There are cities we visit; others that capture our hearts like lovers.
With its twinkling lanterns, emerald river and ancient laneways, Hoi An is surely one of the latter. Not only is the perfectly preserved ancient port town of Hoi An one of the loveliest places to visit in Vietnam, it also ranks as one of the best value cities in Asia. You’ll be amazed at just how far your holiday budget will go here!
Enjoy this Hoi An travel guide.
Cultural things to do in Hoi An
Hoi An effortlessly blends the past and present, and is a delightful fusion of Vietnamese, French, Chinese and Japanese cultural influences.
Cars and motorbikes are banned here in the old town. Blissfully free of the noise, traffic and pollution that plagues most cities, cycling or strolling through the winding lanes with their French-style shutters and yellow facades is the perfect way to take it all in.
Perhaps Hoi An’s greatest feature is its accessible experience of everyday local life. It’s not only architecture that has been preserved — deeper cultural traditions such as lifestyle and religious customs, cooking and festivals continue to flourish. Buy a paper lantern from a child and release it to the river like one of the locals.
With food such an attraction in Hoi An, cookery classes abound. These are usually offered through local restaurants. The classes often commence with a trip to the local market, where the secrets of local ingredients and traditional dishes are revealed.
Vibrant festivals provide tantalising glimpses into culture and beliefs. These include the Mid-Autumn Festival, Lunar Festival, and Wandering Soul Day. In August the town turns off all electric lighting for the Flower Lantern Festival.
Hoi An for history lovers
Stuffed with old merchant and meeting houses, temples and pagodas, the city’s narrow streets are a tapestry of history.
An important trading port from the 15th to 19th centuries, Hoi An retains its original street plan, quays, canals and bridges, and more than 1,100 original wooden buildings dating from the 1600s and 1700s.
Pay 120,000 VND (approximately $7AUD) for the official entrance ticket into the UNESCO World Heritage-listed old town. This also grants you access to five historic attractions, including the grandiose Fukian Assembly Hall, historic houses, museums, cultural experiences and the Japanese Covered Bridge.
Great places to eat in Hoi An
At nightfall the banks of the river ignite with lanterns, while cooking pots send delicious smells into the sultry air, capturing tourists like the moths around the coloured lights.
Renowned for great food, there’s no end of choice, from traditional fare to exciting fusions of French, Western, Chinese, Japanese and local dishes.
From the balcony of Sakura Restaurant you can gaze down upon the lantern-lit river, while savouring a fragrant noodle salad loaded with fresh mint, basil and papaya.
For more mouth-watering moments, grab a table at the acclaimed Morning Glory restaurant — which also offers superb cooking classes.
Where to shop in Hoi An
Famed for its tailoring shops (there are an estimated 600 here), Hoi An is a shopaholic’s paradise.
Amidst the cries of hawkers: “you want to look at my shop!”, browse silk lanterns, fabrics, china, tea, handbags, jewellery, vases, handicrafts and shoes.
Located on the riverfront, the Central Market is a somewhat confronting sensory experience of food, fish, flowers, spices and more.
After dark, shopping continues at the Night Market over the bridge on the peninsula. Catering almost exclusively to tourists, the merchants here are sharp. Hone those bartering skills and stay one step ahead!
Top ways to relax in Hoi An
Take a slow ride down the river in a swan boat or relax by the pool in one of the city’s luxury hotels.
Pamper fiends can grab a massage, a traditional Vietnamese herbal steam bath, and other therapeutic treatments at Ginger Spa. It’s located just outside town and overlooks serene rice paddies. Another option for spa junkies is Na Spa Escape. This spa chain has several locations around the city.
However you choose to do it, enjoy life in the slow lanes of beautiful Hoi An.
Five Hoi An tours we love
This three-hour guided walking tour will show you the main sites around Hoi An’s Old Town and reveal many of its hidden secrets. It’s the perfect introduction to the city.
Board a sunrise river cruise and get a fascinating insight into the daily lives of Hoi An’s traditional fishermen. See boats laden with a variety of seafood — most of it destined for Hoi An’s Central Market.
See the Old Town of Hoi An in a different light as the sun goes down, and sample local specialties for dinner.
The region around Hoi An is very flat and ideal for cycling. This half-day small group tour will get you out of the city and into the magnificent countryside — where you’ll get to observe many aspects of daily life for the locals.
Take a journey through Vietnam’s fascinating imperial past on this day tour from Hoi An to Hue. You’ll visit the Imperial City, cruise the Perfume River, and visit the Thien Mu Pagoda.
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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 & Health magazine, the New Daily, Essential Kids, Australian Family magazine, Weekend Notes, WellBeing magazine, and Retirement Living Today. Based in Katoomba in the beautiful Blue Mountains, Linda has been blessed to explore the wonderful cultures and magical lands of Vietnam, Cambodia, Switzerland, Tahiti and Moorea, Japan, India, Koh Samui, Vanuatu, Lifou and New Zealand.