Experience old town charm in our guide for what to do in Hoi An, Vietnam
To experience a city break that will show you the quainter and more laid-back side of Vietnam (where you can cross the road without stepping into a sea of scooters!), take a visit to Hoi An. The UNESCO World Heritage Site sits just south of Da Nang, roughly the equidistant from both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Straddling a river, this ancient trading port offers markets, cafes and art galleries, all set amidst beautiful heritage buildings that captivate the eye. Its historic streets showcase a melting pot of cultural influences that are both local and foreign, including French, Chinese and Japanese. As if that wasn’t enough, a plethora of lanterns adorns the city (in fact, it’s the law that shopfronts must hang lanterns from their façade) creating a colourful and enchanting atmosphere, especially at night.
Tip: During a full moon, the street lights are turned off and motor vehicles are banned, making the city’s lanterns the only source of light. Plan your visit accordingly; just be prepared to face the crowds!
Where to stay:
You can either opt for a beachside resort and wake up to a sea view, or immerse yourself in the history of Hoi An by staying in the Ancient Town centre.
The Nam Hai is a stand-out luxury choice. This Four Seasons resort is just a 20-minute taxi ride (or better yet, complimentary shuttle bus ride) from the Ancient Town centre, and its spacious villas come with both outdoor and indoor showers, and a bath in a surprising location. The resort focuses on a connection to the earth with its own two-acre vegetable and herb farm (part of its Cooking Academy) and an evening lantern ceremony for guests to write a personal “Love Letter to the Earth” to float on the lotus pond, while singing bowls resonate at the same frequency as planet Earth. While you’re there, make sure you treat yourself to a spa treatment at The Heart Of The Earth Spa – each huge, individual treatment room sits atop the lake and singing bowls are incorporated into the experience.
Closer to the historic town centre, Little Hoi An Hotel and Spa is a boutique hotel designed to incorporate traditional Vietnamese architecture with a heritage style feel. Red lanterns on the balconies create an atmospheric feel, and facilities include a gym and a swimming pool. But If you want to step back in time and experience old Hoi An, stay at Vinh Hung 1 Heritage Hotel, housed in a 200-year old building. With only six rooms, this hotel may be small but it makes up for it in charm and character.
There are also plenty of AirBnB options in Hoi An. This two-bedroom listing in An Bang village caught our eye, with its bright, light space and gorgeous décor.
Where to eat and drink:
Madam Khanh, The Banh Mi Queen
Sometimes the simplest things are the best, which brings us to this hole-in-the-wall establishment. Banh Mi may translate as ‘bread’, but Madam Khanh’s traditional Vietnamese sandwiches are far from a plain staple and it’s no wonder she’s dubbed the Queen of them. Madam Khanh makes her famous banh mi using fresh bread rolls and delicious sauces (which can be tailored to your spice tolerance), available for take away or to eat in. Trust us, your stomach will thank you for this fodder that’s fit for a king … or a queen!
For a lively experience, visit the night market for some street food and kill two birds with one stone by shopping for souvenirs at the same time. You might want to avoid the raucous bars by the river, though, unless you fancy reliving your student backpacker days.
Slap bang in the centre of Hoi An Ancient Town, Cocobox is a delightful haven in which to enjoy delicious and healthy food including freshly made sandwiches and salads, and refreshing cold-pressed juices from their juice bar. We recommend the chicken pesto sandwich. Their bread is produced at their very own bakery, and be sure to check the blackboard to find out the bread of the day. Their farm shop contains lots of local food produce to buy, from spicy hot sauce to chilli chocolate, as well as handmade toiletries and other small gift items.
This cute and leafy little café is a peaceful place to enjoy a relaxed breakfast or brunch, or savour a drawn-out cup of coffee. We recommend trying one of their brightly coloured breakfast bowls. Get your gifting done here as well, with some of the cool products (soaps, homeware, coffee, fashion items) made by local designers.
Plonk yourself down inside this heritage building to enjoy coffee and homemade cakes, or wine, cheese and charcuterie, depending on the time of day. Based on the same concept as their deli and restaurant in Sapa, The Hill Station specialises in northern Vietnamese cuisine and offers hot and cold smoked meats and homemade products from Sapa.
If you’re looking for a local food fix, these options are also sure to satisfy any cravings:
- Quan Dau Bac
- Morning Glory Restaurant
- Bánh mì Phượng (made famous by Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations – expect long queues!)
- Streets Restaurant Cafe (this social enterprise undergoes amazing work with vulnerable, disadvantaged youths)
- Pho Xua
What to do:
– Ditch the stereotypical scooter for a regular old pedal bike and cycle around the city. Taking a bicycle will allow you to explore at your own pace while taking in more sights further out of the city. Cycle to Cam Kim for a more rural experience and to enjoy the greenery of rice paddies, or venture to Tra Que vegetable village to see a local farming area. Most hotels have free bicycles available for guests. When it comes to exploring the Ancient Town, however, we recommend you do so on foot so that you can easily pop in and out of shops and cafes and take your time admiring the heritage architecture.
– Cycling tours and food tours (including cooking classes) are very popular in Hoi An, but there’s one sure-fire way to make your friends on the ‘Gram jealous. Hone your photography skills and sightsee at the same time by taking a photo tour. Check out www.hoianphototour.com for more information.
– The highly photographed Japanese Covered Bridge is a must-see attraction. Originally constructed in the 1590s by the Japanese community (hence the name), it provided a link to the Chinese area on the other side of the water. The wooden bridge features carvings and an information room explaining the history and construction of the bridge.
– There are plenty of art galleries to choose from in Hoi An, if you’re looking to admire the work of local artists or buy something special to hang on your wall when you get home. March Gallery is one of our favourites. With contemporary art, limited edition prints and unique jewellery pieces, the gallery also hosts regular events so make sure you check their website to see if there’s anything on while you’re visiting.
– We also love Hay Hay, a gallery which will create custom prints based on their artwork, allowing you to choose the shape, size and colour scheme that suits you. If photography is more your vibe, then visit Rehahn Gallery. The French photographer’s portraits are particularly beautiful.
– On any day of the week, SUNDAY is our go-to choice to browse for home decor in Hoi An. Stocking beautiful ceramics, furniture, baskets, textiles, as well as clothing and accessories, we recommend leaving some space in your luggage for the gorgeous goods you’ll pick up here. The light and airy shop also has a small bar at the back serving signature cocktails to truly enhance your shopping experience.
All images credited to Amy Russell