Hoi An was, without exception, my favourite place in Vietnam. The second I stepped foot in the Ancient Town, I knew that this place was special, and the longer I spent there, the more I fell in love with it.
I’m not alone in my thinking. Hoi An holds a special place in many people’s hearts, although it can be difficult to put into words exactly why. You see, there are not tonnes of Hoi An attractions and unusual things to do in Hoi An.
Much of Hoi An’s charm is in its slow pace, its beauty, and its laid back feel. A former spice trading port, Hoi An boasts cultural legacies from China, Japan, France and Portugal, making it a unique melting pot of different traditions, foods and architectural styles. It is perhaps this eclectic mix of cultures that make Hoi An so difficult to leave, and so easy to fall head over heels for.
Although there isn’t an abundance of activities, there are definitely lots of interesting things to see in Hoi An, and so I thought I’d round up the things you can’t miss if you pay a visit to this beautiful riverside city.
The Best Things To See in Hoi An, Vietnam
1. The Food
Okay, I know that food isn’t something you see (unless you’re on the seafood diet, heheh), but no article about the wonders of Hoi An would be complete without a mention of the delicious cuisine that you can find there.
From the elegant and upmarket restaurants along the riverfront (with meals still costing a fraction of what you’d pay back home), to crowded street food stands selling sizzling meat skewers and cao lao noodles with barbecue pork, crispy crackling and salad, you really can’t go wrong for food in Hoi An.
One culinary speciality of Hoi An is white roses, rose-shaped dumplings made from translucent rice dough and stuffed with shrimp (the best ones are at White Rose restaurant of course!).
Another must-try whilst you’re visiting Hoi An is banh mi from Madam Khanh, the Queen of banh mi in Hoi An! Banh mi are sandwiches stuffed with pork, pâté, fried egg, pickles, vegetables, herbs, chili and soy sauce, and Madam Khanh’s are reportedly the best in the city! Madam Khanh is over 80 years old and has been perfecting the art of banh mi sandwiches for the majority of her life. You can find Madam Khanh’s street food stand just a 15-minute walk outside of the Ancient Town.
If you’re missing Western comforts then you can’t miss a visit to Dingo Deli, a Western-owned deli and restaurant (complete with co-working space), brimming with European meats and cheeses, all-day Western breakfasts with bottomless drip coffee, and hearty plates of comfort food (meat pie anyone?).
Also not to be missed are Cargo, famous for its cakes, and the endless stream of quirky coffee shops serving top quality Vietnamese coffee with sweet condensed milk.
2. The Ancient Town
Hoi An’s Ancient Town is simply breathtaking, and it’s no wonder that the whole area is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
With a mix of Chinese, Japanese and French architectural styles, you could meander down the cobbled streets for hours and remain enamoured by the beauty of the wooden houses, 17th century temples and hanging baskets. Classical piano music plays (speakers are attached to the lamp posts), and there is an abundance of buildings and museums that are open to the public (a ticket costing around £4 will get you access to 5 of your choice). The 200-year old Tan Ky family home and shrine and Chùa Ông pagoda are definitely worth seeing.
Another Hoi An attraction not to be missed is the Japanese Bridge that dates all the way back to 1590s! The Japanese wanted to create more of a community between the Chinese and Japanese sides of town, and so they made a bridge that would connect both! From here you can take a beautiful photograph with the river as your backdrop, complete with gondolas and floating candles.
The Japanese bridge is beautiful at any time, but evening is when the town really comes to life, with the bars and restaurants lighting up the river and local families and tourists alike all taking their evening stroll.
3. Fujian Assembly Hall
If it’s Hoi An attractions you’re after, look no further because the Fujian Assembly Hall is one of the most spectacular things to see in Hoi An. With a huge ornate gate leading to a colourful courtyard and the main temple containing intricate dragon statues and shrines, the Fujian Assembly Hall is certainly impressive.
Also known as the Fukien Assembly Hall, this traditional Chinese temple was built in 1690 and has served a myriad of purposes throughout history, including functioning as a place to socialise and acting as a temple dedicated to Thien Hau, the sea goddess believed to protect sailors.
Nowadays the hall is thought to grant prosperity and fertility to young couples.
4. Bia Hoi!
So this is less of a thing to see in Hoi An and more of a thing to do in Hoi An, but I’m including it here because, like any backpacker and budget traveller, I love to drink and I love a bargain.
All across the city of Hoi An, you can buy glasses of cold beer, known as bia hoi (which literally translates to ‘fresh beer’) for just 3000 VND, or 10p for my fellow Brits. In fact, you can even find it for as low as 5p in some bars!
Five pence for a glass of local beer?! Count me in!
Bia hoi is brewed daily and is a very cheap lager that gets delivered from the factory to the bars and restaurants each day (where it’s production is largely unregulated by the government). At the end of every day, the leftovers are thrown away to make way for the next batch in the morning – with no controls over how it’s produced, it helps knowing that it is at least fresh!
Bia hoi is so common that almost every bar and restaurant serves it, with the price never changing much, and is thought to be the cheapest beer in the world!
Did someone say day drinking?
5. The Shopping!
No post about Hoi An would be complete without a mention of the incredible shopping scene! Quality tailors, designer boutiques and art galleries with French colonial-style storefronts line the colourful treelined streets of the Ancient Town, and it is almost a rite of passage to get a custom made item of clothing when you visit Hoi An!
I ordered a stunning red tea dress, made to measure and finished in a couple of days, and paid just £20! Nowhere else could I afford to indulge in such an experience.
6. Hoi An Night Market
Of all the things to do in Hoi an, visiting the night market is a must. Attracting photographers, foodies and curious tourists alike, Hoi An’s night market is an assault on the senses in the best possible way.
Elegant paper lanterns hang from stalls selling artwork and handmade jewellery, street hawkers grill chicken, prawn, pork and veggie skewers with spicy peanut sauce over small charcoal barbecues and couples pose for photographs on the Japanese Bridge.
Meandering through the Hoi An night market is the perfect way to easy yourself into an evening in the Venice of Vietnam.
7. Thu Bon River Bars
The absolute best place to spend your nights in Hoi An is along the riverbank, indulging in a cheeky tipple. Make sure to try the local rice wine, Ruou Thuoc or ‘medicine wine,’ or head to Hoi An Artisan for some delicious local craft beers.
So, here concludes my list of the best things to see in Hoi An! It isn’t the longest or most exhaustive list you’ll find out there, but if you spend your time in Hoi An rushing to tick things off a list, you will miss out on all of the beauty and tranquillity that this stunning city has to offer.
Trust me when I say that all of the best things to do in Hoi An can be done slowly, in an afternoon, with plenty of time to stop for coffee and craft beer.
Lastly, if you’re planning a trip to Hoi An, then I strongly recommend buying travel insurance. I NEVER travel without insurance, and I’ve seen too many others get landed with huge medical bills as a result of not having had insurance, that it’s something I’ll never neglect to buy. My recommendation for great travel insurance is World Nomads.
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