Hoi An – The Town That Stole My Heart.
Hoi An is a stunning little town in Central Vietnam. From the minute you step foot in to the Old City, you will be in love. With its yellow hue, colourful lanterns and incredibly relaxed vibe, it is easy to understand why travellers decide to stick around for weeks on end. Walking through the Old Town feels like you’ve taken a step back in time. It almost feels like a fairytale.
With no rush, no fuss and no rules, you will feel at home in no time. There are an incredible amount of things to do in Hoi An. Plenty to keep you busy for at least 5 whole days.
Hoi An is home to hundreds of tailors and cobblers who can make almost anything to your hearts desire. From beach or cocktail dresses to perfectly tailored suits, your wish is their command.
I’ve heard that some tailors can be very pushy, so make sure you go in with a clear idea of what you’re after and stand your ground. I’ve also heard that some places can produce some garments with extremely low quality. The good news is you don’t pay for your items until they’re completed. So do some research and start with the reputable shops. Otherwise shop around, and always go with your gut!
If you aren’t after tailored made clothes, there are tons of your usual market clothes shops selling hippie pants, t-shirts, dresses, swimwear, singlet’s and shorts for a reasonable price. Yes, they will most likely shrink a little and the colour will run, but you will get bang for your buck from these guys.
Only 4km’s from the Old Town, you will find An Bang beach. While it is not the most beautiful beach in the world, it has real sand, the water is not filled with rubbish and hundreds of sun beds with umbrellas line the beach. You can easily set up for the day here and relax the day away.
Tip: Either grab a sunbed with an umbrella or lather up with sunscreen. We found the sun to be relentlessly strong and got roasted many times (even with 30+ sunscreen!).
An Bang Beach
There are plenty of restaurants and cafes lining the streets after you cross the main intersection into An Bang beach. We found the further you got from the beach towards the main road, the cheaper (and better) the food.
We loved Wood Fish restaurant (on the left if you’re facing the beach) about 200m up from the beach entrance. The food was good and cheap, the fruit shakes delicious, and you can park your bike there for the price of a large bottle of water – which you’re going to need in that hot sun anyway!
Tip: As you ride in on your pushbike or scooter, there are a dozen places to park your bike, some of which will charge $1 for two bikes. They’ll also insist that there is no more parking further down. Some even jump right out in front of your bike.
Don’t listen to them! Find a restaurant that has a sign saying ‘Parking for Cold Drink 10,000’, like Wood Fish. You can park your bike there for the same price (or even cheaper!), and you get a cold drink to take with you.
Explore Hoi An’s Old Town.
Walking around the Old Town itself is a treat. Spend some time wandering throughout the main streets and small alleyways, during both day and night, to really explore Hoi An.
If you want to enter some of the heritage sites dotted within the Old Town, you will need to buy a ticket. It costs 120,000 VND. Some places have a ticket check, and some don’t. If you’re not sure you want to buy a ticket, wander around the sites first. When asked to produce a ticket, simply apologise and leave straight away. Then if you decide you want to delve deeper into those sites, go and buy a ticket (win, win!).
Exploring the Old City by pushbike.
Hoi An’s Japanese covered bridge is definitely one of the most popular sites in the Old Town.
Marble Mountains are a cluster of five mountains named after elements. They are Kim Son (Metal), Moc Son (Wood), Thuy Son (Water), Hoa Son (Fire) and Tho Son (Earth). They are located in Da Nang city, around 15km from Hoi An.
Thuy Son (Water) is the only one with what feels like a small village apart of it. It has a rock garden, multiple caves and shrines to explore, various pagodas including the Pho Da Son Pagoda, and Buddhist statues dotted throughout.
I’ve got to say, I did not expect to be so impressed by Thuy Son! We spent a good 2 hours exploring every nook and cranny of Thuy Son. The possibilities seemed endless.
You do have to be in somewhat good shape to explore Thuy Son to it’s fullest. The stairs are steep, some sections of the caves are slim and you will find yourself almost rock climbing to the top. But, the view is absolutely gorgeous once you get there.
Entry is 40,000 VND per person. Scooter rental for the day should be about 120,000 VND (including a few litres of petrol, which you’ll add yourself).
My Son is a cluster of abandoned and partially ruined Hindu temples, located about 1 hour away from Hoi An. While efforts are made to market it as the ‘Angkor Wat of Vietnam’ are somewhat misguided, they are supposedly the most significant Cham sites in Vietnam. You can do half-day or full-day tours to visit the ruins from Hoi An.
If you are expecting a similar affair to Angkor Wat, unfortunately you will be disappointed. We opted to visit Marble Mountain instead of My Son as we planned to visit Cham Towers in Nha Trang and Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. It seemed a long way to go for a small ruin (truth bomb, sorry!).
Other Things To Do.
A few other things that could be included in your itinerary for Hoi An (depending on your interests) are:
Take a local cooking class: Unfortunately they can’t teach you local Hoi An specialties like Cao Lau or White Rose dumplings! But you should learn how to make some delicious Pho and rice paper rolls.
Explore the local villages: On your way to the beach, you will see farmers working in the rice paddies, water buffalo’s keeping cool in the water and fisherman’s boats lining the river. Take some time to ride around these areas to get an insight into daily life in Hoi An
Do a Food/Beer Hop: Sample some of the local specialties like Cao Lau, Chicken Rice, White Rose dumplings and Pho! Once your bellies are stuffed full, find a place serving draft beer for 5,000 VND and drink the day away. We found one place on the other side of the river, right in front of the bridge and had shady front row seats to people watching as we drank beer and passed the afternoon by.
In one afternoon we at Cao Lau from Mot, drank Vietnamese Iced Coffee from Hoi An Roastery and drank local draft beer for 5,000 VND. What an afternoon!
Where to Eat.
Okay guys. I’m giving up this secret because it is just too good to keep to myself.
You have to eat at Mot.
We stumbled upon Mot our very first night in town. After being a little taken aback by how expensive all the river front restaurants were for a simple Pho, we decided to head a street or two back.
We were drawn to Mot by the hanging sign indicating ‘Chicken Rice, Pho, Cao Lau, Banh Mi – 30,000’. But when we looked closer we realized we had stumbled upon an absolute gem.
The food is absolutely delicious. They only do 4 dishes and a special, and they do them all perfectly. Definitely try their Cao Lau and their Pho. They also serve an incredible iced herbal tea, that taste almost like homemade lemonade but 1 million times better (yes, really!) for only 10,000 VND.
We ate there probably about 5 times in 6 days. We could not get enough. If you don’t go and eat there, I don’t think we can be friends (sorry, not sorry).
Where to Drink.
Hoi An is also home to one incredibly cute rooftop bar. Right down the road from Mot, you’ll find The Chef restaurant. Aside from being one of the only true rooftop bars in Hoi An Old Town, it is special because the feature of this bar is a beautiful spindly tree with red lanterns hanging off its branches. I found it incredibly beautiful, unique to Hoi An and it gave the bar an incredibly cool vibe.
The shop front looks like a comic book/souvenir shop. Head up the two flights of stairs to the rooftop area. It does get pretty busy up there (especially around sunset), but they try and squeeze everyone in.
Drinks are extremely reasonable. You can get yourself a bloody strong mojito for 75,000 VND, or a local Larue beer for 20,000 VND. As a bonus, all drink purchases come with free shrimp crackers or salted nuts (yay, we love free stuff!).
You can find both of these establishments as shown on the map. Pink for Mot and purple for The Chef bar.
Where to Stay.
There is no shortage of extremely well priced, cute guesthouses to choose from in Hoi An. Many of them lay within short bike riding distance to the Old Town and most offer free bike use to their guests.
We chose Little House Homestay. It had excellent reviews, the price was so reasonable ($14 USD for a private double room!), and it was a short ride to both the town and the beach. The family that run the Guesthouse are lovely.
They do offer breakfast for only $2.50 USD per person, however the lady who cooks the breakfast is not always around. This lady is also the only one who speaks any real English, and also seems to be the one to run all the errands for the house. So basically, she’s like a unicorn… extremely hard to find (and maybe not entirely real?). We found this kind of frustrating, but everything else about the guesthouse was perfect.
I hope by now you’re convinced that Hoi An is an essential part of your Vietnamese itinerary. I also hope you will love it as much as I did!
Have you been to Hoi An? What were your favourite things to do? Feel free to leave your comments below 🙂