The city of Hoi An, located on Vietnam’s central coast, is actually made up of several villages, an ancient UNESCO World Heritage old town, as well as the beach resort of An Bang. The city is located just an hour away from Da Nang, with its international airport and train station and is a popular place for many expats to base themselves in Vietnam.
The old town of Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an ancient Southeast Asian trading port that dates back to the 15th and 19th centuries. The architecture and street layout is influenced by a variety of countries that traded there; the Chinese, Dutch, French and Indians.
Nowadays, the town is very popular with tourists, particularly Chinese tourists, and is a well-established stop-off on the ‘South East Asia Backpacker Trail’. Due to its history as a trading port, the city has become famous as a place to get some new clobber. Well, where else can you get a tailor-made suit, a dress and a pair of handmade flip flops for under $50 US?
What the travel guides tell you: Hoi An is a quaint ancient town where you’ll enjoy cycling amidst colourful colonial buildings, stopping to buy souvenirs at the market and enjoying a peaceful coffee by the river.
What the travel guides don’t tell you: Hoi An has exploded on the tourism scene over recent years. Packs of motorbikes and Chinese tourists being ridden around in xe-om’s (bicycle rickshaws) make it difficult to cycle without crashing! Our tip? Get out to some of the quieter villages of Tra Que vegetable garden, Cam An, as well as the beach resort of An Bang for a more laid-back experience.
The Best Time to Visit Hoi An
The central coast of Hoi An has a different monsoon season to the rest of the country. The best season to visit is from February to May where temperatures are pleasant and there is little rain. The heat reaches its peak between June – August where temperatures can reach a stifling 38 degrees!
Hoi An experiences very heavy rains from September – January, which can be pretty serious and Typhoons are not uncommon. Few tourists visit during this season.
Where to Stay in Hoi An
Many of the hostels and hotels are located around the central area of Cẩm Châu, which touches the river on the south-eastern side and spreads out to rice fields as you go north-west.
Vietnam Backpacker Hostels – Hoi An is a very popular hangout with beds in a dorm starting at $8 US and private rooms starting at $35 US. It’s always packed with partying backpackers and is the most popular place in town to have a sundowner by the swimming pool!
Not so far away is Paddy’s Hostel, which is another popular spot for backpackers, also with the bonus of a swimming pool.
Closer to the downtown area with riverfront restaurants, the Japanese Bridge and most of the old colonial buildings, Tribee Hostels who have a range of five friendly and cheap backpacker hostels in the most central areas. Tribee Ede has a pool too!
Dorms are around $8 USD and regular events are arranged to give the hostel a lovely social atmosphere.
If you’re wanting to soak up some beach time while you’re in Hoi An, you might like to stay right by the beach in An Bang. Under the Coconut Tree Homestay is a cheap and cheerful place for backpackers which is only a 3-minute walk from the beach. They have dorm rooms from $9 US or beach bungalows from $30 US.
Long Term Stays in Hoi An:
If you’re looking to stay long-term in Hoi An, rent for a decent apartment is around 8-10,000,000 VND / month (about $440 USD) which is why this is a very popular spot for digital nomads and expats!
It’s much better to arrive and hunt around for a place to stay when you get here as prices on Airbnb can be very inflated. There are several Facebook Groups, such as Hoi An Expats – Property where you can post a question and then be inundated with offers of houses and homestays!
Note: if you’re a digital nomad in Hoi An, you’ll want to check out The Hub, which is a great co-working space with regular networking events. It’s a good place to meet other long-termers.
Things to do in Hoi An
Enjoy Market Life:
Located smack-bang in the centre of the Old Town, Hoi An Central Market is a great place to grab some local street food. Although it’s the most touristy of the markets in Hoi An, the prices for local food are still pretty good.
Best experienced in the early morning when the market is at its busiest, everyday market life is interesting to watch as locals trade goods and haggle prices.
As you walk through the market towards the Port, you’ll find the ‘Fish Market.’ Boatloads of crabs, mackerel, cockles and other seafood come in every day to be sold in the market stalls. Fishing is still an important economic activity in Hoi An.
Made to Measure:
The main street through Hoi An is lined with Tailors that glisten with fabrics and silks of hundreds of different colours and textures. Enthusiastic saleswomen beckon you in, eager to measure every inch of your body and have you fitted for that perfect new outfit! Beware, fellow backpackers, once inside it is addictive!
Read our article about getting clothes tailor-made in Hoi An here – ‘Stitched Up in Vietnam’.
Indulge in some Hoi An Specialities:
At many of the cafes and indeed within the local market itself, you can try many delicious and freshly cooked local specialities cooked right in front of your eyes.
Try the Vietnamese savoury pancakes, Bánh xèo, or the famous Pork noodle soup, Cao lầu. Other specialities include White Rose (like pasta dumplings with prawn) and Mì Quảng noodles, so called because they originate from Quảng Nam Province.
Street cafés with red plastic chairs and a floor that needs some serious brushing are usually good signs that you’re in the right place to try one of these Hoi An dishes.
Rent a bicycle:
Hiring a bicycle is, without a doubt, one of the best ways to experience Hoi An. For around $2 US/day you can get on two wheels, get off the beaten track and explore the streets around Hoi An. (Many of the homestays and hostels actually offer free bicycles so just ask!) Just a ten-minute bicycle ride outside the main tourist enclave and you’ll find yourself amidst traditional Vietnamese village life. Water buffalo plough the rice fields and local children play in the narrow streets outside their houses.
If you’d like to explore further, a motorbike will cost you 100,000 VND / day. (Around $5 USD).
Go to An Bang Beach
One of the big benefits of the city of Hoi An is that there’s a beautiful beach only 20 minutes bicycle ride away! Sun beds line the beach and it’s 20,000 VND to get yourself one for the day.
When you sit down you will be brought a menu from a hidden away restaurant and can order food and drinks right from your sunbed. Watersports such as jet-ski, surfing and parasailing are available. There’s yoga on the beach at 6 am pretty much every day during high season. Check out Nomad Yoga.
Tip: When you arrive in An Bang, people will try to stop you before you reach the beach and tell you that you must pay 100,000 VND to park your bicycle. “Park your bike. Get Big Water.” If you cycle down to the shore and then head left you can park your bike free of hassle.
Cafés, bars and nightlife!
There are some great cafés in Hoi An where you can while away a pleasant afternoon munching delicious baked goods (influenced by French recipes!), great Vietnamese coffee and watch street life go by.
As night falls, the bars become lively with travellers sharing stories over a beer. The most popular backpacker bars lie on the other side of the river, for two for one buckets (if that’s what you’re after), try Mr Bean Bar for a shockingly cheesy time. Whoop Whoop and Brown Eyes Bar are a bit more tasteful.
Why Not Bar is the only bar in town that stays open until 5 am. Be prepared for a raucous night if you head there! (When I say “raucous”, I am referring to dozens of allegations of drinks being spiked, numerous fights and several reports of muggings and sexual assaults at the hands of the moped-taxi drivers that hang around outside)
Live music: In An Bang, if you’re looking for live music head to Soul Beach or Soul Kitchen where they have regular bands and artists playing and a monthly jam session with some top quality musicians.
Take a cooking class:
Hoi An is a popular place to take a cooking class and there’s no better place to do it than Tra Que Vegetable Garden. You can learn about the different herbs and salad leaves that are a prominent part of Vietnamese cuisine and then cook some of the famous dishes yourselves using the freshest ingredients.
Visit the Cham Islands:
The Cham Islands are a group of 8 small islands located 8 miles off the coast of Hoi An. Most people get there by arranging an organised tour with pick up at 8 am and speedboat to the islands, as well as lunch and snorkelling included for around $45 US.
If you’re looking for more independence, you can also take the public ferry which takes less than 2 hours and runs March – September. (Boats don’t run from October – February due to rough seas.)
It’s also possible for backpackers to camp on the island overnight. The Cham Islands are popular with divers and snorkelers and can be visited as part of a dive or snorkel trip. Blue Coral Diving is highly recommended.
Visit My Son Sanctuary:
My Son Sanctuary is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with ruins that date back over 1,500 years! The site was built by the ancient Hindu Indian Champa Kingdom and has comparisons with Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
You can visit the sanctuary on an organised tour (cost around $20 US) or you can hire a motorbike and visit yourself. Tickets cost 150,000 VND for foreigners to enter the site.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP)
SUP Monkey offer stand up paddle board tours in Hoi An where you’ll paddle through the fishing villages around Hoi An and out onto the mighty Thu Bon River. A three-hour tour costs around $30 USD and is a great way to explore Hoi An in an alternative way, far away from the traffic! Tour start early at 7 am to make the most of the best time of the day in Hoi An!
The area around Hoi An offers great country for motorbiking! The most famous road in Vietnam is close by, Hai Van Pass, which was featured in the Vietnam special of Top Gear. Hundreds of tourists a day now pass over this road on a Hai Van Pass Motorbike Tour or a jeep tour, but few make it to the beautiful area of Son Tra.
Other areas to explore include the nearby Ba Na Hills, an old colonial French Hill Station, and the Central Highlands of Vietnam along the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail. Hoi An Motorbike Adventures is a company worth checking out if you want to explore off the beaten track roads of Vietnam, away from the crowds.
Book online: Trips and Tours in Hoi An…
The Best Food in Hoi An
Eating Options in An Bang:
An Bang needs a small section on food just for itself as there are some really great restaurants here! First of all, don’t miss K’Tu for the best Phở bò (beef noodle soup) Bún chả (barbecue pork noodles) and bún cá (fish noodle soup) in town! Run by two ladies from Hanoi, we frequented here on a daily basis!
Another great Vietnamese local restaurant is the Purple Lantern with extremely reasonable prices and above average food. Make sure you try the grilled scallops with peanuts and garlic – yum!
Eating Options in Hoi An:
Everyone raves about The Bahn Mi Queen (Madam Khanh), which we tried and enjoyed but weren’t blown away. You’ll notice a queue of travellers permanently outside this eatery, mainly due to the fact that chef Anthony Bourdain visited here during his TV program, No Reservations.
For an alternative to Vietnamese food, try Hola Tacos for a wicked enchilada and delicious fresh tacos!
We found the best Bánh xèo (which are the Hoi An prawn pancakes wrapped in rice paper and eaten with leaves) at a little place called ‘Quán Ăn Hải Đảo’ – don’t believe the bad Google reviews.
Where to Go Next
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park: Head to this incredible area for caves, trekking, waterfalls and more outdoor adventures. A must stop on the backpacker trail for any adventure lover!
Hue: Continue your journey northward with a stop in this historical city of ancient pagodas and palaces.
Kon Tum: An upcoming area for backpackers to visit, Kon Tum is a city located deep in the central highlands of Vietnam. It’s a place where people base themselves to visit the nearby hill tribes of Bahnar, Sedang and Jarai ethnic minority. It’s around six hours by bus to get here.
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