Graceful, historic Hoi An is Vietnam’s most atmospheric and delightful town, located in the centre of this incredible country. The town was once a major port, boasting grand architecture and a beautiful riverside setting. Whether you’ve as little as a day or as long as a month in the town, it’ll be time well spent.
1. Street food
As with most places in Vietnam, the street food in Hoi An is mouth-wateringly delicious and very affordable. Hoi An, in particular, has several local specialties, including white rose dumplings and cao lau, which are fat noodles served with pork and mint. Authentic cao lau noodles are soaked in water collected from ancient Cham wells around Hoi An.
2. Old town
Soak up the UNESCO World Heritage charm of the Old Town. Petrified in time as the ancient trade port that it once was, Hoi An’s Old Town looks today the same way it did 200 years ago (minus the obvious additions). The historic quarter is an enchanting streetscape of old Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese houses, once occupied by merchants whose homes and shop houses have been converted into galleries, antique stores, restaurants and bars. The Old Town is one of the main reasons over a million tourists visit Vietnam’s most loved town each year.
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3. The river
The town’s locations on the banks of the Hoai (also known as Thu Bon) River means the town has always been accessible. Before its spice trading heyday, Hoi An was a major port of the ancient Cham Kingdom between the seventh and 10th centuries. Today, the picturesque waterscape of colourful wooden boats draws people to the river, where you can soak up the historic ambience on a boat ride.
4. The pace
A stark contrast to the maddening streets of Saigon and Hanoi, Hoi An enjoys a slow-paced lifestyle. Rent the local’s favorite mode of transport (a bicycle) for a dollar a day, and pedal your way through the Old Town, beaches, rice paddies and tiny villages.
5. Your purse strings
Travellers looking for a holiday that won’t break the bank will love this destination. A bottle of beer costs between $1 and $2 in a restaurant, a bowl of pho around $1.50, a massage in a parlour between $5 and $10, and even hotels by the beach and in the Old Town are only as little as $20 a night.
6. The beach
The main tourist beach near Hoi An is called Cua Dai, about five kilometres from the Old Town. You can reach the beach by bike, tuk tuk or taxi very cheaply. Cua Dai isn’t the best surfing beach but it has a choice of beachside resorts that offer activities such as wind surfing, kayaking and jet skiing. If reclining on a lounger with a cocktail in hand is your idea of a beach holiday, you won’t be disappointed.
This the place to go for tailoring. It’s famous worldwide for being the place to get a crazy patterned suit made. Also one of Hoi An’s ancient trades, it is still going strong today. The locals haven’t lost their touch and they have hand crafted clothes for centuries of Champa, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and Western merchants. Get that dress, shirt, 3-piece suit, pair of shoes or matching couples onesie jumpsuit that you’ve always wanted. And it’ll cost a quarter of what you’d imagine.
8. Cooking classes
It’s go to be done. Taking a cooking class in Hoi An is one of Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Iconic Travel Experiences… so it’s obviously one of the top reasons to visit this cultural town. Try your hand at cooking with some of the world’s freshest ingredients, learn the secrets behind each Hoi An specialty, and try your best to memorise and bring home those unique Hoi An flavours.
9. The markets
The markets are a kaleidoscope of colour and a hub of activity so make sure you visit first thing in the morning for the freshest produce including mangostene, rambutan and papaya. At Hoi An’s lively produce market look for Vietnamese spices, which are sold in sealed packets and can be brought home as gifts.
10. Visit the temples
Temples, pagodas, and shrines abound, including those built built by Chinese communities. The most impressive is the Ong pagoda (24 Tran Phu Street), built in 1653 in honour of an ancient Chinese general of China’s “three kingdom”. Then make sure you visit the 17th century Phuc Kien (or Fukien) Assembly Hall (46 Tran Phu Street). In the pagoda, prayer coils hang from the roof and impressive statues of red and green-skinned deities grin from behind glass cabinets and a statue of the goddess Thien Hau bestows protection and luck to sailors.
By far Hoi An is the most unique, well-preserved town in Vietnam and one of Asia’s most memorable destinations. Hoi An should be on every traveler’s must-visit list.