My last visit to Vietnam was three years ago in the busy city of Ho Chi Minh. The motorbike traffic was crazy, tourists were plenty and the attractions were alright. To say the least, I wasn’t head over heels in love with the capital. This year, I discovered a far more special place in Vietnam. I spent a few days in the picturesque old town of Hoi An and I just loved the parade of colours, the architecture and the lanterns. There are so many things to do in Hoi An and you need at least a full day to see the Old Town of Hoi An properly (excluding the day trips). To help plan your visit to Hoi An, here is a list of things you shouldn’t miss:
Japanese Covered Bridge
This iconic bridge is the centre of attention in Hoi An. Built in the late 1700s, the Japanese Bridge serves as a reminder of the former cultural diversity in this part of Vietnam. Purchase the Hoi An Tourist ticket (which costs 120,000 VND and includes entrance to other attractions) to cross over the bridge and visit the small temple inside.
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Old Houses, Museums and Assembly Halls
The streets of the ancient town of Hoi An will take you back in time. While many of the old houses now serve as hotels, cafés and restaurants, there are plenty of historic buildings that retained their purpose. The Hoi An Tourist Ticket which can be purchased in one of the Tourist Information Centres in the historic centre has a list of the Hoi An’s historic sites. With the ticket, you can visit 5 attractions within 24 hours. The highlights for us were the Fukian Assembly Hall, the Cantonese Assembly Hall and the Museum of Folklore.
Local Food in Hoi An
Pho may be the most famous noodle dish from Vietnam but Cau Lau is probably the best. Cau Lau is a dish made with rice noodles topped with lean meat, crispy pork rind and vegetables bathed in a light sweet – savoury sauce then sprinkled with lime and a hint of chili. The best Cau Lau is in the small café (basically just a set of plastic chairs and tables) in front of the Japanese Covered Bridge. We never saw Cau Lau anywhere else in Vietnam so it’s possible that it can only be found in Hoi An (apparently it’s a dish made with an ancient secret recipe!).
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Another local dish which appears to be only available in Hoi An is White Rose, a kind of steamed dumpling with pork filling wrapped in wanton wrapper shaped like a rose. Of course, you can also stick to the Vietnamese spring rolls which is always a good choice.
I love Vietnamese coffee but unlike Ho Chi Minh City, where most street stalls serve good coffee, the usual coffee you’ll find in the local stalls in Hoi An is very strong and slightly bitter even with milk and sugar. Coffee is served in a short glass paired with tea in another glass which seems to be used as a chaser. Don’t fret though as there are many small cafés which serve good Vietnamese coffee made from Robusta and Arabica beans. Popular chains like Hoi An Roastery and Highlands Coffee are also worth a visit — they have good seating areas and delectable cakes to pair with your cup of coffee.
Technically not local food but if you love Indian food, make sure to check out Ganesh restaurant which serves the best butter chicken in Hoi An (and possibly, Vietnam).
Shopping in Hoi An
Apart from the lanterns, there is plenty of stuff to buy in Hoi An. The old town has a lot of shops that sell clothes, shoes and accessories. My favourite buys from Hoi An are small notebooks with simple prints in front and pop up greeting cards worth $1 each. You can also check out the Hoi An Night Market located on the other side of the river (close to the lantern shops). They sell a lot of accessories and souvenirs there.
Remember that episode in Top Gear where the hosts had suits made in Hoi An just because they were cheap? It’s not often that you see people riding motorbikes in suits! Getting clothes made is one of the most popular things to do in Hoi An. From corporate suits to wedding gowns, they seem to have it all. Apparently you can get a simple gown / cocktail dress (worth $50) ready the next day.
Things to Do in Hoi An at Night
Lanterns in Hoi An
The beauty of Hoi An is accentuated by colourful lanterns found across town. At night, the magic of Hoi An’s lanterns come to life. Walk along the lighted streets and head towards the river for a great display of lanterns — it’s one of the most romantic things to do in Hoi An. During the Full Moon Festival, locals and tourists alike float lanterns down the river for luck. Nowadays, vendors seem to sell these floating lanterns almost anytime of the year.
If you wish to buy some lanterns (Jon got me some for my birthday), the best spot is across the other side of the river. There are plenty of designs to choose from.
Drinks by the River Banks
People watching while enjoying happy hour drinks is a great way to end a day of sightseeing. Either side of the river is good but the bars looking towards the old town seem to have better views.
Other Things to Do in Hoi An (the Countryside)
My Son Ruins
Built around 800 AD, these ruins served as a cultural and religious centre to the Cham Empire. The My Son Ruins can be visited on a half day trip from Hoi An. You can organize a shared tour from Hoi An, rent a motorbike or hire a private car to visit this archaeological site.
An Bang Beach
There are two beaches just outside of Hoi An. An Bang beach, the better beach is perfect for relaxing with good restaurants and bars. You can easily visit this beach outside of the old town by bicycle. Visiting An Bang beach is definitely one of the best things to do in Hoi An!
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Cycling through the Countryside
If you have a day to spare, rent a bike and explore the countryside around Hoi An. The scenery is idyllic with lots of rice fields, trees and mirror-like ponds. Renting a bike for the whole day will set you back 20,000 VND.
Have you visited Hoi An? Did we miss any cool things to do in Hoi An? Let us know.
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