Here are our Top 7 must-do activities when visiting this UNESCO World Heritage city.
1. See the Ancient Town By Day and Night
Hoi An’s Ancient Town is wonderfully preserved, thanks to being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This means that the town’s more than 800 heritage buildings are carefully managed and looked after. The Old Town is filled with relics from the many cultures who called this port city home throughout the centuries, including moody Chinese assembly halls, a pretty Japanese covered bridge, a handful of museums showcasing the city’s rich history and culture, and ancient homes providing glimpses of what life might have been like centuries ago.
Many of the sights are free, but for the most popular heritage buildings, you’ll need to buy an entrance ticket where you can choose from a host of museums, assembly halls, heritage buildings and music shows. If you can, space out your visits over the allowed three days to avoid drowning in culture.
One of the beauties of Hoi An’s Ancient Town is how it changes throughout the day. Get an early start, say around 7 or 8am, and see the locals out and about going to market, ferrying passengers across the river and setting up shop.
They’ll likely be more relaxed at that time which makes for great photos. Later in the morning, the crowds come out in full force, turning the narrow streets into an outdoor shopping mall. However, break away from the crowds and head down Hoi An’s many tiny alleyways and see what you discover!
As day turns into night, come back for the cooler temperatures and see the city all lit up. Lantern shops are especially beautiful at night, as is the riverside where vendors sell cheap eats and paper lanterns to be released on the river for good luck.
Travel tip: ÊMM Hotel Hoi An is just a 5-minute ride from the Ancient Town via complimentary bicycle. It’s nice to come home to a quiet place away from the crowds, but still be close enough to go into town any time you want without having to wait for a shuttle.
2. Visit the Craft Workshops
Since its heyday as a 15th century port city, Hoi An has attracted craftsmen from all over Vietnam. Even now, the tradition lives on, meaning many of the crafts and souvenirs you see for sale are made on-site. Visiting the workshops is usually free and photography is welcome. Spend a few moments seeing the craftsmanship and detail that goes into making a beautiful piece of jewelry or ceramics and you’ll have a great story to go along with the souvenir you bring home!
Travel tip: We especially like the Reaching Out workshop at 113 Nguyen Thai Hoc. Not only do they make a variety of crafts there but the shop also provides opportunities for people of disability to learn skills and gain meaningful employment.
3. Eat Your Way Through Hoi An Specialties
For such a small town, Hoi An claims a number of unique specialties. Among them is Hoi An Chicken and Rice, made from free-range chicken which the Vietnamese prefer over soggy industrial chicken. Expect chewy, flavorful pieces of chicken over rice that’s cooked with chicken broth. Mi Quang is also a favorite, a noodle soup with a variety of textures including thicker noodles, shrimp, pork, fresh veggies and topped with a grilled rice paper cracker. Cao Lau is another soup that’s really only sold in Hoi An because the thick noodles have to be made using ash from a nearby island and water from a local well. While its origins haven’t been definitively traced, the soup feels almost Chinese in its use of char siu pork with five spice powder and Japanese for its udon-like noodles. Other must-tries are the Hoi An fried wontons topped with a tangy sweet tomato sauce and white rose, addictively good steamed shrimp dumplings. Read more of our top Hoi An food faves here.
4. Visit the Hoi An Countryside
A big part of Hoi An’s allure is that the Old Town, the beach and the countryside are all within about 15 minutes from each other, meaning there’s something for everyone. Just a few minutes out of town, you can find yourself in gorgeously green fields of rice, alone except for a few curious buffalo.
Continue along dirt paths past ponds stocked with fish and shrimp and immerse yourself in pastoral scenes of rustic beauty. A popular spot to visit is the Tra Que Vegetable Village, a series of organic gardens farmed mostly by hand, using seaweed fertilizer from nearby. It’s famed for having some of the freshest, most flavorful herbs anywhere. The farms are small, meaning the produce is for use in Hoi An only. There are a few activities available, including a cooking class where you can sample the local herbs, and joining in with the farmers to work the gardens.
Travel tip: The roads around Hoi An are relatively flat, making cycling an attractive way to see the sites. ÊMM Hotel Hoi An offers complimentary bicycles to guests. For something a little different, Victoria Hoi An offers tours of the countryside from the unique vantage point of vintage sidecars, excellent for photography while someone else does the driving!
5. Get Something Custom Made
Visitors to Hoi An very soon realize that there seems to be a tailor shop on every corner. The custom-garment industry has boomed here, thanks to the influx of tourists. While the tailors might not necessarily be better than anywhere else in Vietnam, the sheer number of them means that visitors are spoiled for choice. It also means the tailors are very experienced in dealing with foreigners and making clothes quickly, sometimes with turnaround times within the day. Come prepared with photos of clothes you want made, or a sample, then get measured, pick your fabric and place your order. For more complicated items like suits and dresses, expect at least one (or more) fittings when the garment is partially done. The tailors are quite adept at making alterations, so don’t settle for a garment until it fits perfectly.
Hoi An also specializes in leather shops where you can get things custom made, from leather jackets and bags to shoes and belts. Be aware that quickly made shoes means that they’re mostly glued and stitched, and likely won’t last as long as you’re accustomed to, but then again, you are getting something made by hand for you in a matter of days (or sometimes even same day!)
While not super cheap, Hoi An prices are far below what you’d likely pay back home for the luxury of having something custom made.
Travel tip: While some tailor shops are fixed price, most can be negotiated with. The more you buy, the more leeway you have when it comes to bargaining. Also check what their satisfaction policy is. A few of the more established shops will allow you to return something, even after you’ve left Vietnam. However, it’s best to allow enough time for adequate fittings and alterations. And because you’re getting things custom made, why not have a little fun with it and choose a bold fabric for the lining?
6. Take a Day Trip to My Son
The Champa Kingdom once ruled what is now coastal Vietnam between the 2nd and 15th centuries, including the area around Hoi An. While they have been mainly absorbed by the Vietnamese with a few Cham communities still remaining around Phan Rang on the coast and further down in the Mekong Delta, the UNESCO listed site of My Son is the largest remnant of Cham structures. Just about 55km from Hoi An, a visit to My Son makes for an excellent day trip. Walk along jungle paths around the 20 or so remaining structures, some of which have been lovingly restored.
Travel tip: Visit the museum at the entrance before you wander around, as it gives a good overview of the extensive site. Also ask about free Cham performances at the cultural house and factor those shows into your schedule.
7. Take a Trip on the River
Hoi An isn’t just blessed with a seaside location. It’s also where the Thu Bon River empties out into an estuary. Book a boat trip along the river for peaceful scenes of fishermen casting their circular nets and villages tucked away behind water palms. As a bonus, a few single-craft villages are located by the river, including the pottery village of Thanh Ha and the carpentry village of Kim Bong.
Travel tip: If you approach the Old Town by river, you can photograph the colorful houses against the colorful boats.
For such a small town, Hoi An has so much to offer, easily taking up 3-4 days to see everything (and time to get those amazing clothes tailored!)