The ancient town of Hoi An should be on every traveler’s list of places to see in Vietnam. While the town isn’t rich with Vietnamese history per se, its international flare cannot be missed. The French, Chinese and Japanese architectural influence is vividly apparent in the town, which served as a crucial trading port as far back as the 15th Century, and served as a temporary home to Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Dutch tradesmen. Today, the town is a thriving throwback to the past, but struggles to keep it’s historic charm as tailor and souvenir shops have invaded the Ancient town center, which is now inscribed on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.
Still, the barrage of colorful, crumbling buildings collides with modern life as progressive bars and restaurants combine to create a culinary scene like none other in Vietnam. So what should you do while in Hoi An?
1. Have Bespoke Clothing Made
Hoi An’s burgeoning tailors overrun the small town almost to its detriment. However, if you can cut through the hassle of finding a trusted tailor, it’s worth it to have a couple custom-fit pieces made. We went back and forth and endlessly researched which tailor to use. In the end, it comes down to personal preference and where you feel comfortable. Prices vary widely, so the best advice I can give is to shop around. In addition, if you want more than one item made – wait. Only order one suit, one dress, one shirt, etc. first. If you like the quality and fit, order more. If not, go elsewhere. My husband and I settled on Sun Tailors just outside the bustling old town streets near our hotel Va’ia, which I highly recommend. While I was extremely leery about the entire bespoke clothing process, I was satisfied with the outcome though not overly thrilled. I would recommend Sun Tailors, but as with every shop in town check the quality, and make certain they know the exact style you are looking for. The best way to get what you want is to bring photographs or an actual garment to copy.
2. Walk Through Hoi An’s Market
Hoi An’s central market has surrendered itself to small tailors who operate without a larger store front in Hoi An, but along the outer rim there are some jewels. Many shop keeps still sell basic food staples, fruit and veggies or fish. While it’s definitely worth a walk through the market, it’s what lies outside that is often even more intriguing. The Hoi An traditional food market is housed diagonal from the market toward the riverside. Beneath a small permanent covering you’ll find dozens of Vietnamese women selling everything from fresh herbs, fruit and veggies to chicken and fish all from large bamboo trays, measured with old-fashioned scales.
3. Visit the Tra Que Herb Village
Tra Que Herb Village sits just a two kilometers outside of Hoi An – a slight right turn off Hai Ba Trung Rd. The 300-year-old herb village is truly a sight to see. The farmers here use traditional methods along with algae from a nearby pond to grow some of the most flavorful, healthful herbs around.
The herb village is easily reachable by bicycle or you can sign up for a tour with one of the agencies operating around Hoi An. While some of the tours walk you through the fields and allow you to try your hand at cultivation the old-fashioned way, I think the best way to explore it is on your own. There are apparently entry ticket booths located around the herb village, which we could never find and we’re never mentioned. Instead, we decided to spend our money supporting those who live near by and work the land by eating at the Tra Que Water Wheel restaurant. It’s was one of our favorite experiences in Vietnam. The Tra Que Water Wheel offers cooking classes, farming tours and rice paper making classes, but they also offer simple, fresh and delectable meals. We dropped in for lunch, which was probably the best we had during all our Vietnam travels. Not only did we catch a great, incredibly fresh meal at a decent price, but the girls who work there go above and beyond in the service. They walked us through the fields and gave us a general tour – picking and passing along fresh herbs to taste, and they let us try out the old water wheel.
Tour prices can be expensive, which is why simply eating at the restaurant is a low-cost way to get a similar experience.
For more information on Tra Que Water Wheel and how to book a tour of the herb village click here.
4. Bicycle The Countryside
Several tour companies offer bicycle tours of the Vietnam countryside. If you’re not up to getting lost on your own, it’s highly recommended to join a tour. Heaven and Earth Tours is well known for its countryside tour. Stop by the office on Nguyen Hoang St. (the same place the night market is located) to arrange your tour. Groups leave at 8am and 3:30pm daily for a 2.5 hour 10 kilometer ride through the countryside. Prices are as follows: 120,000 VND for adults, 100,000 for children.
However, if you’re up for it on your own, grab a free bike from your hotel and set out. Finding routes is not difficult and generally your hotel can help you with directions.
5. Hit Up Hoi An’s Beaches
While not known as one of Vietnam’s famed beach destinations, Hoi An beaches are perfect for relaxing. Luckily, the two most easily accessible beaches vary greatly allowing you to choose which one is right for you. Cui Dai Beach is slightly closer to town, is lined with high end and budget beach resorts and boasts plenty of restaurants, bars and beach chairs. It’s simple to say this is the main tourist beach for Hoi An and its immediate surrounds. An Bahn Beach is quite the opposite. Located nearly 5 kilometers outside of Hoi An on Hai Ba Trung Street, An Bahn Beach is relatively deserted and void of the hotels and resorts found on Cui Dai and other beaches in Da Nang. While several bamboo, beach-side restaurants have popped up at the main entrance to the beach, it’s still simple to get away from all development by either walking or biking a short distance out from the main roadway. Once you do, you just may find yourself alone, aside from the abandoned bamboo fishing rafts. If you are looking to avoid the crowds, go to An Bahn earlier in the day and avoid the evening, that is unless your up for a truly local experience. At both beaches, but more so An Bahn, locals flood the brown sands setting up tarps and small fire pits to enjoy the seaside life without the fear of the sun. They start heading to beach around 4pm so be prepared for a crowd.
6. Take a Boat Down the Thu Bon River
Organized river tours can be made through hotels and agents in Hoi An, but it’s also simple to hitch a ride down the Hoai River, a waterway of the Thu Bon River, on your own. Dozens of colorful boats line the river front near where the ferry launches and drops off. Men and women are there day and night offering rides to what they’ve dubbed as palm island. Prices vary greatly so bargain hard! We paid 150,ooo VND, which is about the average price, for a private river tour; however, “captain” nearby previously tried to hook us for 300,000 VND. If that’s still too steep, you can find a small wooden rowboat for much less than the larger motorized boats, but the boat may not go as far downstream, and returning to shore can take a long time.
7. Indulge in Culinary Delights
Hoi An’s foodie scene affords you the perfect opportunity to indulge. In fact, it’s hard to find a bad meal in Hoi An. Still, there are several top notch places I highly recommend. The first is Morning Glory Restaurant (106 Nguyen Thai Hoc St.). The open kitchen in the center allows you to watch these talent chefs at work, and the food is amazingly tasty. The downside is the price and the wait. It’s not the cheapest place in town, but they do have some decently priced options. In addition, you will need to make a reservation for dinner. If you show up anywhere from 6:30 to 9, they may turn you away unless you’ve booked in advance. Luckily, dropping in for a quick lunch is relatively easy.
Hoi An is synonymous with several famous and perfectly delicious dishes. The town is credited with the creation of both Cao Lao and White Rose, unique dishes that are must tries in Hoi An. Cao Lao can be eaten off the street from a number of vendors near the Japanese Bridge, but my favorite place to indulge in the famous noodles is at Ms. Ly Cafeteria (22 Nguyen Hue St.). They are one of the cheapest items on the menu there, and one of the best.
For more on food in Vietnam click here.
8. Visit the main sites with a Hoi An Ancient Town Sightseeing Ticket
A sightseeing ticket can be purchased at one of several small ticket booths around Hoi An for 120,000 VND. The tickets allow your entrance into five different sites of your choice including a number of the UNESCO World Heritage properties. To be honest, many of the sites are a little bit of a let down, but it’s still a great way to learn a little more about Hoi An’s fascinating history. Your choices are listed below:
Japanese Covered Bridge, Cẩm Phô Communal House, Minh Hương Communal House, House of Tụy Tiên Đường, Quan Công Temple, Museum of Hoi An History and Culture, Trade Ceramics Museum, Sa Huỳnh Culture Museum, Folk Culture Museum, Quân Thắng Old House, Đức An, Phùng Hưng Old House, Trần Family’s Chapel, Tấn Ký, Nguyễn Tường Family’s Chapel, Triều Châu Chinese Assembly Hall, Quảng Đông Chinese Assembly Hall, Phúc Kiến Chinese Assembly Hall, XQ Hội An Handicraft Workshop and Traditional Arts Performance Center and the tombs of Japanese traders Mr Gu Sokukun, Mr Tani Yajirobei andMr Banjiro.
There are music shows at the Hoi An Art Craft Manufacturing Workshop at 10:15 and and 3:15pm daily, and performances at the Hoi An Traditional Art Performance House at 5:30pm each day.
Fore more information on Hoi An’s Old Town click here.
9. Walk Hoi An’s Waterfront at Night
There is nothing like strolling alongside the river by night when the city truly comes to life. Women and children selling small floating lanterns line the sidewalks and people gather at the folk game platform to watch or wager on a fun cultural game akin to bingo called bingo-in-huts. Night is also when many of the shops selling traditional Chinese lanterns become illuminated, and street performers try to catch your attention. A night market with temporary stalls selling everything from jewelry to souvenirs begins around 7pm on An Hoi (the adjacent islet on the Hoai Bon River).