Hoi An is a favourite in Vietnam for many tourists, and we’re inclined to agree. If you look past the crowds you’ll find one of the most cultural, pretty and idyllic places to visit in Southeast Asia. We actually wanted to stay here longer than 4 nights.
Hoi An promises authentic Vietnamese eating, excursions to local villages, plenty of historic attractions and markets and a quaint town full of gift shops and back alley restaurants. Read on to find out top recommended things to do when visiting Hoi An, including some ‘must-sees’ you’ll find in other internet articles and some of our own favourites.
1. Take a bike tour ‘off-the-beaten-track’
A bike tour easily makes it to the top of our list. Surrounding the ancient town are miles of rice fields, local villages and rivers, quite unlike the tourist centre of Hoi An. These offer a more traditional experience of Vietnam and the best way to see as much as possible in one day is by bike.
Collect your bike as part of a group tour and catch a converted wooden fishing boat up the river to the start of your bike tour. The tour itself will take you on a slow-paced adventure amongst local villages, marshland, rice fields and river crossings. Stopping points on the trail include learning how to make rice wine, visiting a traditional house and experiencing the art of Vietnamese craftsmanship first hand. The activities and route all depend on the tour you choose but they’re all quite similar. We recommend Heaven and Earth bicycle tours. Look at their raving reviews.
2. Relax on An Bang Beach
An Bang Beach is a short taxi/bus ride from the Hoi An ancient town centre (or 30 minutes by bike if you’re feeling energetic). The beach is very quiet and has an ‘untouched’ appeal. There’s only one restaurant and the beaches stretch for a few miles along the eastern coast. An Bang isn’t the most amazing beach in Vietnam but it is highly relaxing, quiet and a great place to spend your afternoon. Rent a bamboo basket boat and drift by the shoreline or sip on fresh coconut milk and read a book in the shade.
3. Order a Bahn Mi
One thing you have to try in Hoi An is the famous Bahn Mi sandwich, a Vietnamese take on the French baguette, which includes hot sauce, coriander, other vegetables and a marinated meat of your choice. They’re simply delicious and cost less than £1 – a bargain! We enjoyed ordering a Bahn Mi throughout Vietnam and found Bahn Mi Phuong in Hoi An ancient town to be one of the best (we actually went twice in one day).
4. Tour the Ancient town and its sites
The Ancient Town is no doubt the main attraction of Hoi An. Its narrow streets are a pedestrian and cycle-only zone, lined with colourful paper lanterns and traditional Vietnamese wooden houses. Wander the streets browsing gift shops and market stalls and cross the red Japanese Bridge, the most iconic site in the town. The Japanese Bridge was built in the 1590’s and is still going strong today. Walk across the bridge, take photos and wander around the interior for a glimpse into the history of the bridge and the ancient town.
In addition to the historic sites and pretty streets, you’ll find multiple markets (day and night), lots of quaint bars and restaurants, plus street performers. You’ll spend most of your time here and will get lost in the enchanting atmosphere and colours.
5. Visit an Eco-Spa
Hoi An is a very ‘green’ town. It has luscious palm trees and other tropical plants growing everywhere and when it rains, nature is very calm and therapeutic. It’s a haven for relaxation and an eco-street spa or luxury hotel spa has to be on your itinerary if you want to leave the city feeling calm and relaxed. It is a great way to wind down after a busy day of sightseeing…
6. Take a cooking class
Cooking classes are available throughout Vietnam but in our opinion, one of the best places to learn to cook authentic Vietnamese food is in Hoi An where you can visit a local market in the morning and cook in a relaxed and tropical environment for lunch. Due to the small size of Hoi An, everything is nearby and the nature of the class is much more relaxed (you don’t have busy traffic and loud background noise to contend with).
You’ll learn to cook a variety of local dishes, including Vietnamese spring rolls, noodle soup, Vietnamese crepes and more. We opted for the Thuan Tinh Island Cooking Tour. In addition to a ‘hands on’ class with friendly chefs, you’ll get to buy ingredients at a morning market, visit a local village and take a small boat cruise up the river to the class.
7. Visit the Night Market
Located just across the river from the main town on the large Cam Nam central island, the night market is in full swing from early evening until late, every night of the week. It’s quite a small market but very pretty to look at, with colourful lanterns and handmade gifts on offer throughout. The market is fairly touristy and a little more expensive than other markets in Vietnam but you’ll find the souvenirs and gifts to be very good. It’s the best place to buy a paper lantern for your bedroom back home and you’ll also find everything from clothing and apparel, to craft greetings cards and sunglasses. There’s also Central Market, a daytime market for fresh fruit, groceries and apparel. It runs every day in the central of the ancient town.
Always remember to negotiate prices, aiming to pay 60% of the original price given.
8. Authentic Vietnamese dining
Although Hoi An is quite touristy, there are some hidden dining spots that you really have to search for. We asked locals and searched online for the most authentic dining spot in the town and the answer was unanimous – Bale Well. This outdoor ‘street food’ style dining spot is the place of choice for locals to enjoy dinner with a Saigon beer, and you’ll only find a few tourists. It’s a very basic dining setup with a number of small plastic chairs and tables, common with street food eateries, but the food is plentiful and unique, although not everyone’s cup of tea.
The servers are friendly but efficient and will bombard your table with dishes as soon as you sit down. The menu and dishes are set, as is the low price so eat what you can and try something new!
Bale Well is located off a small side street to the central-east of Hoi An. View it on Google Maps here.
9. Than Ha Terracotta Park
Most visitors miss the Than Ha Terracotta Park from their list of ‘things to see as it’s located just outside the main town and a 40-minute walk. Jump in a taxi for a 10-minute ride or rent a bicycle and take the scenic river route to the park (which we highly recommend doing). This terracotta workshop/sculpture museum is the home of hundreds of intricately formed pots, statues and other terracotta sculptures, all a fiery burnt orange in colour.
Than Ha Terracotta Park is a nice setting to walk around on hot afternoon. The many sculptures and grand terracotta façade of the museum is intriguing to look at. They have a number of sculptures of famous world landmarks and you can even join a workshop to make your own pot. Add this relatively unknown but top rated place to your list.
10. Relax in a nice hotel
Ok, so this isn’t technically a sightseeing or adventurous activity but Hoi An has many luxurious hotels which you can stay at for low prices and you should definitely take advantage of this! Book a suite with a hot tub and view of the rice fields, swim in a serene swimming pool surrounded by bamboo shoots and tropical trees or enjoy a cocktail by the bar before heading out on an evening.
Hoi An hotels have a very eco/natural feel and your stay in the town should definitely consist of lots of hotel relaxation time. We’d recommend staying in the town for at least 4 or 5 days so you have time for both sightseeing and relaxation in the tropical setting. We stayed in the La Siesta Hotel, which we highly recommend. Vinpearl Resort and the Anantara Hoi An offer the best luxury available, but you’ll find nice hotels with swimming pools whatever your budget.
11. Travel further afield
If you’re staying in Hoi An as a base for 5 days or more, be sure venture a little further afield. The following places are well worth visiting on their own or as part of a day trip, which you can plan yourself with a private driver/tour company:
The Marble Mountains are situated roughly halfway between Hoi An and Da Nang. They’re a series of ancient marble caves that have long been used to mine marble and create impressive statues, alongside other decorative pieces that are shipped worldwide.
The caves themselves are truly awesome. Climb over a bridge and deep into the caverns of the mountain. Inside you’ll find a number of Buddhist Shrines, impressive rock formations and a towering ceiling. Contrary to what we thought during our visit, there isn’t just one cave. There’s a number of weaving and winding caves beneath the mountain and you can also take an elevator to the top. At the mountain summit you’ll find a collection of scenic pathways with stunning views of Da Nang and the sea front and numerous Buddhist Temples.
Aim to spend at least 3-4 hours at Marble Mountain, although there’s so much to see, you could spend a full afternoon. There’s a restaurant on the mountain top where you can stop for a drink and snack.
Da Nang is Vietnam’s most upmarket city. It’s undergoing constant development and is popular retreat for Vietnam’s wealthiest, although it happens to cater for all budgets. The centre of Da Nang is very commercial, with high rise apartment and office blocks and high-end fashion stores. Moving towards the coastline, you’ll find a pristine beach (this was seriously one of the cleanest beaches we’ve seen in Southeast Asia) and plenty bars and restaurants.
The top things to see in Da Nang include the beaches, Monkey Mountain, The Lady Buddha Statue and the day and night markets.
Visit Da Nang for a day trip from Hoi An or spend the night and check out the local nightlife scene. If you are staying on a night-time, be sure to check out the Dragon Bridge, which is lit up with vibrant orange and red colours once the sun sets.