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!
Here’s a city guide to the top things to see and do in Hoi An.
There are many cultural things to see and do in Hoi An. A delightful blend of the past and present, this small city is an eclectic fusion of French, Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese 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 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. Usually these are on offer through local restaurants or as tours. 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 shuts off all electric lights for the Flower Lantern Festival.
There are so many historic things to see and do in Hoi An. Stuffed wall to wall with old merchant and meeting houses, temples and pagodas, the city’s narrow streets are a living 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 a complex of 1,107 original wooden buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries.
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.
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 Hoa Anh Dao 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, check out the acclaimed Morning Glory restaurant – which also offers superb cooking classes.
Famed for its tailoring shops (there are an estimated 600 here), Hoi An is a shopaholics’ 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. So hone those bartering skills and stay one step ahead!
For relaxing things to see and do in Hoi An, take a slow ride down the river in a swan boat or relax by the pool in one of the many luxury hotels.
Pamper fiends can grab a massage, traditional Vietnamese herbal steam bath and other therapeutic treatments at Ginger Spa, located just out of town and overlooking serene rice paddies.
Another option for spa junkies is Na Spa. This spa chain has several locations in Hoi An (including Ancient House Resort and Spa).
Whatever you choose to do, there are plenty of ways to chill in the slow lanes of Hoi An.
Five tours we love
This 3-hour walking will show you the main sites around Hoi An.
This Hoi An sunrise cruise will give you an insight into the daily lives of Hoi An’s traditional fishermen.
See the Old Town of Hoi An in a different light as the sun goes down, and sample local specialties for dinner.
The country around Hoi An is very flat and ideal for cycling. This half-day small group tour will immerse you in daily life.
Learn the art of creating stunning bamboo art and take home a unique souvenir of your stay in Hoi An.
Do you have any tips for top things to see and do in Hoi An? We would love to hear from you. Please send us a message.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Linda Moon is a freelance travel, health and lifestyle writer with work appearing in Voyeur, the Sun-Herald, Traveller Sydney Morning Herald, NZ Journal of Natural Medicine, Nature & Health Magazine, the New Daily, SBS Comment & Analysis, the Sydney Morning Herald Good Pub Food Guide, Essential Kids, Australian Family magazine, Weekend Notes, WellBeing magazine, Retirement Living Today and more. In other lives she’s been a social work student, waitress, music DJ, personal assistant, massage and spa therapist and naturopath. 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. When time permits – perhaps when she’s ninety-nine, but hopefully before – she hopes to complete a fantasy novel and see the world become a fairer, kinder place for all.