes a significant amount of to prepare (maybe that’s why it tastes so good!). The noodles have to be soaked in the water from Cham wells and wood ash lye. It typically consists of a little broth spiced up with mint, basil, and cilantro, then topped with slices of pork and croutons. It won’t be hard to find, almost every restaurant in the Ancient town and surrounding areas have it on their menus.
2. ✦ Get a Custom-Made Clothes at a Tailor
Have a passion for nicely fitted clothing? There’s the perfect tailor waiting for you on almost every corner in Hoi An. The most popular bucket list worthy thing to do in Hoi An is to have either a suit or dress made for you from scratch. You will be able to choose the color, style, and fabric. And the tailor will make sure it fits you perfectly!
The turnaround time for the first fitting is around 24 hours, so you don’t need to hurry to grab the first tailor you see. If you want to get a really good piece, you should stroll around the city and find the tailor whose clothes, fabrics and technique you really like. The selection is really wide and the prices differ greatly. Take note that many times a tailor will initially tell you the price which is around 30-50% higher than they expect to get—so negotiate!
I went to 3 different shops, and bought a total of seven pieces. My first stop was to Blue Ms. Tam Tam, who charged $230 (very expensive!) for a dress, a pair of pants and a jumpsuit. Next, was a stop just a few shops down to Trang Tri. there I had a pair of pretty linen pants made for $25. Last, and what shop was my favorite of them all, was to Clothes Shop Fourteen 14 at the fabric market. My pieces purchased from them are pictured below and each cost between $30-$35.
3. ✧ Visit the Precious Heritage Museum
Located in a 19th-century French house, the Precious Heritage Museum showcases the collection of stunning portraits, costumes, and songs of 54 tribal ethnicities found in Vietnam. The permanent exhibition was created by French photographer Réhahn. He aims to make the unique tribal culture valued outside of their ethnic community.
4. ✦ Sip Egg Coffee
When you tire of a normal cappuccino, shot of espresso or cup of jo, Vietnam can surprise you with something truly different—an egg coffee. Egg coffee is a local drink wherein egg yolk and condensed milk are mixed with Vietnamese Robusta coffee. The richness of the egg, the sweetness of condensed milk, and the bitterness of black coffee make a frothy drink that’s perfect to warm your soul. I know what you think–egg on coffee? Hard pass. However, after a single cup, I was a die-hard fan.
If you decide to check this off your bucket list, the best egg coffees can be found at Hoi An Roastery, The Espresso Station and The Bird House where you can drink your cup inside a life sized birdcage!
5. ✧ Visit Tra Que Vegetable Village
Only a few kilometers from Hoi An, you can escape the noise and urbanization at Tra Que Vegetable Village. This peaceful farming village grows remarkably clean and healthy vegetables. Why? They don’t use any artificial fertilizers. The only fertilizer used is a type of algae found in Tra Que lagoon. Once there you can take a gardening or cooking class, as well as take a tour.
The Hoi An Countryside Scooter Tour makes a stop there, along with visits to craftsmen in the area.
6. ✦ Ride in a Lantern Boat
The paper lanterns are a symbol of Hoi An, and hang throughout the ancient town. They were introduced in the 16th century by the Japanese and the Chinese when people believed that paper lanterns would bring good fortune to their houses. Every evening you can become a part of this tradition just by walking through the Old city as it is colorfully illuminated or take it one step further and hop onto a lantern boat along the Thu Bon river.
For about $12 they will take you on the river for a 20-minute ride where dozens of boats light up the water. While cruising along, you will even get to light your own candle lantern and set it free on the water.
7. ✦ See a Traditional Water Puppet Show
Getting to know the Vietnamese culture is not only limited to going to museums. You can also do so by going to one of the most traditional attractions, the Hoi An Water Puppet show. These shows depict Vietnamese traditions, folklore, and myths by using puppets that splash around in a water stage. They have an elaborate set-up and lively music and effects to make your experience truly unique. Although the was done entirely in theVietnamese language, don’t worry, the play was easily understood because of the puppets’ obvious actions.
Tickets are sold in the booths all around the Old Town or at the entrance to the theater, but if you want some extra assurance of getting a seat and want a dinner included, book your puppet tickets in advance here.
8. ✦ See the Hoi An Traditional Art Performance Theatre
At the Hoi An Traditional Art Performance Theatre folk lovers will be able to get a taste of folk dance, ethnic instrumental ensembles, Quang Nam folk, and Bai Choi singing. You’ll be surprised to see how many sounds one can make using only one string when you hear the Vietnamese instrument “Dan Bau”! Its a cute and very little theater that gets packed, so make sure to arrive early if you want a seat.
9. ✦ Admire the Japanese Covered Bridge
Dating back to the 18th century, the Japanese Covered Bridge was built by the Japanese community to connect it with the Chinese quarter. Today it is important not only because of its history, but its ornate construction and its religious value since there are shrines to several deities inside of it.
What most people want is to take a picture in front of this bridge during the daytime, but that is only half of the beauty. Come back in the evening and admire the bridge with all the magical lanterns shining.
10. ✦ See the AO Show (aka: Bamboo Circus)
Have you heard about the Vietnamese AO Show? The show, which has been dubbed as the “bamboo circus”, is similar to Cirque du Soleil, except Vietnamese style. And it is quite impressive! You can enjoy this artistic phenomenon at Lune Center, a famous 24-meter-wide bamboo dome, which imitates the full moon.
The show is a contrasting portrait of Vietnam’s peaceful country life versus urban modernization. Entertainers light heartedly poke fun at the Vietnamese culture, do acrobatics on bamboo sticks and use large wicker baskets in creative dances that create quite an attraction!
The performance takes place almost every day, except Monday and Thursday. Book the tickets online here.
11. ✦ Explore the Ancient Town
Hoi An’s Ancient Town is recognized as one of the top UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason. The old town was once a trading hub, but now is a well-preserved example of Southeast Asian architecture. Plus, the streets are lined with shops, bars, cafes and food markets!
Many travelers believe that the Ancient town is most beautiful at night—the midday heat is gone, and the streets are full of life and color. Thousands of paper lanterns shine throughout the streets, the Japanese bridge is glowing with lights and the street markets are lively.
12. ✦ Climb the Marble Mountains
The Marble Mountains are a cluster of five limestone and marble hills located between Hoi An and Da Nang. One of them, Mount Thuy, offers a challenging climb to the top that is pretty dang surreal. Every level has either a cave to be explored, a pagoda to be admired or intricate stone statues. There is an elevator that will take you partway to the top, but by choosing that route you may be missing some spectacular sites along the way. So take the stairs if you can!
We took a taxi, from our hotel in Hoi An, which took about 20 minutes, and explored on our own, but you could also take a guided tour like the Marble Mountain and Sculpture Village Tour.
13. ✦ Shop at Hoi An Central Market
Want to have a unique shopping experience? Go to the Hoi An Central Market. It’s located on the riverside in the Hoi An Ancient town and here you’ll find a variety of fresh local foods, herbs and spices, silk and much more. With the bustle of the people and delicious smells, it will make for a lively time.
As with most Southeast Asian markets, it’s a perfect place to exercise the art of bargaining. When first asking for a price, you will typically hear a price around 50% higher than expected. So, don’t be shy and pay your tribute to the traditions.
14. ✦ Taste a Traditional Bahn Mi
A Banh Mi is like the Vietnamese equivalent of a sub. It’s a baguette sandwich with lots of cilantro, pickled vegetables, pate, chilies, and hot peppers. You can choose your preferred meat fillings like roasted pork belly, fried fish in turmeric sauce, boiled sausages, boiled chicken, and many more. There’s a dozens of ingredients you can pick from!
Looking for the best place to buy it? Try Banh Mi Phuong. Anthony Bourdain loved it, so will you.
15. ✧ Take A Day Trip To My Son Sanctuary
Architecture lovers just can’t miss a day trip My Son Hindu Sanctuary. These ancient temples were constructed between the 4th and 14th centuries by Champa civilization, and are a part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. The Champa used a very unusual technique while building their temples. Most of them are made of red bricks and the carvings of Hindu deities are made directly onto the bricks.
There are plenty of tours that will have enjoying My Son Sanctuary, as well the Vietnamese landscapes, rice, and sunflower fields on your way. Here are a few top rated ones:
16. ✦ Explore the Old Houses
Hoi An is also called the yellow city. And you can’t help but notice all the yellow buildings in the town. Along with many tourist attractions, you’ll find lots of soulful old houses. So, take time to walk around and admire the simple and authentic beauty of those dwellings.
Especially, don’t miss Tan Ky Old House during your walk. This house is carefully preserved by seven generations to demonstrate an 18th-century merchant’s residence. Being one of the oldest houses in Hoi An, Tan Ky has many original elements like Bat Trang bricks on the floor. The Chinese and Japanese influence can be seen in the carvings, antique furniture, and structure of the house. Also, Duc An Old House has remarkable carved furniture along with a shop selling jewelry and souvenirs and a cafe.
17. ✦ Get a Massage
On almost every corner of Hoi An, and throughout the ancient town, there is a spa. Whether you choose a stone, foot or full body massage, it is one of the most relaxing things to do in Hoi An! Plus, they’re typically half the price as the ones in the States. There are plenty to choose from, but two of the top-rated are Aaron’s Spa and Green Grass Spa
18. ✦ Shop at the Night Market
Situated on 300-meter-long Nguyen Hoang Street, overlooking Thu Bon River, the Hoi An Night Market is a great place to get some souvenirs. You’ll find trinkets, silk products, jewelry, accessories and, of course, lots of local snacks. A big draw is the colorful paper lantern booths. Many instagram photos are taken in this section because of the way they twinkle in the dark sky.
19. ✦ Enjoy the Sun at An Bang Beach
An Bang Beach is a long stretch of white sand beach that overlooks Da Nang and Cham Island, and offers plenty of fun things to do. You could go paddle-boarding, parasailing, surfing or just spend the afternoon basking in the sun. No need to bring food to An Bang, because yummy restaurants line the beachfront. A variety of cuisines are represented (we had amazing Italian at Luna d’Autunno!), but most serve up some delicious seafood.
Sunbeds can be rented in most restaurants, but if you dine there, they typically will be loaned to you for free.
20. ✧ Take a Street Food Tasting Tour
Want to enjoy all the local street food but feel a bit confused? Try some of the best Hoi An dishes (like BBQ pulled pork, white-rose dumplings and a bahn mi!) during a Night Street Food Tasting Tour. For an even more unique experience, you can do a food tour by motorbike.
Most tours start and end in the Old Town, so you’ll enjoy both historical buildings and extraordinary taste of Vietnamese cuisine.
21. ✦ Admire the Assembly Halls
With their bright colors and elaborate architecture, it’ll be hard miss the picturesque Chinese Assembly Halls in Hoi An. There are several, but if you only have time for a few, here are three top ones to see:
- The Cantonese Chinese Congregation founded Quang Dong Assembly Hall is Assembly Hall. It was built in the 18th century. The building is decorated with multiple carvings, paintings, and sculptures.
- Trieu Chau Assembly Hall is dedicated to the god of wind and big waves.
- Fujian Assembly Hall is a World Cultural Heritage site. This Assembly Hall is dedicated to the goddess of the sea. Built in the late 17th century, the Assembly Hall contains many examples of Fujian artistry like statues of mythical animals, bronze bells and drums.
As you can see, Hoi An is an amazing city with things to do for everyone—ancient architecture, vibrant Asian markets, lush tropical nature, wonderful spicy food and great people to meet.
Essential Tips for Traveling to Ho Chi Minh City
Visa: You need a visa to travel to Vietnam. Apply for a visa online (you can do that here). There is an option to apply online and then get one on arrival, but don’t do that because that’s one more long line you’ll have to wait in at the airport! It’s $25 and will take about 3-5 business days, if there’s no problems. After you receive it confirm that everything on it is accurate because the airports will check every line! Then save a copy to your phone and also have a printed copy.
- You will need a picture for your visa. I simply took mine on my smartphone against a white wall.
- I had to show my visa at EVERY airport (including the layover ones), so keep it handy.
Getting There: The closest airport to Hoi An is in Da Nang, which is about a 45-minutes away. You can fly there from most major airports in Vietnam—check for the best fare deals at Skyscanner, which also has the option to choose ‘cheapest month’ as the departure to find the lowest priced dates to fly to your destination.
Transportation from the Airport: There are many options for getting from the Da Nang airport to your hotel in Hoi An, so choose which works best for you.
- Pre-Book a ride at Get Your Guide or Taxi.booking.com (Easiest): You can pre-book a taxi so they are waiting for you out front with a sign that has your name on it.
- Book a Grab (Cheapest): If you downloaded the GRAB app prior to arrival (which you should do!) then you can just use it like you would Uber to get your car. You can download it in the US, but most likely won’t be able to add credit card information until you get to Vietnam (so if you have cell service you can do that while waiting in line at passport control).
Communication: Download What’s App prior to arriving, everyone uses it. Facebook is also popular for making restaurant reservations.
Tickets for the Ancient Town: You can walk through the Old Town for free, but many to enter many of the sites on this list you will need to purchase tickets. Ticket books can be purchased for about five dollars at a booth at the entrance and includes five tickets.
What to Bring Essentials / / These are just a few things that may not be on your typical travel packing list.
Safety: Vietnam is generally pretty safe, but petty theft is common. My cell phone was stolen in Ho Chi Minh on the first day! After replacing my stolen phone, I used my runner’s/travel belt wherever I went and made sure to only use the phone well aways from the street.
Where to Stay in Hoi An: It’s best to stay near the Old Ancient Town, because it will probably be the area you will be spending the most time in. Cozy Savvy Boutique is a great choice just on the outskirts of the Old Town. It is where I stayed and loved! For something on the less expensive side, try Vinci Villa Hoi An located in the city center. For a hotel with a little more extravagance, book a room at Lavini Hoi An boutique Villa. Or search some great deals on hotels of your choice at Booking.com. If you’re looking for more of a home atmosphere (or are traveling with a group of people), head over to Airbnb that has houses, apartments and even just a room for rent in every price range.
Insurance: It’s always a good idea to travel fully insured so you are protected in case of trip cancellations or medical emergencies. You can check out pricing at Travelex Insurance.
Universal Adapter: Your American plugged equipment will work in most locations, but in others you may need an adapter. I use the Celtic Universal Adapter, which has brought me around the world with no problems.
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