essential things to do in Hoi An

Welcome to Hoi An, a quaint coastal city on the Thu Bon River. It has an Ancient Town that will enchant you. Take a step back in time and get lost amongst the old yellow walls and narrow streets. Every view will prove to be more photogenic than the last!

Hoi An Ancient Town Hoi An

Hoi An was our second stop on a 2-week adventure in Vietnam and Myanmar, just after Ho Chi Minh City (check out my Ho Chi Minh City Travel Guide here). A bit of a sleepy town by day, Hoi An was a nice change of pace from Ho Chi Minh City. I immediately fell in love with its charm!

An essential part of any itinerary for travel to Vietnam, you could comfortably explore Hoi An in 2 or 3 days.

Hoi An Ancient Town Hoi An lantern

Know Before You Go

  • Hoi An, or Hội An in Vietnamese, is centrally located in Vietnam. It’s approximately a 17-hour drive north from Ho Chi Minh City and about a 14-hour drive south from Hanoi. There are sleeper trains and buses that can get you here, but the fastest way to get to Hoi An is to fly.
  • The closest international airport is in Da Nang. From there, it’s about an hour drive into Hoi An. You can get very reasonably priced tickets with domestic airlines, such as Vietnam Airlines, VietJet, and Bamboo Airways.
  • Formerly a trading port between the 15th and 19th centuries, Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Ancient Town is well-preserved and retains its architectural heritage. Within the Old Town, there are nearly 1,000 ancient homes remaining to explore, of which 844 are UNESCO World Heritage sites, themselves.
  • Hoi An is a very walkable city, and you can get around Ancient Town on foot easily. Most major hotels and guesthouses are within a 10-minute walk, so be sure to choose accommodations within close proximity.
  • No cars are allowed within the gates of the Ancient Town, so renting a bike will be effective in travelling longer distances
  • The Ancient Town closes at 9:00 p.m., so don’t expect much of a nightlife scene. There are a few bars, but time well spent will be during the day.
  • Beware of scams upon entering the Ancient Town. You might encounter someone standing close to the gates, assuming the role of a guard or an official. You do not have to purchase a ticket to enter the Ancient Town, despite what he or she might tell you.

Whether you’re hoping to scratch the surface or dive deep, here are 14 essential things to do in Hoi An.

Bon, voyage!

Hoi An Ancient Town

Essential Things to do in Hoi An

Hoi An Ancient Town Hoi An Ancient Town

1. Wander the Streets of the Ancient Town

Hoi An is the type of place you could arrive at with no formal itinerary. Part of the appeal is being able to wander where the wind takes you! It’s one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever visited, and I could not walk for more than a few feet without wanting to snap a picture! Spend most of your time exploring the Old Town and all of its unique charms. From the colourful lanterns and rickshaws, to the local women in their ao ba ba (“street pyjamas”), it’s like a feast for the eyes!

Hoi An Ancient Town

As a protected city, there are strict regulations in place to ensure that the historic buildings remain structurally sound. The historic homes (since converted to souvenir shops, tailors, and restaurants) have lovely, old rooftop tiles and the walls are painted yellow. The colour yellow represents luck and prosperity in Vietnamese culture and is a symbol of royalty.

Japanese covered bridge

Japanese Covered Bridge in the Ancient Town. You can see tourists gathered on the right hand side of the photo and on the bridge, as this was taken around noon. It’s best to go early to avoid crowds.

Major sights in the Ancient Town include the Old House of Tan Ky (a preserved 18th-century merchant’s home that has guided tours) and the Japanese Covered Bridge. Tip: Start exploring the Ancient Town around 8 a.m. to avoid crowds and large tour groups. The Japanese Covered Bridge is especially a magnet for tourists!

Yaly Couture Hoi An

My husband getting fitted for a custom suit at Yaly Couture.

2. Go to a Tailor

Once a centre for the silk trade, Hoi An now boasts a thriving custom clothing industry. Tailors are a dime a dozen, so to the uninformed, it can be a little confusing to know which ones are good quality. I recommend Yaly Couture. While I wasn’t in the market for a custom suit, my husband had done extensive research before we left for Asia. Yaly consistently came up as one of the best.

Tip: If you’re only in Hoi An for a couple days, beeline straight to the tailor. The process requires multiple visits and fittings. Address: 358 Nguyễn Duy Hiệu, Cẩm Châu.

Banh Mi Phuong

Banh mis being prepared at Banh Mi Phuong, one of the most popular Banh mi shops in Hoi An.

3. Have the Best Banh Mi in Vietnam

Ahhh, the Banh mi – the ubiquitous Vietnamese sandwich made from French baguette filled with pork, cilantro, and pickled veggies. While it might seem simple, its beauty lies in the complexity and combination of all its flavours. Technically invented in Ho Chi Minh City, it’s actually in Hoi An that you’ll find the BEST Banh mi in all of Vietnam!

You cannot leave Hoi An without going to at least 1 of the 4 best Banh mi vendors. I’ve listed them in my order of preference below:

  • Madam Khanh: Dubbed the “The Bánh Mì Queen”, she’s been serving these sandwiches for over 30 years. We found hers to have the most flavour and umami out of all that we tried! Address: 115 Trần Cao Vân, Phường Minh An.
  • Phi Banh Mi: Phi Banh Mi is a favourite amongst locals and tourists, and it was our runner-up. Take one to go or grab a seat at a red stool, and have a bite of their Banh mi brimming with fresh mint, basil and homemade chilli sauce. Address: 88 Thái Phiên, Phường Minh An.
  • Banh Mi Phuong: Made famous by Anthony Bourdain, this thriving business now operates out of more than one location. You’ll likely encounter a long lineup, unless you go early. If you’re looking for the original outpost, head to: 2b Phan Chu Trinh, Cẩm Châu.
  • Bánh Mì Lành: If you know, you know. Not listed on TripAdvisor and without a social presence, this nondescript stand is worth the research. A favourite among locals, you can expect to rub shoulders with those who know and appreciate a good Banh mi. Address: Cẩm Châu, Hoi An.

Cao Lau

4. Go on a Hunt to Find the Cao Lau Lady at Central Market

Hoi An’s other claim to fame dish is Cao Lau. It consists of pork and greens on a bed of rice noodles which have been soaked in lye water – giving them a very different texture and almost clear appearance. Some say that the Cao Lau noodles are made from special water from the ancient Ba Le well, and that one family guards the secret recipe. But this is, of course, not actually the case.

Cao Lau lady Central Market Hoi An

Madam Hai Chien at her stall in the Hoi An Central Market.

It’s said that the best Cao Lau is made by a little, old lady in Hoi An’s Central Market, who once served the dish to Anthony Bourdain (she has a picture at her stall to prove it!). Her name is Hai Chiến. We found her! She is adorable and her Cao Lau is excellent! Since all the food stalls in the Central Market sell Cao Lau and look the exact same, finding her is like finding a needle in a haystack. But, it’ll be worth your while! Pull up a chair and enjoy the dish with a cold Saigon beer!

5. Explore more of the cuisine

If you want to try more than just Banh mi and Cao Lau, there’s no shortage of good cuisine in Hoi An. A great place to start is Morning Glory. It’s a very popular spot with locals and tourists, which prepares authentic Vietnamese staples and Hoi An signatures. Head to the original location at: 106 Nguyễn Thái Học, Phường Minh An.

Royal Hoi An

Outside of Hotel Royal Hoi An. You’ll find The Deck on the rooftop. It’s one of the best places to get sundowner cocktails in Hoi An.

6. Rooftop Bar for drinks at Sunset

If you’re looking to grab sundowner cocktails, venture off the beaten path of the Ancient Town and explore neighbouring rooftop bars, including The Deck inside the Hotel Royal Hoi An. Located on the banks of Thu Bon River, you can catch views of the sun setting over the glistening water, with a custom cocktail in-hand! Address: 39 Đào Duy Từ, Phường Cẩm Phổ.

Thanh Ha Pottery Village

7. Thanh Ha Pottery Village

In Vietnamese culture, pottery is not just an art form, but is also a way of life. Visiting Thanh Ha Pottery Village was one of the most authentic and rewarding experiences we had in Hoi An! Locals in this village have been making pottery for over 400 years, and to go to Thanh Ha Pottery Village is like visiting a living museum.

Thanh Ha Pottery Village Thanh Ha Pottery Village

While they make it look effortless, they actually create their pottery the old-fashioned (more difficult) way. One person sits on the ground and shapes the clay, while the other person stands and spins the wheel with her foot. This level of craftsmanship is fascinating. Tip: If you plan to observe and photograph the locals making pottery, be sure to purchase from them as well.

An Bang Beach

8. An Bang Beach

An Bang Beach will be a quiet reprieve in between busy site-seeing adventures in the Ancient Town. To get here, you’ll need to hire a taxi (it’s too far to walk or bike). I recommend downloading the Grab app.

An Bang Beach

On the day we visited, it was raining and the beach was very quiet. But you’ll find a good selection of restaurants and cafes at An Bang Beach to relax or grab a drink at, including the bohemian Sound of Silence.

9. Check out the coffee culture in Hoi An

Speaking of cafes, Hoi An has a vibrant coffee culture and you should definitely carve out time to experience it. Head to Faifo Coffee first, where you can indulge in specialty beverages with a view.

Faifo Coffee rooftop

View of Ancient Town from the rooftop of Faifo Coffee.

Once you’ve ordered your drink from the counter, head up to the rooftop to enjoy what is regarded as one of the best views in Hoi An. Address: 130 Trần Phú, Phường Minh An.

10. Night Market

Hoi An will prove to be just as enchanting as the sun sets, so be sure to check out the night market. The official night market is on An Hoi Islet, across the river from the Ancient Town. Equal parts lively and curious, you can dine on delicacies at over 50 vendors, including frogs on sticks (if you’re so daring!).

11. Get an Instagram photo with the famous lanterns

The colourful lanterns are one of the most remarkable aspects of Hoi An, both during the day and night. They’re usually made out of a bamboo frame and Vietnamese silk, and they come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colours. You can find them everywhere – hanging above the streets, outside of shop windows, and in window displays.

It’s become quite the ‘thing’ to get that Hoi An Instagram Lantern shot. Observe mine below.

Hoi An lanterns at night

If you plan to ‘do it for the ‘gram’, make sure to ask the shop owner permission first. Many will charge a small fee for a photograph, unless you’re buying.

Sunday in Hoi An

Famous “Hoi An Vibes Only” wall at Sunday in Hoi An.

12. Check out the shops in the Ancient Town

In between collecting pottery and filling up on Banh mi, save time for souvenir shopping (or at least, window browsing) in the Ancient Town. There are many good quality souvenirs and leather goods on sale. Tip: Beware of knock-offs, and walk away from anything that doesn’t feel right.

Hoi An boats

View of boats lined up on the Thu Bon River during the day.

13. Explore Hoi An by Water

Hoi An offers impressive vantage points by water, so invest in a boat experience and explore the Thu Bon River day or night. Enjoy the sites and colourful facades, all while avoiding heavy pedestrian traffic.

Hoi An countryside

14. Explore the Countryside

Vietnam is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with lots of mountains, limestone hills, and rice fields. You don’t have to venture all the way to the north of Vietnam to find them either. When in Hoi An, reserve a day or half a day to explore neighbouring villages, like:

  • Tra Que Vegetable Village: A tranquil and lush farming village on the edge of Hoi An. The land was formed over 300 years ago and supplies local restaurants with fresh vegetables.
  • Tam Thanh Village: Known as Vietnam’s Hidden Mural Village, Tam Thanh is a painted fishing village about 40 minutes outside of Hoi An by car. In 2016, more than a dozen painters from Korea and Vietnam created over 100 murals here as a result of a special art initiative.
  • Rice Paddy Fields: Rice is an essential staple in Vietnam. While we sadly didn’t have time for this on our trip, a bicycle tour through the rice paddy fields is one of the best ways to take in the picturesque countryside, and an important way of life, in Vietnam.

Essential things to do in Hoi An Essential things to do in Hoi An Essential things to do in Hoi An Essential things to do in Hoi An Essential things to do in Hoi An Essential things to do in Hoi An Essential things to do in Hoi An

Well, there you have it – 14 essential things to do in Hoi An! Is Hoi An on your bucket list?

Next Stop: Hanoi! Check out my Ultimate Vietnam Travel Guide (coming soon).

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