There are cities we merely visit, and others that capture our hearts like lovers.
With its twinkling lanterns, ancient laneways, and gracious architecture, Hoi An is surely one of the latter. Not only is this UNESCO World Heritage-listed port town one of the loveliest places in Vietnam, it also ranks among the cheapest cities to visit in Asia. You’ll be amazed at just how far your holiday budget will go here.
This Hoi An city guide is packed with ideas for things to see and do. Enjoy your visit.
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Hoi An for history lovers
Stuffed with merchant stores, assembly halls, and atmospheric temples, Hoi An’s narrow streets are a tapestry of history.
An important trading port from the 15th to the 19th centuries, the old town retains its original layout of thoroughfares, quays, canals, and bridges. There are more than eleven hundred wooden structures dating from the 16 and 1700s.
Cars and motorbikes are banned in the old centre, making it blissfully free of the noise and pollution that plague most cities. Many of the buildings are bright yellow and decorated with ornate wooden balconies and French-style shutters. A guided walking tour will reveal many details you would otherwise miss.
Technically, an entry ticket is required to enter the old town. The cost is 120,000 VND (approximately $7AUD) at the time of writing and grants you access to various historic attractions, including the grandiose Fukian Assembly Hall and Japanese Covered Bridge.
Top cultural activities in Hoi An
Perhaps Hoi An’s finest feature is its willingness to share every aspect of local life with visitors.
Shop at the Central Market, pay your respects to the past at a pagoda, relax by the waterfront with local families at sunset, or buy a floating paper lantern from a child and set it free on the tide. Don’t pack your itinerary with too many pre-planned activities; just wander at will and allow the magic to happen.
The city hosts a packed calendar of colourful festivals, including the Mid-Autumn Festival, Lunar Festival, and Wandering Souls Day. One evening a month, most of the electric lighting in the old town is turned off for the stunning Lantern Festival. Floating lanterns are released onto the city’s waterways to honour relatives who have passed, and bring health and happiness to the living.
Great places to eat in Hoi An
As night falls, the banks of the Thu Bon River come alive by lantern-light and cooking pots send delicious smells soaring into the sultry air.
Renowned for great food, Hoi An offers everything from time-honoured Vietnamese fare, to exciting fusions of French, Chinese, and Japanese cuisines.
There are oodles of restaurants to choose from, but you can’t beat gazing down upon the Thu Bon from the balcony of Sakura Restaurant while savouring a fragrant noodle salad loaded with fresh mint, basil, and papaya. For another memorable culinary moment, snaffle a table at the acclaimed Morning Glory Restaurant — one block back from the river in the old town. It puts a modern spin on traditional local dishes.
A food tour is an interesting and low cost way to get a handle on Hoi An’s dining scene. Explore with a local guide and graze at street eateries along the way.
With such a vibrant culinary culture, it’s no surprise that cooking classes abound in Hoi An. Taste Vietnam is a popular option and holds its classes at the Morning Glory Restaurant.
Where to shop in Hoi An
Shopaholics will love browsing in the old town for silk lanterns, handbags, shoes, jewellery, and handicrafts, accompanied by the ever-present chorus of hawkers spruiking their wares.
All roads lead to the Central Market on the riverfront — an assault on the senses that supplies the city with meat and fish, fresh produce, spices, flowers, and more. If you’re doing a cooking class, it will almost certainly include a guided visit to the market to shop for ingredients.
There are an estimated six hundred tailoring shops in Hoi An, and ordering bespoke garments is a popular retail pastime. Come prepared with photos of your dream dress or suit, fabric samples, and enough spare time to return to the store for progress fittings.
Catering almost exclusively to tourists, the Night Market is a kaleidoscope of coloured lanterns, glittering costume jewellery, and shiny trinkets. The merchants here are sharp; hone those haggling skills and stay one step ahead!
Ways to relax in Hoi An
There are plenty of ways to relax and rejuvenate in Hoi An; drift down the river in a swan boat, pull up with a good book in an old town cafe, or hit the pool at one of the city’s luxury hotels.
Pamper fiends can enjoy a massage, herbal steam bath, and various other therapeutic treatments at Ginger Spa. It’s located on the edge of town and overlooks serene rice paddies. Alternatively, try Na Spa Escape, which has several locations across the city.
The region around Hoi An is reasonably flat and ideal for cycling. Book a bike tour and head out to explore with a local guide. You’ll observe many aspects of rural daily life along the way.
Top Oz Tours offers a great range of Vietnam day tours, guided experiences, and attraction tickets and passes. There are no booking or credit card fees when you book through us, and you’ll have access to the widest choice of activities and most competitive prices.
Do you have any tips to add to our Hoi An city guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Linda Moon is a freelance travel, health, and lifestyle writer. Her work has appeared in Voyeur, the Sun-Herald, the Sydney Morning Herald, the NZ Journal of Natural Medicine, Nature and Health magazine, the New Daily, Essential Kids, Australian Family magazine, Weekend Notes, Well Being magazine, and Retirement Living Today. Based in Katoomba in the beautiful Blue Mountains, Linda has explored the wonderful cultures and magical lands of Vietnam, Cambodia, Switzerland, Tahiti, Japan, India, Thailand, Vanuatu, Lifou Island, and New Zealand.