Got a few days off? Looking for a nice spot, not just to relax but also to do a few interesting things? Why not try Hoi An! When it comes to all-in-one holiday destinations, this charming town located in Central Vietnam is just about as good as it gets. With lots to offer visitors, from its beautiful architecture and stunning beaches, to its delicious food and lively nightlife, here are just a few of the interesting things to do in Hoi An.
All of these have been personally tried and tested.
- Introduction to Hoi An
- Time and Budget for Hoi An
- Interesting Things to Do in Hoi An
- Get Lost in Old Town
- Take a boat ride down the Thu Bon River
- Learn to Cook Vietnamese Food
- Take a Bike Ride Through the Countryside
- Bike to a Lantern Workshop
- Bike to the Pottery Village
- Bike to the Carpentry and Wood Carving Village
- Day Trip to My Son Temple Complex
- Visit Hoi An’s Beaches
- Full Moon Lantern Festival
- Get Shoes Made (or a Suit, or an Ao Dai)
- Have a Pint of Guinness – ON DRAUGHT
Introduction to Hoi An
Hoi An is a small town located on the central coast of Vietnam. It is a popular tourist destination, known for its well-preserved Old Town, wide beaches, and its picture perfect countryside. With history going back as far as the 12th century, Hoi An was once a trading port. These days it is a port of call for travelers who want to experience a more traditional side of Vietnam.
Hoi An still retains most of its charm and character, with most of Old Town being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, it offers a lot of well preserved examples of traditional architecture. The Ancient Town is a great place to explore, with its narrow streets, colorful buildings and quaint shops – along with its many temples, museums, and of course the famous Japanese Covered Bridge.
Hoi An is accessible by both road and rail from the major cities of Vietnam. The nearest airport is located in the city of Danang, which is approximately 30 kilometers away. From Danang, there are regular buses, taxis (Grab is available), and cheap private cars that make the journey to Hoi An, making it an ideal weekend travel destination for people from the “big cities” (Hanoi and Saigon)… or even as a motorbike day trip from Danang!
Time and Budget for Hoi An
There’s a wide range of accommodation available in Hoi An, from cheap and cheerful hostels to luxurious beach resorts. For travelers like me who are looking for value, there are plenty of mid-range hotels and villas available for around $30 per night. Food is also very reasonably priced in Hoi An, with street food stalls and local restaurants serving up delicious meals for just a few dollars.
When it comes to budgeting for your trip, I would recommend setting aside around $50-$60 per day. This should cover the cost of accommodation, food, activities, and transportation within Hoi An. This will be an ideal budget for people who don’t necessarily have to minimize costs, but rather have a nice, relaxing holiday.
I’ve been to Hoi An on more than a few occasions, but I would recommend spending at least 3 nights in town in order to make the most of all activities and not feel overly rushed. Believe me, this part of Vietnam is jam packed with activities.
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Interesting Things to Do in Hoi An
Get Lost in Old Town
The ancient town center of Hoi An is a great place to explore on foot – or on a bike. With its narrow streets, traditional buildings and quaint shops, it’s easy to spend a few hours wandering around here and just getting lost in all its mustard coloured charm. Be sure to visit some of the main attractions such as the Japanese Covered Bridge, the Chinese Assembly Halls and the temples. You can also take a break by the riverside, and do some rather unique people watching.
Take a boat ride down the Thu Bon River
This one might be a bit of a tourist trap, but if you’re only in Vietnam once, it would be quite an interesting activity. It costs around 10 USD for a round trip on one of the traditional wooden boats, which takes you on a leisurely ride down the Thu Bon River. It’s a great way to see some of the beautiful scenery that Hoi An has to offer, and (if your boatman speaks a bit of English) learn a bit about the local culture and history too. The river can get a bit log jammed though, but the sights are insta-worthy.
Learn to Cook Vietnamese Food
If you’re a fan of Vietnamese cuisine (or just cooking in general) then learning to cook some local dishes yourself is a definitely a must-do while in Hoi An. There are many cooking schools located around town, but one of the most popular is the Red Bridge Cooking School. Here you’ll learn how to cook 4 or 5 traditional Vietnamese dishes – using fresh, local ingredients. The class also includes a visit to the local market, which is a great way to see how the locals shop. It’s a bit out of town, but they said it themselves, “it’s not just a cooking class, it’s an experience”. Prices for these classes start at around 25 USD per person.
Take a Bike Ride Through the Countryside
One of the best ways to see the “real” Vietnam is by taking a bicycle tour of the countryside. While Hoi An is a beautiful town, it can get a bit crowded with tourists – so why not head out into the countryside for some peace and quiet? You’ll get to see rice paddies, water buffalo and traditional stilt houses – as well as getting a bit of exercise. There are a number of companies that offer bikes for rent, but you’ll probably have some available for free at your hotel. Some activities are also conveniently accessible via pushbike…
Bike to a Lantern Workshop
This is well within biking distance, and well worth the trip. You see all those pretty lights in the Night Market? Well, you can make one yourself! There are a lot of workshops available in town. One of the more popular ones, the Lantern Lady, is located East of the main area of Hoi An. You’ll have a quick introduction to the history and meaning behind the traditional Vietnamese lanterns. And of course, you’ll also get to make your own lantern to take home with you! There are several designs and fabrics to choose from, so you can definitely make your own lantern unique… or yes, be boring, and just buy one from the Night Market.
Bike to the Pottery Village
Just a short bike ride from Hoi An is the pottery village of Thanh Ha. Here you can see how the locals make their living by crafting beautiful ceramics, and even have a go yourself. The village is also home to a number of small family-run businesses, selling everything from piggy banks to plates – so it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re looking to do something interesting for a few hours. Tickets to the Ceramics Museum and the village itself are available at a kiosk along the main road. Note though that some of the locals might still try to scam you: if they ask you to show “tickets” or come in and do some “free pottery class”, just politely decline (or pretend you don’t speak English). If you do want to do pottery, though, try to prebook with your hotel.
Bike to the Carpentry and Wood Carving Village
Another short bike ride from Hoi An are several wood carving villages – we went to the one in Kim Bong. Here you can see how the locals make their living by carving beautiful wooden sculptures, and hand crafted furniture. They can do life size statues, as well, as elegant dining tables. There’s a lot of interesting woodwork here, so if you’re looking for something unique, this is the place to go. Classes available, but we didn’t try. If any of you have tried this, please leave comments below!
Day Trip to My Son Temple Complex
My Son is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of the more obscure, yet interesting tourist attractions around Hoi An. It’s an ancient temple complex, built by the Champa civilization – predating even the Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The complex was largely destroyed during the Vietnam War, but there are still a number of temples and towers that remain. It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re interested in history or archaeology, and makes for a great day trip from Hoi An. It’s not going to have the same grandeur of Angkor Wat (let’s face it, few things can compare), but it will leave a more nuanced appreciation of the multi-cultural history of this area.
Visit Hoi An’s Beaches
Hoi An is located on Vietnam’s central coast, so it’s no surprise that it has some pretty good beaches. If you’re looking to relax by the sea, there are a number of beaches to choose from. An Bang Beach is the most popular beach among tourists, and is only a few kilometers from Hoi An town (again, very bike-able). It’s a wide and long beach, with plenty of beach umbrellas and sun loungers for visitors. The water is reasonably clean, and there are a few bars and beach clubs from which to choose if you want to grab a drink or a bite.
If you’re looking for something a little more low-key, there are a number of small beaches located along Cua Dai Road. These beaches are much less crowded, and are great if you just want to relax in the sun without too many people around.
Full Moon Lantern Festival
Time your trip right, and you might get yourself a real treat. Hoi An’s Full Moon Lantern Festival can definitely be one of the highlights of your visit here. An already pretty town is made just absolutely beautiful when illuminated by thousands of traditional Vietnamese lanterns. Perhaps one of the best times to be here would be during the Lunar New Year (Tet), but this will also be the busiest. Be ready for crowds… but the photo ops can make it worthwhile.
Get Shoes Made (or a Suit, or an Ao Dai)
Hoi An is famous for its tailor shops, and you’ll see them everywhere when you walk around town. If you’re in need of a new suit, dress shirt, or even a traditional Ao Dai – this is the place to get it done. Prices are very reasonable, and the workmanship is of surprisingly high quality. For expats with big feet, this might be the only place in Vietnam where you can get reasonably priced dress shoes, that suit your fashion sensibilities. I got those brown ones for under 50USD, and it only took 2 days, with one fitting.
Have a Pint of Guinness – ON DRAUGHT
Perhaps of very niche interest is the fact that Hoi An is the only place in all of Vietnam where you can get an actual pint of the black stuff. Sure the weather isn’t particularly well suited for it, but if you’ve not had Guinness in a while, it’s a welcome change of pace. Besides, Shamrock is probably the only Western style bar in the area that has riverside food and live music.
There really is something for everyone in Hoi An and with so many interesting things to see and do, you’re sure to have a great time. Food, arts, culture, nightlife, relaxation – and yes, crowds. It’s almost like a Vietnamese Disneyland, and in many respects it sort of is, but without the entry fee.
As I said, I’ve been there more than a few times already, and in all probability will be going back again because I’m sure there are some more activities still undiscovered.
So there you have it, my top recommendations for interesting things to do in Hoi An.
Have you been to Hoi An, or other parts of Central Vietnam? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.
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