A once thriving trading port in South East Asia between the 15th and 19th centuries, with a mixture of well preserved European, Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese architecture – Hoi An has a unique heritage and an atmospheric splendour that draws many visitors. It’s gentle river setting combined with its narrow streets in the Ancient Town are lined with small shops, tailors, boutique style hotels, cafes and resturants. It is a place best to be savoured and not rushed, we spent a good ten days here (the longest time we have stayed in one place in Vietnam).
We used a bus to travel from Phong Nha to Hoi An which 6 hours (plus a 2 hour stop at Hue). Buses are often the cheapest method of travelling between cities but the slowest. The nearest airport is Da Nang International Airport about a 50 minutes taxi ride to Hoi An from the airport. The railway station is located in Da Nang city as well, which is connected on the north/south mainline, from there you’ll need to get a taxi to complete the last leg of the journey.
THINGS TO DO
Hoi An is a great place to relax and absorb in all the surroundings, there many things to do, shop, eat and drink etc. But rather than follow someone’s itinerary, you can easily set your own agenda and go at your own pace. Walking or cycling down the streets of the Ancient Town is a good way to explore and to find your bearings. In keeping with its traditional feel, cars and motorcycles are banned in most of the areas. We won’t lie, Hoi An is touristy but the town seems to manage when we visited during the hot season, and it is easy to get off the beaten track or find your little hidden cafe.
When you enter the Ancient Town for the first time, there is an entrance fee of 120,000 dong (£4) per person. It was lightly enforced, however all visitors must pay. The ticket is valid for two weeks and contains coupons to allow you to access up to five sights.
There are many temples and pagodas from its Chinese past to see, often linked to a certain clan or a region from China. One of the most decorative is Quan Cong Temple located near the market. It is a great example of Chinese craftsmanship and culture.
The ornate Japanese Bridge built in the 1700s is probably the most photographed wooden bridge in Hoi An, as well serving as a crossing between two parts of the town – one side was formerly occupied by the Japanese and the other Chinese.
We also visited a traditional merchant’s home, the Old House of Tan Ky. This 18th century house retains many of its original features and is filled with antiques giving you glimpse of how life use to be.
Beyond the historical sights, visit the local market its popular with the locals and a good place to have lunch. There are many interesting places to visit outside of the town as well. Only 2.5 miles to east of Hoi An (about 30 minutes cycle), you reach the coastline where there are two beaches; Cua Dai and An Bang beach. Cua Dai has been hit with severe sea erosion and ongoing works to reclaim and repair the loss parts of the beach are underway. Further up north, An Bang beach has more room but more popular as a result.
On the way to the beach or returning back to the town, call by Tran Que village to learn where your food comes from. Many of the vegetables and herbs are grown here by the small communities. There are couple of resturants (some offer cooking classes).
For an off the beaten track experience, I highly recommend you to book a free tour with www.freehoiantour.com ran by a group of local students who are keen to show you a different side of Hoi An. This is also an opportunity for the students to practice their English. I booked a free bike tour to Kim Bong Village located on Cam King island; reached by boat and a bridge crossing to the west of Hoi An. After picking up my bike from the hotel, I arrived at the meeting point, met the group and the students before boarding the short boat ride to Cam King.
We visited a local boat maker, a wooden crafts shop to see the carpentry and a mat maker using riverbank reeds. We got to make our own rice paper and noodles too – the whole day was to learn about the local culture and their way of life, at the same riding through beautiful scenery and large rice paddies.
WHERE TO STAY
We moved a fair bit in Hoi An to find the perfect place. We can recommend two of these homestays where we stayed; Qua Cam Tim Homestay is a newly opened B&B, it’s just on the edge of the ancient town, only a short walk to all the main attractions. Equally, Harmony Hoian Homestay is another great place to stay where we spent our final nights in Hoi An. Harmony, is located the near the bustling market and also a short walk to the town.
WHERE TO EAT
Hoi An is a foodie’s dream, it is the perfect place to sample all the Vietnamese and local dishes – made with fresh ingredients picked from the nearby Tran Que vegetable patches. Great spots for a cheap lunch include; Bahn Mi Queen, Bánh mì Phượng (made famous by a visit from American TV Chef Anthony Bourdain) and Phố Xưa restaurant for some great pho dishes.
For cafes and bars we enjoyed; Le Fê Cafétéria – a hidden gem with a garden courtyard and a koi pond. Mót Hội An – try the popular herbal iced tea. The Chef – Coffee On Roof – brilliant rooftop, perfect to watch sunsets and finally Cocobana Tearooms – has a quiet courtyard set in a period building.
In the evenings we ate at Mr. So’n Restaurant, located on the south side of the river. Set in a market style hut lined with benches and tables, the friendly couple will prepare your meals in front of you. It was cheap, unpretentious and had a home cooked quality to all the dishes. Do try the delicious Ben Xeo pancakes and Cau Lau noodles. Also on this side of town, spot the resturants and bars selling ‘Fresh Beer‘ – incredibly cheap locally made beer to enjoy after a day’s sightseeing.
The cheapest restaurant we found in the heart of the old town is Dong Au Restaurant serving popular local and Vietnamese dishes. Occasionally we will have a craving for western food, for a burger fix – head to Hoi An Burgers Plus (probably the best burger we have had in Vietnam).
- Hotels and resturants located inside of the ancient town are mostly expensive, there are plenty of other choices just on the edges of the centre that are easy to walk to. The main market is also a great place to grab a cheap meal.
- Always carry your Hoi An entrance ticket with you in case of inspections and remember it contains coupons to allow you access to five sights in the town.
- Check if your hotel supplies bicycles or if they are included with your stay. Bikes will enable you to explore the town and go further to the outskirts including Cam King island and to the beaches.
- If you are interested in www.hoianfreetour.com it is advisable to book as early as you can before you arrive in Hoi An to avoid being booked up. I recommend that you to drop an email to them to reconfirm you have successfully booked your place and the tour will go ahead. They also supply cycles for rent if you don’t have one.
- Take care in the heat especially during the dry season (March-September), we visited in late June and it was stifling hot so keep cool and well hydrated.