There’s a certain something special about Hoi An. Walking through its Old Town streets, past preserved colonial buildings painted in pale hues, lanterns that glow bright at night, flowering trees adding bursts of colour, and a pale flowing river, you’ll feel a mile away from Vietnam’s more chaotic cities.
Its chilled-out atmosphere and striking beauty make this the type of town that travellers plan just a few days in, and then decide to stay for another… and another… so we guess there’s no wonder that this UNESCO listed World Heritage Site often winds up being one of travellers’ favourites. Want to make the most of your stay? Here’s our recommendations for the 7 best things to do in Hoi An!
1. Step back in time in the Old Town
One of Hoi An’s biggest draws is the sheer amount of preserved historical buildings in its Old Town, ranging from Chinese congregation halls, to traditional houses, to French colonial buildings. At any of the tourism information kiosks in town, you can pick up a general Old Town ticket that gets you entry to five sites of your choosing. The Japanese Covered Bridge is a great photo spot, and the candy-coloured Quan Cong Temple stuns with its intricate tile decorations, but make sure you stop by one of Hoi An’s museums to get your cultural bearings first. We recommend the Museum of Trade Ceramics for a look into Hoi An’s most historically important industry, as well as the museum’s setting in a well preserved old home. Within walking distance of each other are a few Chinese congregation halls, built in the 18th and 19th centuries as social and ritual areas (check out the intricate, gorgeous shrines typically in the back), and some traditional ‘old homes‘ that you can briefly tour. The ‘old homes’ of Hoi An are fascinating looks into the houses of the city’s elite – though you won’t be able to explore much past the front rooms, as many are still inhabited.
2. Revamp your wardrobe
You’ll start to hear the whispers before you even arrive: ‘You’re going to Hoi An? I know this great place to get cheap suits…’ Whether or not you’ve ever cared about custom-made clothing, Hoi An’s myriad of tailors will start to sway you with their dirt-cheap prices. Their shops line the streets of the old town, with sample designs proudly on display to entice you. Want a new party dress? A pair of leather boots? A three-piece suit that would make Harvey Specter proud? You’ve got it, and in just a few days. But quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quality: though some tailors personally fulfil all their orders in-house, others simply outsource their orders to a larger workshop. Look for those with active sewing machines in the shop. Some of the most well-known tailors are Yaly Couture (47 Trần Phú), Wall Street Tailors (667 Hai Bà Trưng), and Miss Forget-Me-Not (Hoi An Central Market).
3. Have coffee with a conscience
All those tailor fittings can really take it out of you, so stop for an afternoon break at Reaching Out Tea House. This charming cafe in a quaint old house is a branch of the Reaching Out Foundation, a social enterprise aiding Vietnam’s differently abled population. Started by wheelchair user Le Nguyen Binh, Reaching Out employs differently abled artisans in Vietnam to provide them with the ability to support themselves and live independently. With a workshop in Hoi An selling crafts and home wares, Reaching Out has also expanded to include a cafe staffed by hearing and speech impaired servers. To order, just tick the boxes on their paper menu, and once seated, there are small wooden blocks on each table with ‘ice,’ ‘bill,’ and even ‘thank you’ to hold up. The teahouse celebrates its peaceful atmosphere, so take some time out of exploring to relax for a cause.
4. Go to the beach
Surely you didn’t think the Old Town had all of Hoi An’s stunning sights, did you? Turns out, this gorgeous city has another ace up its sleeve: a series of soft, white sand beaches on the coast. Opening onto the South China Sea, Hoi An’s beaches are almost idyllic enough to make you think you’re relaxing on a tropical island. Cua Dai Beach is the most easily accessible from the Old Town, and An Bahn Beach is popular because of its laid-back fishing village vibe. There’s even SCUBA diving out at the Cham Islands, if you’re keen to explore underwater as well. Grab a beach chair, a cold bia hoi, and you’re set for the day – or a few.
5. Take a traditional painting and lantern making class
A rainy day in Hoi An offers the perfect chance to visit the Lifestart Foundation’s beautiful workshop, get the creative juices flowing and create your own handmade souvenir! You’ll make a handmade card and a miniature Hoi An lantern and really make a difference because proceeds from your rainy day activity help people in disadvantaged situations enjoy a sustainable lifestyle.
6. Delve into ancient history at My Son
Don’t let the spelling confuse you – My Son (or Mỹ Sơn) isn’t someone’s family member, but rather a UNESCO World Heritage Site just outside of Hoi An. Situated in the once-political and religious capital of the Champa Kingdom, My Son Sanctuary was built up between the 4th and 13th centuries with a series of Hindu temples that remain today. Though compared to the temples at Angkor, the temples at My Son can be visited in a shorter period of time, and represent a different architectural style. Clambering between these mysterious, crumbling temples is an atmospheric way to learn about the region’s history, on a 1-day Motorbike Adventure tour from Hoi An.
7. Explore the night
Though Hoi An is a naturally photogenic town, there’s a particular time that presents its most stunning face: the night. Every evening throughout the Old Town, paper and fabric lanterns are lit throughout the streets, casting those scenic old buildings in a warm glow and harkening back to Hoi An’s glory days in the age before electricity. Postcards can only try to capture this otherworldly atmosphere. Make sure that while you’re around, you take time out one evening or two to go meandering through the historic centre of Hoi An when it’s dark, following the lanterns along the river into the heart of the heritage buildings. The sight is one of the reasons Hoi An ranks so high on traveller’s lists, and best of all, the experience won’t cost you a thing!