We spent roughly five days in Hoi An, and before getting to Vietnam, it was the place most of our friends or online acquaintances raved about. We were pretty excited to see what all the fuss was for! And while I wasn't as enchanted as I was hoping to be (in fact I think HCM crept in to be my favorite city in Vietnam), it's still definitely a must see on your trip. The buttery yellow walled buildings of Ancient Town are gorgeous, even if they're filled with shops, and it's a great place to stay if you want to do day trips around central Vietnam. Simply fly in or grab a train to Da Nang and hire a taxi (or have our hotel/hostel schedule your one) to drive the 40-50 minutes to Hoi An. There are quite a few things we didn't get to do (check out the beaches or head to Hue), but in the five days we were there, we managed quite a bit of eating, exploring, and, ultimately, relaxing, so here's a little guide to Hoi An to help you figure your trip out!
WHERE TO EAT
We stopped in here for some coffee and lunch. The decor has a vintage feel, and the food is fresh and delicious (you can literally watch your coffee drip into the milk).
66 Nguyen Thai Hoc
We stumbled across this place on her first day roaming around Ancient Town. It's set back and almost seems closed, but we had a lovely time getting fresh coffee and chatting with the owners.
9 Nguyen Thai Hoc
Situated facing the river, the decor here is super bright and fun. Even better the food is a sort of fusion based on the Chef Duc Tran's travels around the world (from Texas to Latin American to New Zealand and more).
111 Nguyen Thai Hoc
9 Grains Bakery & Coffee
Nearby our hotel, it's a lovely little cafe and reminded me of a bakery in my college town. Great for a coffee or coconut pastry before headed out for the day's adventures.
441A Hai Ba Trung
Not technically in Hoi An, but in Da Nang, schedule lunch here before or after you get off your train ride. It's definitely a giant splurge, but it's still fairly cheaper than splurging in other countries. It's definitely a way to feel a little luxurious! If the weather's nice, you can sit outside overlooking the water. Someday I'll stay at Intercontinental Danang, someday...
Bai Bac, Sontra Peninsula, Da Nang
Basically, though, for good, authentic food just find any place on the sidewalks with plastic stools, and you know it'll be delicious. We loved find the Thit Nuong (skewers) and Dau Hu (dessert tofu). Also Cao Lau is a must try!
WHAT TO DO
Located in the middle of Ancient Town, it's one of the more obvious attractions. Built in 1593 so the Japanese could cross over to the Chinese side, its decorations are elaborate, and it's got a pinkish hue going on. Definitely worth a peek. When we went around 10 a.m. it was pretty empty as well!
By far our favorite spa experience in Vietnam (dare I say of my trips in SE Asia so far?). It's a really lovely place, and for around $40 we got a 4 hour experience including massages, facials, snacks, and manicures.
Roam Around My Son Sanctuary
One of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, it's great for an afternoon trip from Hoi An. A cluster of Hindu temples, many destroyed in the war, it was pretty important to the Champa dynasty. Give yourself about 2 hours to walk around and take your time at the difference sanctuaries. If you plan around golden hour, you'll really see the temples come to life.
We had a beautiful time here. Basically, on Valentine's Day we decided to treat ourselves to a day at the spa and then some sort of sunset cruise (our treats for being single, haha). Michelle wanted to ride in a basket boat, and we asked our hotel for recommendations. They then arranged a trip with Hoi An Family Tours. While it's typically meant to be a full day experience, including a cooking class (which we wish we had thought to do!), they could arrange for us to just go out in the basket boat with a guide and enjoy a relaxing drift down the river.
Bike over to the An Hoi Islet
If you want a really lovely view of Ancient Town, cross the bridge to look at it from afar. A bit less crowded, and you can see all the yellow buildings in their full glory! Grab a coffee at one of the cafes and sit and enjoy the view.
PLACES TO AVOID
- Old Town at Night- I hate crowds, so all my places to avoid are pretty much because I got annoyed with the crowds. If you don't mind them or even love them, then by all means don't avoid at all! I found Old Town to get more and more crowded with each passing hour, and by the time night hit, it was just too much. Michelle enjoyed going out to experience the nightlife, but I opted to stay at our hotel more than a few times.
-River at Night- This is an especially crowded place at night, and you'll be haggled by everyone. Those paper lanterns are unfortunately not nearly as magical an experience as one would think, and after a while the river just looks littered with paper and trash.
- Central Market- There's this marketplace in Hoi An, and if you look on a map it's about two blocks wide. We walked through it once, and I tried to bike through it super early in the morning, and it's almost impossible to get through smoothly. Plus, while buying all the flowers in sight would have been fun, they wouldn't exactly transport well, so the temptation was a bit rough :p. But yeah, unless checking out marketplaces are your thing (I've seen some beautiful photographs emerge from them!), you're not missing out on much by avoiding the area.
WHAT TO WEAR
- Cool Fabrics- Hoi An was by far the most humid experience I had (even HCM was less humid). Wear thin, light fabrics (think cotton or linen) to keep feeling like a sweaty mess. I left My Son after an golden hour drenched in sweat (an actual bib had formed on my shirt), and I couldn't have tried to dress cooler if I tried! Save for being in a bathing suit, which probably wouldn't have jived well with the ruins.
- Fairly Conservative- Okay, Vietnam over all is a bit more conservative of a country, and it's more respectful to keep that in mind. Backless spaghetti dresses, bro tanks, super short shorts.... Save it for the beach or elsewhere. The most revealing outfit I wore were jean shorts with a white top and a tiny peekaboo back if that gives you an idea of what you'll feel comfortable in.
- Comfortable Shoes- You'll be walking a lot, so comfortable shoes are a must! Though, I guess that goes without saying anywhere you travel.
WHERE TO SHOP
This is where we got our leather goods made (I got a bucket bag, Michelle got a Madewell-esque black tote and an olive green suede clutch). The shopkeeper and his wife are absolutely lovely, and it was a lot of fun coming up with our bags. Mine came out to be around $60 because it was a bit more intricate. Michelle's stuff came out just a little more.
69 Nguyen Thai Hoc St.
They also have a souvenir shop! It's two stories and just as charming as the tea house. I got a very cute pearl teapot necklace, and we enjoyed walking around and seeing all the different creations. Rest assured that buying from here supports a great cause. All the artisans are paid extremely well, and the website goes into how they're paid and treated. And if you really go on a spending spree, your credit card will work here just fine.
We saw this store a few times, and while we didn't buy, I'd say it's a great place for T-shirt style souvenirs. All the products are 100% made in Vietnam collaborating with local designers and it uses organic cotton.
3 Nguyen Thai Hoc, 59 Le LoI
This is where we got our dresses made. You can read about our experiences here. My tailor's name was Fiona, and she was absolutely perfect. She's not chatty, but she's truthful and very professional.
BEST HOI AN MOMENT
"My favorite moment was when we decided to be silly and go to this structure in the middle of an intersection. It's the Vietnam and Communist flag made up of lanterns, so we decided to use the obvious lack of crowds to get some fun lantern photos. Michelle, who's forever in love with little kids, got into a fun hide and go seek kind of game with a random boy and his older sister. We were that kind of tired playful, so we had fun goofing off. Then his mother came, and Michelle chatted with her for a bit, and she wound up offering to drive us part of the way home to our hotel! It was just a really funny and lovely experience, and it made me grateful to have someone more extroverted than me!" - Sam
"The most memorable part of Hoi An was when Sam suggested that we check out this coffee shop called Reaching Out. She mentioned that it employs adults with special needs and sells crafts handmade by the employees. Intrigued and wanting more ca phe sua da, we decided to go. The whole cafe was wooden and had a rustic feel to it. I immediately fangirled over this place. Sam looked at some handmade jewelry and she swooned over a precious teapot pearl necklace. We then checked out the menu and ordered coffee tasting sets. It was a unique experience with the hand-crafted, golden Vietnamese coffee filters dripping three different types of coffee: sweet chicory, local coffee, and robust coffee. It was sensational, and I even got teary feeling the joy being in this cafe. We left feeling like our time and money was well-spent, and with our hearts warmed. I would definitely recommend this place to anybody visiting Hoi An. Perk: Some nice quiet time away from overwhelming tourism." - Michelle
BEYOND THIS GUIDE TO HOI AN
- A Quick Guide | A Pair and a Spare
- Top Things to Do in Hoi An Ancient City, Vietnam | Haute Culture
- Hoi An Tailors: What We Got Made
- A Logistical Guide to Vietnam
- Marble Mountains of Da Nang: A Guide
- Where We Stayed
- And (for inspiration!) Anthropologie's Photoshoot in Vietnam
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