Hoi An is a well-preserved ancient town located in central Vietnam. It is known for its beauty, especially after the night falls when its many colorful lanterns light up to add a special flair to this historical town. So, what to do in Hoi An to have great memories?
Let’s find out 10 things you must do when you visit this iconic ancient town.
1. Explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site on a cycle tour
Cars and even motorbikes are banned from the centre of Hội An, so the pushbike is king. Most homestays offer bikes to guests, and joining the many cyclists on the roads provides an instant immersion into local life. When you drive the pushbike around the well-preserved ancient town, you’ll see the influences of Vietnam, China, France, and Japan.
To explore further afield, Heaven and Earth cycle tours, run from a quiet street in beguiling An Hội island, across the river from the old town, offers a selection of trips into the countryside and islands close to the city.
Choose from an easy few hours with just 9km of cycling along quiet lanes, lunch included, or a more demanding 50km adventure. All take in traditional villages, handicrafts, fragrant rice paddies and rickety floating bridges.
“You can rent a bike from Most hostels or homestays in the area. It serves as a great transportation because on one side, there is this Ancient City and on the other side, a beautiful beach, 15 minutes ride away.”
2. Be struck by the beauty of colorful lanterns
When you visit Hoi An, you definitely have to visit the ancient town after the night falls. Evenings are a special time in Hoi An, when the town really comes to life. When the sun sets, the mood of the town changes dramatically with colorful lanterns hung on many buildings.
Everyone seems to come out to play once the sun goes down and the lanterns are lit, with lots of activities to be had. Check out local performances and get-togethers, munching on some street food or buy a floating lantern for luck (to send down the river).
For those people who wish to take these beautiful lanterns home, you can purchase a lantern at various shops along the streets. There are different sizes of lantern so you can add Hoi An colors to your home décor.
3. See the Japanese Bridge
The Japanese Bridge is the only covered bridge in the world to house a Buddhist temple, and was built in the 16th century as a symbol of goodwill between Chinese and Japanese merchant communities. Unlike most other buildings in the old town, which are decorated according to flamboyant Chinese and Vietnamese architectural styles, the Bridge has retained a distinctively Japanese character, with subdued ornamentation and references to Japanese history.
4. Explore the ancient town with a cyclo
Inside the gated Hoi An, the preserved historical ancient town, the streets are narrow and no cars are allowed. However, instead of cars, you see many people on cyclos traveling by. You can totally walk around Hoi An no problem, but if you get little tired from the heat, you can hop on a cyclo and let the driver take you around.
You see cyclos at many tourists centered areas in Vietnam and Hoi An is no exception. When I walked on a narrow street, I found it a little scary to see aggressive cyclo drivers pass by you, but it is one of those experiences only be done in a tourist area, so why not give it a try!
5. Enjoy Hoi An cuisine
Hoi An is known for its diverse and excellent food: a legacy of the many nationalities, including Japanese, Chinese and Portuguese, that lived or traded here. You can enjoy both local and Asian – European dishes in this city.
However, if you have come to this place, do not miss the unique local dishes such as: My Quang, Banh My Phuong, White Rose (Banh Loc)…
In addition, there are so many eating spots to choose from, catering to a range of budgets, that you will be absolutely spoiled for choice. If you don’t fancy having a proper sit down, try one of the street side stalls or buy something fresh from one of the wandering ladies carrying a yoke in a conical hat. Local delicacies to try include cao lầu, bánh bao vac (“white rose” dumplings) and bánh xèo.
6. Taking a cooking class
The food in Vietnam is fantastic. Though simple, the liberal use of herbs, vegetables and spices make each mouthful of food taste extremely tasty and fresh. To get a better idea of what goes into staple Vietnamese dishes, I would highly recommend signing up for one of the numerous cooking classes on offer in the town. Where possible, choose one which includes a guided walk through the fresh food market in town, as that was a definite highlight of the day. I paid about US$30 for a half-day session.
7. Getting something custom made
When you walk around Hoi An, you will probably realize that there are two kinds of shops that you’ll see over and over again. These are leather shops and clothing stores where you can get cheap custom made tailored clothes. Hoi An is well known for being the town in Vietnam to get cheap, custom-fit clothes and shoes made, in a quick turnaround time. You can also get self-designed leather goods made, such as bags and wallets, again at a very decent price. There are a lot of tailors and craftsmen throughout the town offering such services for a range of prices to fit everyone’s budget, so you will be spoiled for choice. Most of the tailors on the streets will only be for casual wear (rather than high-end business or formal attire).
If you are thinking of getting fitted for clothes, be sure to go as early as possible since the tailors will clearly need a few days/ fittings to get the job done perfectly.
8. Sunbathe on An Bang beach
Hoi An’s most famous beach is Cua Dai, west of the city, but you should head to An Bang instead if you want some peace in the sun away from hordes of tourists. Slightly north of Cua Dai, An Bang is home to stretches of pristine white sand, and beachside restaurants. Visitors can even opt to stay in a beachside villa, for a romantic getaway or some time to meditate in beautiful surroundings.
9. Explore Hoi An countryside
Hoi An is surrounded by lush, green countryside, and it would be a shame not to venture out of the city during your stay. Numerous cycling and trekking tours are on offer in Hoi An, which take participants out to rice paddies, hills, villages, and pristine beaches. More adventurous travelers can opt to rent a vehicle and try a day trip out of the city, and perhaps even head north to nearby Danang, where the beautiful Nui Son Tra peninsula is located.
10. Take a day trip to the My Son ruins
Located about an hour’s drive away from Hoi An, the My Son ruins is an ancient Cham city, similar to the ruins of Angkor Watt but on a much smaller scale.
My Son is a collection of 4th to 13th century Hindu temples west of Hoi An that have largely been abandoned in the past millennium. This UNESCO World Heritage site was heavily bombed by the Americans during the war, and as a result, only a fraction of the structures are still standing. Restoration efforts are however underway, though it is fair to say that the quality of the new build is incomparable to the original – how the Cham people stacked bricks and stone without seeming to use some form of cement or binding agent is still a mystery.
The site is remarkably well preserved, and visitors will get to explore over 140 hectares of ruins, learning about the influence of Hinduism on early Vietnamese culture in the process.