This fairy-tale town is the most popular destination in central Vietnam. Those who visit either love it to pieces or think it’s a tourist trap that’s not worth visiting. Our Hoi An travel guide is made with the intention of showing you how to get the most out of your stay so you’re left with those warm fuzzy feelings of Hoi An. Not the bitter kind.
HOI AN TRAVEL GUIDE
Love it or hate it?
Ask anyone who’s been to Hoi An what their thoughts are of the place and you’ll get very varied responses. This little Vietnamese town sees many many visitors. Visitors who either love it intensely or hate it immensely.
But why such contrasting reviews?
Well it all depends what kind of traveler you are. If you’re looking for something off the beaten path. Somewhere you can have a truly unique travel experience. Well, then Hoi An will surely disappoint. While true, Vietnam as a whole, is a lot less touristy than it’s neighbor, Thailand. Hoi An is sort of the exception.
But on the other hand, if you’ve been making your way through the country and are now desperate for somewhere that English is more widely spoken. Somewhere that has a bit higher standards of cleanliness. Where you can purchase incredibly cute souvenirs or well tailored clothes to remind yourself of your travels when you’re back home at your daily grind. Well then Hoi An may just be for you.
You may wonder, where did we fall on the spectrum? Somewhere in the middle, but leaning more towards loving Hoi An.
Let me explain why.
What to love about Hoi An:
- The colorful historic town center, with its mix of French, Chinese, and Japanese architecture. It’s easily the most picturesque place to visit in Vietnam
- The charming yellow buildings that all seem to be painted by the same bottomless paint can
- The enchanting quiet streets, void of motorized traffic, and all beautifully lantern-dotted
- The unspoiled green countryside, perfect for exploring by bicycle
- The food! Hoi An is an essential stop for any Vietnamese food lover. There are many local dishes made here that you won’t find anywhere else. I mean anywhere.
What not to love about Hoi An:
- The aggressive sell tactics of the shops and vendors. And their unwillingness to take no for an answer. “I don’t want any more tailored dresses” “I said no” “Please don’t follow me down the street” “Don’t follow me into this cafe” “Don’t try and drag me by the arm” “Just leave me alone dammit”
- The ridiculous heat. When you’re in the main center there is no ocean breeze to offer any sort of reprieve. Also, what’s with the general lack of air conditioning in the shops? Being in town felt like standing on the actual sun in a scuba suit. Sweat emitted from places I didn’t even know sweat could.
- The sad state of the beach (when we visited, at least). We excitedly booked our accommodation mere steps from Cua Dai Beach. If you’ve been following along this blog for even a short period of time then you know how much we looove beaches. What we were met with, though, was piles and piles of dirty sandbags. As far as the eye could see.
Things To Know Before You Go
It’s touristy // Hoi An was definitely the most touristy place we visited during our 2 weeks in Vietnam. Like, hands down, no contest here, amusement park parade style touristy. Know this going in and you’ll be a lot less disappointed.
It dumps rain // If you visit in the winter, like we did, you may experience some massive downpours. We knew that January was the region’s wet season, we just didn’t realize how literal of a definition “wet season” was. Have a list of backup activities for when the rain ruins your first-pick plans. And bring shoes that won’t get ruined when completely submerged in water.
It’s so bloody hot // Rain or no rain, you’ll be sweating something fierce. Hoi An is crazy hot and mega humid. Even if the photos make it appear otherwise. Don’t be deceived. Those grey clouds aren’t keeping any of the heat out. Make sure you pack light and airy, loose-fitting clothing. And in the middle of the day when it becomes unbearable, head back to your hotel for a dip in the pool (which is why it’s crucial your hotel have a pool!)
In this country we recommend flying when at all possible! It’s the most efficient means of transportation. But book through Vietnam Airlines, not JetStar, if you want to actually get on a flight and not be stuck at the airport. And pay in local currency (dong) for the best price (they have the currency selection option in their website).
Related Post: Top 7 Vietnam Travel Tips
There is no airport in Hoi An. You’ll be flying in to Da Nang and taking a taxi from there. The drive is only about 45 minutes and should cost you around 300.000 – 400.000 vnd. The taxis are usually large vans, so you could even split one with a few other travelers if you’re alone and want to save a bit of money.
Where To Stay
We stayed outside of the more popular Ancient Town quarters. Where motorized vehicles are still permitted, and cute yellow buildings are nowhere to be found. On the plus side, there were less tourists around, and we got to enjoy the beautiful countryside on our daily bike ride to Ancient Town.
Our hotel, River Beach Resort, had a much appreciated breakfast buffet (more like a massive morning feast) and stunning views of the De Vong River. I loved heading out in the early morning to watch the fog rise up off the water.
The pool and day beds got plenty of use from us during our stay. And yet, somehow, we seemed to be the only ones taking advantage of them. Go figure.
As touched upon above, some who visit Hoi An really hate it. They refer to it as the town that tourism ruined. Staying out of the hectic center allowed us to see a quieter, less imposing side of Hoi An. And left us with more sweet memories than negative ones when it came time to leave.
For this reason I highly recommend booking accommodation a little out of town. And since we so thoroughly enjoyed our stay at River Beach Resort, I would not hesitate to recommend it to all of you.
Ancient Town is a UNESCO world heritage site, and the cost is 120.000 dong per person to enter. You’ll receive a ticket that is valid for re-entry during your stay. The ticket also gives you access to 5 of the 22 highlighted sights and attractions of ancient town. These include some museums, historic houses, congregation halls, temples and pagodas.
What I love about this historic center is that no motorized vehicles are allowed. Not even scooters. Making it nearly the only scooter-free area in the whole scooter-loving country.
This is a place best explored on foot or bicycle. Which isn’t hard to do considering how small the area is.
Most of the photos you see of Hoi An are all taken in the Ancient Town, which is made up of only a few streets, really.
But if you reeeally don’t want to use any energy whatsoever, you can always catch a ride on the back of a bicycle rickshaw. It’s a pretty common thing to do here, although I personally felt too bad to make someone peddle me around in that heat.
Custom Tailor-Made Clothes
This is without a doubt the thing Hoi An is most known for nowadays. It’s easy to get ripped off. I certainly was. There will be a whole post about that coming soon.
Store owners will beg you to come in. Everyone you pass on the street or in a restaurant will proclaim they know the BEST tailor shop in town. It can be a bit overwhelming, really. So be sure to know exactly what you want in advance (make a list & bring photos) and stick to your guns about how much you’re willing to spend. These people are bartering professionals. You need to come prepared.
Turnaround time for a tailored men’s suit or women’s dress is about 2-4 days. If anywhere is promising you a garment ready in 24 hours, don’t count on it being ready. And if somehow it is, don’t expect the quality to be all that spectacular.
If one of the main reasons for visiting Hoi An is to get custom made clothes, leave yourself plenty of time for multiple fittings over many days. You wouldn’t want to stay any less than 4 nights.
I can’t imagine paying full price for half finished clothing to be a good way to leave here.
What To Do
Wander the streets & shop in Ancient Town // Admire the yellow-wash buildings.
Pop into some shops to pick up intricate pop-up cards, porcelain tea sets, silk robes, or whatever your little heart desires in the way of souvenirs.
Do note that this area gets really crowded at night. Shop owners selling trinkets can be especially aggressive as the sun goes down. Constantly shouting at you to come in and buy something. Although that is also when some of the best deals are to be had.
Get custom tailored clothes made // see above.
See the Japanese covered bridge // This is the same bridge featured on the 20.000 vnd bill. You can view it from the outside for free. And visit the pagoda inside using your Ancient Town entrance ticket.
Drink all the coffee; sip all the tea // the streets are full of quaint coffee shops and elegant tea houses. Although we more often than not drink our coffee black, when in Vietnam we get it with the creamy dreamy sweet condensed milk, as is the custom. And we regret nothing.
Visit My Son Sanctuary // About an hour outside of Hoi An lies the remnants of the old Champa temples known as My Son Sanctuary. I’m not sure what you’ve heard, but these ruins are not, I repeat, are NOT the Angkor Wat of Vietnam. That’s a gross overstatement that needs to nipped in the bud.
They are still interesting to see and learn about. So if you get the chance, the price is right, and you don’t have a homicidal cocaine-sniffing driver, by all means check them out. (Read more)
Take a cooking class // Green Bamboo Cooking School & Cafe ranks the highest in the area. Red Bridge Restaurant & Cooking School is a close second.
Either way, you’ll be picked up from your hotel, taken to the market to shop for ingredients, shown how to cook multiple dishes (you get to eat them, of course), and you’ll go on your way with a cookbook full of traditional recipes.
Check in advance if the class you choose accepts card or is cash only so you aren’t left in an awkward situation.
Climb the Marble Mountains // Just 45 minutes north in the town of Da Nang sits a cluster of mountains made of marble.
The climb is very easy (I even did it in flip flops). Although in the heat it doesn’t necessarily feel that easy. (Read more)
Sign up for a food tour // There are many different options to choose from, including walking street food tours, and moped tours. But the idea is the same for all of them. You’ll see some of the areas of Hoi An you probably wouldn’t discover on your own. And you’ll sample delicious local dishes along the way.
Cycle through the countryside // You can go on an organized bicycling tour or simply borrow a bike from your hotel for a self-guided tour of the surrounding villages and rice fields. It’s so peaceful and picturesque you might find yourself doing this activity day after day.
What To Eat
Some of the best cuisine in all the country can be found in Hoi An. Be sure to try these dishes:
Cao Lau // Barbeque pork and thick rice noodle dish. This legendary chewy noodle dish is exclusive to Hoi An.
Com Ga // A chicken and rice dish
White Rose (Banh Bao Banh Vac) // Pork or prawn filled dumplings. This dish is another exclusive to Hoi An. The water to make these steamed dumplings must come from the old Ba Le well in town. If the water doesn’t come from that well, it’s not authentic white rose.
Banh Mi // Street food baguette sub
Vietnamese coffee (Ca Phe Da) // Drip filtered coffee mixed with condensed milk and poured over ice. The secret to the irresistible deliciousness is the condensed milk. Don’t even think of getting your coffee without it.
When in Vietnam, always always save some time in your day to go to the spa. An hour-long full body massage will set you back only $5-$35 depending on how fancy a place you go to.
We hear An Bang Beach is the place to relax under a palapada with a coconut drink, or to ride in a 2 person bamboo basket boat. It’s about a 15 minute taxi ride from Ancient Town. After the disappointment we experienced upon seeing Cua Dai Beach, we decided we were happier to spend our downtime at the quiet and private pool in our own hotel.
I mean, after all, we could order food and drinks with just the raise of a hand. We didn’t have to pay anything for shaded loungers. And, for whatever reason, we didn’t have to share our pool or view with anyone else.
To each their own I guess 🙂
Planning your own trip to Vietnam? Check out our Vietnam destination page for all related posts.
**Some of the photos in this post were taken by my good friend, and travel partner, Hep**
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