One of the most famous destinations in Central Vietnam, the ancient town Hoi An is a heavy contender for its quaint charm and peaceful atmosphere. Its history dates back to the Champa Empire where it was used as a center of commerce connected to the spice trade. The storied roots and masterful preservation of the town center have turned this quiet town into a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a booming destination for its tourist attractions.
Despite the commercialization, the city still holds a special place in my heart. Walking down the Thu Bon River taking in the stunning colorful architecture, Crossing the Japanese Covered Bridge, and trying all the great local food like Cao Lau, are some of my favorite things about the ancient town Hoi An and have given me some great memories. The world cultural heritage this place holds alone should be a good reason to visit Hoi An.
Geographically at the heart of Vietnam, the jewel of Quang Nam Province should definitely be on your itinerary, even if just for a day. With all the sights, sounds, and smells, it’s easy to get lost and feel overwhelmed with so many things you can do. So, take it from someone who has loved the city front and back, here are just some of my favorite things to do in a day in Hoi An.
1. Cycle around rice paddies
I Like to start my day with a bit of light activity to get my mind racing. Since Hoi An is a relatively small city, it’s easy to get out of the town center and into the surrounding rice paddies. There is a famous spot where tourists tend to go to between the city and Bang Beach. This spot can be found on Google Maps and is about 10 minutes by bike from Hoi An ancient town.
If you time it right, you can watch the sunrise over the rice fields. Sunrise is usually around 5:30 AM but can go as late as 6:15 around December and January. If you find yourself biking during these months, you can also expect a nice cool breeze that adds a refreshing feel to your ride.
If you have some extra time, there’s a nearby tourist attraction known as the Tra Que Vegetable Village. People usually come here to see the idyllic peaceful community life and herbal aromas emanating from the community garden. Though less common nowadays, you can check ahead and see if you can join the community in farming or other community activities. Regardless if you can or can’t, the people are always friendly so don’t be shy.
2. Grab some breakfast
After a brisk morning bike ride, It’s time to have some breakfast – the most important meal of the day. Hoi An has a lot of great places you can check out with a wide range of cuisines. Vietnamese food is always popular with tourists as a nice bowl of pho is always a healthy and hearty way to start the day. Of course, there are also a lot of great Western restaurants that are run both by locals and expats. With great fresh local ingredients, restaurants like these offer a fresh alternative to flavors I miss from home.
Recommendation: Nourish Eatery
One of these is a place called Nourish Eatery just outside central Hoi An. Nourish is a restaurant and cafe that specializes in all-natural and nourishing breakfast and lunch with vegan and vegetarian options available all within a decent price range. The space is great as it has a fresh verdant vibe and a vibrant, chill atmosphere to work in but airy enough to invite socialization with friends. It’s pretty hard to find a space like this that sells great food in a reasonable price range in Hoi An, so I love coming back here.
Granola Heaven – my regular order
You can never go wrong with a classic granola bowl. Granola Heaven, which has fresh fruits, dark chocolate, and cashew or peanut butter, is one of my favorites because of the refreshing zing the fruits give and the mild rich sweetness you get from the chocolate and nut butter – perfect to start the day.
Mexican Avo – a great alternative
The Mexican Avo is also great if you need a more filling meal. Essentially avocado on sourdough toast, the beans and egg added on top give it a heavier feel while the pico de gallo and cilantro cut through it with some bright and fresh flavors. It’s hearty with an extra kick that leaves you satisfied and ready for a packed day around town. Be sure to try out the coffee as well. I love a good cappuccino with coconut milk instead of dairy milk since it comes out thicker and richer. Of course, an iced americano will also do.
3. Walk around the ancient town
having been nourished at Nourish Eatery, head west and explore the Hoi An ancient town. You don’t really need your bike as it’s just a 10-minute walk from the restaurant to the end of the old town. But, if you do bring your bike, which cuts the trip down to five minutes, try to walk once you get inside the old town. Not only is it safer as the streets can get busy, but it also lets you slow down and take in the beauty of the ancient town.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site
The ancient town is littered with shops, restaurants, and cafes that sell everything from local handicrafts to street food. Seeing the bright colors of the buildings, their well-preserved design, and the festive lanterns and flowers that hang from them, really give you a sense of why the whole place was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The atmosphere and scenery alone are why I love walking through the ancient town.
Try some authentic Ca Phe
Of course, I love to try Vietnamese coffee too. If you didn’t know, Vietnamese coffee sets itself apart from other coffee types as it’s stronger. This usually results in a richer and more flavorful brew that can range from bitter to sweet. Have it black to really take in the flavor profile or with coconut milk to add some thickness and extra sweetness to it. You can also get iced espressos that are served with a layer of sweetened condensed milk. There are stalls that serve this along with a cool place to sit that make it a great spot to beat the heat
Japanese covered bridge
Walk a bit towards the western side of the ancient town and you’ll find a Japanese bridge. This Japanese covered bridge, called Chua Cau, is an icon of Hoi An and is even featured on the city’s logo. For this reason, you’ll usually find a lot of tourists but I still think it’s worth visiting at least once when you visit Hoi An. There are also a lot of coffee shops and cafes around the bridge, so it makes sense to head here for your coffee fix.
4. Explore the central market
After exploring the Hoi An ancient town, head towards the center of the city to find the Central Market. Located along the Thu Bon River, here, you’ll usually find vendors selling local produce and wares as well as food stalls and restaurants selling traditional Vietnamese food. With the sights, sounds, and smells of the local cuisine all around you., treat yourself for lunch with a little food tour of stuff you can only find in Hoi An!
White Rose Dumplings
Start off with some White Rose dumplings. No, you won’t be eating the flower itself. A white rose is called that because the way the rice paper is wrapped resembles a flower. The filling highly varies but you can expect to find the same things in a normal spring roll. Though you’ll mostly find tourists eating this, I still think it’s worth trying since it has the same freshness as a spring roll presented in a new way.
A more famous local dish is the Cao Lau. Cau Lao is a noodle dish that sets itself apart from Pho for several reasons. First, there’s a lot less broth used making it more like a savory sauce than a soup. There’s also char siu pork on top which adds extra depth and savoriness to the usual light flavor of pho. Finally, the noodles are more tender and give more of a bite than your regular pho noodles. I usually love a good bowl of Cao Lau especially when I’m craving the heartiness and rich broth of pho with more of a bite and less volume.
If Cao Lau and white rose isn’t your thing, then you can never go wrong with a classic banh mi. basically an Asian sub, It consists of a baguette sliced in half and stuffed full of greens, veggies, and different meats. The resulting sandwich becomes a full meal in and of itself. Miles ahead of Subway, a banh mi is always a great healthy option for any occasion and is definitely a must-try if you’re in town.
5. Take a Vietnamese cooking class
While most tour operators have you tasting food on your trip, Hoi An offers a unique kind of food tour – a traditional cooking class. I think the ones available in town are great since they feature everything from sourcing local ingredients in the central market to trying out traditional techniques. While you can buy your own white rose, Cau Lao, and banh mi in the market, taking a cooking class will teach you how to make them yourself.
About the classes
Cooking classes vary with rates going for at least USD 20 and last for half a day. Some classes will take you fishing and vegetable picking before learning how to cook. Others will plan your menu with you for a more personal touch to your meal. Regardless, these classes in Hoi An are a great way to experience local life and cuisine as well as Vietnamese culture in general so if you plan to take one, be sure to eat light at the Central Market during lunch.
Other ways to learn
Additionally, the Tra Que Vegetable Village also has a cooking class available featuring the local community produce. While interacting with the community is rare due to Covid-19, there are similar classes available in other villages. You can also try your luck during your morning bike ride to see if a local is willing to help you out.
6. Take a dip at Bang Beach
If cooking isn’t your thing or want something more active that doesn’t involve food, you can head over to Bang Beach which, aside from the Hoi An ancient town and Japanese covered bridge, is one of the major highlights of the city. The beach is directly north of the city and is about 10 minutes by car or 15 by bike. While there are many large commercial resorts along the beach, these are usually concentrated closer to Da Nang than near Hoi An.
About Bang Beach
Bang Beach is usually a very idyllic place. Imagine a long stretch of white sand and crystal blue water. If you’re lucky, there might be a palm tree to sit under and a breeze rolling in from the sea. There are also a lot of stores and restaurants for you to buy some refreshments and snacks as well as some souvenirs. There are also sun loungers you can relax on.
Things to do in Bang Beach
If you feel like you want to get a little bit more active, there are lots of water activities to do. I always see people on jet skis or parasailing or learning how to surf, though you won’t find any pro surfers here as the waves are usually small. These activities do need to be booked in advance so please prepare accordingly. Of course, you can also have a calmer more relaxing day in the nearby spas.
Quieter spots on the beach
All of this means that Bang Beach is a pretty touristy area. While it can seem tranquil, there will always be spots crowded with people and bustling with activity. That’s why if you want to just enjoy nature, you might have to walk about 20 minutes south to a place called Tan Thanh Beach. This area lacks developments and is thus a more peaceful and quiet stretch of the beach. If while walking you start to see resorts, you’ve gone too far and have hit Cua Dai Beach, another busy spot.
Beaches in Hoi An – which one is best?
Overall, whether you choose to stay in Bang Beach, Tan Thanh Beach, or Cua Dai Beach, the best thing to do is to spend at least 3 hours in the area. this means staying there from 2:00 PM – 5:00 PM to get the most out of it while staying away from the sun at its worst.
7. Relax and take a shower
Whether you tried out one of the cooking schools or had some fun in the sun in Bang Beach, you’ll of course be exhausted and rather unclean. That’s why I recommend heading back to your lodging and taking a shower. A simple task, but I find that I not only get cleaned up but feel refreshed. It makes me feel like I get to reset myself and prepare for the day again. You can also try taking a nap and waiting a bit. You can also wait for the sun to set and let darkness fall because it’s a whole different feeling to explore Hoi An at night. Take this time to rest, recharge, and prepare for more fun, food, and a little bit of shopping.
8. Dinner along the Thu Bon River
I always think it’s important to end a great day with some great food. At night, the streets around the Hoi An ancient town light up with lanterns giving the old town a warm cozy orange glow. This sight becomes even prettier along the Thu Bon river which is lined with more shops, restaurants, and bars. This place, along with the rest of the ancient town, which usually seems to liven up even more than it did in the day, is the best place to have dinner.
Though there are a lot of great places to eat, I’d personally recommend a little-known place called Cobb. From the Japanese covered bridge, walk about 10 minutes west along the riverside. Once the resorts and restaurants disappear, you should find a classy modern hangout right by the water. Though it’s a bit outside the ancient town, I still think it has the same warm vibe as the rest of the city just with a little more peace and quiet.
Sweet Corn Risotto – A Fusion of Flavors
Owned by a Japanese person, the restaurant specializes in high-quality fusion dishes. Though a big departure from local fare like Cao Lau, Cobb always finds a way to introduce local flavors to western dishes. One of my favorite examples is the sweet corn risotto. An unusual mix, the fresh sweetness of the corn adds an extra depth to the nuttiness of the cheese and provides an extra bite to an otherwise soft risotto. The end result is a vibrant, cheesy, hearty dish only found here.
Sole Meuniere – light, delicate, tasty
I also love the Sole Meuniere with charred butter because of how light and delicate it is. While some fish dishes can feel rich and heavy, this one was particularly light yet still flavorful. If you want something mild yet substantial, this one is worth trying out. Of course, all their food is sensational anyway, so whichever one you’ll pick will be a good one. Be sure to pair it with some local beer or a cup of Ca Phe sua Saigon, or Vietnamese Coffee.
9. End your day at the night market
After a long day of fun and food, be sure to take in the tranquil beauty of the Hoi An ancient town at night while treating yourself to some retail therapy. The night market sits across the Thu Bon river from the ancient town. Don’t worry though as it’s only about a 3-minute walk from the Japanese bridge to the night market. All you have to do is cross a bridge to find yourself face to face with a vibrant night scene and a bustling hub of local vendors and tourists.
Night time shopping at Hoi An
Heading into the interior of the islet, specifically down Nguyen Hoang street, will take you to where the shopping is. there are at least 50 vendors selling everything from your name on a grain of rice to traditional clothes and decorations. These trinkets can go for as cheap as a dollar and, though pretty touristy, can still make for a special memento.
Street food at Hoi An
There’s also a lot of street food that varies widely from Cao Lau to Fried Ice. Though it’s now become a trap for international tourists visiting Hoi An, I think it’s still a pretty fun place to roam around with friends. Just a word of warning though as the place starts to die down by 9 PM with most stalls closing at 10 PM.
Nightlife at Hoi An
You can also just go along the Thu Bon riverbank where a lot of the bars and restaurants are. You can find another type of liveliness here that’s made even better with friends. Or you can make it better by making some friends. Hop into any of the bars, order a nice cool cocktail, and dance the night away, giving yourself a fantastic end to an already great day.
10. Other things to do in Hoi An
Not everyone will enjoy cooking or the beach, nor is shopping a big thing in everyone’s mind. Despite that, Hoi An still offers a lot to do and see that range from culture to history and even adventure.
Buy some silk at the Silk Village
Outside the Hoi An ancient town you can find a four-star hotel housed in a well-preserved village known for its role in the local silk trade. Unsurprisingly named the Silk Village, this place is probably worth checking out as the hotel preserved not just the buildings but also the village’s traditional silk industry as well. You can see artisans go through the process of making silk and buy silk products afterward. The place is also rather pretty and is another spot worth checking out outside the old town.
Check out some temples and assembly halls
The Hoi An ancient town is littered with ornate temples and places of worship. One of the more famous ones is the Cam Pho temple. Known for its serene atmosphere, many use it as a peaceful meeting place, so be sure to respect the norms there. Chinese-built temples are also famous for their colorful designs and intricate detailing. One famous example is the Hoi Quan Phuoc Kien which features a pagoda and a shrine to a sea goddess.
Along the same vein are assembly halls. Back in the 17th century, the Hoi An ancient town was a major trading port, making sure that traders built places where they could sell their goods. This is why you can find many trading halls and temples along Tran Phu street near the central market. This makes it easy to pop by and see the ornate designs and preserved style on your way to lunch. One example is the Cantonese Assembly Hall. Nowadays, it’s used in the context of a religious congregation rather than a trading hub.
The coconut boat is a fun little boat ride that tours you around a specific spot along the Thu Bon river. The coconut boat, contrary to popular belief, actually gets its name from the place where the tour happens – the May Bau Coconut Forest, an ecological preserve outside the Hoi An ancient town. The boats, more appropriately called basket boats, look a lot like turtle shells and are meant for two people to paddle around like a canoe.
Though not necessarily a highlight, you can also pair this with your cooking class as the tour operator also has a cooking tour. the boat ride is a 1-hour activity with the class being about 2.5-3.5 hours. You can choose to book these separately or as a package deal. If you really don’t want to cook, there’s also a local lunch available so you can skip the work and go straight to the food.
Visit some museums
the storied past and excellent preservation of the Hoi An ancient town are bound to produce some interesting gems, mostly old houses. One example is the Tan Ky Old House which was once owned by an 18th-century merchant and offers guided tours of the preserved rooms full of antiques dating from that era. There are a lot of other spots along Tran Phu as well such as the Quan Thang old house, Duc An old house, and the Phung Hung old house.
Meanwhile, venture outside the Hoi An ancient town and you can find the Cultural Heritage Reservation Management Center. Though that mouthful sounds like an office, it also houses a museum full of memorabilia as old as prehistoric times and as recent as the Vietnam War.
Getting to Hoi An
Hoi An is not exactly the most accessible of Vietnamese cities as it does not have any major railway stations or airports. Most likely, if you want to visit Hoi An, you have to get there from Da Nang, the closest and most accessible city.
Getting to Da Nang
If you’re coming from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, you can travel by train or plane to Da Nang. Most direct flights from around Vietnam to Da Nang airport are usually less than USD 100 while trains can cost less than USD 50.
Of course, a flight can last you only 1-2 hours while the train can take you nearly an entire day. It takes just as long if you take a bus from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City to Hoi An directly, though these cost less than USD 20. There’s really no way to get to Hoi An aside from the road since the nearest train station and airport is at Da Nang
Da Nang to Hoi An
If you’re already at Da Nang, you can make your way to Hoi An via bus. There’s a twice-daily bus that costs no more than 250,000 Vietnamese Dong (roughly USD 11). These buses can depart from Da Nang Airport or from various spots around the city and usually end outside Hoi An ancient town for an average duration of 1 hour. These depend on the company you’re taking so be sure to check ahead regarding these.
Private cars and taxis
Having used the buses a lot, I can tell you that they’re pretty comfortable, but you can also rent a private car from Da Nang and use it in and around Hoi An. Taking a private car to Hoi An only costs about USD 25 while renting one can go as high as USD 200 per day. While the bus is okay, taking a private car or taxi is usually faster and is available 24/7. Just remember that cars aren’t allowed in the old town.
Getting around Hoi An
The ancient town Hoi An is not that big of a city compared to other cities in Vietnam, so getting around shouldn’t be too hard. As stated, cars are not allowed inside the ancient town. If you’re coming from a beachfront resort, it might be fine to rent a car. However, if you live closer to town, you can subsist with a combination of walking and the public bus lines. Motorbikes are also available and much cheaper than a car, but do take note that they are included in the motor ban in the ancient town.
Biking in Hoi An
That being said, the best thing to do for exploring in and around the Hoi An ancient town is to get your hands on a good old bike. Not only is it sustainable and good exercise but it’s very much allowed in the old town. There are many bike rental places around town but you can also ask your hotel or hostel if they have their own bikes for rent as they most likely do. It’s actually common to see tourists and locals alike on a bike and it’s no surprise since everything is within a short 15-minute radius on two wheels.
Bottomline about Hoi An
The ancient town Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for a reason. The charm and beauty of the old town are not lost on any who visit Hoi An. Tranquil yet lively, old and yet still vibrant, traditional and yet finds a way to breathe new life into local favorites, the reason I love the ancient town Hoi An is because it’s an amazing city that has found the perfect balance between what is used to be and what it can become.
FAQs about Hoi An
The Hoi An ancient town is full of things to do. Most of these include cultural sights like old houses turned into museums, Buddhist temples and pagodas, and old assembly halls. Food is also a big deal in the city with a great local Western restaurant scene and an explosion of places offering traditional fair and trendy Vietnamese coffee. Shopping for local wares and souvenirs is also common.
Outside the Hoi An ancient town has a lot of nature-inclined activities. Things like biking in rice paddies, going on boat rides, and relaxing on the beach are the main things you can do. Since the city is pretty small though all of these are in close proximity to each other and to the city center.
Since the city is so small, a day trip to Hoi An is more than enough to experience a big chunk of it. Most people tend to take just a day trip since it’s so accessible to nearby Da Nang. Of course, 2-3 days is also good so you don’t have to rush and you can experience as much of the ancient town as possible.
It depends on what you’re looking for. When it comes to culture and atmosphere, Hoi An definitely is a better place to visit than Da Nang. Meanwhile, Da Nang has more things to do and has better developed beaches than Hoi An. That being said, you don’t have to choose one over the other as it is very easy to visit both within a short amount of time.
The best thing about the Hoi An ancient town is its charm and atmosphere. since the history and culture of the city are well preserved, it becomes a hub for learning about vietnam and discovering new things that can’t easily be found anywhere else in Vietnam. The food, sights, and navigability make it a great place to stop by and pay a visit.
Hoi An is known for its ancient town which is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its preservation and postcard-perfect views. It’s also known for the nearby Bang Beach and great central Vietnamese food like Cao Lau.
The Hoi An ancient town and nearby Bang Beach can get pretty touristy at times. In fact, tourism makes up a big chunk of the local economy. That being said, there are times where the number of people are relatively low. Even if there are crowds of people there, it’s still worth checking out because the town itself strives to preserve its history, culture, and authenticity.
The weather is pretty similar throughout southeast Asia so you can expect the rainy season to last from June to December and the hot season from March to May. Given this, the sweet spot for good weather is January to March to avoid the rain and the immense heat. If you want to avoid the crowds, then your best bet is early February to early March. This ensures that it’s not too hot to go around while still being outside the wet season.