Words like charming, idyllic, beautiful, and enchanting get thrown around frequently when describing travel destinations. While they can be fitting, their overuse can occasionally take away the authenticity of the claims. Make no mistake, Hoi An is all of those words, and more.
When we were planning our trip to Vietnam, we weren’t sure if we were going to make it to Hoi An. We ended up doing a day trip from Da Nang and spent just one day exploring Hoi An. We are so glad that we went, and we even wish we had more time! Hoi An is a beautiful place.
Hoi An is a city of about 120,000 people located about 40 minutes south of Da Nang. The majority of tourists to Hoi An go to Hoi An Ancient Town, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999.
There is no doubt that Hoi An can be touristy, but it’s touristy for a reason! Whether you’re staying in town or making a day trip from Da Nang, here are some thing you can’t miss while in Hoi An.
11 Perfect Things To Do In Hoi An, Vietnam
1. Try the Anthony Bourdain approved banh mi from Banh Mi Phuong
No trip to Vietnam is complete without eating a banh mi. You can read all about the history of the banh mi here, but the gist is it’s a Vietnamese take a a French baguette with with cold cuts.
In Vietnam, you can rarely go more than a block or two without finding a banh mi stand. They’re cheap, delicious, and quickly made.
In Hoi An, there is a place with life changing banh mi, and it’s called Banh My Phuong. This local gem was made popular by Anthony Bourdain on No Reservations and these days it’s quite common for lines to be out the door.
We ordered the chicken and cheese banh mi and it was so life changing, Jack went back for a second (and should have had a third). At 30,000 VND ($1.29 USD) each, it’s one of the best bang for the buck meals out there.
2. Wander through Hoi An’s Central Market
The Hoi An Central Marketis has a 50/50 split between food vendors and goods vendors. In the food section, there are plenty of options to sit down and eat. Just about every booth you walk by will offer a menu to look at. The prices in the food section should be fixed if the menu shows a set price.
The goods section has all sorts of little trinkets and goodies. In this part of Central Market, the prices are never fixed and bartering is a way of life. Gab’s mom did some bartering for some collapsable lanterns and ended up buying for half the price of the original asked-for price.
In our experience, the best way to bargain is to walk away. If you’re able to walk away, chances are the vendors will come after you and agree to your price if it’s reasonable.
3. Try egg coffee
Vietnamese coffee is known for being a very potent style of coffee. It’s often served over ice and with sweetened condensed milk to balance out the strength of the brew.
Egg coffee is another decadent style of Vietnamese coffee that was created out of necessity. During First Indochina War, there was a shortage of milk in Vietnam. A clever bartender decided to try whisking in egg and sugar instead, and the rest is history.
There are many cafes serving egg coffee in Hoi An. The price seems to range from about 60,000 VND ($2.58 USD) to 90,000 VND ($3.87 USD) so while it can be a pricey cup of coffee for Vietnam, it’s definitely an experience worth having.
4. Stroll along the Thu Bồn River
The Thu Bồn River runs through Hoi An and the entire riverfront area is a delightful place to be. There are wide walking paths on both sides, but the north side along Bạch Đằng street has much more going on.
Walking along the river is the perfect way to enjoy the historic architecture of Hoi An. The buildings in Ancient Town have such an enchanting aura about them, and during sunrise and sunset that feeling is only magnified.
5. Check out the Hoi An Night Market
The Hoi An Night Market is a cool scene on the south side of the river. While the night market won’t blow away a seasoned night market veteran, it’s still a fun sight. The best part of the Hoi An night market is it opens at 4:30 PM so you can get there early and beat the crowds.
Once the sun goes down, the night market gets noticeably busier and the streets become lit up with lanterns.
The food scene isn’t very diverse. Options include various grilled seafood such as squid and lobster, Vietnamese pizza, fruit, and ice cream. The Hoi An Night Market is probably a better option for pre-dinner appetizers than actual dinner itself.
6. Watch the world go by with a drink in hand
On the south side of the river, just down the street from the night market, there is a stretch of Nguyễn Phúc Chu which is pedestrian only. In Southeast Asia, “pedestrian only” is a term that is usually used pretty loosely, but in Hoi An it’s actually enforced quite strictly. Motorbikes have to be walked through!
There are lots of bars, restaurants, and cafes to choose from and all of them have some sort of patio seating. Best of all, in the evenings the sun is shining on the opposite side of the river so you won’t have the sun in your eyes.
So grab your drink of choice, get comfy, and watch the hustle and bustle of Ancient Town go by.
7. See the historical sites
To enter the historical buildings in Hoi An Ancient Town, you’ll need to purchase an entrance ticket. One entrance ticket runs 120,000 VND ($5.16 USD) and grants entrance to five historical sites.
There are several great sites to choose from, but from what we saw, they do tend to get quite crowded. In the late afternoon and especially around sunset, lots of tourists are understandably taking pictures. If you’re trying to temple hop through Hoi An Ancient Town, it’s best to get an early start.
8. Take a boat ride
Once the sun goes down, the energy of Hoi An completely changes. All along the river there are dozens of boats offering short cruises down the river. It’s quite a beautiful scene since the boats are adorned with colorful lanterns.
You won’t have any problem finding a boat. In fact, you’ll probably be offered a boat ride once every 30 seconds or so. Just like an the Hoi An Central Market, be sure to barter. If you don’t like the price of the first boat, there are dozens more around.
9. See the lanterns at night
Part of the beauty and charm of Hoi An is all of the lanterns around town. Seemingly every corner has different shapes, sizes, and colors of lanterns which give all of Hoi An Ancient Town a cozy and inviting feel.
If you’re thinking of skipping town before sunset, don’t do it! Wait until the sun goes down and it will absolutely be worth it.
Even better, if you can time your visit to Hoi An to be during the full moon, you won’t want to miss out on the Hoi An Lantern Festival. It’s a monthly celebration where the lights are cut out at 8 PM of the full moon and the only light in Ancient Town comes from the lanterns.
10. Go shopping
Hoi An has some solid options for shopping. There are plenty of tailors offering 3-piece suits, dresses, and fancy attire. You can also find some really great local artwork too. There are a few different galleries around Ancient Town, but we went to Ti Tin Gallery. It’s one of the oldest art galleries in Ancient Town and they have some really incredible work. We picked up some small oil paintings, but they have massive pieces too if you’re looking for something extravagant.
11. Take a class and try something new
One of the most fun parts of traveling is trying something new. In Hoi An, there are quite a few different options right in the Ancient Town area. You could take a Vietnamese cooking class, a lantern making class, or even a yoga class in a rice field.
Bonus: Some tips and tricks
While it’s possible to call a Grab in Hoi An, it’s not possible to pay with credit cards. Make sure you have plenty of cash on hand as you’ll need to pay your driver after the ride is over. Also make sure to confirm (or barter!) the price prior to getting in the car. We paid 300,000 VND ($12.89) to get from Da Nang to Hoi An and paid via credit card, but had to paid 375,000 VND ($16.12) in cash to get back to Da Nang from Hoi An.
There are also Grab Bikes which are much cheaper. We saw it was 97,000 VND ($4.17 USD) to take a bike back to Da Nang.
There is a cheap bus from Da Nang to Hoi An which is written extensively about here, but it stops running at 6 PM.
There are also ladies walking around with fresh fruit throughout Hoi An Ancient Town and will try to initiate an impromptu photoshoot with tourists. While it’s a pretty harmless thing to do, they will then try to ask you for money or to buy some fruit. If you’re hungry or just craving a banana, go for it, if not, just smile and say no thank you.
Hoi An is one of our favorite places we’ve been in all of Vietnam. Sure, it’s admittedly touristy. But it’s touristy for a reason! Hoi An checked all the boxes for us. Beautiful architecture, rich history, incredible food, friendly people, and easy to get to. While we probably wouldn’t stay here more than a couple of days, it’s the perfect day-trip from Da Nang.
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